Daniel 1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.
Daniel and his friends made up their minds not to eat the King’s food. They had their faces set like flint and they were not going to give in. They were self-controlled and disciplined to do what they knew was right. They were not going to take the cheese and fall into the trap. They were not going to allow their identity to be taken away with wine and meat. While they would serve and submit to the Babylonian king because they knew that God required them to serve and submit to those in authority, they were going to do so as free men not as those who loved their chains. They were not going to fall for bread and circuses.
We are at that time of the year where there are signs all over creation, ads on every television and radio station, and now even text messages coming to your phone with politicians making you promise after promise if you will support them. In AD 140, a man named Juvenal wrote of the corrupt Roman populace this way:
“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”
He was referring to laws passed around 140 AD by Roman politicians giving out a grain dole to poorer people in order to capture their vote. They provided free wheat and put on costly circuses and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power. It was a promise of food and drink in order to cultivate loyalty and lull one into a superficial contentment while one’s liberties were taken away just as King Nebuchadnezzar was attempting to do with the young men of Judah.
And now everywhere we turn we have politicians making the same offers. Vote for me and I will give you free healthcare. Vote for me and we will give you free college. Vote for me and you will get free birth control. Vote for me and we will take money away from the mean rich and give it to you. Vote for me and you will get free Netflix. Well, I made that part about Netflix up but I am sure someone will take my suggestion and run for office. If the ads are not offering you something, they are warning you that the other person wants to take away your free something. Don’t vote for Mark Cox because he wants to take away your right to free Taco Bell. Forget JFK’s don’t ask what your country can do for you. You don't have to ask because we will tell you exactly what we can do for you. You have a problem, the government has got to do something about that. Have no fear, there will be a politician ready to do that something if you will just give her the chance.
I want to compare this mindset with a message from one of the pastors of the pilgrims inviting young men to come with them on their journey to North America. This is an invitation from Robert Cushman. He writes:
"That for men which have a large heart, and look after great riches, ease, pleasures, dainties, and jollity in this world...I would not advise them to come there, for as yet the country will afford no such matters: but if there be any who are content to lay out their estates, spend their time, labors, and endeavors, for the benefit of them that shall come after, and in desire to further the gospel among those poor heathens, quietly contenting themselves with such hardship and difficulties, as by God’s Providence shall fall upon them, being yet young, and in their strength, such men I would advise and encourage to go, for their ends cannot fail them."
He is saying if you are the type who is looking out for yourself and your ease and comfort, you need to stay away. But if you are the one who will come and work not for yourself but for the benefit of generations who will be here after you are dead and gone and if you want to see the gospel go forth, then we invite you. I can almost hear the attack ads now.
Robert Cushman doesn’t think you deserve to have enjoyment. He wants you to sacrifice your wealth for people you haven’t even met. Shame on him. I am King George and I approve this message
So what has happened that we went from leaders pushing for self-sacrifice to leaders on all sides offering everything under the sun to stay in power. How did we get here?
There are a few reasons but among them is that the we have lost what the purpose of civil government is supposed to be. We have left behind a biblical view of civil government. This is because many pastors have refused to instruct both the people and the magistrates on their duties. It used to be common practice for the Puritan pastors to preach election day sermons where they instructed the magistrates and the people on their duty. These sermons will filled with practical advice, warning about breaking God's law and even instruction on monetary policies. Because of this instruction, unbelievers feigned allegiance to God and unbelieving civil magistrates were compelled to obey God and work towards enforcing his law. Now we know that this was not a utopian time. They did not always get justice right but there was a great influence of the gospel on the kingdoms of the world. We need pastors who will instruct us in our duty towards civil government and the civil governments duty towards us. In a time, when every politician is setting before you food and wine from their portions, you need to know where those portions come from and why that politician is offering you these choice gifts. You also need to know what the civil government exists for.
The civil government does not exist to provide for your wants, desires, and even your personal needs. Romans 13:3 says:
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
Civil government exists to serve God through service to public good by punishing evil and protecting the liberties of those under its care. In the beginning, man was a moral agent living freely in a reality that is good, coming from the hand of God: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Man blessed with reason and a moral sense was created in the image of God. He was made a little lower than the angels, and given dominion over the earth. He had the responsibility to take dominion and with that came the liberty to do so. Liberty is God-given. Man’s dominion over the earth and the other creatures, was subject to no restraint but the law of God, the law of liberty. Had he continued in this way there still may have been a civil government. There still would have been a need to rightly order society but with the fall of man into rebellion there became a necessity of government to coerce a degree of right living and justice from a mankind fallen from the high road of willing obedience to the loving Father. Contrary to libertarian anarchist views, civil government does have to power to coerce and should do so. God instituted civil government to protect the lives and property of others. This is the purpose of civil government instituted by God. Since civil government is instituted by God then those who serve in it will answer to the one who ordained it. They will answer to how they rule. And since civil government exists to protect good and punish evil it must know what is good and what is evil. The only one who can authoritatively say what is evil and what is good is God almighty.
Again, those in civil government will answer to God for how they rule. This is why King David in his last words to Israel says 2 Samuel 23:3 "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." God declares what rulers should be and this should guide us as we have been given freedom in this nation to select leaders. Rulers are to be men who are just and rule in the fear of God. Noah Webster, a brilliant man who most know from Webster’s Dictionary wrote an article entitled, “Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education.” In it he said,
“In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide….It is alleged by men of loose principles, or defective views of the subject, that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations. But the Scriptures teach a different doctrine. They direct that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of God, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness. But if we had no divine instruction on the subject, our own interest would demand of us a strict observance of the principle of these injunctions. And it is to the neglect of this rule of conduct in our citizens, that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breeches of trust, peculations and embezzlements of public property which astonish even ourselves; which tarnish the character of our country; which disgrace a republican government; and which will tend to reconcile men to monarchs in other countries and even our own…When a citizen gives his suffrage [vote] to a man of known immorality, he abuses his trust; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor, and he betrays the interest of his country.”
We should be looking for leaders who deal justly. This means that they don’t show partiality to the rich or the poor. They don’t pander to identity politics, making promises to people based upon which group will give them votes. They deal fairly. 2 Samuel 23 says they will rule in the fear of the Lord. It is their duty to uphold the kingdom of Christ. There is a difference and even separation between the church and civil government. The Civil Government has not been given the charge to proclaim the gospel or to exercise authority in religion. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven as the Westminster Confession of Faith rightfully declares. Yet they do have the duty to make sure that the church is protected and that ministers of God are able to do their duty. They also have the responsibility to rule according to the law of God. What God calls a crime they must.
In 1790, Rev Daniel Foster preaching to the civil magistrates in his day said: "If religion is not honored and supported by men in places of public trust, the glory of the Lord will soon depart, and the fire of God be scattered over the city. Rulers are called “the shields of the earth;” they are to protect the people from injuries among men, and likewise from the judgments of God. When God’s wrath was kindled against Israel, for their idolatry at the foot of the mount, we find Moses, that pious ruler, pleading the cause of the people, and he sounds his plea upon God’s covenant, and reminds him of his oath. And David, that man after God’s own heart, when he saw the Angel that smote the people, said, but these sheep, what have they done? “And the Lord said unto the Angel, it is enough, stay now thine hand.” The attention Christian rulers pay to religion in their hearts, and in their government, will be their support when they are called to lay down their commission, and their lives; it will brighten the scene before them, and embalm their memories when they are dead."
We need to be looking for and praying that God will give us civil leaders that do justice and fear him. But if you look around right now, there does not seem to be a lot of these men. We do have what looks like two fundamentally different and opposing sides vying for your vote but yet there seems to be very few if any who are seeking justice and who fear God. What are we to do in this occasion?
I want to point you to Daniel and his friends. They did not take the cheese. They did not take the enticements of the king but they kept their loyalty to the kingdom of God. They served and submitted to the civil government when it did not command contrary to God’s law. But they also withheld themselves from being taken in with the offers from an unjust king who at this point did not fear the Lord. In pointing to them, I am saying when it comes to voting you need to refuse to take the cheese. Ignore all the people offering you different things if only they can have your loyalty. I am not saying don’t vote but I am saying don’t let your vote be swayed by those offering you free healthcare, free college, free anything. Look for those whom you think will best seek justice and fear the Lord. It may be slim pickins but I can tell you right off the bat, those running on a platform that supports and encourages the murder of the preborn are off the list. Those who want to force Christians to celebrate their perversions are off the list. They do not fear the Lord in the least.
Now let me tell you what I am going to do. I know that one party, the democratic party is completely immoral. Almost everything on their platform is an affront to God and an attack on liberty. They have created fictitious rights to sexual perversion, child sacrifice, and other people’s property. In pushing for these faux-rights, they seek to trample under real rights given by God. I also know that they are a party willing throw away due process in order to gain power. They are enemies of Christ. I am going to be voting this week in opposition to this party. However, I am not going to blindly defend the opposition. I am not going to take the cheese of either party and give blind allegiance to the Republicans. When the Republican party acts wickedly and they often do, I will as a pastor remind them of their duty. But I am not going to make worthless unequivocal parallels either. Christians must not be beholden to a party but that does not mean that both parties are equivocal and it doesn't matter which you vote for. The Democratic party platform is wicked and destructive to society. Don't take their cheese. But also don't gorge yourself on the meet and drink of the Republican party either. Don't be those who thoughtlessly defend them at every step. Your allegiance is to Christ Jesus.
As I was preparing this sermon and I was thinking about the principles of civil government and the type of leaders that we should look for and what we have actually before us, I began to mourn. I don’t know if there is another nation in modern history that God has dealt so bountifully with. I can’t think of another country that has been so for a lack of a better word “privileged.” Therefore has there been another nation that has been more ungrateful to him. We have slaughtered millions of preborn while God has provided graciously to us. We have paraded sexual perversion, divorce, and idolatry before him. We have had the gospel go forth across the land and we have seen God deal so kindly to us and yet we have abused that kindness and deserve to be thrust down into the pit of hell. Isaiah’s description of Israel fits us too well: The whole Head is sick, the whole Heart is faint, from the Crown of the Head to the Sole of our Feet, we are full of Wounds and Bruises, and putrifying Sores.
Rather than being obedient to God’s word to not merely look out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others, we have looked out only for our own. And then we look for civil leaders who will pander to these perverted desires. Sadly, while this has occurred much of the leaders in the church have been silent. We have been content with the choice food and wine of the world. We have played the harlot against our Lord Jesus, both in regard to principles and practice. If we go on obstinately in our sins despite the warnings God has given us in his word we shall treasure up unto our selves wrath against the day of judgment.
Psalm 10:16 says The Lord is King forever and ever; Nations have perished from His land.
President Donald Trump is not King. Nancy Pelosi is not King. Bernie Sanders is not King. The Lord is King. And if this nation will not repent and turn to God, it will be another nation that perished from King Jesus’s land.