As a pastor, I’m constantly asked to give my opinion on very personal matters. Sometimes, through this blog, I receive e-mails from complete strangers about complicated challenges that people face in their family or personal relationships. Although I like to consider myself a relatively young pastor, as I look back on my ministry, it seems that a large percentage of problems that people face in life are connected to the issue of authority. When no king was in Israel, people were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. In our present culture, that same trap of personal autonomy and independence looms over our culture. To put it bluntly, the depraved sinful heart seeks autonomy and resists authority.
The American evangelical church has suffered greatly by resisting authority. The people who live by the motto, “land of the free and the home of the brave” don’t easily surrender to anyone’s authority. When we teach our children to be “free and brave” – that attitude rising from the soil of a depraved soul can result in teenage rebellion, disrespect for civil authority, a rogue attitude toward laws, and a hatred for boundaries. Americans have been singing the words, “I did it my way” for years, and with a sense of pride we rebel. It’s no surprise that we have teenagers walking around in the local shopping mall with t-shirts that read, “There is no authority but yourself.”
Most of the time, when a parent comes to me with problems with their child, within a few minutes I can make a connection to the issue of authority. However, this authority issue is not an independent “authority” issue, it’s really a God issue. Children rebel against their parents because they have rebelled against God. They don’t obey their parents because they have no desire to obey God.
R.C. Sproul has accurately stated, “The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls” (“The Divine Foundation of Authority,” Tabletalk, March, 2009, p. 6).
In Matthew 18, we see Jesus’ words concerning church discipline. This process is to be practiced in order to preserve the holiness of the church. Occasionally, a church might reach the point of excommunication, whereby the church has to revoke the membership of a member because of persistent rebellion and a refusal to repent of ongoing sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin might be, at the root of the whole situation is a refusal to submit to authority. First, the authority of God and His commands of holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Second, and related to the authority of God, is the refusal to submit to the church’s authority (see Matthew 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:17).
Lawbreakers roam the streets of our society. In fact, they live under our roofs. To be clear, we are all lawbreakers and rebels at heart (Ephesians 2:1-10). However, those who are rebels to God often have little restraint of conscience, disrespect for God, and a lack of submission to the laws of society (Romans 13:1-7). This lawbreaking attitude manifests itself through drugs, theft, adultery, murder, rape, a refusal to pay taxes, and various other sins.
At times, rebels to civil laws likewise have a rebellious attitude toward police officers, the very people who enforce the laws of society. Although many case studies exist and much ink has been used to explain the root cause of such behavior, the reality is – it’s all connected to a problem with authority. The rogue attitude toward civil laws is rooted in a rebellion against God’s law. This attitude is related to a deep rooted rebellion against God.
In recent days, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court has provided new perspective regarding authority. What happens when a certain percentage of the population decides that they want to break the law and get away with it? If they pressure the law makers, or in the case of same-sex marriage if the pressure the Supreme Court justices, they can merely change the law to reflect their sinful desires. It’s one thing for a teenager to have a problem with the authority of his parents. It’s quite a different thing for a nation to have a problem with the authority of God and His divine law that’s deeply rooted in creation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about problems with teenage rebellion, a wife’s disrespect for the headship of her husband in marriage, a refusal to pay taxes, materialism, disconnect and disinterest in the church, drug dealers, murderers, homosexuals, thieves, and various other sins – all of these actions are rooted in a problem with authority. Rebellion against God and an unwillingness to submit to His authority leads to various other sins (see Romans 1:26-32). When people refuse to recognize God’s intended purpose of authority and seek what’s right in their own eyes, an entire multiplicity of problems will plague that individual, family, church, or nation. It’s an unfortunate reality that people want God to be everywhere except on His throne.
We can learn much from the lessons of failed leaders, judged nations, and the sinful trap of rebellion. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A sacred regard to the authority of God ought to lead us to reject an error, however old, sanctioned by whatever authority, or however generally practiced.” At the heart of the first sin was a disregard for authority – Satan disregarded the authority of God and lusted after His throne. The first sin in human history was rooted in a disregard for authority and boundaries instituted by God – Adam and Eve rebelled against God. It would be an extremely wise decision to live life in complete submission to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Yesterday, we continued our series through Mark’s gospel. I preached from Mark 6:14-29. In this text we see Herod’s fear of Jesus and the detailed description of Herod’s depraved party where the greatest prophet, John the Baptist, lost his life. What can we learn from the death of John the Baptist that may help us in our modern culture?
Herod’s Fear of Jesus
Jesus’ popularity had multiplied greatly. As He visited each town, people would be healed, demonic spirits would be dominated by His authority, and His preaching would be heard. Jesus was so overwhelmed at one point by the growing crowds that He told the disciples to prepare a boat for Him to stand in so that it would provide distance from the overwhelming crowds as he distanced Himself from the shore and preached on a floating pulpit.
Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, was the tetrarch over Galilee. He was given this position when Herod the Great died and split his kingdom between his sons. Herod heard of Jesus’ power. He had healed sick people, calmed raging storms, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Herod felt threatened by the growing popularity of Jesus. So, he wanted to know who Jesus was.
Apparently he asked for the identity of Jesus, and they provided him with the different theories. Some were saying that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Others were saying that Jesus was Elijah the prophet who had returned. Another theory floating around was that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. When Herod heard of the different theories, he spoke up and said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” The worst nightmare of Herod had come true, so he thought.
The High Cost of Following Jesus
At this point, Mark looks back at the death of John the Baptist and explains to his readers exactly how this horrible event unfolded. To begin, we must consider the identity of Herod and Herodias. Herod, as one of the sons of Herod the Great, had taken a wife of another king out of a strictly political move. Herod’s brother, Philip, had married Herodias. Herodias was actually the daughter of one of Philip’s half brothers, so Herodias really was married to her uncle. At some point, Herod and Herodias decided that they would get together, and planned to divorce their spouses and come together as husband and wife. Their plan failed at some point and caused political unrest and war. However, they did marry and the depraved sinful relationship of incest, adultery, and an unlawful marriage spread across the land.
John the Baptist was a Jesus follower, but he followed Jesus as the blazing forerunner prophet who was sent to make way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist was not interested in becoming the latest hipster preacher, he dressed in camel’s skin and ate wild honey and locusts. Not only that, he was not preaching in the city. He was a country preacher out by the Jordan River. People started hearing of John the Baptizer and his bold preaching, and hundreds and perhaps thousands made their way to him. As they listened to him preach and boldly commanding people to repent, he would call out Herod in the process. Perhaps as an illustration of the need to repent, but he would call out to Herod and say, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
This sparked a controversy that offended Herodias. She wanted the Baptist dead. Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, but for some strange reason, he feared the prophet and refused to have him put to death. He could sense his holiness and righteousness, so he refused to have him killed. This didn’t settle things with Herodias. She was constantly looking for her move.
On Herod’s birthday, as he was throwing a big party with special guests, this wicked woman could see her great opportunity. She waited until the right time, and when the dancers would be sent in to please the intoxicated depraved men, rather than sending in the prostitutes, Herodias sent in her own daughter. She danced and pleased Herod in the filth of debased sin, and then Herod said, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” She consulted her mother, and Herodias immediately responded with “the head of John the Baptist.” Immediately with haste Herodias’ daughter went back to Herod and said, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
Herod knew he had been caught! He had to keep his word. So, he sent the executioner to the prison and took the head of the prophet and placed it on a platter and delivered it to the girl. The girl then gave it to her mother as a trophy. What can we learn from this story?
There is a high price to following Jesus. All throughout history, it has been a normal thing for people to be killed for following Jesus. Although we have recently celebrated our nation’s freedom on July 4th, the fact is, the church in America has experienced an abnormal reprieve from the persecution that has been historically poured out upon the church of Jesus Christ. When the followers of John came to get his headless body for burial, they got the message. What happened to their leader might happen to them. Before there was ISIS, there was a Herodias. Jesus followers have been losing their heads for many years.
As we read about John the Baptist, we’re reminded of how much we need a powerful prophetic voice to thunder once again. John the Baptist was a breath of fresh air during a time of sinful living, false religion, and legalism. We desperately need that type of preaching in our present hour. The problem with preaching today is that nobody wants to kill the prophets. The pulpit is where the fire should be – unfortunately – today’s pulpit is cold and decorated with other things like flowers, but no fire.
As we live in an increasingly hostile world, we must tell the truth about sin as John the Baptist did – with a commitment to the truth and an unwillingness to compromise. However, we must likewise be prepared to suffer for telling the truth. To follow Jesus is to walk in the footsteps of the cross. Is the church of Christ in America prepared for persecution?
As we all know, junk food will take its toll on our bodies over time, and that same thing is true as it pertains to spiritual junk food. Don Carson sat down and talked with Conrad Mbewe about the spiritual junk food in Africa that passes as born-again Christianity.
Gay Marriage: Focusing on Good Things Is Not Always the Best Thing – Over the next couple of weeks, the G3 Conference will be posting articles on their blog in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling. The first article is by Dr. Chip Thornton, and he argues that the church has been focusing on “good” things while neglecting the “best” thing – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Final Break Between God and Country – As July 4th approaches, it’s important to remember that many American Christians have a deep connection between their faith and their national freedom. Is America a Christian nation? Was it a founded as a Christian nation? Thomas Kidd writes, “Perhaps the best thing that can come out of the gay marriage decision is for the church to make a final break between our faith and our nation.”
This upcoming Sunday, I will be preaching from Mark 6 on the death of John the Baptist. As we consider how his head ended up on a platter, it provides an important commentary on the recent events with ISIS, the church shooting in Charleston, and the Supreme Court ruling regarding same-sex “marriage” in America. While it may be tempting at times to separate from modern society and go out into the wilderness and live off of locusts and wild honey, that’s not exactly what John the Baptist was doing. He wasn’t starting a compound to get away from the world, although he did dress strange and his diet did include large grasshoppers and local honey.
Christians must learn to live in a complicated world of sin. One of the first lessons that a Christian must learn is that we’re not home yet. Sadly, many professing Christians are too comfortable in our present world. Others are overly offended when depraved sinners behave like depraved sinners. As we stand upon the shoulders of many Christ followers from history, we can learn lessons about life as we consider how they navigated the complexities of sin in their day. John the Baptist provides us an interesting point of reference as we consider our present sexual revolution in America. What can we learn from John the Baptist about modern life in a confused culture?
In the aftermath of the terror attacks on America, September 11th, 2001, a religious service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. where many people and various faiths gathered to mourn the death of thousands of Americans. The Rev. Nathan Baxter prayed during the service, and as he finished his prayer, he said, “Respecting persons of all faiths and traditions, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus, the Christ, Amen.” John the Baptist would not have cared about respecting other religions had he prayed on that day. In fact, it was duty to another religion that brought on the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
In our culture, American evangelicals often work overtime so as not to offend other religions. I’m certainly not suggesting that Christians should aim to be offensive or scandalous in tone, character, or speech. However, Christians must realize that the message of the cross is a scandal to the world and one that we cannot “dress up” or avoid. To mention the name of Jesus is offensive in our day, and to claim to be a follower of Jesus is to open yourself up for ridicule and attack. John the Baptist would stand firm and remain unashamed of Jesus Christ in the midst of a perverse culture. In fact, that’s what he did in the midst of his perverse Jesus hating culture too.
Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
To preach the gospel is to preach truth, and to proclaim the truth is to shine light into the darkness. That’s not always a popular thing. To be clear, the message of the gospel is not centered upon monogamous heterosexuality. The message of the gospel is centered upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Christians approach life through a gospel lens and when asked why it was necessary for Jesus to die on a bloody cross, all of the sudden human sexuality is a relevant issue.
Jesus died for sinners, and in His death He accomplished the salvation of a diverse group of sinners – including sexual sinners who would one day bow their knee to Christ as Lord. Jesus’ death was sacrificial; however, it wasn’t the end of the story. On the third day, Jesus was victoriously and miraculously resurrected from the dead. His resurrection validated His claims of deity, and thereby the right to address all sin – including sexual sin (divorce, adultery, homosexuality, etc).
Therefore, the gospel proclamation is not merely a proclamation of facts about Jesus. It goes beyond that into the dark abyss of sin and human depravity. That’s why John the Baptist wasn’t merely saying, “Jesus loves you this I know, for the Bible tells me so, now come down here and get baptized, because Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” John the Baptist was proclaiming the truth, and the truth involved the facts about Herod’s incestuous and adulterous relationship with Herodias – his brother’s wife. Mark gives us the details in his gospel account:
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her.  For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:17-18).
John MacArthur was right on target in his book, Hard to Believe, as he stated, “You can’t be faithful and popular, so take your pick.” John the Baptist was willing to be faithful to the truth and his popularity didn’t matter so much to him. The popularity of the truth was more important to the Baptizer. As truth proclaimers, we must have confidence in the Bible. We can allow those who oppose to throw their questions and criticisms toward the Bible. Those who oppose the Bible can’t harm it with their criticisms, doubts, and questions. As we see with John the Baptist, to stand on the truth often means to stand exposed and to stand alone.
Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
Calling out Herod Antipas was not the politically correct thing to do in John the Baptist’s day. John the Baptist wasn’t willing to trade his pulpit for a political stump. He understood the risk, and he boldly proclaimed truth. Christians must be willing to take risks in order to proclaim the gospel. In fact, to spread the gospel in private or on a public stage is risky business. It could cost you your job, political advancement, friends, family, and perhaps your very life.
Let’s be honest, it’s a sad reality that the divorce culture of the world has been welcomed into the church. Could the divorce culture in the church be related to silence from the pulpit from pastors who were paralyzed by “fear of man” issues? What will the landscape of the church look like in the future? Will similar men refuse to speak out about the sexual sin of homosexuality and welcome it into the “church” because of “fear of man” issues?
Many people are willing to risk their reputation, but not their life. When clear lines are drawn in the sand of culture, Christians must be willing to stand with Christ rather than the popular crowd. John the Baptist proclaimed the truth even when he was opposed. He was warned to keep quiet, but he continued to thunder the truth about God and the sexual sin of Herod Antipas.
We need faithful and loving men who would be willing to walk in the footsteps of John the Baptist and call out the Supreme Court and the President Barack Obama on their open sinful sexual revolt they’ve been leading in America. Those who speak out must do so in love. Don’t misunderstand love and think that it’s weak, soft, or capitulating on principles. The fact is, love is bold and strong. John the Baptist told the truth and risked his life in love.
A risk-taking Christian is not a reckless Christian. John the Baptist wasn’t reckless. Bold proclamation of truth requires a certain amount of risk. J.C. Ryle said, “Duties are duties. Results are God’s.” The reason people were drawn to him was because of his calculated proclamation of truth. May our God raise up an army of faithful Christians who, in the spirit of John the Baptist, will tell the truth about sin and point to salvation in Jesus Christ. According to Proverbs 28:23, in the end, a person who rebukes a person in error rather than having a flattering tongue will gain favor. That was true of John the Baptist. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
Last week the ruling of the Supreme Court was handed down, and we have all witnessed the display of rainbow images as well as open opposition across the Internet. John Piper provides some helpful points regarding the errors of homosexuality, and his response provides detailed information about human sexuality and idolatry.
What is the true definition of marriage? As you consider the redefining process of marriage, it’s important to consider the theological ramifications. The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has provided an official response to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Voddie Baucham and Russell Moore talk about why homosexuality is wrong, even “if it doesn’t harm anyone else.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay “marriage” has caused many Christians to press the panic button. Social media outlets were flooded with words of despair on Friday of last week as the ruling was officially announced. It was literally an announcement that rocked the landscape of the American culture and will forever change the fabric of family in America. A blend of rainbow hue covered the White House in Washington, D.C. as night fell upon the property. Similar sights could be seen with the Empire State Building and the castle at Disney World.
Meanwhile, across the social media world another sight was visible, and it wasn’t the sight of celebratory words. It had the feel of panic as Christians responded to the ruling with fear, outrage, disgust, and even anger. People who know what Matthew 16:18 says by memory responded as if they don’t believe it to be true, or at least temporarily forgot Jesus made that statement in the first place. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on homosexual marriage, I want to suggest four reasons why the church of Jesus Christ will prosper in an age of a sexual revolution.
Jesus Promised Victory for His Church
The first time we see the word “church” used in the New Testament is in a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This was a promise. Jesus’ promise didn’t seclude the church from persecution and trial, but merely promised victory through the attacks that would come. Even during an age of gay marriage and sexual perversion, the church of Jesus Christ will prosper.
Remember King David before he became the king of Israel? After being anointed to be the next king of Israel, he eventually found himself running through the mountains and hiding in caves as Saul desired to take his life. Did David forget the promises of God? Did David doubt God’s plan? Many followers of Christ looked like they forgot God’s ultimate plan last Friday as they pressed the panic button following the ruling of the Supreme Court. The fact is, the church of Jesus will prosper in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. The rising giant of a sexual perverse nation cannot thwart the plan of Jesus’ church in America.
The Eternal Throne of Jesus vs. the Temporal Throne of the Supreme Court
According to Romans 13, all leaders who occupy an office of authority receive that office from the Lord Himself. However, all offices of power are temporary. No matter how powerful and mighty an office might become, at the end of the day, it’s temporary. The government is laid upon the shoulders of Jesus Christ, and He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 2:27; Revelation 19:15).
What may come as a startling surprise is that Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Justice Elena Kagan will all stand before the high and majestic throne of King Jesus one day. On that day, they will be stripped of their robes and they will possess no power to rule or make decisions. They will answer to the King and a divine ruling will be made upon their souls. Certainly they will see that their throne was temporal while Jesus’ throne is eternal.
As the Psalmist says in Psalm 146, we must not place our trust in the princes of this world. Our hope and our confidence must be rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ. Because His throne is eternal and all authority has been given unto Jesus by God the Father, we can trust that His church’s message and mission will prevail.
The Church’s History Under Cultural Pressure
When sexual sin is exposed, expect opposition to come. That’s what happened to John the Baptist as he called out the sexual sin of Herod. The church of Jesus Christ was founded by Jesus in an age of Greek philosophy, a landscape saturated with pagan idolatry, and during a time when Roman crosses stood upon the hill called Golgotha. The church of Jesus Christ started with the preaching of unlearned fishermen, a tax collector, and a few others in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion and in the midst of bloodthirsty opposition.
Following the explosive start in Jerusalem, opposition continued to follow the church of Jesus Christ like a black cloud. Even after the conversion of an unlikely convert named Saul of Tarsus, his mission was welcomed with a barrage of attacks from city to city. Nevertheless, even as Paul preached the gospel in sexually perverse cities such as Ephesus where temple prostitution was rampant and normal, the gospel prevailed. The gospel was proclaimed in Corinth, and many sinners came to Christ – including homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The sexual revolution of gay marriage is not a new challenge for the church. Like other sins, it has been around for a long time and it’s incapable of stopping the gospel mission of Jesus Christ. The homosexual marriage ruling did not surprise God, dethrone God, silence God, or overrule God. The ruling of the Supreme Court did not change the message, method, or mission of the church. In the end, the gospel will prevail and many homosexuals will bow their knee to Jesus Christ and be washed in His soul cleansing blood.
Homosexual Marriage Will Fulfill Scripture
The jubilation of the homosexual community from this past week will soon give way to the perils of depression, a lack of fulfillment, and ultimately disease. This is the prescription for those who will continue to mock God and resist His plan for marriage, family, and human sexuality (Romans 1:27).
As the very Scriptures that the homosexual community vehemently reject are fulfilled in the brokenness of the homosexual lifestyle, God will take those horrible realities and use them to validate His truth about family and marriage. More importantly, God will raise up preachers who will preach the truth and even in an age of where sin is normalized and the Word of God trivialized, sinners will call out to Christ and be set free from the bondage of their sin.
In short, the church of Jesus Christ will continue to grow – even in the midst of a sexual revolution. God’s plan will not be stopped and the beauty of the gospel will become more attractive than anything this world has to offer. The church’s mission will prevail because the church’s mission is not heterosexuality, it’s the gospel. Hell is filled with heterosexuals and homosexuals. It is the mission of the church to bring people to faith in Christ, and when sinners submit to Christ as King, they are released from the power of their sins and experience freedom in Christ. This is true for all sinners – including homosexuals. The church of Jesus Christ will prevail for the glory of God.