Sermon- Pentecost 20, “Give to Caesar and God what is Due,” Pastor Joe Asher, Kaiserslautern Ev. Lutheran Church, Germany, Office of International Mission, Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, *IN NOMINE JESU*
Paying Taxes to Caesar
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 22 is today’s focus. First let me begin by saying that Jesus’ encounter with the Herodians and Pharisee students occurred late in Jesus’ ministry. Christ is in His third year of His sojourn on earth, and in fact the place and time of our text is Jerusalem on Tuesday of Holy Week. So, our Lord is less than 72 hours from His crucifixion.
And so in your mind I hope you are remembering what has happened immediately before this text. A couple of days before Jesus has entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the joy of many. Palm branches were waved, coats were placed on the road to soften the walk of the donkey’s colt that was carrying Him. “Hosannas” were shouted, which was a call for Jesus to “Save now!” And our Lord was acknowledged by many as the “Son of David.” And for the Jews then, and for Christians today, this title means a lot of things…
As the Son of David, Jesus is honored as the Messiah, the Savior… the King of Israel in David’s line. And the people also recognized Jesus as a Prophet, because He spoke the Word of God with authority. And remember that our Lord has also recently raised Lazarus from the dead, and everyone in Jerusalem had heard about that. And with Christ’s other miracles…
- Giving sight to the blind
- Cleansing lepers
- Casting out demons
- Multiplying loaves and fish
- And all the rest…
Many people welcomed Jesus as Savior and Lord.
But there are also enemies of Jesus in Jerusalem. In the first line of today’s Gospel, the Pharisees are identified. Most of them hated Jesus. In their view, our Lord was constantly breaking the Sabbath by healing people. They also hated the fact that Jesus was constantly calling God His Father. To the
Pharisees, this was blasphemy… and punishable by death. So the Pharisees with the ruling council, the Sanhedrin, were at this time plotting Jesus’ arrest and death.
In the first line of our reading, you can see that the Pharisees and their students in training are plotting, verse 15-
…how to entangle him in his words.
But there is another group mentioned in our reading, the Herodians, who also want Jesus stopped. As their name indicates, they want the Jewish ruler Herod to govern Judea. This means that they want no one else to claim Israel’s throne. So we have to understand that they would oppose some carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
So the enemies of Jesus come to trap Him. And the snare comes from a question about taxes. Verse 17-
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Our Lord recognized their hypocrisy. Christ saw their motives and malice immediately. They didn’t want Jesus’ answer. They had already rejected the Lord. What they wanted was Jesus’ arrest and execution. So Jesus calls them out on their hypocrisy and wickedness. Then He asks for a Roman coin, and asks the question- verse 20-
Whose likeness and inscription is this?
The enemies replied,
And then our Lord teaches-
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.
So today, the question for us is: How must Christians respond to civil government in this world? Paying taxes, obeying laws, being involved in the political process… all these things are covered in Jesus’ simple yet masterful reply.
According to Jesus’s response to the Herodians, human governments DO have a role in providing for humanity’s common good. When governance works properly, just laws are enacted so that all people can live in peace and safety. Wickedness is suppressed, which means the rule of law is valued and the offenders of law are restrained, often in jail or prison. Governments under some form of a “Caesar,” with legislatures or parliaments or presidents or kings, maintain a military so that a country’s borders are secure. Fire departments and courts of law operate for the public welfare, as does public works departments and planning commissions. Human beings are elected or appointed to care for and serve the people, all under the structure of a Caesar… or today, a human government.
All government agencies work together to make sure that everyone can live in a society where peace, tranquility, and freedom are maintained. Can government agencies do evil? Absolutely. An example in the USA is the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade which permits the evil of abortion. But courts can also do good. This is the reality of our fallen world.
As Christians, we also know that governments exist under God’s rule and sovereign power. Romans 13:1-4 gives added clarity on how believers are to live under civil government-
13 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad… Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he (meaning, the governing authority) is God’s servant for your good.
When governments are good and not evil, then civil government blesses everyone with peace and security. And Paul declares that governments have been “instituted by God,” which means that in God’s plan, a country’s government has a role in providing for humanity’s common good. So it is important that we PRAY for our leaders, for kings and presidents and legislatures and parliaments, so that we will have good government, rather than wicked and duplicitous leaders.
And this takes us back to Jesus’ instruction.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.
Christians obey Christ when they are exemplary in obedience to their government. They pay taxes, they drive the speed limit, they adhere to COVID regulations, they cross the street only at crosswalks when the walking light indicator is on, they try to understand and follow the German recycling regulations, and all the rest. We obey our government and serve our country in every way that pleases God.
But we also remember the Scriptural principle from Acts 5:28, where the apostles told the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, that they must oppose the governing authority’s mandate that they stop preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name. To the Sanhedrin, the apostles proclaimed-
We must obey God, rather than men.
Followers of Jesus have always known that if the government demands that a Christian do anything against Christ or faith, then the Christian may and should in good conscious disobey any directive handed down by any authority. God comes first. We obey Him first.
In our modern world, the perfect example for us are the COVID worship guidelines. They are “a pain” to follow, and it seems like they change every week. Further, these guidelines are imposed by both the US military services and the German state government.
But the guidelines are imposed by legitimate authority over us for public health safety. And as a church, KELC can, if necessary, worship Christ and teach the Christian faith by internet streaming. God commands that we also administer and receive Holy Communion, and this is a little more difficult under COVID guidelines… but it isn’t impossible.
So, we obey all imposed guidelines with the understanding that if the authorities were ever to require us to suspend all church services, or stop Christian baptisms, or do anything which opposes our faith in Christ, we would…
…obey God, rather than men.
The theological principal contained in Matthew 22 is a significant one. We have to understand that God often uses secondary means to take care of us. When we are small, as infants and toddlers, God supplies our every need, but He often (usually) does it through our parents who hold down jobs to keep a roof over our head, clothes on our back, and food in our stomachs. So as toddlers and as teenagers, and all through our lives we need to thank God for all His good gifts, and we also need to thank our parents for all the things they do for us in love.
Further, in this world, God uses governments to maintain public order and restrain evil. While God is in control of everything, we can be thankful for government, pray for our leaders, and participate as best we can in the political arena. Voting for good leaders, running for office, writing our congressman/ woman, all these things help insure that we can live in peace and security.
God bless you in your faith and love for Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen. +Sola Deo Gloria+
KELC- Prayers of the Congregation- Pentecost 20- 10/18/20
Gracious heavenly Father, We thank You for the love and care You give to Your people. We rejoice that You do not slumber or sleep as You defend us from all evil. We also thank You for good government and the role it plays in our lives. Give mercy to all who are in authority over us. Supply them with Your blessing that they may be inclined to Your will and walk according to Your commandments.
Lord in Your mercy……………………………………………. Hear our Prayer.
Blessed Savior Jesus Christ– we pray for all who serve as first responders- fire fighters and police officers, as well as doctors and nurses, for medical researchers and all who work to end disease. In addition we pray for all who dedicate their lives to care for people who are most vulnerable.
Lord, in Your mercy………………………………………………Hear our prayer.
Eternal Comforter, dear Holy Spirit, inspire us with Your Word, that we may love our Triune God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And let Your blessing remain with us throughout this day as we approach every task.
Lord in Your mercy………………………………………………… Hear our prayer.
Finally, Merciful Lord, in our families and among our friends and co-workers there are many who are in need of Your care. For all who are sick, hospitalized, unemployed, lonely, away on duty assignments, and for all other needs, we name our loved ones in our hearts before you now………………………….
Lord in Your mercy/ hear our prayer.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.