The State of the Church 2024
Sunday, January 14th, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; But the Lord weigheth the spirits.
3 Commit thy works unto the Lord, And thy thoughts shall be established.
4 The Lord hath made all things for himself: Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
5 Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: Though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
6 By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: And by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.
7 When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
8 Better is a little with righteousness Than great revenues without right.
9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: But the Lord directeth his steps.
Father as we enter into another year of service in the Lord’s Army, as members of the Church Militant, we ask that you would give us renewed courage to act like men, to be brave, to be strong, to fight the good fight of faith, and to let all that we do be done from love. Please crown us with charity, for without love, we are nothing. We ask this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.
I was not initially planning on giving this State of the Church 2024 sermon, but because of where we are in Mark’s Gospel, and because I want to further develop some of what we studied last week, with the whole “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” bit, you can consider this sermon as a kind of Part 2 to last week. This is essentially all the personal application from last week’s text, so I won’t be giving an exposition of Proverbs, although these Proverbs summarize a lot of what I want to exhort us with.
So just to briefly refresh your memory. Last week we were in Mark 12:13-17, and we saw that the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the highest Jewish authorities are all trying to catch Jesus in his words. Because Jesus is a threat to their political power, they are trying to do everything they can to either discredit him before the populists, the Jewish masses, OR, provoke him to run afoul of the Roman authorities.
They thought they had the perfect question to trap Jesus, which was, “is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?”
If Jesus answered, Yes, then he would lose credibility with the masses who wanted relief from this tax.
If Jesus answers, No, then he could be hauled before the authorities as stirring up rebellion.
Jesus responds by making the Herodians and Pharisees answer their own question. He asks for the coin, and they give to Jesus the denarius with Caesar’s name and inscription on it. What this reveals in front of everyone is that they approve of the tribute. By the very fact that they have such a coin within the temple complex and knows whose image is on it, proves that they are being hypocritical in asking Jesus this question.
Nevertheless, Jesus gives them an answer which makes them marvel. The answer in so many words is to give back to Caesar what Caesar has given them, namely this coin and its tribute (pay the tax), but also and equally, give back to God what God has given, namely our entire selves and all that we are, for we, and Caesar, and everyone else, bears God’s image, and the saints doubly so, because God’s name was inscribed upon us in baptism.
So far from Christianity undermining or nullifying our earthly duties to our earthly authorities, God commands and requires that the way we give back to God what belongs to Him, is by giving to our earthly superiors what is their due. The New Testaments gives us many specifics as to how are to do this. For example, Paul says…
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is just” (Eph. 6:1). This is rendering, giving back to your parents, what is due to them.
This also means, “servants (employees) obey your masters according to the flesh, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unreasonable and harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully” (1 Peter 2:18-19, Eph. 6:5-6).
This also means, masters, employers, owners, political leaders, church leaders, managers, “do the will of God from the heart, not with eyeservice as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, judge justly, without partiality, leave off threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him…He will reward and punish each according to his works” (Eph. 6:9, Rom. 2:6).
So when Jesus says “render to God what belongs to God,” this includes rendering to our various earthly authorities the submission, obedience, honor, and tribute that is due to them. Because as Romans 13 says, “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).
Now we live in a day and culture not totally unlike the Jews and Christians in the 1st century. And that means, there are times when Caesar claims something that does not actually belong to him. So while Jesus commanded they pay tribute to Caesar in the form of the denarius, he is also forbidding by that very same command, giving worship to Caesar as if he is Lord. So Jesus’ words establish limits on what Caesar can claim.
And so when the Romans started to persecute the Christians, and require that they offer sacrifices to Caesar and worship him as Lord, the faithful refused even unto death. And why? Because render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to Caesar worship does not belong. As Jesus says to Satan in Matthew 4:10, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
So there is a line that Christians must not cross in our submission to the God-ordained authorities. That line is when the government commands us to sin. It is no sin to be stolen from. It is not a sin to be oppressed, or to be made a slave, or to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It is a sin for the government to do this, and God will judge them, but it is not a sin for us to be sinned against. This is just what Jesus suffered and we also at times will suffer the same.
But it is a sin for us to commit idolatry. And so should Caesar ever demand our worship, it is there that we must simply not comply.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp in 155 AD is one of the most famous of such acts of resistance to the government overstepping their authority.
Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, he was at least 86 years old when the civil authorities arrested him, and they said to this old bishop, “What harm is it to say, ‘Lord Caesar’ and to offer a sacrifice and so forth and be saved?” to which he responded, “I am not about to do what you advise.”
They then brought him into the stadium, before the crowds, and threatened him with death by wild beasts. The proconsul said, “I have beasts, I will throw you to them, unless you repent…(and swear oaths to Caesar and revile Christ),” to which Polycarp said, “Call for the beasts, for repentance is impossible for us from better to worse, but it is good to change from wickedness to righteousness.” Then the proconsul said, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, since you despise the beasts, unless you repent.” To which Polycarp responded, “You threaten with fire that burns for a little awhile and then is extinguished. For you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why do you wait, bring about what you wish.”
The crowds hearing that Polycarp was a Christian began to shout and rage, “this is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods, who teaches many to not offer sacrifice or to worship them. Let a lion be loosed upon him!”
Polycarp turned and said to the faithful with him, “I must be burned alive.” And then the crowd frantically began building a funeral pyre around him, Polycarp uttered his final prayer and praise to God, and after his “Amen,” the fire was lit. And yet by some miracle, the fire would not consume him, and so the executioner was commanded to stab him with a dagger, and the report is that so much blood came out that it put the fire out.
It was these kinds of acts of courage, love, resistance, and martyrdom, that eventually won the world over to the Christian faith. And while we pray fervently that such days of persecution never arise in our nation, we must always be ready in principle to suffer and die for the sake of Christ. We must always have ready at hand, the apostolic conviction, that “we must obey God rather than men.”
Caesar has his jurisdiction, he has duties before the Lord which he will answer for, but there are limits to that authority established by Jesus Christ.
So as we consider the year ahead of us, we must remember first and foremost that is the year 2024 Anno Domini, the year of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is king, all authority belongs to him, and we want to see that authority manifested on earth as it is in heaven.
So I want to place before you three things that Caesar (our civil government) wants from you, that you must not give them. And they are:
1. Your children.
2. Your morals.
3. Your worship.
#1 – Your Children
To whom do your children belong?
Remember the word Jesus uses when speaking of giving to Caesar or giving to God is this word render, which means “to give back.” So if you want to know to whom something belongs, just ask yourself, who gave this thing to me? Where did it come from?
According to Isaiah 66:9, God is the one who opens and closes the womb. Caesar does not!
According to Psalm 127:3, “children are a heritage from the LORD,” not from Caesar.
Psalm 139 says that God formed our inward parts, He wove us together in our mother’s womb, and He wrote all our days in His book before we were even born.
So in a very real sense, children most certainly do not belong body and soul to Caesar, and they do not even belong to us as parents in the first instance. Children belong first and foremost to the God who created them and placed them in our arms. This means we parents are stewards, not owners, of these little humans God has given us. And as stewards, we are going to be judged by God as to how we return these children to Him.
What does God desire from us as parents? It says in Malachi 2:15, “He seeks godly offspring.” God does not merely want children from our marriages, he wants godly children from our marriages. And so he appends this warning in the next verse, “Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.”
So children belong in the very first instance to God who gave them to us. They belong in the second instance to us as parents who are stewards. And then He commands certain duties of stewardship for fathers and mothers towards these children, so that they become the godly offspring that He desires.
So God does not just demand godly offspring and then leave us to figure it out. No, he gives us tools and instruments to accomplish this by faith, and those tools are the various duties He commands of us in Scripture.
What are some of those duties?
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This means training your children to live as Christians, from their very earliest years, from birth to adulthood. It means requiring of them faith in Christ and obedience to His word, and doing with them what Deuteronomy 6 commands, “You shall teach God’s laws diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Paul says it is the Father’s responsibility to make sure this happens. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture (paideia) and admonition of the Lord.”
There are many methods by which this principle can be accomplished. The method might be homeschooling, or a co-op, or a private school, or a private tutor, and these methods may fluctuate and change as the years go by. But what must not be surrendered in any method, is the principle that your children receive a distinctly Christian education.
Jesus says that when a student is fully trained, he will become like his teacher (Luke 6:40), and so we should not expect to send our children to be taught by unbelievers and then expect them to turn out as the godly offspring God desires. We would be tempting God to expect good fruit from our disobedience.
Now our civil government has stacked the deck against Christian parents wanting to do this. We have to pay for the secular indoctrination of our neighbor’s children, while also trying to fund our own children’s Christian education. Financially, this can be a real challenge, and it is why CKA exists, and why we have things like the Christian Education Fund for our members. Because if we will not train our children “in the Lord,” the government is more than happy to train them in the ways of the world, and those ways lead to death.
If our children come from God, then we must do whatever it takes to give them back to God holier and more righteous than we found them.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine.” So do not give your children, who God claims are holy (1 Cor. 7:14), and who are more precious than pearls, do not give them to Caesar, to the dogs, or to the swine of our filthy culture.
The second thing you must render to God and not to Caesar is…
#2 – Your Morals
By morals I simply mean your biblical convictions about what is right and what is wrong.
When each of us became a Christian, we all had to acknowledge up front that we had sinned against God. This was a confession that whatever morals we had, we did not live up to them, OR our morals were wrong altogether.
And so from the moment we repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus, we were in essence declaring the words of Isaiah 33:22, which says, “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, The Lord is our king; he will save us.” When we confess that Jesus is Lord, this is what we mean.
And so to become a Christian is to have your entire moral compass and sensibilities reshaped by God’s Word. Because Jesus is judge, Jesus is lawgiver, Jesus is king. What Jesus says, goes.
Now what kind of moral standards does our civil government and culture promote and enforce? Is it a Christian morality, or is it what the Bible calls immorality, lawlessness, injustice?
While there are still some remnants of our nation’s Christian heritage, weAmericans are an overwhelmingly immoral, apostate, and hypocritical people. We no longer believe the basic moral laws that God gave in the Ten Commandments. There are entire denominations of professing Christians who do not even know what the ten commandments are, and if they did they would not bother to keep them. It is in large part because of the church’s apostasy that we now have:
An economy built on envy, bribery, and false weights and measures.
We have parades and celebrations for the very sins that turned Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes.
We have denigrated marriage and motherhood and made “sanctuary states” for murdering the innocent.
And all of this while 70% of Americans claim to be Christian. This is what I mean by Americans being hypocritical. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9).
So I have two exhortations for you on this issue:
1. Do not let Caesar or our secular culture dictate your morality.
2. Do not make a hypocrite of yourself by claiming Christ while your heart is far from him.
As much as our world wants to normalize all that is wicked and ungodly, do not compromise, do not comply, do not be false to the truth.
The reason why so many churches folded like a cheap lawn chair when Covid happened, or whenWoke happened, or when the push for gay marriage happened, was because so many Christians were already living with a bad conscience, with unconfessed sins, and with hypocritical hearts.
When people are guilt-ridden, they are easy to manipulate. When a nation is addicted to sports and television and they watch pornography every day, they have no courage to stand for what is morally upright.
It is hard to be courageous when you have a guilty conscience. It is impossible to fight for freedom when you are a slave to your own appetites. This is how we got to $34 trillion of debt as a nation. We don’t know how to say to no to ourselves.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Our loss of liberty, and our voluntary (we voted for it) slavery, is because weas a nation, have rejected the authority of Jesus Christ.
As God says in Jeremiah 2:13, “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
Our secular immorality can hold no water. Our “free” and “tolerant” and “liberal” society devoid of Jesus, can hold no water.
There is no other fountain of life and freedom than the fountain of forgiveness that Jesus offers. And so do not budge an inch on the law of God, because God’s moral law brings knowledge of sin, and sin is exactly what Jesus Christ has come to forgive. Do not rob yourself, or your neighbor of that knowledge. Because the knowledge of sin is the pre-requisite for the knowledge of salvation.
The third thing you must not ever give to Caesar is…
#3 – Your Worship
We already said that if Caesar wants you to call him “Lord” and burn incense to him, of course you must not comply. But not giving Caesar worship is just half of the commandment, there is still the give back to God what is God’s part that we must obey.
So practically how should we render ourselves to God?
Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
If you want to know God’s will for your life, then offer your body to Him as a living sacrifice. How do you do that? By treating every action as an act of worship, and by treating every location, as a place of worship.
Worship in the strictest sense is to bow down and kneel before the Lord our maker (Ps. 95:6). It is to do physical obeisance at the same time you are reverencing and adoring Him in your heart. This is the special act of worship that we do privately in our homes when we pray, and publicly when we gather every Lord’s Day. And it is worship in this strict sense that inspires and informs worship in the broader sense of doing everything for the glory of God. How exactly do we do everything for the glory of God?
It says in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” And as Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord.”
So what has God given you to do? Well give to Him the worship of doing that thing with all your might, heartily as unto the Lord. Because that is the altar upon which you offer yourself as a living sacrifice.
Does it feel like death to do the dishes with a good attitude? Does it feel like dying to continue on in that job you don’t really like but have to do to pay the bills? Well, that’s what being a living sacrifice feels like at times. What turns those often-monotonous routines into worship is that you render them to God as an offering.
You say in your heart, “God, I am flipping this burger for You.” “God, thank you for this vomit I get to clean out of the carpet and my hair.” “God, thank you for this co-worker who gets on my nerves, help me to show them the love of Christ.”
When you do those things with lovefor God in your heart, and love for your neighbor, you are starting to do it for the glory of God. That is how you turn every time and every place into an altar for worship.
The is how you render to God the things that are God’s.
We are going into an election year, and I expect there will be many opportunities for us to be loving, and courageous, and to witness for the truth.
And the truth that we must lead with is well summarized by our text Proverbs 16:6, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: And by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.
We have good news for lawless sinners: that by God’s mercy, and the truth of Jesus Christ, the iniquities of our nation can be purged. Our sins can be cast into the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again.
Moreover, how can America depart from evil? By the fear of the Lord, and nothing else.
This is the message of hope to our hopeless world. This is the message of freedom for those who are guilt-ridden.
Jesus Christ already knows what you have done. And Jesus Christ has already died and rose to forgive those sins. So worship Him, obey Him, because as verse 7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
I don’t know about you, but I do not expect 2024 to be a peaceful year in our nation. Primarily because there can be no peace until all our ways please the Lord. So while I do not expect much political peace, and much of that is outside my control, I do intend to pursue peace with God and peace in the church, by seeking to please Him, come what may. And it is that peace that I invite you all to zealously pursue as well, so that God will make even our enemies to be at peace with us.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.