Caesar or God? by Rick Burdette

1 Thessalonians 1:1-1:10

FOLLOW THE LEADER – Caesar or God?
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10  August 2, 2015


Let me tell you that King Herod was not a very nice man, and about as ungodly and ruthless leader as this world has ever known. He murdered his own family and many Rabbis. He was both ambitious and paranoid…as Governor of Galilee, a position granted him by his father Antipater, he ruthlessly crushed a revolt in Galilee but overall he treated Jewish religion with tolerance. He was a pragmatist who had learned that Jews could not be forced to worship idols…in fact Rome granted Jews an official status during his reign of being exempt from Roman State religion…but with that exemption came a punitive tax levied only upon the Jews called “fiscus Judaicus” that made them pay for this exemption….He used the proceeds from these taxes and others to build more monuments and projects than almost any other Roman leader and the most ambitious was the rebuilding of the temple…It took 10,000 men ten years just to build the retaining walls around the temple mount…the Wailing Wall that still stands, is part of this retaining wall. Why so big? Herod knew there were between 6-7 million Jews living in the Roman Empire (plus another 1 million in Persia), who would come to Jerusalem during the three holy festivals…It was huge for this reason…and each had to pay taxes for the privilege.

After its completion Herod did exert his Roman influence even upon this building…at the main entrance he placed a huge Roman Eagle, which pious Jews saw as blasphemy and promptly smashed it…Herod had them hunted down, dragged in chains to his residence in Jericho where they were burned alive.

The cauldron was beginning to boil and pretty soon it would ERUPT…much of this prompted the Pharisees to try and trap Jesus in a no win situation…letters to what happens in:

MATTHEW 22:15-22

Why didn’t Jesus deal with the fact Caesar claimed to be god…butchered people, including his own family, allowed “female” babies to be exposed until dead because they could not become soldiers and morally slept with whoever he wanted? Because he’s afraid? I don’t think so…his critics have even said, “We know you teach the truth no matter who is confronted with it.”

Could it be that His priorities are about God’s kingdom and not Rome’s? could it be that His kingdom is not of this world and although He’s certainly not afraid to deal with individual sin, like murder and adultery…He’s wise enough to know that the human heart is the issue…listen to His teaching:

MATTHEW 5:21-22; 27-28

The law of God can identify sin…but unless there is a “heart change” then there is no healing…If you don’t deal with the deeper issues of “lust” and “hate” then adultery and murder have already invaded your soul.

Jesus and the Apostle Paul knew “that work that changes us is produced by faith…that labor is prompted by love and a life in Christ that endures is inspired by hope.” (1 Thess. 1:3)

As we live in a culture that seems to ever increase the battle between Caesar’s Kingdom and God’s, what is the most important thing we can remember…as Christian men and women who would ask others to “Follow Our Leader?”


Paul says, “Brothers…sisters…loved by our God and Father we know that He’s chosen you.”

[If you’ve ever been part of “the choosing” of teams when 2 captains…usually the best players begin to pick up sides you know how important this is! “I pick John!” “I pick Billy!” “I pick Jim!” “I pick Chuck!” You get anxious the farther down the list you fall…You never want to be last… “OK…I guess I’ll take Rick.”]

Playing well when you know that nobody really wanted you is tough.

[I grew up trying to play football and wiffle ball and basketball with my brother Sam’s friends…They were all 8-10 years older than me and a lot bigger…I’ll never forget the day Walter Gadd picked me first…that never happened…It was always… “OK Ricky you can be on our team.” On the day Walter picked me first He had God’s heart…And I would have broken every bone in my body to play well for Him on that day.]

Godly leaders understand this truth. We didn’t love God first…He loved us first. We didn’t pick God…He picked us. He called our names first. Over and over scripture teaches this essential truth…God loved the world. Jesus called us out of the world. He knows our voice…and we know His. This is the “gospel.” This is the good news. Caesar’s kingdom recognizes the strongest…the smartest…the best looking…God’s kingdom…and His choices are radically different…Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:25-31:

1 CORINTHIANS 1:25-31 (p. 793)

God didn’t just give us a list of rules about how the game should be played…and leave us to our own devices. God chose a team nobody would have picked…and then filled us with a more sustaining power than “Gatorade.”

“Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” (v. 5)

[We don’t just “say a prayer”…or “get baptized” or “join the Church.” We respond to the God who calls us…We cry out “God forgive me of my sin, we die to self, are buried in Christ and rise to “walk in newness of life” because “our sins have been cleansed.” We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and we don’t have a choice about “joining the Church.” God adds us to the Church (we can choose what family to serve Him and worship Him with) but we don’t choose whether we have brothers or sisters or not…He does.]

In God’s kingdom and in this world, everything we do…our very lives influence others… “considering others to be more important than yourself” (Phil. 2:3) is the essence of Jesus our leader… “His attitude and mindset” (Phil. 2:5) but it’s not natural…it’s the exact opposite of Caesar’s Kingdom…it’s only possible if we are influenced more by God’s Spirit and Power than this worlds.

One of the scariest things we can ask others to do is:


The Apostle Paul lived everyday among the Thessalonians for quite a while before a riot broke out…ironically they were accused of defying Caesar’s decrees…“saying that there was another King called Jesus.”

ACTS 17:1-9

This is Paul’s second missionary journey…He’s with Silas now because of a disagreement with Barnabas about a young man named John Mark getting a second chance, because he deserted them on their first missionary journey.

It’s ironic that those who hated Paul, the Jews in Thessalonica would use Caesar as a battle weapon against him. They hated Caesar and Rome…but it seems they hated Jesus and Paul more…This persecution threw the city into turmoil, and the persecution affected church people like Jason and His family…and it forced Paul and Silas to leave.

But while in Thessalonica Paul and Silas and their team lived, worked, shared life on a daily basis with these families.

The words “we”, “our”, and “among” are used 9 times in the first 6 verses of 1 Thessalonians.

The sentence that sums it up… “You know how we lived among you for your sake.” (v. 5)

You cannot imitate someone who doesn’t give you an example to follow.

[There is a picture that thrills me and scares me at the same time…here it is:


He has my shoes on…And it thrills me that he wants to be like Pappaw…but it scares me because of my responsibility to show him how to walk in them.]

I know it’s my greatest privilege to say “Follow Me.” And even if I don’t say it…He will.

We say that to our children…grandchildren, nieces, nephews, our students…our kids we coach…all those who look for a pattern to follow…so when Paul tells those he lives among in Thessalonica “Become imitators of us and the Lord.” It’s the us part that should get our attention.

Paul’s only in the synagogue preaching for 3 weeks before the riot that forces He, Silas and Timothy to flee…Here’s my question…do you think Paul and his companions get connected to the Thessalonians during those 3 speeches? Not on your life.

Those sermons were truth…the fulfillment of prophecy…but you don’t get to a place where you thank God for people remembering their faithful work and genuine love with words.

“You live among them for their sake (not yours) Paul gave them a flesh & blood example of what a follower of Jesus looks like…It’s a 2 way street. They want to share their lives with these godly leaders…and these godly leaders want to share their lives with them…The result:

“Even in the midst of severe suffering there’s joy…given by the Holy Spirit.” (v. 6)

[I’ve come to understand a very vital truth about the real church…real leadership and real love…I want to share, as much as possible with those who want to share with me…Satan’s weapon that disconnects so many people who “come to church” or “attend services” or “work in a ministry” is a belief that sharing the real you…and your real struggles with others makes you appear weak…You cannot share real life with real people who pretend to be followers…you cannot be a model for others believers to share a life of faith with unless you live a transparent life of faith.]

Transformation and healing are only possible for those who open their hearts (the place where God works best) to Him and other believers who are doing the same.

It’s why we’ve stopped serving idols and started serving the living and true God. Caesar isn’t coming back in power. The government doesn’t answer eternal questions of life and death.

Jesus is coming back in power….He rose from the dead and raises the dead. He has rescued “us” (there’s that word again) from the coming wrath.


Let me end by asking you…do you practice “convenient” Christianity…that’s saying you believe Jesus is God’s son…but during your everyday life…His words…His Spirit…His return have almost nothing to do with how you treat others, what you do or what you say…your life…your activities, your desires are no different than those who claim no belief in Jesus…while you say you’re waiting for His return…nothing really proves it to be true to your mate, children, family, friends or co-workers, or enemies…The pattern you’ve given others to follow is not different than being “lost.” It’s convenient to hope Jesus is your get out of Hell free card…but that’s all you really want Him for…It’s convenient.

Those shoes don’t follow in Jesus’ footsteps…That life is simply “words.”

Or do you live “conviction” Christianity…it’s deep…it’s penetrating your heart to such a degree that the Holy Spirit shows His power. It’s fruit is faith…it’s fruit is genuine love and endurance because you have real hope. You live for the sake of others, your message doesn’t change even in the midst of severe suffering…And only because you seek to follow the Savior who rescued you do you tell those you love and those you influence…Follow Me…as I follow Jesus.


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