Pentecost 21 A 2023 The Things of God Sermon Matthew 22:15-22
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning in our Gospel text we have this wonderful saying of Jesus that was spoken in response to the Pharisees’ disciples and Herodians’ question concerning money. The saying is “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I think this is one text that we have all heard. And it is a text that is just as important today as the day Jesus spoke it.
When Jesus answered (confronted) the religious folks question this way, Jesus confronted His adversaries, and He outfoxed them. And He beat the Pharisees and Herodians at their game. Remember, the Pharisees and Herodians wanted to entangle Jesus with His own Words, and cause friction between Jesus and the Jewish people.
These two groups wanted Jesus out of the way so that life could return to the way it was before Jesus started preaching and healing and challenging their authority.
And what better way was there to cause trouble than by asking Jesus “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” No matter How Jesus responded, the Pharisees and Herodians thought they had Jesus in a corner. So, the question becomes, why did they think they had Jesus in a corner.
And to answer this question we must first understand what the emperor represented to the Jewish people and who Caesar was.
Caesar. Caesar was the top dog in the life of the Roman empire. The Romans had conquered Israel about 100 years earlier and the Jews did not like this one bit. Why? Because the Romans were in charge.
The Romans were pagans. The Romans were cruel. The Romans did not understand them. The Romans treated them harshly. The Romans crucified people. The Romans taxed them and contracted with fellow Jews to collect what the Romans thought was owed in taxes.
Life was just not fair under the Romans. And to make things worse, Caesar claimed to be divine. He told them that he was the son of the gods. And to make sure everyone was aware of this, Caesar had his image stamped on every Roman coin.
And on one side of the coin the words “Tiberius Caesar, the son of the divine,” was imprinted to remind people that he was the son of the gods and on the other side of the coin the phrase “Pontifex Maximus” was imprinted to remind everyone that he held the title of “High Priest.”
He did this to make sure everyone knew that he was both the highest civil ruler and the highest religious ruler in the land. And this was very difficult for the Jewish people to accept. It went against their identity and their religion.
The coin represented everything that was wrong in their world. And the coin placed an artificial barrier between God and His people, and the Romans used this to their advantage.
Therefore, when the Pharisees and Herodians asked “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they were asking a question with a lot of buckshot behind it.
The question was meant to hurt Jesus. The question was meant to stir up trouble in the community.
So, when Jesus responded “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” the Pharisees and Herodians were caught off guard. This was not the answer they expected. Jesus, picking up a coin that was used to pay taxes, asked whose image was on the coin. And the religious leaders responded “Caesar’s.”
Then Jesus told them, since Caesar’s image is on the coin, give it to him. The coin belongs to him. And by doing so Jesus shows honor to the office of Caesar, but He also shows condemnation to the man who held that position.
Yes, Caesar’s face is on the coin, so it clearly belongs to him. But, when we put someone or something before God, we are breaking the First Commandment. And we are clearly forgetting what Luther said in the Small Catechism when he wrote “We are to fear, love, and trust God above everything else.” Luther’s Small Catechism
Some folks have used this text to say we should not pay taxes. I don’t believe the text is saying that at all.
In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he writes: “7Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” Romans 13:7
We pay taxes so we can live together in the community. We pay taxes so we can have roads and highways, fire departments, police departments, ambulance services, water and sewer lines, health services, welfare programs, education programs, public schools, libraries, national defense, and a whole list of other necessities.
We do all of this because we are told to love our neighbor and to take care of one another. But we are also told to love God fully and perfectly. And to render unto God the things that are God’s.
And what belongs to God. Everything. Genesis informs us that the earth and all that is in it is the Lord’s. We sing, “Take my life, that I may be, consecrated Lord to thee; take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.”
We belong to God. We were created in His image. Male and female we were created. We are not our own. We were bought with a price. On the Cross, Jesus paid the price for all our sins. Jesus died to remove all that can and will separate us from God. And now we are told to live lives that are pleasing to God.
And how is this different from the world? The world teaches us to hold onto what is ours. We are taught to value rights and property, compensation, and law. From an early age we learn to keep score, to protect our posessions, and trust in the mantra “What is mine is mine and what is your is yours.”
And there is nothing wrong with that. It preserves order. It creates boundaries so that we can live together in the community. But that is only one side of the coin.
On the other side of the coin there is grace, mercy, love, and kindness. And the Good News is that they have been given to us as a gift. And we are encouraged to use these good gifts.
When we love our neighbor, we are honoring God’s creation. When we feed, clothe, visit, and care for our neighbor, we are honoring the image in whom they were created.
When we show compassion, concern, interest, and empathy, we do so not only for our love of neighbor but because of our love for God.
Jesus Himself has taught us “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
This morning we have a wonderful statement given to us from Jesus which states “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We have been created in the image of God. God has provided all that we need. In great love He sent His Son to take away our sinfulness.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— for this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 NIV
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you came to us in our bondage, and led us to freedom by the cross and resurrection. May our lives praise you, and our lips proclaim your mighty power to all people that they may find their hope in you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.