The Gotcha Question That Fails!
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost Trinity Lutheran Church
19 October 2014 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
St. Matthew 22:15-22
One of the ways people attempt to get rid of preachers is to ask the gotcha question. A trick question. Provoke the preacher man to say something that’s sounds outrageously foolish, scandalously stupid and out of the main stream.
That’s precisely what the enemies of Preacher Jesus do. Lackeys come loaded for bear with the baited question. In order to tangle Him up in His words. To get an answer that makes Jesus looks like an idiot. To totally discredit Jesus’ ministry and character. To completely ruin His reputation. Then it will be easy to get rid of Him. Permanently. Without severance package! Without any hope of ever being put on a call list! His ministry will be over!
The gotcha question is this: “Tell us Preacher Jesus, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
They’re licking their Mike Wallace 60 Minutes-like chops. Eagerly waiting for Jesus’ answer. Their iPhone 6 cameras are at the ready to publish the video all over the World Wide Web. Then they’ll have him! If Jesus says it’s not lawful to pay taxes then they’ve got Him for tax evasion and breaking the law. If He says pay taxes, then the crowds who hate the Romans will turn against Him.
Jesus wasn’t born yesterday. He didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. He’s not one brick short of a load. He knows He’s being set up – by big time by shameless and wicked enemies.
“Testing me aren’t you? What’s that? Cat got your tongue? I know what you’re up to. Here’s a denarius coin used to pay taxes. Take a good look at it. All right, now I’ve got a two-part question for you. On the denarius coin – whose picture do you see and what does the writing underneath the pic say? Hmm? Well? Speak up boys!”
“It’s the head of Tiberias Caesar,” they answer. Well, that’s a no-brainer. And it goes without saying what the inscription says beneath Tiberias’ pic: “Caesar Augustus Tiberias: Son of the Divine Augustus”!
That’s when Jesus unloads His answer to the gotcha question: “Give Caesar the things that are his and give to God the things that are God’s.”
Really? Is Jesus insane? How could He be so naïve? Did He really say that? Yes, He did. And He meant it. He’s as serious as a heart attack. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus is not trapped. Instead, He blows them away with His words. He tells the truth. Their trap has failed. It didn’t spring. Enough said. All that’s left to do is leave. Off they go.
How about you? Are you ready to get out of Dodge too? Are Jesus’ words too scandalous for you? “Give Caesar [or any earthly authority like the president or the governor] what belongs to Caesar [the president or the governor]?” You’re really nervous about this, aren’t you? Sweaty palms. Knocking knees. Stomping feet. You’re about ready to give up this Sunday morning gig at Trinity for good like so many others before with sermons preached like this, aren’t you?
Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar? If that isn’t bad enough there’s there incredibly troubling statement of Jesus: “Give to God what is God’s.” Really? That’s the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, doesn’t it? You’d much rather begrudge and withhold, wouldn’t you? As if giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God means LESS FOR YOU. And you’re not going to do that, are you? And you’re getting ready to leave.
Well, you’d better sit back down. Have ears to hear what Jesus says. It’s time to hear the Lord’s words as the truth, repent of your unwillingness to listen and then to faithfully live accordingly. Yes, it’s time to do just that. After all, your words are not better than the Lord’s. He knows what He’s talking about. And it’s for your good.
So, it’s time for you to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Not because Caesar is God. The writing underneath Tiberias’ head on the tax coin, “Caesar Augustus Tiberias: Son of the Divine Augustus” was a total First Commandment breaker! Idolatrously bad!
So too today. Political authorities are in no way, shape or form divine! The president, governors or any authority are not little divinities! Caesar is Caesar. The president is president. The governor is governor. Human beings.
However, you are to give Caesar what is Caesar’s because the governing authorities are God’s creaturely instruments, God’s creaturely servants, God’s creaturely hands, to do you the citizens good. They are God’s instruments to keep the peace, establish justice as best they can, punish criminals, anarchists and terrorists and protect the innocent, poor and the helpless of society. Kings, presidents, and governors: the Lord would use them for some good in the world for you. That’s Romans 13.
And when these political humans do their work faithfully and with integrity, they are blessings in the way the Lord intends. They don’t even have to be Christian. Remember, in the Old Testament God used an unbelieving Persian king named Cyrus to let Israel go back home from exile.
Since the Lord would use them as His instruments, the governing authorities deserve your respect and honor. And if you owe taxes or revenue, then pay it as St. Paul writes in Romans 13. Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 2: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among me: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
Such teaching from Paul and Peter confesses what the Lord Jesus says: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” If that’s taxes, then so be it. If it is revenue, then so be it. If it is honor, then so be it. Again, the governing authorities are the Lord’s instruments in the world to provide you with some worldly good. I said worldly good! Political authority and politics are for this world – NOT THE NEXT WORLD!
Then there was the second part to what Jesus said: “Give to God what is God’s.”
What does God want from you? Be careful how you answer that one! What does God want from you? It’s an “f” word! God wants you to trust with all your heart His Son Jesus. Who died to win your salvation. That’s FAITH! THE HIGHEST WORSHIP OF JESUS IS FAITH! Christians worship Jesus! As God! As Savior!
Jesus gave His life into Good Friday death for you. He answered for all your sin with the shedding of His divine blood on the cross. He comes to you as gift!
He gifted you with the benefits of His dying when He buried you into His Good Friday death at your Baptism. Gave you new life! Rebirth! He gifts you with His indestructible Body and Blood with the bread and wine. Forgiveness, life, and salvation! It’s all for you. What giving! What gifts!
You are to look to Jesus for all your good. Receiving from Jesus the benefits of His dying and rising. Hoping only in Him for the resurrection of the body on the Last Day and life everlasting. This is worship in Spirit and in truth. That’s giving to God what is God’s. He wants your worship spelled F-A-I-T-H!
Isn’t this amazing? Today, every Sunday, and all your lives you give to God what is God’s: faith in Jesus, the highest worship, who died for you. And throughout our lives you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s: taxes, revenue, honor, respect.
Such is the Christian life. Twofold: first, faith in Jesus – giving God what is God’s; and second, honor, respect, and paying taxes to the earthly authorities – the life of love.
In the Name of Jesus.