Do Not Hope in Kings

Article by

Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts

Many of us are struggling to make sense of, and respond to, the current presidential election cycle. As Christian citizens, what should we say? How should we pray?

A short passage halfway through Luke’s Gospel may help us see what Jesus might say concerning this election, and every other. To be clear, Luke 13 was not written to help twenty-first-century Americans respond to presidential politics; the main point is to provide a window into Jesus’s compassionate heart and redemptive mission. Nevertheless, observing how Jesus related to governing authorities cannot help but profit our understanding of how we should act in the present moment.

Refuse to Fear

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’” (Luke 13:31).

Herod, the ruler over Galilee, had already locked John the Baptist in prison and lopped off his head (Matthew 14:3–12). Now he has heard about Jesus and apparently has a desire to kill him, possibly because he believed it was John back from the dead. Herod is powerful and paranoid (Matthew 14:1–2), as well as selfish and erratic in his behavior. This is no idle threat.

And yet, this passage records no hint of fear on Jesus’s part. Jesus’s strongest emotions don’t even involve Herod, whom he seems to dismiss and quickly forget. Herod is actively seeking his life, but Jesus isn’t fazed.

He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:32–33)

So much fear is swirling among Christians about the outcome of this election. How will it shape America’s security and standing in the world? How will it affect the freedoms of Christians? How will it affect the lives of unborn children and other vulnerable members of our society?

Concern is certainly justified. But there’s a difference between prayerful concern and hand-wringing panic. At the very least, Jesus’s response indicates that fear is not an appropriate response to this election, or any other looming political ordeal.

Tell the Truth About Sin

In his response to the Pharisees, Jesus called Herod “that fox” (Luke 13:32), probably referring to Herod’s cunning and treacherous nature. And we find ourselves in an election cycle where the truthfulness of both major party candidates is in serious question. As Christians, we’re called to be good citizens, to pray for our political leaders, to vote, to be obedient to governing authorities. We’re called to be civil and respectful. But Jesus’s example also reminds us that we’re called to tell the truth.

And our truth-telling is to be comprehensive. In this passage, Jesus devotes surprisingly little attention to Herod. The major sin Jesus grieves is not Herod’s, but Jerusalem’s — it’s the sin of rejecting him. This is an important reminder for us.

The shortcomings of our main political candidates are currently highlighted in the glare of the public spotlight. But the sin of rebellion that grieves Jesus continues to our day in the hearts of both leaders and ordinary people who reject him — it’s the sin that we ourselves are constantly tempted to in one way or another. As Jesus’s followers, we ought to call a spade a spade when we see the errors of political candidates, and we ought also to discern, identify, and confess our own sins (1 Peter 4:17).

Hard-Nosed Hope in the Sovereign God

Herod’s threats didn’t distract Jesus from his mission. Jesus knew what God had sent him to accomplish, and he was determined to fully complete his task, regardless of either the approval or oppression of governing authorities: “the third day I finish my course.”

Jesus’s confidence grew from his certainty that the completion of his mission was part of God’s sovereign plan. He says, “I must go on my way. . . .” The word “must” in Luke’s Gospel frequently conveys the idea of divine necessity. In other words, a thing must happen because it is God’s sovereign plan for it to happen. Jesus is fully assured that God, not Herod, is in control, and this frees him from fear. Herod can do nothing to stop God’s plan.

Jesus’s confidence was in God’s sovereignty — the same sovereignty we trust in this election. If we could see the governments and powerful people of this world in proper perspective, under the sovereign hand of God, as nothing compared to the power and plan of almighty God (Psalm 2:4–6), we would fear governments less than we do, and we would hope in them less than we do. No matter the outcome of this election, God will remain on his throne.

Come what may on the political front, as Christians, we’re to continue our mission of living and proclaiming the gospel — the sovereign plan God has set for his people (Luke 24:47). We needn’t be dismayed by inadequate or even hostile leaders. God appoints our mission and numbers our days, and we can trust him.

Rest Under the Wings of God

Just as Jesus was secure in the Father’s plan, even as he journeyed toward death, Christians may rest confidently and securely in God’s sovereign purposes for our good (Romans 8:28–32) and his authoritative plan of redemption (Matthew 28:18–20).

Following his expression of confidence in the plan laid before him, Jesus offered himself as a mother hen for God’s people (Luke 13:34). Christ himself is our secure hiding place, as he was for Jerusalem. In the midst of uncertain times, let’s take him up on his offer and huddle into the only place of perfect protection — not so we can hide from suffering or uncertainties, but so we can faithfully proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name, with power from on high (Luke 24:47, 49).