23rd Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 22:15-22 + October 23, 2016
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Introit - pg. 82
Collect for Trinity XXIII
Absolve, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy people from their offenses, that from the bonds of our sins which by reason of our frailty we have brought upon us we may be delivered by Thy bountiful goodness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) It seems providential that this gospel text should occur every fall just days before the presidential election. This time of year politics is on everyone’s mind more so than usual. I have lost track of how many times a person has approached me and asked me what I think of the candidates, the state of our country, and the future of nation. This election cycle seems to be grinding on everyone with a graver intensity than past elections. There seems to be more uncertainty in the air, more worry in people’s hearts, and a general feeling that is approaching a state of panic. At first sight, the gospel text that the ancient church presents to us on this Sunday may not seem to hold any answers to our modern anxieties. Caesar wasn’t elected. Judea and Galilee were not in perilous times as are we. The entire system of government was just plain old different. We must resist any urge to try to cram our modern situation into the text that is before us. Instead, if we hear these words of Jesus as He intends them to be heard, they not only make perfect sense but they offer a great comfort to Christians, no matter who wins the election or what happens in the years to come.
2) Some disciples of the Pharisees, along the some Herodians, approach Jesus in order to entangle Him in precisely this issue of the State and how Christians should interact with the State. No one likes to pay taxes. That is one thing that we have in common with the ancient Judeans. These Pharisees did not care for paying taxes to Caesar because they did not like being ruled by a pagan tyrant. Being a pagan tyrant, I’m sure Caesar would have spent tax revenue on expenditures that the Jews didn’t care for either. No good Jew would joyfully pay taxes to Caesar. Neither, however, could a good Jew, as a citizen who valued their freedom, teach that taxes shouldn’t be paid to Caesar. That would be teaching insurrection against the State! With this great conundrum these disciples of the Pharisees approach Jesus. “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do you care about anyone, for you do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Though its flattery, their words are true. Jesus does not regard the person of man. He shows no partiality in His teaching. He does not play favorites with those in power. These men are hoping to exploit that trade of Jesus and get Him to speak against Caesar as if he were a common man. Here we see their play. They want to separate life before God and life in the State and nullify their worldly responsibilities for religious reasons. They set the whole thing up as an either/or.
3) Of course, Jesus doesn’t bite. Seeing their trap and their false view of church and state, He says, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money.” One of them men reaches into his pocket and pulls out a denarius, worth about a day’s wage. Holding it before them Jesus askes, “Whose image and inscription is this?” No one can deny that the image and inscription are those of Caesar’s. Even in the modern area our currency bears the image and inscription of the fathers of our country. It is with this elementary point that Jesus silences His tempters. Holding the coin with Caesar’s image and inscription before them, He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus is doing much more than telling them to pay their taxes. The Pharisees had wanted to separate the life of faith and the life lived under the government but keep them as equal and parallel entities, so that someone taught it was good to pay taxes to a pagan tyrant, then he would be teaching to value Caesar over God. For the Pharisees, to teach obedience to the State was to teach rebellion against God. Yet if Jesus had of taught the opposite then they would claim He was teaching that the life of faith tore down civil order. The coin with Caesar’s image and inscription teaches that while the life of faith and life lived under the State are separate, they are not equal.
4) Here is what I mean. As a Christian you live before God and under Caesar simultaneously. You can’t play one off the other, for God has ordained both of them. As much as it may make us cringe at times, civil government is a good gift of God. The Lord calls civil authorities “ministers of his kingdom” in Wisdom 6:4 because God establishes civil government to bring order to countries full of sinners. Solomon reminds them of this when He writes, “Power is given you of the Lord, and sovereignty from the Highest, who shall try your works, and search out your counsels” (Wisdom 6:3). Since the Lord vested them with authority, the Lord will judge them for their use of that authority. This is what Jesus means when He says to Pilate in John 19:11, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” All authority comes from the divine fount and source of authority. St. Paul echoes this in Romans 13:1-2, “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.” Civil authority is necessary in this life. It is divinely-instituted. And it is often misused and abused because God places sinners in authority over nations. Even if there were Christian rulers there would still be abuses and scandal because they would be ruling a nation of sinners and unbelievers. Civil government is not something to be despised because it is from God. If it is good government, we give thanks to God. If it is bad government, we accept it as the chastening hand of God to lead us to repentance. No matter if we view it as good or evil, we must submit to it until Caesar demands the Christians violate the doctrine of the Scriptures.
5) Since Caesar is establish by God’s wisdom and will, and He ordains that we live under Caesar, we “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” What are the things of Caesar? The obvious answer is the coin Jesus holds in between His fingers. If Caesar stamps it with his image and inscription, it is his and is due to him. Otherwise we render to Caesar the honor and respect appropriate for his office. We render to Caesar obedience, as long as Caesar does not command us to violate the gospel or natural law. If Caesar demands we forsake the gospel and worship other gods or if he demands we violate the commandments, then we say with the Apostles in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” With that as an exception, Paul writes, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:6-7). He also commands that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). So we pray for our governing authorities, regardless of how we feel about their person or policy. We do this every week in the General Prayer, and Paul’s words to Timothy may sound familiar to you, for each week we pray for our rulers so that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
6) But the Christian does not only live under Caesar. The Christian chiefly lives before God. So as we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we ought to render to God the things that are God’s. What are those things that belong to God? Jesus answers this question by holding up that denarius with an image and inscription. Things with Caesar’s image and inscription are due to Caesar. Things with the image and inscription of God are due to God. What is it that bears the image of God? You. You bear the image of God, not perfectly, but it is being restored in you. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that believers “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” He tells the Colossians to “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10). The image of God, in which you were created, and which you lost through Adam’s fall into sin, is being restored in those who are baptized and daily put off the sinful flesh through faith. The image of God was righteousness, and that righteousness is restored through faith in Christ’s atoning death. The same is true for the inscription. What bears the inscription of God? You do, for the Triune God placed His name upon you in Holy Baptism when you were baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” What are the things of God that we are to render unto Him? Ourselves, our whole heart, our fear, our love, and our trust. Caesar can have our money. He can have our liberty if that is God's good pleasure. He can even have our lives if it is the will of the Lord. What God ordains is always good.
7) But Caesar cannot half our fear, our love, and our trust, for all of these things which make up our faith and trust, do not belong to Him. That’s the answer to the anxiety of this election cycle. That’s the peace that surpasses all human understanding, worry, and doom-and-gloom. You bear the image of God and that image is being restored in you each day through faith in Christ Jesus. You are inscribed with God’s name upon your forehead and heart by virtue of God’s work in Holy Baptism. You are His. And He is worthy of your fear, your love, and your trust above all things in this life, even the Caesar. Do not fret about the future of our nation. Our times are in the Lord’s hands. Do not worry about what will happen on November 4th, our bodies and souls and all things belong to our gracious Triune God. He will protect you. He will provide for you. He will give you what you need when you need it because you are His beloved and precious treasure. You are His baptized. That is only answer to our worries. That is the only comfort we need. Amen.
May the peace of God that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.