Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
That seems clear enough.
So, who’s your authority? The majority? The Republicans? The Democrats?
We know who the governing authority was for the Romans.
He murdered his mother and kicked his wife to death.
He executed Christians for sport: Some were sown in animal skins and fed to the dogs. Some were soaked in oil, then nailed to crosses and lit on fire to shed light on his garden parties.
He ordered his general to lay siege to Jerusalem in 66 AD. It was utterly destroyed in 70 AD just as Jesus said it would be.
Under his authority, Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded.
When numbers are assigned to his name in Hebrew—Nero Caesar—they equal the number 666.
Romans 13:3, “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct (literally, ‘the good work’), but to bad.”
Jesus is literally “the Good Work.” Did Paul forget that only 25 years earlier, Jesus was executed by the governing authorities?
In Ephesians 6 Paul writes, “Put on the whole armor of God… We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”
By “rulers and authorities” it appears that Paul is referring to all organizational systems that govern human life in this fallen world. So “be subject to them” and “battle them.” Clear enough?
There were no chapter divisions in Paul’s original letter. So, Romans 13:1 immediately followed Romans 12:21, “Do not be conquered by the evil, but conquer the evil in the Good.”
Jesus is literally “the Good” in flesh hanging on a tree in the middle of the garden.
And Jesus is “the Life” in flesh hanging on a tree in exactly the same spot.
When we attempt to justify ourselves in the power of the flesh according to the law (the knowledge of Good and evil), that is, when we take knowledge of the Good to make ourselves in the image of God, we also take the Life who is the Good and everything dies.
So, what is a “governing authority?” Isn’t it just the way that we do that together: legislation, adjudication, and execution? Isn’t it evil organizing evil under the illusion that this would make us Good? “Is there any legality which is not fundamentally illegal?” asks Karl Barth.
In a previous sermon, we constructed an “eschatos man” out of sections of pipe and some pipe fittings making the point that each of us is like one of those pieces, but together we are the body of Christ. Each of us are vessels of wrath (containers of life sealed in clay), that become vessels of mercy (conduits for life, like blood vessels in a body, joined at each and every wound).
So, what is an earthly government? Well, it’s an organization that appeals to the passions of the vessels of wrath; it says, “Hey you have a ‘right to life,’ a ‘right to liberty,’ and a ‘right to happiness.’ We’ll help you ensure your rights against those who might violate your ‘rights.’ We’ll help you to not lose your life but save your life.”
So, an earthly government is like straight pieces of pipe taped together with legislation to protect each piece of pipe from pipe fittings taped together in order to protect each pipe fitting from those straight pieces of pipe. In other words: no one’s “rights” are violated, but all these “rights” are fundamentally wrong. [See sermon video for illustration – 26:06.]
And vengeance for a government like that is to help each member take life for life, utterly unaware that we’ve each been made to give life, even as we take life—the river of life.
None of us has a “right” to life, liberty , or happiness ; Jesus is the Life, and we’ve all forfeited our liberty and enslaved ourselves to the curse by attempting to steal the blessing. Jesus is the blessing, and he gives himself to us
Jesus undoes the curse by giving his Life even as we take his Life.
He does not conquer evil with evil, but he conquers the evil with himself: the Good.
His vengeance is not life for life but giving his Life before we could even take his Life: the Life.
The Vengeance of God is the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God; it is the blood of the Lamb crucified from the foundation of the world; it is Grace.
“God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in Christ,” writes Paul.
Jesus didn’t defend his rights; he didn’t raise an army; he didn’t start a revolution; he subjected himself to the “governing authorities,” and in this way, he conquered all the authorities and delivered the Kingdom to God.
Jesus submits to the authorities and is rejected by the authorities even as he forgives the authorities and everyone in bondage to the authorities. Someone sees this and believes this and so forgives as they’ve been forgiven; they bleed for another as Jesus has bled for them. And in this way, individuals are torn from the authorities and joined to the body—the Body of Christ.
It’s not a decision imposed from the outside by an exterior authority; it is a judgment made from the inside of each and every person in communion with God in the Sanctuary of the soul; it is Love. And bound together in love, we constitute the body of eternal life in absolute freedom which is the blessing; it is “the Good” and “the Life.”
The Body of Christ cannot be formed by people who demand their “rights.”
It is only formed when people surrender their rights to God in the sanctuary of their own souls.
We have no ‘rights;’ and yet we become the Righteousness of God; the Body of Christ.
And so, what is Paul saying to the church in Rome?
Well, I think this is what the Spirit was saying through Paul to the church in Rome:
“I know that you are the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek.
And I know that you have just discovered that you inherit the earth for you are my beloved.
But you are about to be tempted by the tempter who will offer you the kingdoms of this world, if only you will adopt his methods.
In seven years, some of you will be sown in animal skins and fed to the dogs.
Some of you will be dipped in oil, nailed to crosses, and lit on fire.
Peter, you will be crucified upside down with me.
Paul, you will lose your head, and the whole world will find it.
But you will be tempted…
You will be tempted to repay evil with evil.
You will be tempted to claim your rights; I’m asking you to be my righteousness.
You will be tempted to start a revolution; I’m calling you to be the revolution.
I’m calling you to overcome the evil in the Good—I am the Good and you are my Body.
I’m calling you to bleed kindness, I’m calling you to bleed the vengeance of God.
My dearest church in Rome, we are about to conquer all things.”
And so, church in 2022, it seems they have conquered us: We’re not reading “Lessons from Nero;” we’re reading Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. And yet, we too, are being tempted. We are being tempted to adopt the methods of the evil one and forfeit the power of God.
So may you find your enemies and give them something to eat and something to drink.
The way Jesus found you and gave you something to eat and something to drink.
You are the Revolution.