This short series of messages can be considered as what used to be called “artillery sermons.” The custom (and the name) began in England in the first half of the 17th century, where military groups invited ministers to come and preach to them. In our colonial period, ministers used to preach such sermons prior to elections, in order to instruct and exhort their people in the duties of a Christian citizen. This kind of instruction is always most necessary, for politics is always complicated. But it is especially needed in this particular pig’s breakfast of an election cycle.
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:32–35).
Summary of the Text:
Many miracles are recorded in the book of Acts, and usually the people who are the recipients of the miraculous power are unnamed (Acts 5:12-16; 19:11-12). On the occasions when the recipient is named, they are part of the Christian community, like Tabitha (9:36-41) or Eutychus (20:9-12), or an opponent of the gospel like Elymas (13:6-11), or both, like Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-10). In short, this incident with Aeneas really stands out, particularly because of the use of his name.
Aeneas was the name of the legendary founder of Rome. The Aeneid, a book exalting him, and Caesar Augustus through him, was written somewhere between 29 and 19 B.C. This was (roughly) just fifty years prior to this incident in Lydda. The immediate successor to Augustus was Tiberius, and he was still reigning during this incident. So try to read it like this—“And there he found a certain man named George Washington, who had been a paralytic for 8 years . . .” And imagine those words being written just fifty years after George Washington’s death, which would be in 1849. Would any of you think that something was up? Of course you would, but you wouldn’t be so foolish as to think it was referring to “the same person.” But you would certainly think a point was being made.
This is a deft Lucan jab at the pride and insolence of Rome. This was the empire that could treat the Mediterranean as an internal lake, and which was the glory of that world. And the apostle Peter—who would later be crucified upside down by Rome—came along and raised the crippled Aeneas to full health. What you have in this incident is a glorious foreshadowing of the next four hundred years. The paralysis of Rome was not yet evident to everyone, but it soon enough would be.
Politics Is Personal:
Policies don’t develop themselves, and people don’t give themselves to disembodied causes. Leadership is always personal. Kingship is personal. This being the case, always beware of “the tactical vote.” We are not moving inanimate chess pieces around on an impersonal political board. And this is why your two candidates really need to be “Sackcloth & Ashes 2016.”
“It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: For the throne is established by righteousness” (Prov. 16:12).
If it is not righteous, then you are not establishing anything. If it is not righteous, you are not saving anything. A throne is not established by the lesser of two evils.
No Other Name:
Now pagan politics and Christian theology necessarily collide because they are two rival plans of salvation. Here is something that Peter once said after having had healed an earlier cripple.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Why is this important? This statement by Peter is a challenge to the saving authority of Rome.
Who was Caesar Augustus? Why does Luke bring him into the Christmas story (Luke 2:1)? Much more was involved in all of this than a simple indication of chronology. Octavius as a young man had been adopted by Julius Caesar, and he was the heir apparent. By the birth of Jesus he was the long-established emperor. In fact, as early as 40 B.C. a blasphemous coin had been struck in Gaul which showed the two-headed god Janus. Julius was on one side and Octavius was on the other, with an inscription that said, “The divine Caesar—and the Son of God.” In addition, there was an Egyptian inscription which said that Octavius was a marvelous star, “shining with the brilliance of the great heavenly Savior.” Then, in 17 B.C. when a strange star appeared in the heavens, Augustus commanded a twelve-day Advent celebration, as a ceremonial embrace of Virgil’s statement: “The turning point of the ages has come!” During the reign of Augustus, the cult of explicit emperor worship took firm root, especially in Asia Minor. This region was to become the center of persecution of Christians—and for precisely this reason.
Even his assumed name for his rule indicates the problem. The ruling title Augustus was taken up by him, and the name means “worthy of reverence and worship.” He was, in short, homo imperiosus—imperial man, “full of command.” Caesar Augustus was simply the last in a long line of ancient men who believed in humanistic empire. But God was sending another kind of emperor, and another kind of empire entirely. God sent another way of salvation. (For more, see Christ and the Caesars by Stauffer)
Jesus Christ Makes Thee Whole:
Whatever you do, however you vote, you must vote against secularism. In other words, you must repudiate in your heart and mind the notion that religious neutrality in the public square is even a remote possibility. Your reasoning must be something like this: “Because secularism is utterly bankrupt, and because my responsibility as a Christian citizen is to hasten the day when that is evident to all, I will do ‘thus and such.’” There will be more on what ‘thus and such’ might look like later in this series. But if that is your pursuit, then you answer to God in how you conduct it. If it is not your pursuit, then it needs to be.
Peter healed Aeneas in the name of Jesus. There is no salvation apart from a Savior. There is no healing apart from a healer. There is no deliverance apart from a deliverer. And so—as should be plain—all we have to do to make sure Aeneas remains on his mat is . . . nothing. If we want him to walk again apart from the name of Jesus, we are longing for something that cannot be. The pretensions of humanistic man are not just impotent, but they are also—as politics in our era make plain—ridiculous.
It is Christ or chaos, Christ or nothing, Christ or the abyss.