O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Mt. 22:15-22
Preached on October 22, 2017
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Fellow baptized saints, well, the Pharisees were at it again, trying to get Jesus tangled up in His own words. To get Jesus to say something that could be used against him. A sound byte. Slip of the tongue. Get Him to take sides in a debate. And what better subject to trap Jesus than taxes. Everyone has an opinion about taxes. It’s a perfect snare. A lose/lose situation. Get Jesus to go political over taxes and His whole message will be over in a heartbeat. You can almost see them rubbing their pharisaical hands together in delight as they send their flunkies to Jesus with their stumper of a question.
“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.” Yeah, right. When someone approaches you like that, you just wait for the next shoe to drop. A little diplomatic weasel talk to throw Jesus off His guard and then comes the question: Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
It’s the perfect lose/lose. If Jesus says, “No, it isn’t lawful to pay taxes to the Roman government,” then the Herodians and Roman loyalists will have their “gotcha” and label Jesus as a radical, an insurrectionist, and a scoundrel, and turn Him in to the government. If He says, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” He will be in trouble with the religious right wing who held Caesar, tax collectors, and taxes in the highest form of contempt and the crowds – oh – they would thin noticeably. So on the one hand, He offends the political types, on the other hand, He offends the religious types. The perfect snare.
The world still plays this game with Jesus today, doesn’t it? If it can’t co-opt Jesus to whatever cause is fashionable, it will try to paint Jesus into a political corner. The whole point is to polarize and marginalize Jesus, to move Him conveniently out of the way so you won’t have to deal with Him on His terms with His call to the kingdom and His bloody cross and forgiveness. It’s so much easier to argue over taxes than it is to deal with repentance, isn’t it?
But that’s the thing about Jesus – and we see it here this morning - when you try to corner Him, you’ll wind up being the one who’s cornered. “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” (Now name calling isn’t nice, but Jesus isn’t always “nice,” especially when people come flattering Him to trap Him in a “gotcha.”) Why the big act? You’re not interested in taxes, and you know it. Show me the coin for the tax. You do have a coin, don’t you?” I imagine they’re all looking at each other to see who has a coin. Since the Pharisees considered Roman money to be unclean, it was probably one of the Herodians who pulled a denarius from his pocket. “Who’s picture and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they said.
Ah, so now you have your answer. The coin belongs to Caesar. His image and likeness is stamped on it. So is His name. And if he wants his denarius, then give it to him. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.” That’s Jesus’ answer. Not quite what they were looking for, but that’s His answer. Is it lawful? Sure it is. Caesar is God’s minister, as the apostle Paul would point out. He’s the servant of God’s left hand to punish wickedness and reward good. So pay taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due. Give honor to whom honor is due, and respect to whom respect is due. Simple enough.
But - just as the Pharisees and Herodians are pulling away and scratching their heads over Jesus’ cryptic answer, Jesus adds a little more. There’s always a little more with Jesus, isn’t there? Which is why it’s dangerous to ask Him trick questions. He’ll turn the tables on you every time. They come to Him with a trick question about taxes, and He adds something they weren’t asking for. God. “Oh, and by the way, before you boys run off to fill out your income tax, don’t forget to render to God the things that are God’s.”
Forget the coin. Who cares about the coin?!? What image and likeness is on you? Is stamped and pressed on mankind? Christ is asking us this question. Caesar made a coin with his image on it. Well guess what, God made something with His image on it too. And that’s you – and me. Render unto God the things that are God’s. Not a coin. Your life. Your whole self. Render all that you are unto God – Jesus is saying – for this is why He made you. You are His. He has created you to be profitable for His things. Life. Every waking moment – every breathe – every thought – every movement of every muscle – every turn of the eye – perk of the ear – use of the tongue - for God and the purposes for which He made you and the life of His creation.
How’s that going for you? Rendering your whole life – your whole self – in all your complex humanity – unto God. Wow. Jesus is saying a lot more here than we realize. We don’t do this. I’m not doing this. You’re not – nope not even close – we can’t. We’re done. Caught. Guilty. Gotcha. Yet Here He is – Jesus, our God in our flesh – and He’s not here for Himself. He stands there before the Pharisees for you – fulfilling these words – “Render unto God the things that are God’s” – He is about to take these words to their only end in this fallen world – death. On the cross. You can’t render your life to God, your sinful human nature prevents you – so Christ comes to do it for you.
God has put the image of humanity on His Son – that His Son might render ALL of us back to God. He knew we could never do it – so He sent His Son – to take on our image and likeness – that He might render you – render me – render all mankind back to the One we belong to. He is the new humanity. He has restored the image of God to our flesh – but not with silver or gold – but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom. You are saved. Safe. Forgiven. One with your heavenly Father, whose loving-kindness tenderly lays hold of your heart and mind with the grace of His Son.
It didn’t look like victory. The cross appeared to be the ultimate “gotcha,” Jesus caught between Religion that declared Him to be a blasphemer and heretic, and Politics that called Him a traitor to the state. The devil and world looked at Jesus on the cross and said, “Gotcha!’ They had Him nailed. But not even death and the grave could hold Him, this perfect image of God in Man. Nothing can hold Him, for He holds all things. He is true salvation – you won’t it in religion or politics. There is only Christ.
But beloved – this whole thing gets deeply personal. God doesn’t leave it out there in the land of ideas. He has claimed you – personally. God’s put His image and inscription on you when He washed you with His Name in Holy Baptism. He’s restored His image and likeness on you. You belong to Him. And yes, in this world, you render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. But you don’t belong to Caesar. You belong to God, thanks to Christ – joined to Him in His death, covered with His righteousness, living under the umbrella of His grace, walking in the freedom of His forgiveness. What the Pharisees and Herodians said to Jesus in mock sincerity turns out to be true in ways they never imagined: He is true and He teaches the way of God truthfully. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And through His death and resurrection, God says to you this very day: Gotcha! In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr