One Nation, Under God
Thesis: Christians have an obligation to live in subjection to the state, and in obedience to God.
Purpose: To help my listeners understand their obligations to their country and to God’s kingdom.
His name is Michael Newdow, and he lives and works in Sacramento, CA as an emergency room physician. He also holds a degree in law from the University of Michigan Law School. But that’s not why you’ve probably heard his name. If you remember Michael Newdow it’s because of a law suit he filed in court to have the phrase UNDER GOD removed from the pledge of allegiance to the flag. After the CA courts ruled in his favor, the Supreme Court struck down the lower court ruling. In 2005 Dr. Newdow filed another suit to remove the words IN GOD WE TRUST from all US currency, but again lost the case. But the publicity from the case led to the passage of the Pledge Protection Act which is meant to keep the Pledge of Allegiance intact.
In the last 50 years of history we’ve seen our nation’s highest court declare students may not pray in the classroom, at graduation or sports events. The Ten Commandments have been removed from any public arena, including courtrooms and legislatures. The Cross is a banned symbol for almost any public building, as well as nativity scenes in or around government property. They do all of this because, they say, the founding fathers believed in the “separation of church and state. “ What most people don’t remember is Thomas Jefferson first spoke those words in a speech to a group of Baptist preachers on January 1, 1802. What he actually said:
The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, but that wall is a one directional wall; it keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.[i]
Does anybody remember where we got the phrase “one nation under God”?
Abraham Lincoln was the first President to use the phrase, "This nation under God." It inspired President Eisenhower, in 1954, to add the words "one nation under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. [ii]
Almost all of the great Americans of the past saw the USA as one nation under God.
But is the USA one nation under God today? Should we be? What exactly should be the relationship between our loyalty to our nation and our faith in God? How can we live out both our patriotism and our piety? Jesus Christ addresses some of these issues in Mark 12:13-17. Let’s read this passage and then try to answer a very important question: how can we live as one nation under God?
Let’s begin by doing what these folks did in this passage: ask
I. THE QUESTION: WHO DESERVES OUR ALLEGIANCE?
They say if you want to keep your friends stay away from the subjects of politics and religion. That highly combustible mixture that has separated many friends and made many enemies.
I once heard of a retired military man who kept had a tall flag in his front yard. One day he talked with a Jehovah Witness and got very upset when he found out the Jehovah Witnesses refused to serve in the armed services, to say the pledge of allegiance, or to salute the flag. One day he was sitting in his living room looking out the window when he saw a woman with her little girl walking towards his front door. When she knocked at the door he was ready for her. He opened the door and before she could open her mouth he told her,“I'm not going to talk with you or listen to what you say unless you turn, face that flag in my front yard, salute it and say the pledge of allegiance!” The woman looked very confused, but she finally turned, faced the flag, saluted, and said the pledge of allegiance. The retired military man was shocked. “You're the first Jehovah's Witness I ever met who would salute the flag and say the pledge of allegiance!” The woman replied, “Jehovah's Witness? Mister I'm just the Avon Lady!”
Mixing religion and politics can be a dangerous business. That’s precisely why these men bring a question dealing with both to Jesus.
The scene is a few days after Jesus rides into Jerusalem to cheering crowds, who praise Him as the Messiah, God’s chosen King. He no more steps off the donkey into the Temple when He . When He is challenged, He not only refuses to give them a straight answer—He calls them all rebels against God.
This is bitter medicine for these men to swallow. In fact, vs. 15 says their hatred for Jesus draws two opposing camps together.
On one end the spectrum are the Pharisees: religious separatists- hyper-holy preachers who claim to be closer to God than your average Joe. They tend to look down on others who aren’t as pure as they are.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Herodians, whom you might call political opportunists. They hold on to their religion with one hand, and the people in power—be it King Herod or whoever sits on the throne. The less political tension the better for them, because it’s how they get more of what they want.
The Pharisees consider the Herodians traitors; the Herodians consider the Pharisees fanatics. Both groups see Jesus as a real threat to their power and authority. So the enemies unite to face a common Enemy- Jesus Christ.
Look how cunning they are as they lay their trap in vs. 14. They try to catch the Lord off guard with empty flattery, hoping He will make a fatal mistake.
If He says Yes, pay the taxes the Pharisees win. The coins used to pay these taxes bear an image and inscription that declare Caesar to be a god. The true Messiah would never condone such idolatry, so they could discredit Jesus in the eyes of the crowd.
On the other hand, if He says No, it’s wrong to pay the taxes then the Herodians step in and charge Jesus with treason. The Romans would step in and arrest Him.
This truly is a loaded question, isn’t it? How would you answer?
There are some who might line up behind the Pharisees. Some people claim to be too holy to be patriotic. They think that you cannot love your country and love the Lord at the same time. Some refuse to pledge to the flag, or sing the national anthem. Some even go to the extremes of refusing to pay taxes, or even recognize the authority of our government.
On the other hand, there are those “super patriots”--folks who support our nation no matter what- even when we make a mistake. They get a lot more excited about the stars and stripes than they do about the Cross of Christ. Let’s line them up with the Herodians.
It is interesting to me that Christ makes both of these groups a little nervous. I think He makes them nervous because He doesn’t fall into either camp. in spite of their evil motives for asking this question, Jesus never says Now THAT’s a stupid question! They don’t fool Him for a second—vs. 15 points out He is aware of their hypocrisy. Yet He still gives them and us the right answer, a wise answer, a brilliant answer in vs. 15b-17:
II. JESUS’ ANSWER: ONE NATION UNDER GOD
Jesus untangles this question with simple wisdom.
First, He does not deny we all have a responsibility to our country and its government. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s= give your country and its government what it is due. The Roman government was like all human government—far from perfect, either in its leadership or its laws. Yet Jesus recognizes we have a responsibility to our country and its government. This responsibility is clarified in other places in the Bible.
Ro 13:1,7 1Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God…7Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
1 Pe 2:13-14, 17 13Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.17Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
In other words a Christian is to be a loyal citizen, united with others to do all they can to make their country the best it can be. As one wise person said
He loves his country best who strives to make it best.
But that is only one side of the coin. The other side Jesus says is to …render… to God what is God’s…
The Bible spends a lot more time describing our responsibilities to God than it does outlining our obligations to our country. In fact, Jesus spells out God’s place in vs. 30 (read).
According to Jesus’ words here, there is absolutely nothing that is a higher priority in our lives than loving God with all that we are. No nation, no leader, no person, no thing- not even ourselves. God must come first.
God has first priority in our hearts, not our country, not our government. That doesn’t mean being a good citizen isn’t important. But it does mean God must have first place. The right priority is one nation under God.
Every Christian is a citizen of two realms: the realm of our nation and the kingdom of God. We are all citizens of the United States of America, and we should praise the Lord for that.
We ought to be grateful to God that we have the freedom of worship, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. We ought to appreciate and exercise our right to vote, and participate in the political process, using our freedoms for the glory of God. Those who serve their country deserve our thanks and our respect.
But be careful you don’t confuse your country with God’s kingdom. We are citizens of this nation, but we are also citizens of a higher kingdom.
Php 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Edith Cavell was a British nurse from 1914-1915. She worked at the Red Cross Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, treating soldiers from both the Allies and Germany, but her sympathies were with the Allies. She helped several Dutch and English soldiers secretly escape the Germans, but she was finally caught and sentenced to die. Just before she faced the firing squad, she said: “I am glad to die for my country. But I realize that patriotism is not enough.” She went on to give a clear testimony to her personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and her assurance of salvation. In perfect composure, she submitted to the bandaging of her eyes and, in a few moments fell, pierced by many German bullets.[iii]
The Bible makes it clear that our priority must be one nation under God. But how do you live these words out? Turn with me to one more passage: 1 Tim. 2:1-5. The Bible gives us 3 things we must do if we want America to be one nation under God.
First, we must pray (v. 1-2a)
In the early days of the Republic, a stranger once asked at Congress how he could distinguish General George Washington. He was told, “You can easily distinguish him when Congress goes to prayer. Washington is the gentleman who kneels.”[iv]
Historically, Americans have been a praying people. The future of our nation will not depend only on acts of Congress, but on the prayers of Christians. What kinds of things should we be praying for?
-praise God and thank Him that we live in a free land
- confess the sins of our nation, asking for His forgiveness, and pleading that He would change the downward direction of our moral standards.
- ask the Lord to guide our nation’s leaders with His wisdom and the courage to do what is right.
Prayer is a sustained and intricate act of patriotism in the largest sense of that word--far more precise, loving, and preserving than any patriotism served up in slogans. The single most important action contributing to whatever health and strength there is in our land is prayer. - Eugene Peterson[v]
Second, we must live as salt and light. (v. 2b) The United States of America was founded as a land of freedom- not a land of license. The Founding Fathers believed our great freedoms always had to be balanced by great responsibility.
They did not believe people had the right to do as they please, but as they ought. So also, Paul tells us we should not only pray that our lives may be peaceful and quiet, but that we will live godly and holy lives.
Mt 5:13, 14, 16 13“You are the salt of the earth…14“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden….16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus calls His you and I to be salt and light. Like salt, we flavor whatever we do with our influence. As lights, we shine God’s goodness and love into a dark world.
Finally, we must win our nation, one soul at a time. (v. 4) Some people get frustrated with our form of government, because it leaves so much room for evil people to speak and practice lawlessness. We try to pass laws that protect the innocent from the evil, and promote righteousness. But the battle for our nation will not be won by legislation or regulation, but only by transformation. As Thomas Jefferson once said, our nation will only be blessed as the hearts of people are changed, and that only comes when they are born again.
How will they be won? How will their hearts be changed? God has given us His plan in
Mark 16:15...“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
How will America become once again one nation under God? It can only happen by the power of God, flowing through you and I as we pray, as we live as salt and light, as we win people to Christ, one heart at a time.
Michael Newdow was not the first person to try and lead America out from under God’s authority. In 1854 a suit was brought to force a wider separation between church and state. On March 27, 1854 the U. S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee responded with these words:
Had the people, during the [American] Revolution, had any suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle...
At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, not any one sect...the great vital and conservative element in our system is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and divine truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ[vi]
In other words, if our founding fathers had even suspected that the nation they were willing to fight and die for would one day try to outlaw Christianity from public life, we would not be celebrating our liberty today. They never meant for America to be a theocracy ruled by priests and preachers---but they did believe that without a foundation based on Christian principles, our nation could not survive.
Our nation has drifted far off from the course our founding fathers set for us. But I believe America can come back to being one nation under God, if you and I will do our part.
The first place to begin is to be sure that your life is under God. You and I are not born citizens of heaven—we have to be born again, through faith in Jesus Christ. Have you come to Christ and surrendered your life to Him? Does He have first priority in your life? He wants to make a difference in your life, and use your life to make a difference in this nation. Will you ask Him to do that right now?
[i]Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, January 1, 1802, in an address to the Danbury Baptists 10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Dallas:
[ii] -- "The Untold Story of Christianity & The Civil War," Christian History, no. 33.
[iii]10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Dallas: Biblical Studies Press.
[iv]Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Garland
[v] Earth and Altar. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 1.
[vi]10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Dallas: Biblical Studies Press.