1 Peter 2:11-17 Easter 3 2017
“Submit yourselves, for the Lord’s sake, to every institution given for man: whether to the basileus, the ruler of the land, the one highest, or to regional governors, as those who are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do well.” God tells us to honor earthy rulers. But why, what does this mean, and what are the limits?
First, it means, as God says in Romans, that the earthly ruler “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.” They are, in classical terms, God’s “left hand” ministers, as distinct from the right hand ministers, the clergy.
God’s civil ministers are to administer- to hand out- justice in the civil realm, to protect the fabric of society, beginning with marriage and the family. For all civil law, like theological law, is about what is good: we are commanded to do certain necessary good things, and forbidden to do what is evil. That is what good civil law IS: legislated morality. Why is illegal to take my neighbor’s things? Why is it a crime to shoot someone else in the head? Why is it a crime to drive 50mph through a school zone when children are present? Because it is morally wrong to steal, murder, or to recklessly run over children. The life, good name, and dignity of human persons are to be protected. And civil ministers will have to stand before God and give account for whether they did so. The unjust, who encourage wickedness and vice, should be terrified by God’s coming judgment.
So we are reminded today, too, that we are called to pray for our rulers. We ask “that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.” In the Daily Office we ask God to give them “wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
What if rulers violate the rule of law? What if they pervert justice and encourage wickedness? Then Christians are called to publicly pronounce God’s judgment, and to ask for God to convert or overthrow them. God also requires us to refuse to obey any law which requires us to do something plainly contrary to His Commandments. We are to act for conscience’s sake, and for the Lord’s sake: through and because of the Him. We must defy evil, even if means we suffer for it, like Christ, before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.
That leads to the last point: God reminds us that our real citizenship and identity is not here. We are only strangers and pilgrims- temporary residents, here in exile for a short while. We belong to Christ’s Kingdom. We fight under His flag, because we are His. In Isaiah God said He would “raise a signal flag for the nations from afar.” That Battle flag is His cross, by which He fights the true enemies of our bodies and souls. For a little while Christ appeared to have fallen, the battle seemed lost, the standard fell. His disciples did not see Him- He was dead and buried. But then they did see Him, and realized He is the Victor. By union with Jesus they had the victory, no matter what life threw at them. All but one of them was martyred, but not one of them was defeated. In this world we will have anguish and trouble, too. But we have peace- wholeness and integrity- in Christ- He has overcome the world, and holds us to Himself, so that we live, speak, and act as His people in the public square.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.