And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people.

Matthew 2: 6

These wise men from the east spoke true wisdom when they were interrogated by Herod. He would have done well to have listened and responded to what they had to say in a manner that embraced both the content of their statement and also the One who would give the world its ultimate expression. David was the shepherd king, and he was a gift that God had given to Israel and to the world many years prior. Samuel describes David and his shepherding of the people and of the nation. But David was far from perfect in this role of care taker and care giver, and his time was in the dim past. Herod was a king who was about as far from the concept of shepherd in his actions as there could possibly have been. Sadly, there have been very few rulers in our world, whether they are called king, prince, emperor, or president, who have done much better. 

Jesus set a very high standard for others who would rule over nations or lead people. His primary objective was not power or control. Instead, He sought to heal the brokenness that disabled people as He cut through the external manifestations of what we perceive as strength or weakness and probed deeply into the hearts of people so that our separation from God became the true focus of His restorative work. Jesus cared for the physical needs of His people as He entered into the eternal needs of their souls. The loyalty that Christ demands is not to an earthly cause; rather, it is formed out of submission to God’s call to live righteously and the sort of loving and just life that springs up out of that well of living water. This is the sort of submission to a higher purpose and to the one true King of the Universe that can make a profound difference in the nature of a leader’s tenure in office and would define those who honestly and sincerely desire to shepherd the people that are within their arena of responsibility.

As we know, shepherds tend to their flocks. They nurture and protect them as they attend to the need for food, water, shelter, and comfort that is all a part of the ongoing life stories of the sheep that have been given to them to watch over. The Lord does all of these things for us as well; yet, He also gives over that responsibility and role to human agents. God appoints people to positions of authority of various types and at differing levels of responsibility, and the Lord then sends His appointees out to rule justly, to care for the flock with real concern for the well-being of all of them, and to do this work in a manner that points people toward God as their true and ultimate shepherd. Sadly, only a few leaders do these things very well. Yet, this should not stop you and I from seeking to be different. As we lead others, we can model Jesus and engage in shepherding those people well. We can know them deeply, pray for them faithfully, and seek to be loving and just in all that we do. We can also set the Lord’s standard and model for leadership as the one that we hold up and demand from the people that we select to rule over us. Jesus is the King who kneels down in the mud with His sheep in order to hold them close and care for their minds, hearts, and souls; we can seek to do the same for the people that we are given to lead, and we can select our leaders based upon this same desired model of leaders who are shepherds.       

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19: 16

Among those of us who experienced the election of new leaders that happened yesterday in the United States, some came away feeling exalted by victories in races that mattered to us and some had the opposite reaction to the outcomes. That is the nature of the process, and frankly, this is the way that it should be, for we are a very diverse people and our governmental representation should be similarly varied. It is not easy to win one of these elected offices. The process of running for office costs money, time, emotional capital, and personal sacrifices of many types. Candidates are exposed to public scrutiny that can be very harsh and even cruel, and their families are also placed under that same intense lens of public examination as is the candidate. Seeking office is not a genteel game or a casual pastime in our age. As God ordained order in our human realm and gave us civil governance as a part of the method for achieving that order, He also cares about the way that we go about ruling over ourselves, and He cares for the people who hold these various leadership positions.

The scene that John is describing in Revelation is one wherein Jesus has returned to earth, and He is completing the process of setting right all that has been corrupted by the presence of evil in our world. As Christ goes about this great and terrible work, His position and authority are important to keep on view. He has the right to cleanse Creation of its sinfulness and purify it so that all shame and guilt are washed away. Christ was granted this authority by God the Father, and He was sent to our world with this reclamation mission as His purpose and His intent. So, this is an account of the end of these current times here on earth; yet, there is an indeterminate expanse of years to go until these events happen. During these intermediate days, we are charged with the task of ruling over the world. We can choose to do this in a manner that reflects the heart and the mind of God, or we can do it so that the will of people and our flawed wisdom are what set our course.

If we do desire to govern in a manner that follows God’s method and way, then we need to realize and to accept the fact that the title that will be given to Christ at the end of days is already His. Thus, each and every one of the people that we elect to office is ordered under a higher authority and, in fact, receives her or his right to lead from the only eternally reigning sovereign in the universe. This idea may seem theoretical or conceptual at such a high level as to be pure fantasy, for what person who is operating in today’s world would actually look to Christ as the giver of all wisdom and direction and for guidance in ruling in a just and a righteous manner? The answer to that question is found in people who decide that they desire to govern in a way that is pleasing to God and with the power and the authority of the Lord of the Universe as their foundation. We have elected people to office whose influence and scope of rule range from the small and limited to the great and expansive; yet, for each of them the same reality exists, they will either follow their King and bow down to their Lord or they will listen to the counsel of man and so risk ruling as a blind fool who ignores the great and eternal wisdom that was offered to them as a free gift from Heaven.   

Many seek the face of a ruler,

but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice.

Proverbs 29: 26

 

It may seem like this is the season of seeking. We gather in rallies to show support and to shout out our opposition to political parties and to candidates for office. We cast votes that are intended to inform the process of selection, or we gather as communities to seek our corporate mind. Yet, the rulers that we choose will all fall short of our expectations and even fail to bring about most of what they promise. This is the nature of human governance as it seeks to wield power and to gain popularity instead of seeking after the mind and the heart of God as its approach to that process of governance.

 

So, if it is justice that you desire, it is best to look elsewhere. If you want truth and fair play to set the tone for your national leaders, you are likely to be disappointed, for we don’t tend to elect honest people to office. In our world today there is little reverence or even respect in our public discourse, and I am afraid that our leaders are doing nothing more than following the lead of their constituencies in the manner of their speech. We get what we truly want as we set the tone for those who lead us. We also establish our own priorities as we turn to the people who we have elected as our source for what constitutes our highest values and our moral tone.

 

All of this is completely backwards. God has given to us a different view of this world and of its governance. He is the only source for what is right, just, and worthy. The Lord is the one true and authorized ruler of this world. There are only two camps to align with in this process of setting out the direction for a nation, one is submitted to God and the other is ruled by the world itself. So, if the attitude and the action of a government are not in conformity with those of God, that government and the people who are setting out its approach to ruling are committed to and submitted to the powers of this world. Thus, we should not expect to find justice in that government’s halls, and we would be foolish to expect to encounter peace as the product of its rule.

Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them,

for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.

Isaiah 3: 10

 

This statement stands in the midst of a very sad and truly depressing commentary. God has shared through the Prophet just how much He is displeased with the way that the people of the nation are living. They have cast aside almost all practice of righteous living. Their leaders are ill equipped for office, and their hearts are filled with evil intent. Yet the people do nothing to change the state of affairs. In fact, they continue to affirm the positions of leadership, and they seem to delight in the direction that they are being taken. It seems that God has been taken out of His place as their true ruler. It is as if the nation has elected Him out of office.

 

But there is a problem with this sort of thinking and living. God is not powerless. He does not depend upon your vote or mine. He will not sell out truth, justice, and righteousness in the interest of securing the agreement of people. Instead, the Lord remains true, just, and pure. He is unchanging in His principles, for He is the bedrock foundation upon which all that is good and holy in the universe stands. So, God presents each of us with a choice. We can follow the easier path of our culture, or we can travel along the eternal way of our Lord. They were not the same in Isaiah’s day and they are not the same now.

 

God also provides assurances to His people. When He says that it shall be well with us, that is a very big statement. I think that the Lord means that regardless of what may befall us as a result of refusing to compromise God’s Word for the sake of embracing the cultural and national standards of thinking, acting, and rhetoric, we will be cared for. God will provide for His people through all times and in every situation. We may not have governmentally sanctioned bread, but we will have the bread of life that is found in the Eucharist. Our bank accounts may be more than empty; yet, in Christ, our resources are without end. Our tables may not be filled by the empty promises of human security; however, our souls will be filled with the sweet fruit of the Spirit of Christ.

 

 

Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 14: 15

Here is the setting for this story. Shortly after Paul and Barnabas entered the town of Iconium in the province of Galatia which is an inland area on the eastern side of what is today Turkey they encountered a man who had never been able to walk. Paul healed him in the name of Christ, and the people who witnessed this event were rather naturally amazed by what they had seen. They began to proclaim that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus, respectively. When the priest of Zeus started ordering the people to prepare sacrifices to the newly arrived gods, these followers of Christ had seen and heard enough. They tear their clothes in a sign of grief, repentance, and humility; then they make this statement to the crowd.

It is easy to look at this story and nod our heads and even grin at the simple-minded way that those backwoods villagers behaved. They lived in simple times, and they were probably starved for any real entertainment, too. So, declaring that this pair of powerful and well-spoken foreign men were gods doesn’t seem so odd. Yet, I propose that even in our advanced culture with our sophisticated understanding and access to information we do not behave all that much differently than did these first century inhabitants of Iconium. We encounter people who have power, and we follow them without question. A person offers us answers to the things that trouble us, and we readily accept all that they propose to do. Much of the time, we grant our allegiance to people who claim affiliation with one political party over another without true regard for the character of that person. We are about as equally willing to declare them to be Zeus and Hermes and make the appropriate sacrifices as were the people in our story.

It seems appropriate to me to look back at the words of Paul and Barnabas and prepare to follow them in all of these things. There is one and only one God. He is the source of all wisdom and truth. His righteousness is also the standard by which we need to judge everything that is said and done by people. This is a very tall standard, indeed! In fact, no one measures up to it. However, we can look at the person in light of the way that God calls upon all of His followers to live. God looks to the heart; so, He always points to the way that people treat the weakest and the most disadvantaged among us. Christ tells us to listen to people who are humble, who are pained by the suffering of others, who are gentle, who seek after righteousness with an unsatisfiable hunger, who show mercy instead of might, whose intentions are Godly, who bring peace, and who are willing to suffer in order to stand for what is right and just. These people are not gods, but they do bring the presence of the Almighty God into the halls of government.