Render to God

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 22:15-21

Dear possession of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Caesar was not the democratically chosen leader of the Jewish people. He didn’t win their popular vote or the support of Jewish representatives. Caesar was the leader of the Jews because the Romans had invaded and conquered Israel. The Romans had overthrown Jewish leadership and incorporated Judea into the Roman Republic.

The Romans thus occupied Jewish lands and forced the Jews to pay Roman taxes. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should taxes be paid to the invaders and occupiers of your land? Is it right to pay taxes to the military invaders and conquerors of your people?

The Caesar at the time also happened to be Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius was a drunken pervert who shirked his responsibilities and lived his life indulging his sinful desires rather than ruling. The coin for the tax even claimed Tiberius to be son of god. Is it lawful to pay taxes to this wicked Caesar, or not?

The Pharisees and Herodians wanted to trap Jesus and entangle Him in His words. If Jesus responded with saying that this Roman tax should be paid by the Jews to their occupiers, the Pharisees supposed the Jewish people would stop being followers of Jesus. The Jews despised the tax. It marked them as subjects of Rome. The tax money collected from the Jews paid for the Roman soldiers who occupied their territory and invaded other territories. Paying the tax gave money to the enemy to help them maintain control over you. There’s a moral and ethical question of whether the people of God should pay such tax to the Romans.

On the other hand, if Jesus answered that the tax should not be paid to Caesar, then the Pharisees and Herodians would go to the Roman authorities and charge Jesus with rebellion and treason against the Roman government. Jesus’ enemies would then have a real charge to bring to Pilate against Jesus so that they could be rid of Him once and for all.

Jesus does not fall into their trap. He asked them to show Him the coin for the tax which bore Caesar’s image and inscription, and Jesus responded, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

The coin was minted by Caesar. It had his image and inscription. He was their Caesar, whether they liked it or not. The fact that they had the coin in their possession indicates that they did acknowledge Caesar’s rule over them. They were using his currency. It belonged to Caesar. So, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

Christians are to pay the taxes demanded of us by our government. We can say that there is a moral and ethical question of whether the people of God should pay tax to our government when it is wasted and squandered; when it is used in lavish holidays of self-indulgence; when it is used to pay terrorists. Christians may say that they should not pay tax to our government because it is used to pay for abortions.

It is true that it is wrong that our tax dollars get used in these ways, but it is our duty to pay our taxes. It is the government’s duty to use that money appropriately and wisely. Paying taxes is thus the right and godly thing to do, even if the government is ungodly in what is done with the tax dollars. Those who govern will be held accountable by God for their use of the money, whether it is Tiberius or Trudeau.

Jesus continues in His answer to the Pharisees and Herodians. He doesn’t just say, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He adds, “and to God the things that are God’s.” Render to God what belongs to God.

Jesus does not put this side-by-side with paying taxes as if to say that the government gets its percentage and God gets His percentage. In fact, paying taxes is giving to God what belongs to God, because He is the one who has commanded you to pay taxes. This also means when you use the money you’ve earned to buy food for your family, you are giving to God what belongs to God. Your wise use of what God has entrusted to you is rendering to God what belongs to Him.

Rendering to God what belongs to Him certainly does include giving offerings to Him, but we need to realize that God does not need our money. He doesn’t use the money given to the Church to buy food for Himself. God says in Psalm 50, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” (v. 12)

Regarding the offerings of animals as sacrifices, God says, “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” (vv. 10-11) Everything we have belongs to God. Everything in the world belongs to God.

God does not need our offerings as if He cannot get by without them. Rather, we are the ones who benefit from giving offerings to God. We are the ones who are blessed in giving offerings as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We are the ones who are blessed by those offerings so that we can have the Word of God preached among us and His Sacraments administered among us. We are the ones who are blessed by having our sins taken away from us freely with no cost to us.

If we render to God what is God’s, that also means we give Him our sin. John the Baptist preached, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus took our sins on Himself all the way to the cross and died for them there. Jesus took our sins in His body on the tree and down into the grave, where He left them for eternity.

Your sins do not belong to you. Yes, you committed them, but Jesus has taken them away from you.

Rendering to God what belongs to Him means rendering your sins to God. Rendering your sins to God means to stop clinging to them like they are still yours. God has already taken them away from you. Don’t walk away from Absolution thinking that you’re still stuck with your sins. Don’t walk away from the altar rail after receiving the body and blood of Christ thinking that you are still carrying the burden of your sins on your back. Your sins have been paid for by the precious blood of Christ, so they do not belong to you any longer. Your sins have been purchased away from you, so they are not yours.

If Satan or someone else dangles your sin in front of your face, tell them the sin is no longer yours. Should a guilty conscience seize you, be reminded that Christ has taken your sin away from you and it doesn’t belong to you anymore. If death lurks with threats and fears, know that even in death you have nothing to fear – you die without sin because Jesus died with your sin.

Yes, render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Also render to God what belongs to God. You belong to God. Christ has purchased you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. God has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism so you are His. Because you belong to God, He will raise you from the dead to eternal life as surely as He raised Jesus from the dead to eternal life.

Render to God what belongs to God. Don’t cling to your sin. Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taken away your sin. Your sin does not belong to you. Forgiveness and everlasting life do belong to you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Wedding Feast

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 22:1-14

Dear beautiful bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Apart from Christ, the Church is one ugly bride. Ezekiel sixteen describes her as a baby wallowing in her own blood on the day of birth, cast out into the open field with no eye to pity or show compassion, abhorred by all. No one loved her to wash her or clothe her. No one even bothered to cut her umbilical cord.

Then her bridegroom came and gave her life. He bathed her and washed her and anointed her with oil. He made her to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. He clothed her with embroidered cloth and shod her with fine leather. He wrapped her in fine linen and covered her with silk. He adorned her with bracelets on her wrists, a chain on her neck, with jewellery, and a crown on her head. She thus had gold and silver and fine clothing, eating the highest quality of foods.

In Christ, the Church is a beautiful bride. Christ washes away the ugliness of her sins and clothes her with His own righteousness. He offers up His life for her on the cross, obtaining for her the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He clothes her in Holy Baptism. A wedding feast is prepared to celebrate this union.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready.

How do those invited respond? Some pay no attention to the invitation from the King. They go off, one to his farm, another to his business. These are the polite ones. They don’t hate the King, but they really don’t care. They don’t hate the Church, but they are indifferent to the King’s invitation. They don’t hate Christ, the bridegroom, but they have better things to do. They just don’t care.

Then there are those who are invited to the wedding feast who hate Christ, the bridegroom, and His bride, the Church. The King’s servants who went out to invite them are treated shamefully and disrespectfully. The King’s servants are even murdered for bringing the invitation just because these people hate the King. Such people get angry if a Christian dare speak the truth of God’s Word, because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear about how God expects us to behave and they don’t want to hear about how God gives us free forgiveness in His Son. They’d rather kill the messenger than hear the message. They are so vicious and hostile because they are poor, miserable sinners, who don’t want to admit that they are poor, miserable sinners.

There are those who politely ignore God’s gracious invitation, and there are those who respond in anger and hostility. There are also those who respond with hypocrisy. They join the church. They are baptized. They go through confirmation. They attend Divine Service. They outwardly confess that they believe what God’s Word says. But they believe none of it. This is the man without the wedding garment. He does not believe that he needs Jesus’ righteousness to cover his sins. He thinks Baptism is a nice ceremony but that it does nothing. He receives the body and blood of Christ but believes it to be nothing more than bread and wine.

All three of these groups of people invited have the same end. The King sends His angels to destroy them and their cities. They are bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness, that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether they reject God’s gracious invitation through polite ignorance, open hostility, or faithless hypocrisy, their place is in the eternal fires of hell.

This is a warning to us. The goal of this is not to say, “Hey I know someone who hates God. I know someone who doesn’t really care. I know someone who is a hypocrite.” No. This is us. We must confess our own sin.

We have politely ignored God’s gracious invitation. We are the ones who do not always care. We have failed to prioritize the hearing and reading of God’s Word. We have failed to treat God’s gracious invitation as the most important thing. We have failed to raise our children in the faith. We have had better things to do. Repent.

We have shown hostility toward God’s gracious invitation. We, according to our sinful nature hate God. We hate when His Law commands us to do something that we don’t want to do. We hate when His Law forbids us from doing something we want to do. We hate the fact that God’s Word says we are poor, miserable sinners. Our greed and lust, our desire for fame, money, and recognition, our anger and pride are all hostile to God. Repent.

We have acted like hypocrites. We go through the motions. We say things we don’t mean. We confess to believe what the Bible says but we’re not actually even that interested in what it says. We say we value God’s Word, but it sits somewhere in the house collecting dust. We speak the words of the Lord’s Prayer without so much as a thought as to what the words mean. Repent.

In your repentance, realize the gracious invitation of God to you. The wedding feast of the Lamb is for you. Not because of what you’ve done or left undone. Not because of who you are. Rather, because God’s gracious invitation is for everyone. The King sends his servants out to invite to the banquet everyone they can find. Thus, Jesus says that the servants brought in the evil and the good into the wedding hall – those who were thought of as evil because their sins were known to everyone, as well as those who were thought of as good because their sins were not known to everyone.

The evil and good alike will be at the wedding feast because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We lament our indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy and we cherish the wedding garment that covers all our sin. We love our bridegroom who came and gave us life; who bathed us and washed us in Baptism; who made us to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. We love Him who clothed us with His white and pure robe of righteousness and feeds us with the highest quality of foods – His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

We love Christ, who has made us, His Church, a beautiful bride. Christ has washed away the ugliness of our sins and clothed us with His own righteousness. He has offered up His life for us on the cross, obtaining for us the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He has clothed us in Holy Baptism.

God wants you at the wedding feast, both here at the altar where we receive a foretaste of the feast to come, and eternally when we will see its fulfilment. He graciously gives you forgiveness. He forgives you your indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy, because Christ has paid the price of your sins. He gives you forgiveness so that you will care, so that you won’t be hostile, and so that you will believe that His death was for you and that He gives His forgiveness to you freely, graciously, lovingly, and abundantly.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Wine from the Vineyard

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 21:33-46

Dear tenants in God’s vineyard: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The tenants of the vineyard apparently did not believe their master would ever return. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have beaten, stoned, and murdered his servants. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have thrown his son out of the vineyard and murdered him. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have thought that murdering his son would mean that they get his inheritance.

The only way for those tenants to keep the vineyard would be if the master never came back to claim what was his. It certainly would not be theirs legally. No legal system transfers ownership of inheritance from the heir to you if you murder the heir. Their only hope for keeping possession of the vineyard was if the master never returned from his journey.

The vineyard did not belong to the tenants. The master was the one who planted it. He was the one who put a fence around it. He was the one who dug a winepress in it to make wine from the grapes at harvest. The master was the one who built the watchtower so that an eye could be kept over the vineyard.

The vineyard belonged to the master, so he had a right to the fruit of the vineyard. The tenants would get wine too, more than enough, but they decided to take over the vineyard and murder the master’s servants and son.

Jesus asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The chief priests and Pharisees responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus confirms that they have answered correctly. He tells them, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Only then did they realize Jesus was speaking about them.

Jesus was speaking about the Jewish people who had been planted in God’s vineyard to be his people. God did everything for them. He planted them in the promised land that flowed with milk and honey. He put the fence of His Law around them to guide them and protect them. Wine, which they did not have during their wandering in the wilderness as a punishment for their rebellion against God, was given them in the promised land. The watchtower was manned as God repeatedly sent them His servants, the prophets, to act as watchmen and proclaim to them repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

However, the prophets God sent were mistreated, beaten, and murdered. God was seeking His own fruit from His own vineyard. Jesus says the master sent his servants to get his fruit. It was not the fruit of the tenants. God wasn’t looking for anything but faithfulness from His people, but they murdered His servants, the prophets. God is patient and long-suffering. So He sent more prophets, but these too were treated the same as the others. So God sent His Son to His people, but they threw Him out of the city of Jerusalem and crucified Him.

The kingdom of God was taken away from the people of Israel and given to nations producing its fruits. Jerusalem was destroyed. The Temple was destroyed, and there was not one stone left upon another that was not thrown down, as Jesus prophesied (Matt. 24:2). To this day there is no Temple; there is no return to the old covenant with the people of Israel.

There is however, a new covenant with the new Israel. As Romans teaches us, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” (Rom. 9:7) The promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remain for those who are true children of Abraham, namely those who believe God’s promises and share the faith of Abraham.

The people of Israel rejected the faith of Abraham. Abraham believed God’s promise that from His offspring would come the Saviour of the world. When prophets came to preach the Saviour’s coming, they were beaten, killed, and stoned by the Israelites. When the Saviour Himself came and took on our flesh, the people of Israel rejected Him and crucified Him. They pursued eternal life through their own works, thus they saw no need for a Saviour.

Now, the Gospel has spread to the far reaches of the earth, to many nations, languages, and peoples. The Church is God’s vineyard, spread throughout the world, and the Church will remain until Christ returns.

Our Master will return. He has promised that He will return. He will return to judge the living and the dead.

Thus, we need to realize that we do not own God’s vineyard, the Church. We are merely tenants, who are required to be faithful. We cannot do whatever we want with the Church, we must be faithful to God’s Word lest our Master return and take the kingdom of God away from us and give it to a people producing its fruits.

God has planted us in His vineyard, the church, to be His people. God has done everything for us. He planted us in His Kingdom through the waters of Holy Baptism. He has put the fence of His Law around us to guide us and protect us. Wine of His vineyard He gives to us, the very blood of Jesus which gives us the forgiveness of sins. He has set a watchtower over us and sends His ministers to act as watchmen and proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins. God is not looking for anything but faithfulness from His people. He’s not looking for us to earn our salvation through what we do – we cannot do it! He simply wants His fruit from His vineyard.

God’s fruit will grow in His vineyard, because He is the one who planted it and waters it. He is the one who has baptized us into the Church. He is the one who strengthens our faith through His Word. He is the one who nourishes us with the body and blood of Jesus which takes away all our sins.

God does this, because the Son who was thrown out of the city and killed is Jesus Christ, our Lord. He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for rebellious sinners. He knew that He would be rejected by the Israelites. He knows that He will be rejected by many also today – those who pursue eternal life through their own works and thus see no need for a Saviour.

Yet, God is patient and long-suffering. He continues to send out His word of repentance. He continues to send out the message of forgiveness. He continues to send out His message which tells you that His Son has suffered in your place so that you will not be punished for your sins. You have the promised inheritance of eternal life.

Our Master will return, and He will get His fruit from His vineyard. But we, the tenants, will not be left without wine. We get wine too, more than enough. With every drop of wine, we receive also the blood of Jesus – that precious blood of Jesus which forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, and thus is fruit for our master. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.