Sermon based on Matt. 22:15-22 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear people inscribed with the name of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The empty flattery of the Pharisee’s disciples and the Herodians did not fool Jesus when they plotted to entangle Him in His words. They set their trap: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus told the Pharisees to show Him the coin for the tax, asking them whose likeness and inscription is on the coin. The Pharisees showed Him a denarius, which bore the image of Tiberius Caesar, with the inscription “son of the divine Augustus”. Caesar claimed to be the son of god, and thus divine himself. Put to the test, what will the true Son of God say concerning giving money to this false son of god?
Further, the Romans were occupying the Jewish lands with their armies. Most Jews hated the Roman occupation. The armies of a foreign nation walked their streets and forced them to pay taxes. If Jesus would condone paying taxes to this Caesar who is not only a foreign occupier but also one who calls himself a god, isn’t that both anti-Jewish and idolatrous? Certainly all those Jews following Jesus would stop following Him if He said they should pay taxes to Caesar. Or so these hypocrites thought.
On the other side, the Romans were the ruling government in the land. If Jesus said that the Jews should not pay taxes to their ruling authorities, those ruling authorities would swoop in and charge Him with sedition and inciting a rebellion. Such charges were taken very seriously by the Roman government and they had crushed more than one rebellion in those days.
So, whose likeness and inscription was on the coin? Caesars. Jesus responds, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Give to the owner what belongs to him. If Caesar is the rightful owner, give it to Caesar. If God is the rightful owner, give it to God. Here Jesus makes clear first of all, that Caesar is not God. Jesus mentions two possibilities: give to God or give to Caesar. Thus Caesar is not God. But He also doesn’t fall into the trap of saying the Jews should not pay taxes. He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”.
Caesar minted coins on which he had his own image and inscription. He had them made in his mint, for his empire. Based on this, he by right charged his subjects tax, and they were to pay their rightful, legally required share. So what’s the problem? Caesar made the coins, they have his image and inscription, and he expects you to pay some tax. Pay it.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. On the other hand, He continues by saying, “And [give] to God the things that are God’s.” What is God’s? Well, what has His image and inscription? Genesis 1 says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (v.27). We were created in the image of God. We bear the image of God.
Revelation 14 tells us where God’s name is inscribed, “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v. 1). These servants of God had been “sealed” with God’s name (cf. Rev. 7:3).
Throughout the New Testament, the word “seal” is used to indicate baptism, the receiving of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 1:13, 4:30, 2 Cor. 1:22). In your baptism, God sealed you with His name. You were inscribed with the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
So, give to Caesar what has his name and inscription – coins to pay your taxes – and to God what has His name and inscription – you. But do not misunderstand. This isn’t the Evangelical, “Have you given yourself to God” question they ask unbelievers to try and convert them. An unbeliever is not capable of giving himself to God. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). And in Ephesians Paul writes, “And you were dead in… trespasses and sins” (2:1). A dead man cannot decide anything. A dead man cannot give himself to God. God must draw him. God must give life to the dead.
Yet we cannot throw out this phrase altogether. We are called to give ourselves to God. But this is written for those who have first been given life from the dead – those who have been inscribed with God’s name. Thus Paul writes in Romans 6, first talking about baptism – how through baptism we have been baptized into the death of Christ. In baptism we died to sin (Rom. 6:2). In baptism we were born again by water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5) and raised to new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4). In baptism we received all the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross. We received forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Paul then follows this up, speaking to baptized Christians and says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:12-14). You belong to God. You have been brought from death to life, so do not live like you are dead. Do not live like you belong to yourself or to sin. Give yourself to God.
But you say: do we not already belong to God? How then can we give ourselves to God? Well, in the same way as the denarius already belongs to Caesar, yet we can cling to it and refuse to pay the taxes we owe. So also, although we already belong to God, we can cling to ourselves and keep ourselves and our bodies for our own use and not give ourselves completely to God.
And Jesus does not say, “Give also a little something to God”, but “[Give] to God the things that are God’s” – give God everything that belongs to Him. Do you understand that you belong to God? You are His own. So when you want to present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, following your own desires and passions, then remember this – you are not your own, you were bought with price (I Cor. 6:20). You belong to God. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19).
So since you belong to Jesus, you can be exhorted to behave like a Christian: to give yourself to serve God in your daily life; to present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1). You cannot live like you belong to yourself or like you belong to sin.
So when you are being tempted, remember you are not your own, you were bought with a price. You bear the image of God. You have been inscribed with the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So do not covet. Do not steal. Do not defraud the government by evading taxes or by cash transactions which have the sole purpose of avoiding taxes. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
And when you remember that you are not your own, you also realize that what you have is not your own. This opens your heart to support God’s work – not just here within these four walls, but around the world: wherever God sends preachers to proclaim His Gospel; wherever God sends ministers who make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19); wherever God is sealing His image by inscribing His name.
Remember, you are not your own, you were bought with a price. This price was the holy precious blood of Christ, and His innocent suffering and death. Jesus paid for your sins and He made you His own. You have been inscribed with God’s name and thus you belong to God.
This is your comfort as you go about your daily life, knowing that you belong to God and bear His inscription. This is your comfort when the devil accuses you of your sins. You can say, “I do not belong to you, I bear the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This is your comfort when dying. You can say, “I belong to Christ, I have His name inscribed on me.” In your baptism, God marked you as His own and inscribed you with His name. You belong to God. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.