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.