Not long after the ascension into heaven of our Lord Jesus Christ, things in the Roman world got very dicey for His followers. A time came when Roman soldiers could demand anyone pay homage to Caesar at any time.
“Pay homage to Caesar,” a soldier would demand.
The person to whom the soldier made the demand would take a pinch of incense, throw it into a tiny alter fire and declare, “Kaiser kurios,” — “Caesar is Lord.”
Understand this was not merely an affirmation of Caesar as the head of state. It was a declaration of Caesar’s divinity and an oath of allegiance to Rome. This, of course, was something Christians could not do. They had one Lord and one allegiance, so frequently their response was, “Iesous kurios,” — “Jesus is Lord.” And the immediate reward for their faithfulness to Christ was an execution.
We look at an example like that and shudder. How could a society descend into such depravity?
Gradually, my friends.
You see, the Roman Empire was not always like this. In fact, at its inception it was a republic — embracing many principles of democracy and liberty. Caesar was not always an emperor. He started out as just the head of an executive branch of government in Rome. The Roman senate was where the real power was. But, over time, more and more power gravitated to the executive. The Caesars began to do things they really didn’t have the authority to do. And, since no one had the courage to stop them, their accumulation of power continued.
To say the Caesars began to think more of themselves than they ought is a gross understatement. Julius Caesar allowed himself to be worshipped as a god. He didn’t demand it, mind you. But he didn’t discourage it, either. There were inscriptions across the Roman Empire that declared Caesar Augustus to be “Son of God.” Caligula took it a step further and demanded to be worshipped as god. Nero claimed to be divine and Domitian took the title “lord and god.”
And many Christians living in the United States will read this historical account and regurgitate the hollow platitude we’ve heard for years — “I’m glad we live in a free country. Nothing like that could ever happen here.”
I’m sure that’s what the Romans thought, too. But, like the frog sitting in the pot on the stove, they didn’t jump out because the heat was raised ever so slightly — to boiling. Of course we have the benefit of history. We can look at their failure and make some determinations. At what point should they have rejected Roman idolatry? Was it when the power started accumulating at the throne of Caesar? Was it when Caesar allowed people to refer to him in divine terms? Was it when Caesar demanded to be worshipped? When?
Look around you. The heat is being turned up.
Power has been accumulating in the Oval Office for decades. The United States Constitution requires Congress to make laws and yet presidents have taken quite a shine to issuing imperial decrees in the form of “Executive Orders.”
Presidents have long been regarded as something more than they ought. But we’ve crossed a real line with the most recent occupant of the Oval Office. Consider…
- Maggie Mertens, associate editor of the student newspaper Smithsonian at Massachusetts’ Smith College, wrote, “Obama is my homeboy. And I’m not saying that because he’s black — I’m saying that in reference to those Urban Outfitters t-shirts from a couple of years ago that said, ‘Jesus is my homeboy.’ Yes, I just said it. Obama is my Jesus.”
- The Dutch newspaper Politiken, in an article praising socialized medicine, said, “Obama is, of course, greater than Jesus.”
- Newsweek editor Evan Thomas, during an interview on MSNBC, said, “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God.”
- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said when Obama talks, “the Messiah is absolutely speaking.”
- During the 2008 presidential campaign Obama, himself, said, “A light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote [for Obama].”
- Florida A&M professor Barbara A. Thompson wrote a book entitled, The Gospel According to Apostle Barack. In it she claimed to have been told by God to “go on a journey with Apostle Barack.” In her account of this she said, “[A]s I began to contemplate ways to assist Barack in his 2012 re-election bid, something miraculous happened. I felt God’s Spirit beckoning me in my dreams at night. Listening, cautiously, I learned that Jesus walked the earth to create a more civilized society; Martin (Luther King) walked the earth to create a more justified society, but, Apostle Barack, the name he was called in my dreams, would walk the earth to create a more equalized society for the middle class and working poor. Apostle Barack, the next young leader with a new cause, had been taken to the mountaintop and allowed to see over the other side. He had the answers to unlock the kingdom of ‘heaven here on earth’ for his followers.”
- After Obama’s re-election, Newsweek published a cover with him in profile and the headline, “The Second Coming.”
I realize many will say all of this is mere rhetoric. It’s hyperbole. It’s harmless.
No, it’s not.
It’s blasphemy. It’s idolatry. It’s statism. It’s the kind of thing that ought to turn the stomach of any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the longer we go without recognizing it for what it is, the more we become conditioned to regard it as harmless. Until one day we wake up and find we have a president who demands to be worshipped.
And, lest you think I am picking on the president because he is a liberal or a Democrat, allow me to point out the vast majority of my criticism for engaging in state worship has been directed squarely at the more conservative-leaning Americans (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).
My whole goal here is to appeal to all Christians, regardless of ideological persuasion, to recognize and reject the temptation we all have to elevate our country to the point of idolatry. Consider the LORD’s instructions to Moses after the Israelites defeated Amalek at Rephidim.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner… — Exodus 17:14-15
Understand the significance of the name, “The LORD is My Banner.” The banner of any people was the thing around which they rallied. It was their focal point. It was their entire identity. From their banner a people draw their worth.
Dear Christian, you belong to Christ. The LORD is your banner. In Him you should find your entire identity. Rally around Him. Focus on Him.
All of the divine rhetoric being heaped upon Barack Obama should be an affront to us. But we should also thank God for it, for it serves a wonderful purpose. It makes it much easier for us to recognize the distinction between false gods and the One, True God. We have the remarkable privilege of knowing this now. There are many who won’t realize it until the actual Second Coming takes place — until the real King arrives in all His glory.
Brethren, put down your flags and take up the cross. And in so doing make your declaration clear…
Iesous kurios — Jesus is Lord.