Politics

Preaching and Worship Resources about Politics

Though we're told that religion and politics don't mix, the declaration of Jesus as Lord and the advent of the kingdom of God have deep political implications. If politics is the practice and theory of influencing other people by achieving and exercising governance for the common good, this is certainly what God's redeeming work is seeking to achieve. There are good and bad politics, but we cannot imagine the world today or in the future without it.

In Scripture

Saul: In the covenant God made with the people of Israel, God established a state and a government. Yet the politics of Israel were always bordered by ambiguity and stained by bad governance. In 1 Samuel, following the chaos of the period of rule by judges, the people clamor for a king. Through Samuel, God warns against inevitable corruption of kingly rule (1 Sam. 8). Saul, the first king of Israel, proved to be disobedient and weak, and God rejected him.

David Is Anointed With the anointing of David, "a man after [God's] own heart," (1 Sam. 13:14) politics in Israel became more aligned with the will of God. David, despite his flaws, is in many ways an exemplary king, endowed with charisma, courage, loyalty, and love for God. In the Old Testament, David becomes a kind of icon of the kind of governing politics God desires.

David's kingship climaxes when, after establishing his kingdom politically, David states his intent to build a temple for God. God refuses David's request, but then promises to establish David's reign as an everlasting kingdom. "I will raise up your offspring after you . . . Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me." (2 Sam. 7:12, 16).

David's successors prove mostly faithless, unjust, and politically disastrous, but the promise of a son on the throne of David persists even through warfare and exile. Psalm 132 pleads with God not to "turn away the face of your anointed one," reminding God of the promise made to David: "One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne."

The prophets keep this hope alive, hearing God saying, "I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land" (Jer. 23:5).

The gospels clearly testify that Jesus of Nazareth is the royal son born as David's successor. Luke places Jesus' birth in the eye of Roman imperial politics, naming the rulers and how they unknowingly conspire to bring Jesus' birth to the "city of David." Matthew records Jesus' birth in the context of the jealous rage of Herod on the announcement from the Magi of a new king born in Bethlehem. The angel tells Mary "the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David . . . of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32, 33). Jesus' birth in a stable is pervaded with politics.

Jesus as King While Jesus never takes on himself the title of king, the intricate politics of an occupied Israel dog his path throughout his ministry. When asked about taxes, he shows them the coin of the realm: "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Luke 20:25, NIV). In the end, his crucifixion was a very political matter, with the Jews pressing their case that Jesus was in rebellion against Roman rule (Luke 23:1-3).

Pilate and Jesus In a fascinating dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in John 18 and 19, before the crucifixion, we listen to Jesus' own understanding of his kingship and the politics of the kingdom. Pilate asks straight out, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not from this world." Jesus acknowledges his kingship, but wants Pilate and us to know that his rule is not about power politics or violence; it reflects the politics of God (John 18:33-37). Yet this political authority from God eclipses even that of the empire. "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above," says Jesus in John 19:11). Jesus is crucified below an inscription meant to be ironic, but shown to be true: King of the Jews.

Pentecost The church soon understood the political implications of their faith in the Christ. On Pentecost, Peter preached the politics of Psalm 110: "The Lord says to my Lord, `Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool'" (Acts 2:34, 35). The apostles believed this so deeply that they would tell the authorities, "We must obey God rather than men." Christ is Lord and King, and in both those terms there was an implicit threat to the Roman Empire.

Governments are Instituted by God Paul certainly recognized and affirmed these political claims, but understood them within the framework of Christian responsibilities toward earthly government. So Christians still pay their taxes and honor the king, but the governments of this world are nevertheless "instituted by God" and must act according to God's purposes for human welfare (Rom. 13:1-7).

Politics of the Kingdom of God In the visions of John in Revelation, the politics of the kingdom of God come to full expression. Jesus is seen in all his splendor as "the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:4, 5). And finally, "The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, `The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever" (Rev. 11:15).

Points to Ponder

Politics, earthly and heavenly, are inexorably mixed into the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Christ is our Lord and King in a way that relativizes and guides all earthly political power. In the end, the universe will be ruled by a divine monarchy, and all will be subject to the true and only king worthy of the name.

Enabling Human Life to Flourish In the best sense of the word, politics is about enabling human life to flourish. In that sense, politics in a fallen world involves human beings seeking to approximate the justice and truth that is exhibited in the kingdom of God. The vocation of the Christian in politics is therefore to work within the given political system to reflect that kingdom.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.