Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity
“To Caesar and To God”
St. Matthew 22.15-22
04 November 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt. 22.21)
Jesus saw the hypocritical attempt to trap Him coming. The Pharisees and Herodians who came to Jesus were the teachers of the Law, the members of Herod’s pseudo-puppet government. They were all under the thumb of the Roman authorities, whether they liked it or not. The civil power was Rome. The Jews resented Rome’s power. Rome’s soldiers and governors and emperors were uncircumcised Gentile barbarians. Rome’s emperor claimed to be divine himself.
These people knew that no teacher of God’s Word could bow before Rome. On the other hand, if someone spoke out against Rome, Rome had their own barbaric way of dealing with rebellion. So they ask Jesus to choose between the two. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? If Jesus says no, He can be put to death for treason. If He says yes, Jesus will lose His standing with the people who hang on His teaching and preaching, who believe Him to be a prophet come from God.
Jesus sees their hypocrisy, for He knows that in their own pockets are Roman coins. The denarius, minted by Caesar with his pseudo-divine image upon it, even inscribed with words proclaiming the Caesar’s divinity. They were carrying an idol god, so to speak, in their pocket! And that coin was used to pay the Roman taxes. One can imagine the humiliation of the Pharisees and the Herodians – they have in their pocket their own hypocrisy. They indeed do pay their taxes, showing honor to Caesar, as much as they hate it and it contradicts their religious convictions.
“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
It is good for us to consider this text today. At long last, elections will move forward, and the never-ending commercials for politicians, especially for our two main U.S. Senate candidates, will come to an end.
Jesus teaches us that there is a difference between spiritual authority and civil authority. The authority of the Church, of which Jesus is the head, is different than the authority of the state. The Church brings the forgiveness of sins to all who repent and believe the Gospel. The civil authority is given by God, but for ordering society by rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. The civil authorities may or may not be devoted followers of Christ. Our congressional district happens to have a fellow Missouri Synod Lutheran, Dr. Buschon, as our representative in Washington. But others, clearly, are not Christians.
Whether they are or not, we are to give them what we owe them. St. Paul writes:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God . . . For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil . . . Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1,4,7)
You can hear our Lord’s words from the Gospel echoed there by the Apostle.
St. Peter writes as well:
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
When we obey the civil authorities, we obey God. Caesar is God’s servant, whether he knows it or not. The Fourth Commandment tells us to honor our father and our mother. It also tells us to honor the civil authorities that are established. God keeps order in this world by punishing criminals. He gives governments the authority of the sword. Capital punishment is ordained by God in Genesis 9:6 where we read:
Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.
Anarchy is not only rebellion against the government. It is rebellion against God. The doctrine of so-called civil disobedience is false. We do not have the right to disobey the government just because it is unfair. We have the right – and the duty – to disobey it if by obeying it we would be disobeying God. Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Caesar may be incompetent, unjust, and corrupt. This doesn’t give us the right to disobey him.
It rather lays on us the responsibility to pray for him. St. Paul writes,
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
During the First World War, anti-German sentiment in America rose to a fever pitch. The governing authorities in many places were likely not too helpful. Many pastors in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod suffered persecution because of their German language and heritage. Lutheran pastors were tarred and feathered and driven out of town by so called “patriotic Americans.” The pastors spoke and ministered in German. That was enough.
The fathers of this congregation felt the pressure and so covered the German inscription on the cornerstone facing Poplar Street. Pastor Heinrich Katt, our longest serving pastor, and a German speaking pastor, wrote a long article for the Terre Haute English language newspaper extolling how patriotic and supportive of the war effort against the Kaiser Immanuel was – we bought more war bonds than anyone in town, he wrote.
Many German Lutherans put American flags in their churches to let their neighbors know that they were as patriotic as anyone else. They did not and do not belong there. They never should have been put there. Some congregations still have American flags in their sanctuaries, even as the Bible teaches us that the Christian faith is of every tribe, every nation under the heavens, knows no boundaries.
Our country, great as it is, is not God’s Kingdom. No earthly state is. And our trust should not be in shows of patriotism or national pride, nor even in the military or in law and order – we pray for those to be blessings for the common good of all. But we can trust that God, who created both Church and state, works even through sinful governments, even when they permit persecution of the Church. God even used the power of Caesar to bring about the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem as foretold, and the very salvation of the world from sin and death and devil upon Calvary’s cross.
Christians living in America have historically enjoyed protection from the state to practice our religion. In recent years, Christian businessmen have been driven out of business for refusing to honor perverted unions as marriage. Christians who confess their faith in the public square are mocked and ridiculed. It is time for Christians to consider the examples of Daniel, of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We will give to Caesar what is his due, but we will not do so at the expense of giving to God what is God’s.
What belongs to God? Our hearts. Our affections. Our lives. And our faith. We pay our taxes to Caesar, we honor him as God’s servant, and we obey his laws. But we do not put our faith in him. Our faith is in Him who suffered the worst miscarriage of justice in the history of the world, being put to death by one of Caesar’s governors immediately after that same man had pronounced Him innocent. He who was hated and despised by religious and civil authorities alike, being falsely accused of challenging the authority of both, by His death removed from us our slavery to sin, the fear of death, and the lies of the devil. He is our Lord, He alone. We honor Caesar for Jesus’ sake; not Caesar’s. The risen, ascended, ruler of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore our sins away on the cross, and who by his Spirit graciously rules over us in His church, richly and daily forgiving us all our sins, guarantees that His church will remain even when every kingdom of this world has been reduced to dust.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +