As I was listening through the last four chapters of the Gospel of John this morning, these words impressed me:
He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:9-11 ESV
This was part of the interchange between Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of the province of Judea, and Jesus. Pilate exercised the authority given him over the province of Judea in the Roman empire given him by the Roman authorities, but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
I am reminded of God’s sovereignty. Jesus came to die. That was his plan. Pilate was just part of the plan. We tend to think of Pilate in negative terms as we look back at the story, but he was just part of God’s plan, like Judas.
These things remind, also, of President Trump. Though I voted for him, I have been hyper critical of him. Though Christians supported him in large numbers, Trump has not displayed the kind of fruit we should expect from a God lover; he might even be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Though Christians have also been divided over Trump the zealot, he prevailed and is our president.
Of course, Barack Obama was also our president. So was Bill Clinton. If we really believe the words that Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate, these men would not have authority as presidents of the United States unless it was given from above.
When I am tempted to comment, lament and lash out on social media sites, I have to catch myself and remember, that people in authority in this country are exercising the authority they have been given from above.
That doesn’t mean that they are right. Was Pontius Pilate right to have Jesus crucified?
Think about it.
God ordained it. Jesus submitted himself to it. Pilate was part of the plan. But, Pilate’s role in God’s universal production is not one to be envied. What judgment befell Pilate? That isn’t for me to know or determine. Imagine, though, Pilate standing before the crucified, risen Christ….
Yet, Pilate was part of the plan, exercising the authority given from above, playing his part as God knew he would. Donald Trump is doing the same as Barack Obama did before him, no different than George Washington and Thomas Jefferson before them.
Paul knew these things when he spoke to the men of Athens from the Areopagus:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:24-27)
God allotted time the periods and the boundaries (sovereign provinces) in which all people have lived. God is in control. Nothing has happened that God has not already seen. God knows the beginning from the end.
We have parts to play in this grand production that God has seen from the “foundation of the earth”. Each of us plays our own parts. I tend to believe that, though God has ordained it all from the beginning, He also has allowed some small province within this grand scheme for us to exercise the will He gave to each of us who are made in His image – to submit to Him or to go our own ways in our hearts.
Maybe we can’t change anything that is ordained to happen. Like the football game that has been recorded, the score is known; the end has been determined; nothing will change. That is how God sees it, but we play it out on the field in real time.
We don’t have God’s vantage point, standing over the expanse of time, seeing from beginning to end in one sweeping view, and every point in between.
For us it boils down to this: do we trust Him?
In that vein, I see and feel a lot of angst in the responses of Christians (and in myself) to the current events that are unfolding around us. We sometimes seem to exhibit a kind of desperation in trying to hold on to control of our society as the culture seems to be slipping away from us. Our focus seems to be more about controlling temporal things than seeking the kingdom of God sometimes.
It’s only natural, as our human inclination is to want to cling to what we can touch, see and feel.
But, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Abraham “longed for another country” (Hebrews 11:16 NIV), even as he lived in the land God promised and showed him. Jesus was always encouraging His followers to take their eyes off the temporal things of this world – we are in the world but “not of the world” (John 17:16)) – why do we cling so tightly to it?
I think these are things we should be considering as we think about the current political and cultural climate in which we live. Jesus calls us to be salt and light, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will (or must) control the powers that be. We don’t have to be in control to be salt and light. In fact, We don’t see anywhere that the disciples of Jesus were in control of the politics and culture of their time, yet God turned the world upside down through them!
God controls the powers that be, and He is working out His own purposes through history as it plays out. We all have our say. We can vote. We can be involved in politics, but God has already seen how it plays out.
God didn’t call us to control earthly governments; He calls us, like Abraham, to a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God”. (Hebrews 11:10 ESV) Our efforts are better spent, in my opinion, spreading the good news of the Gospel, pointing people to the heavenly City for which we long, than fighting to hold on to (or take back) a flawed earthly government.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that a person who is called by God to be involved in politics should abandon that calling. If God has called you to fight the good fight in the political arena, then there in the middle of that arena you should stand and be who God has called you to be. But none of us should forget that no authority is established that doesn’t come from above. God is in control, and the world is playing out as He saw it would. We can only be responsible for our own hearts and how we respond to God.
We can’t control how the history world plays out. We can only control our small part, and even that may be giving us much more credit than we really deserve. Pontius Pilate and Judas likely thought they controlled their own destinies, but their destinies were set from the foundation of the earth.
We can only control how we walk with God. Do we walk by faith, trusting in the sovereignty of God? Do we long for a better country, or do we cling to this country? Abraham still lived out his life, though he longed for that better country, as we must live out our lives, but we should not forget where we are going and Who is in control.