by David Diestelkamp
Jesus lived primarily during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius who ended his reign cloaked in paranoia, violence, and rumors of depravity and corruption. It was probably Tiberius’s face on the denarius Jesus requested to be shown in response to being questioned about paying taxes to Caesar. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Jesus asked. They said, “Caesar’s.” “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus said to them (Matt. 22:17-21). Pay taxes to a corrupt government whose governors and soldiers would eventually participate in the murder of the Lord Himself? Yes.
The first Christians lived under the carnage of the cruel and bizarre reign of Caligula. When his reign was cut short by his murder, Claudius was little better. Aquila and Priscilla got to experience firsthand the emperor’s ire when Claudius tried to solve his problems by expelling all Jews from the city of Rome (Acts 18:2). Comply with a megalomaniac emperor’s unreasonable edicts? Yes.
Then it was Nero’s turn to plot and murder his way to the throne in Rome. He is infamous for being vicious and cruel and for his harsh taxation. Nero’s atrocities are legendary. Two thousand years later, the name Nero lives in infamy among Christians for his persecutions. Here is what the apostles wrote at the very time that this man (described by some historians as a “brutal psychopath”) was reigning:
1 Timothy 2:1-2 - Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
Romans 13:1-7 - Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
1 Peter 2:13-17 - Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Let me say again: these instructions were written during the monstrous despotic rule of Emperor Nero, the man who ascended the throne by murdering family and possible heirs to the throne; the man who kicked his pregnant wife to death; the man who openly married a man he had castrated; the man who persecuted Christians and blamed them for burning Rome. Pray for him? Yes. Be subject to him? Yes. Honor him? Yes. Pay your taxes? Yes. #NOTMYCAESAR was not an option that Scripture gave to Christians.
Politics have caused a vast divide in our country. Some Christians want to think that a president being elected by a suspicious or even illegal method means they need not recognize or honor him. Some conclude that a president who is immoral, accepts the killing of babies (abortion), or condones the sexually deviant is not “their president.” And some are judging the validity of a presidency based on their perspective on law, rights, taxes, foreign policy, or free trade. We must remember: the first century Roman emperors failed in all these areas; yet Christians were told to pray for them, submit to them, honor them, pay taxes to them.
It is legitimate to ask, “How do we honor the dishonorable?” Obviously, we are not being asked to call evil good and good evil (Is. 5:20). Without enumerating ways to honor in every imaginable case, I want to challenge each of us to examine what is in our hearts: what we say and what we post and share on social media. Is it expressing prayerful submission and honor to our governing officials, even when (and especially when) we strongly disagree with them? If you can’t think of anything positive about the elected official, that should be your challenge to let Christ live in you and prayerfully honor them. It’s hard, but “…this is the will of God…” (1 Pet. 2:15). We are not simply choosing a president; we are choosing whether we will do God’s will or not.
God’s Mysterious Ways
by Jeff Curtis
According to the first chapter of Ezra, in about 538 BC, the Persian king Cyrus the Great issued the order that allowed the Jews to return to their own land after they had spent several years in Babylonian captivity. What can we learn about God and His dealings with man from the events of Ezra chapter 1?
God’s Power is Sovereign. Cyrus issued the proclamation that the Jews to return home, but God caused him to do so. This is made clear in the text: “The Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (1:1). Isaiah had predicted that God would use Cyrus to bring His people home, calling the ruler by name almost two hundred years before Cyrus began his rule (Isaiah 44:28-5:5).
God used Cyrus for His purposes. Did Cyrus know that he was being used by God? Probably not. Even though Cyrus used the personal name of God (“the Lord,” or “Yahweh”;1:2) when he said that the Lord had given him success, he was probably following the customs of his day by referring to the God of Israel as if He were the only God.
Today, Christians can take comfort in knowing that even when evil seems to reign on the earth, God rules over the rulers and allows them to rule only because it suits His purposes. In the end, God is sovereign, His cause will triumph.
God Keeps His Promises. The text says that Cyrus allowed the Jews to return “in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1:1; Jer. 29:10). God had promised to bring His people back from captivity in seventy years, and He kept that promise.
This, of course, is a constant characteristic of God. “The promise of the Lord proves true” (2Sam. 22:31; 2Peter 3:9). God kept His promise to Abraham even though twenty-five years passed between the time He made the promise and the time that the promised son Isaac was born. God kept His promise to bring Israel into Canaan, in spite of Israel’s sins. In the same way, we can be sure that God will keep His promises now and in the future.
God accomplishes His purposes. In the case of Cyrus and the Jews, God’s purpose required that the Jews return to their own land. This emphasizes the connection between the land that God gave Israel and the promise to bring the Messiah into the world. When the Messiah came, the purpose was accomplished; therefore, from the New Testament times on, Israel has had no special God-given right to the “Holy Land.”
God works in the world through Providence. In Bible times, God sometimes worked in the world through miracles. Miracles were real. They were historical; they happened at certain times in definite places. However, even then God sometimes worked non-miraculously, or providentially.
God doesn’t work through miracles today (1Cor. 13:8-13), but He still works providentially. The best New Testament statement of that is found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” With this assurance, Christians can believe that God works through people and events in this world to accomplish His purposes. He can work through sinful acts, malicious people, natural events, and apparently haphazard “chance” occurrences, as well as through the good deeds done by His people.
Conclusion. Ezra 1 teaches us several important truths about God: He has power over the kings of the world, He keeps His promises, He accomplishes His purposes, and He works through his providence. Knowing these truths, we can rest better at night, even when evil seems to be winning on every hand, even when the days are dismal. They know that behind the blackness of the hour stands the Almighty God, who will ultimately – as He did in Ezra’s day – triumph over the evil one, win the victory, and bring His people home.