23rd Sunday after Pentecost Sermon Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Let us pray: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Pharisees, who were perhaps the best and most intelligent people among the Jews, plotted to entangle Jesus, in order to put Him to death. So far, they had yet been able to trap Jesus by what He said or did. But now, oh, they thought they had devised the perfect trap! In a most subtle manner, they ask Him a question: Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
It is a really clever question they put to Jesus, and they don’t really care about the answer, for between the Pharisees and the Herodians, there would probably have been some disagreement. You see, the Pharisees saw paying taxes to Caesar as sinful, while the Herodians, followers of Herod the Great, did not. Rather, they, being in league with Herod probably benefited from such taxation. Yes, these two distinct factions within Judaism would have been at odds if such a question was put to them. But this question isn’t put to them, but rather put to Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth; this Jesus, who, they believed, was stirring up the people with His preaching of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and His miracles. No, the Pharisees and Herodians, the answer isn’t really important. What is important to them, however, is that they want this Jesus out of the way. To them, the Messiah, the Savior of the world would be a political figure, sent by God to free them from the tyranny of Rome. There were not many in Judea who are pleased about being in the Roman Empire, and nobody likes to pay taxes.
So they lay their trap for Jesus. For if Jesus says that they are to pay taxes, this teacher will turn the people against Him. If He says “yes,” the Pharisees will denounce Him for His speaking out against the independence of the Jewish people. On the other hand, if Jesus says that it is wrong to pay taxes, He would eventually be arrested for treason when word spreads of His anti-Caesar policy. If He says “no,” the servants of Herod will have reason to put Him to death for He is a revolutionist, one who sets Himself against the Roman Empire. It is what one would call a “Catch-22”.
The Pharisees and Herodians ask Him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” And so, Jesus answers them, but not in the way they want him to. He says: “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” So they bring forth a coin, a denarius, and Jesus asks them yet another question. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” He asks them, “Whose image is carved into the precious metal? Whose name is inscribed on the coin?” The Pharisees and Herodians reply, “Caesar's.”
Jesus then speaks a two-fold response; the first part of His reply being: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. All people, whether believers in the LORD God or unbelievers, are to render to the state the things belonging to those offices making up the foundation of society. God Himself has given a good and right ordering and operating of this world by establishing and ordaining the family and the state. The family or the home is the building block of a nation or culture or society, a place where children can be educated, disciplined, and trained for life by the husband and wife who conceived them and brought them into this world.
The governments of the various independent countries, that is, the ‘powers that be,’ no matter how good or bad they may be, are also ordained by God. They are His way in preserving humanity. Without the law and order and, to a large degree, the protection afforded by a government or state, the human race would soon destroy itself in one big suicidal catastrophe. All human beings are included in these structures of society, Christians included.
Christians, therefore, are to support the state in which they live. Scripture instructs of this responsibility and duty in many places. Jesus says, here in our Gospel lesson for this morning: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. John the Baptizer told both tax collectors and soldiers simply to do their duties as assigned by the state. Those who the epistles of the Apostle Peter were addressed to were reminded: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:13-14). St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God (Rom. 13:1). Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to pay all their dues whether it be taxes, revenue, respect, or honor. Whatever bears the image and writings of the state belong to the state and are due to the state. Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
Now perhaps you are saying to yourself, “No problem. I pay my taxes ... federal, state, local, and property taxes. I don't weasel out of jury duty. I obey the police officer when they stop me. I do what my teachers tell me to do. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I don't desecrate the flag. I served in the armed forces. I'm no draft dodger. When I really stop to think about it, I spend a lot of time and money in meeting my commitments to the state. I am a good citizen of the state. So, when Jesus said that we should render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, I have a clear conscience. I do that. I am a good citizen.”
Maybe you are and maybe you are not. Maybe you spend a lot of time and money in your responsibilities to the state and maybe you don't. Such matters are between you and God. But let's go on to the second part of Jesus twofold command - the part that follows the business about Caesar; to render unto God the things that are God's.
Now I know what you may be thinking. You might be saying to yourselves, “Oh Boy! I knew it was coming. Here's the place where he is going to make a pitch for increasing my offerings and tell me to get busy and do some volunteering of my time in the church.” To be sure, dear Christian friends, that would be the situation if ... if, in His admonition to render unto God the things that are God's, those “things” were primarily your time and money. But please listen; the things of God are not primarily your time and money. So then, just what are they?
You recall in the Gospel account for today, that when Jesus was asked about paying taxes, He asked for a coin to be produced. It was and He asked: Whose likeness and inscription is this? The coin bore the image, likeness, and inscription of Caesar. Therefore, I ask you, what are the things of God that bear His image, likeness, and inscription? Because, dear Christian friends, the coins in your pocket do not bear His image. The money in your wallet or purse does not have the likeness of the God on it. Neither the hours in your day nor the days in your life are they inscribed with image of Christ. Your time is not engraved with the Savior's nail-prints.
It is most certainly true that neither time nor possessions are primarily the things of God that Jesus is speaking about. The things of God of which our Savior speaks of are those things that do bear the image, likeness, and inscription of the LORD God Almighty. Behold, you and I are the things of God and Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, declare this truth.
In the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible, we read: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).
Now it is true that when our first parents sinned against God, they lost the image of God and from then on, form the first child on, the children of Adam were born in the image of Adam and his likeness. Yet fear not, for as Christians, we bear the image of God, not because of who we are but because of what God has done for us and given to us, namely, His only begotten Son, incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, who lived for us, bore the marks of God's wrath that you and I might not have to, died a horrid, awful, hellish, wonderful, terrible, sin-atoning death for you and for me, and for all people. Not only that, but He triumphantly rose from the dead, and leads us into Paradise one by one, taking men, women, youth, children, and babies through the gracious waters of Holy Baptism, granting each one of us the watermark, the inscription, of Himself on our foreheads and our hearts.
Accordingly, as we read in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:49); and in his second letter to the Corinthians: we all ... are being transformed into the same image (2 Cor. 3:18). In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, the Apostle John saw the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world and who has redeemed you and called you by name, who will permit no one to take you out of His Hands ... indeed, the triumphant Christ, the Son of God standing on Mount Zion and with Him, you ... you standing in Paradise among the multitude, as Scripture says, having his Father's name written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1).
You, first and foremost, you are The Things of God. He has created you. He sustains you, gives you your daily bread. He has, by Christ Jesus' innocent sufferings and death provided an accomplished salvation in which He desires you to be His own once again. By His grace, mercy, and love, you bear the image and the inscription of God. And while we are not yet standing in Paradise and that is a future event for each one of us, we stand here in anticipation of that joyful eternity. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
What a blessed truth for which our thanks and praise be given unto God! Truly, as one of His own: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
There is a second aspect in the rendering to God “the things of God,” and this aspect is our confession. Our confession to the LORD that He is our God and that we confess that we be given the strength and desire to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. Our confession includes not only that we have transgressed His Law in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and left undone, but also that these sins He has taken from us. All of our sins, whether of the past, the present or the future. They do not belong to us. They belong to Jesus, who took them all upon Himself over two thousand years ago. As the psalmist sings: as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
Would you seek to have these things of God back? Most certainly the answer is “no.” Rather the things of God includes our calling upon Him in every trouble, praying, praising and giving thanks to Him who has promised that [He] will remember [our] sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
Again, you and I, first and foremost, are The Things of God. By His grace, mercy, and love, you bear the image and the inscription of God. Therefore, when Jesus says to render unto God the things of God, He is making reference to you. The LORD makes His exhortation through the Apostle Paul who appeals: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1 NKJV).
The psalmist asks the question which is perhaps on your mind at this moment: What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me? (Psalm 116:12). That question ought to occupy your mind every single day that you awaken from sleep. You may think, “In response to the fact that I am one of the things of God and that I belong to Him and that whether I live or I die, I belong to Him, what should I think, what should I say, what should I do?”
The same psalmist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declares to us what we should do. Let us therefore pray his example...
What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of
Your maidservant; You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people,
In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 116:12-19).
The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.