Do you find it hard or easy to pray for the people of our land? What about the leaders of our land? That’s not really an easy question, is it? In fact, with everything go on today it can get really complicated to know how we feel about things going on in our land and the people in our land the leaders of our land. But God does give us an easy answer in our lesson for today when the apostle Paul writes in our opening verse, “I urge, then, first of all that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority….”
How do you think the people who first heard Paul write these words felt about them? Do you know who was the emperor of the land when Paul told these Christians to pray for kings and all those in authority? The Roman emperor at this time was Nero. Even if you don’t know many things about Nero, you may at least know that Nero was not known as a nice man, especially to Christians. He is the kind of man who married many wives, who killed at least one of his wives, who killed his own mother, and who, according to some historians, blamed Christians for setting the city of Rome on fire, allegedly putting many of the Christians to death in ways that I will not mention in this sermon. How could God possibly expect the people of that time to pray for the leader of their land? The reason God could expect those kinds of prayers is the same reason he wants us to pray the same kinds of prayers today, no matter how nervous or filled with worry and anxiety we may be about the way our land is going. It has never really been any different. God wants us to pray, because, as St. Paul goes on to say, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” — the Savior of the world who wants all people of the world to know that. In order for us to know that better, let’s today think for a few minutes about how important it is to be praying pleasing prayers for the people of our land.
We could spend hours talking about the things our land – and our world – need praying for. That’s been the way it has been ever since sin came into the world. Those harsh words in our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Amos almost three thousand years ago show how true that is. We also could spend hours talking about all the sinful reasons that you and I specifically need praying for as well, whether that be thinking that so many of the world’s evils are not that big of a deal or joining in on them ourselves. For those sins we need to remember God’s warning that those who live like that will not inherit eternal life.
But what does God want? He wants everyone to have eternal life. God wanting us to pray for others has everything to do with God wanting to save others. God wants us to pray for everyone because he wants to save everyone. That has to be the driving force in life for everyone who is a child of God. The God who made me his child wants every single person he made to become his child. Many of those people are people very close to us in our families, whom we can personally bring up in God’s Word and for whom we can congregationally provide Christian education. Many of those people are people in our communities, to whom we can witness about God’s love through our words and actions and whom we can invite to hear of God’s love with us in worship and study. Many of those people are people in our land and in our world, because of whom we will provide offerings so others can go preach to them in an increasing number of places in the Caribbean and South America and Africa and Southeast Asia and China and Russia and other places that earlier in many of our lifetimes we could not even imagine sharing the love of Jesus. What a blessing from God that he has led so many of his people over the years to be praying pleasing prayers for the people of this world, prayers which God has seen fit to answer it ways that amaze.
What do you notice in verse 2 is a key thing to pray for when we pray these kinds of pleasing prayers today and tomorrow and in the days to come? God wants us to pray for our rulers that they would rule in such a way that we might be able to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. There is little doubt that there is an increasing hostility or feeling of pity toward those who believe in the Bible and who talk about sin and salvation and death and life and who put their trust for eternal life in someone who was the Son of God and the Son of Man. And there is a feel in the cultural air that those kinds of beliefs are in danger of being penalized or persecuted more than they already are.
Let’s pray about that, whether worse things happen or not. Let’s pray that it be God’s will that it not happen – that instead our leaders lead in such a way that they keep people safe and secure so we can live what St. Paul calls “quiet and peaceful lives.” –lives which we can just live going about our business without having to worry about someone bothering us for what we believe as Christians and how we live as Christians. That word “quiet,” for example, has the image of something calm and tranquil, like a tranquil lake which has no wind or waves, but only a calm, peaceful glow in the setting sun – circumstances in our lives in which people can see our godliness in a natural way and which hopefully will lead people to respect us and listen to us as people who are not some weird fanatics, but normal everyday people who go about our business at our jobs and in our schools and in our families with a sense of purpose – to help others – and with a sense of security about the future – we will live in heaven. Praying pleasing prayers for the people of our land means asking God to allow our land to be free from any restrictions on our ability to just believe and live the way God wants us to believe and live.
Now we don’t have any guarantee that that will happen, just as so many people in our world don’t enjoy that earthly peace and security in their land. That is all part of the curse of sin and the cross of Christian discipleship. But pleasing prayers for the people of our land ultimately are prayed so that more people can know how God has given us spiritual peace and security. That is “the saying we can trust” in this lesson – that God wants everyone to be saved, and he has provided the way for that saving to take place – saving us not just from an unpleasant earthly life, if that is the case for any of us or any of the people of this world – but saving us from an empty spiritual life that does not know the connection God wants us to have with Jesus.
Verses 5-6 talk about that: For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men. What God wants is all people to be saved, and what God has done to accomplish that is provided a ransom for all people in the person of his Son, who here is called the Mediator. We have mediators in court system and in our economic system today whose responsibility is to “mediate” – that means to come in the middle between two people or two groups in order to make peace between them. Often that involves a lot of negotiation. Jesus made peace between us and God without any negotiating, because there were no terms you or I could offer to have God be less justifiably angry with us. In other words, Jesus was not only the Mediator, but he was also the Solution – the total solution, the only solution – the solution that could only be arrived at by the payment price of his own blood. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. That is the world of people God wants to save, and it is the salvation of the world which is at the heart of our pleasing prayers for the people of our land – and all the lands of this world.
We don’t know what God will allow our land and our world to go through in the years ahead. We don’t even know how long this world will last. But we do know what God wants. He wants us to pray for all people, and he wants to save all people. Our work is not to tell God how to make his work easier for us to do. Our work is to pray about his work and to talk about his work – work that becomes all that much easier when we keep remembering that the Lord God who wants all the people of this big world to be saved has done the work of saving little me. Please, Lord, I pray, please, Lord, use me to help someone else know that, too. Amen.