sermon for October 16, 2011- Pentecost 18
Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Theme: God and Caesar
Date: October 16, 2011- Pentecost 18
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I drive around, I love to listen to books on CD. The book that I am listening to right now is a book written by Paul Maier called, “The Constantine Codex.” It is the fictional account of a professor by the name of Jonathan Weber who stumbles across an important ancient manuscript that has been lost for centuries. This manuscript may have long-lasting effects on the church. But, Professor Weber is also drawn into an internationally televised debate between himself and an Islamic scholar. They debate the two main religions of our time: Christianity and Islam. At the point that I am at in the book, it appears that Dr. Weber is winning the debate and proving the superiority of Christianity over Islam.
In our world today, that debate continues to rage on. Sadly, it is not politically correct or wise to debate or openly speak out against Islam. It is viewed as narrow-minded and intolerant. It could even be hazardous to your health. However, on the other hand, Christianity is open season to any hack with a pen or a paintbrush. No one says anything if Christianity is mocked or made fun of in the media. It is expected. This is the world that we are living in.
But, as Christians we must not be afraid to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ, as St. Peter says in his epistle. If called upon, we must not be afraid to debate against or speak to anyone who might ask, but we do so with love. St. Paul reminds us that, “we must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been received and refute those who oppose it.” To be honest there are countless groups of people in our world that if called upon I would love to refute or debate, but it is probably better that it doesn’t happen.
Do you like to debate, not just Christianity vs. Islam, but in general? It is my contention that women are better at it than men or at least men are too afraid to go too far in the debate, at least in a marriage relationship. We don’t want to press the issue too far. But, for many of us debating is very natural. It is as natural as breathing. Who among us doesn’t like a good debate?
In our text for today, Jesus finds himself in a heated debate in first century Palestine. For years, there was a debate among the Jews whether it was legal to pay taxes or were the Romans abusing their power. For Rome, taxes were essential. In order for Rome to pay for its extensive programs and expansion, it had to tax the people that it had conquered. Sounds somewhat familiar, but I digress. But, the Jews hated being oppressed by the Romans and they hated being taxed even more. They also hated the inscription of the Roman emperor on the currency that they had to use in their business transactions. They felt it was idolatrous and blasphemous.
So, in our text, along came the Pharisees and Sadducees who had just seen Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. They had just seen him kick the moneychangers out of the temple. Their hatred and disgust for Jesus was reaching a fever pitch. So, someone in their motley crew had come up with a master plan to trick Jesus. The text actually says that they hoped to reel Jesus in on a hook, like he was a fish. The issue was this: If He answered that it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar than the Pharisees could use that against Him in relation to how the people felt about Him. Word about his answer would spread very quickly and He could become very unpopular. If He answered that it wasn’t lawful to pay taxes, then He could be portrayed as a revolutionary and an enemy of the Romans. That news would also spread like wildfire. It was a win-win situation for them or so they thought. They felt they couldn’t lose this debate. Amazing how arrogant we can become as human. Who did they think they were and who did they think they were debating against? Obviously not God’s Son, the Christ, and the King of kings and Lord of lords.
To butter Jesus up, to lower his defenses, hoping that He would let his guard down, they complement Jesus, “Hey Jesus, Teacher (like they really respected him as a teacher), we know that you are true (Sure) and teach the way of God truthfully (Yeh, right, like they really believed that) and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances (ironically that part is true).” Right away, Jesus understood that this wasn’t a real debate. He saw through this charade. All the Pharisees cared about was discrediting Jesus, trying to use whatever they could against him but Jesus responded, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?”
But, this morning, as we are pondering this text, it is necessary for us to ask: How does this text refer to me? How am I involved? In ancient Greek, a hypocrite was an actor, someone who played a part, someone who often wore a mask, and someone who pretended to be someone or something that they were not. We admit that we too play the part of a hypocrite or an actor. We play the part that we think we’re supposed to play. We wear masks so that others don’t see who we really are. We pretend to be someone or something that we really aren’t in order to be popular, accepted or because everyone else is doing it. It is not beneath us to manipulate others in order to get them to do what we want. We complement our boss so that we get a raise. We help our neighbor in need so we can hold him to helping us later. We treat others in a certain way in order to trap them or irritate them so much that they tire of the fight and want to leave. The ends justify the means. In this, and in many other ways, we show our sinful human nature, and we fall short of any ability truly to render love to God and neighbor.
But, this morning, God’s Law stares at us in the face and we are forced to take off our masks, put aside our desire to manipulate others and see ourselves for who we truly are: sinners in need of repentance. To the hypocrites in our text and to hypocrites everywhere, Jesus provides an answer to their question. He asks for a coin and proclaims, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s.”
“To give to God what is God’s” is to see the Holy Spirit at work by the Gospel. It is to believe that same Gospel and to recognize that faith in Christ is the highest worship of the Christ, the ultimate rendering to God. It is to “take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,” receiving the bounty of His grace in the Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism, and Holy Absolution. It is to cling to Jesus as the one who paid the tax debt by His suffering and death on the cross for you. And when we hear him cry out, “It is finished,” the tax bill is stamped “Paid in full.”
Peter reminds us in chapter 1 of his epistle, the 16th verse, “Since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” It is Christ’s blood on the cross that purifies our hearts and mind. It is Christ’s blood on the cross that sets us right with God. It is Christ’s blood on the cross that forgives our sins. We know that the payment was complete and perfect because the bill collector of the grave was unable to hold Jesus. The effects of the debt-death and Hell- had no power over him. He rose from the dead to prove that the debt is truly and completely paid.
Next week, we will celebrate a special 200 year anniversary of Dr. Walther’s, the first LC-MS President and founder of our Synod and the following week, we celebrate the blessed Lutheran Reformation. One of the greatest but often forgotten teachings of the Lutheran Reformation is what Luther called, “The two kingdoms, two realms or two swords” doctrine. Luther teaches that God controls the world in two ways. The first way is through the kingdom of the Church where He rules through Law and Gospel and by justification by grace through faith. He wields the sword of the Spirit. The second kingdom or realm or sword is the power He gives secular government to rule. They rule by compulsion and power. Their job is to order and control society. And, as Christians, we have roles to play in both. Neither kingdom should infringe upon the power of the other but both kingdoms should support the role that each other play.
Secondly, Jesus is telling us to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar.” This is where the rubber meets the road especially when we don’t necessarily care for either the Caesar or the government that Caesar represents. In many quarters today, the government is criticized no matter what side of the isle you might find yourself. But, as Christians, it is our duty to keep the Fourth Commandment and to honor the ruling authorities, and paying taxes as well. That is indeed being faithful to God, because all things are God’s already, even the government He puts in place to govern! Jesus makes it clear in this particular case that by doing our duty as citizens we are giving thanks to our loving and generous God for his gift of civil governance and peace.
Debating is part of what it means to be human. In the debate before us, it was not the Lord’s intention to win by belittling and destroying those with whom He’s debating, so that he could be perceived as brilliant. It was Jesus ultimate desire to be the attention on Calvary’s cross. There is no debating how we love to justify our own actions and manipulate others by our actions. But, there is also no debating how much our good and gracious God loves us and how much He does to provide for us. On one hand, He rules through the church through Word and Sacrament and on the other hand, He rules through civil government. As Christians, we must support the work of God in both realms.
In an invocation prayer at the United States Senate, Peter Marshall said, "Lord Jesus, Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right." It is unthinkable that a Christian would not vote! It is unthinkable that Christians would not run for public office! It is unthinkable that Christians would withdraw from the responsibility of taking part in public life. The Christian has a responsibility to Caesar for all the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings. We are citizens of this world and must be good ones, if we are Christ's disciples.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.