A Sinking Ship
There’s no denying that America is undergoing a radical change. It has been happening for decades now, starting slow but growing in more recent years. To use a mathematical term, America’s morality has been declining at a parabolic rate. The closer we come to the vertex of the parabola, the faster the decline. All aspects of morality have come under fire, especially with the moral relativism that has crept in to the conversation. What are we supposed to do? Every time we turn on the TV or radio, or look at internet articles, some other aspect of our country has slipped a little farther down the parabolic scale.
As Christians, we often take an unbiblical view of all of this. The world is a sinking ship, most Christians would say. Why polish the brass railings on the Titanic if we know what’s going to happen? The most sensible thing to do would be to get everyone we can onto the lifeboats before time runs out. Does this sound familiar? It’s the message preached by many Churches today.
There is a strong appeal. With everything going so wrong today in our country and world, it does seem like it’s all headed for disaster and maybe even the final judgement. Most American Christians seem to think that our country is (or was) the zenith of human culture and freedom. That our country is the final country to bring peace to God’s green earth. Some even equate America with Israel, painting her as God’s chosen country to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world.
Don’t get me wrong, America is a great country that has had a large impact (both good and bad) on the world. But the problem with all of this is that it’s very short-sighted. America, even in relation to most of the countries existing today, has only been in existence for a few hundred years. Societies and cultures rise and fall, and it’s nothing but the blink of an eye to God. We see it so large and great because that’s all we know. Yes, America is a great nation, but we need a little historical context.
To look at it from a different perspective, what do you think Romans of Christ’s day thought about their civilization? The most powerful and influential empire of the then-modern world surely would stand forever. Its influence spread over the entire face of the known world, and their buildings and technologies were at the height of human achievement. Even today we marvel at their achievements. The coliseum is one of the marvels of the world. Surely if we lived back then, we would have expected Rome to continue forever. We know from history that this did not happen.
We also know that Rome was one of the most morally corrupt societies in recorded history. There was rampant sexual immorality, murder, and persecution, to say the least. Its leaders were extremely sinful, even naming themselves as God, murdering those who would dare to object. While we look back and see the horrible things done in the past, our own country isn’t so different. Sure things are seen in a different light, shades of grey are thrown over our actions and justified by any means possible. However, we are more like Rome than we know. Persecution is becoming the norm. Millions of children are murdered in the womb, in the guise of healthcare and choice. The institution of marriage has degraded so much, that it’s the norm to have been married and divorced many times over. Homosexuality is now pushing for relevance and acceptance. Sure we have more advances in technology, but we are really not so different than our predecessors. Sin is sin, and has been since the fall.
Thankfully, the Scriptures do speak to all of this. And because sin is still sin, those events that happened in Rome, recorded in Scripture, can still be relevant today. How do we respond to a morally corrupt society, including its leadership?
John the Baptist responded directly to the moral corruption present in the leadership of the Roman Empire, as we read in Mark 6:14-32. This passage recounts John’s fate, as Herod had arrested John and had him imprisoned on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother. Herod had married Herodias even though she was his sister-in-law, and John had gone to Herod and told him of the sin he was committing. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”
Unfortunately for John, but within God’s providence, Herodias ultimately had him beheaded. Herod himself, a little later in the passage, was seemingly afraid of John, “knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe.” John held the leadership of his day to account, telling Herod of his obligation to the law of God.
So should we do the same in our day as John did in his?
If Herod had no obligation to keep the law, then John the Baptist certainly had no obligation to tell him so. But we see just the opposite. Romans 13 tells us to be in subjection to the governing authorities, and that this authority is a minister of God to us for good. And how do we know what is good? God himself has told us, by giving us the Law as a summation of His character and righteousness. And according to John the Baptist, Herod, as the governing authority, was responsible for keeping and promoting the Law of God.
So we can clearly see the response needed when our leaders do not practice righteousness. John himself rebuked Herod directly from the Law of God.
We today in America desperately need to be telling our leaders to practice the Law of God. The governing authorities today practice and promote all kinds of lawlessness, and the Church has done nothing to hold them accountable. We are happy to sit in the comfort of our pews, while the world outside slides farther and farther away from God. We do not want to be uncomfortable. After all, look what ended up happening to John.
This is also where the Titanic comes back in. Why should we risk being uncomfortable when the ship is going to sink anyway? We might even help along Christ’s return if we sit back and let the world burn, right? Again, a little more context might be helpful. Why are we so arrogant that we think, after all of these years, we are suddenly going to usher in the Kingdom of Christ by letting the world spiral out of control?
In the midst of all the sin in the Roman world, did John give up the fight as a lost cause? The titanic was going to sink after all, so why should he care? Christ himself was about to arrive on the scene, wouldn’t he just let Jesus make the nations His footstool, and leave well enough alone?
John, to the contrary, was doing the very thing Israel was originally intended to do. Many times, Israel was declared by God to be an example to the surrounding nations. But as we know, Israel constantly strayed from God’s Law and failed to live up to God’s expectations for her. Starting with John the Baptist and continuing now through us, the New Israel is now responsible for “making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” These are the very words of Christ in Matthew 28, telling us to do exactly what John the Baptist started doing. These are not the words of a Lord who expects the Titanic to sink. He expects the nations to become his footstool; outwardly acknowledging His Lordship over them by their obedience to His Law. We are to teach the nations, including the leaders, to observe all that God commanded, which at the very least includes the Law of God.