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Give To Caesar / Give To God

October 22, 2017

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost          Trinity Lutheran Church

22 October 2017                                         Murdock, NE

+ Jesu Juva +

Matthew 22:15-21

 

Everything is political these days. The NFL is a case in point.  To kneel or not to kneel. That is the question. Depends on the political cause. ESPN has become a one-way extremely abrasive political think tank with abrasive holier-than-thou talking heads going at it 24-7-365. It’s toxic. Poisonous. Ugly. Reputations ruined. Damaging character and integrity of anyone who has a different opinion.   Out-and-out demonization and destruction of those that have the “wrong” point of view or “think” incorrectly.

 

Nothing new under the sun! The holier than-thou-Pharisees want to use politics to trap the preacher, Jesus. To trash Him. Make Him damaged goods. Destroy Him. And if they can … even KILL HIM!

 

Here’s the setup: “Hey Preacher! You’re a man of integrity. Authentic. A godly preacher! You’re not swayed by opinion polls. You’re impressive.” When anyone prefaces his question with remarks like that you know you’re in trouble.

 

Then comes the snare. Time to spring the trap. “Hey Preacher! Tell us! Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Or should we stick it to the man, take a knee and give him the middle finger?”

 

Brilliantly played … if you’re trying to wreck Preacher Jesus’ ministry. After all, if Jesus says “No, it’s not right to pay taxes to Caesar,” then He’s guilty of treason against Rome and the Herodians (political animals that they are) will immediately call in the Imperial Swat Team to have Jesus arrested, jailed, drawn and quartered. However, if Jesus says, “Yes, it’s perfectly fine to pay taxes to Caesar,” then He’s a traitor to His homeland Israel and all that is Hebrew. And no self-respecting Jew would ever listen to His preaching again. Jesus would be finished!

 

Jesus, however, knows their hypocrisy. He recognized that the Pharisees could care less about taxes. It was just a game of political and religious entrapment. A gotcha game! And they were experts. But He won’t be caught. They will! And so will you!

 

“All right boys,” Jesus says. “Do you have a coin in your pocket? You do? Wonderful. Pull it out please. Tell me. Whose picture is on it? Hmm? Cat got your tongue? WHOSE depiction is on it?”

 

“Caesar’s,” they answer. Bingo! On one side of the coin would be Tiberias Caesar’s portrait. On the other side another picture of Tiberias on his royal throne with the inscription: “Maxim Pontiff,” which means “great ruler.”

 

Great ruler? You’ve got to be kidding! Tiberias was anything but! He was extremely brutal and highly vengeful. A nasty person. He had no ethics or morals. You can just imagine what his tweets would be like every day. However, Jesus doesn’t jump on that. Jesus distinguishes between the office and the person who holds the office by declaring: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

 

Do you get it? Jesus didn’t say, “Give to Tiberius,” but to “give to Caesar.” Tiberius is the person. Caesar is the office. “Give to Caesar.” So Jesus teaches us to look to the office and not the person. The person holding the office may be wicked, cruel and unethical but that does not give you the excuse to diminish the office. The office of civil or civic authority is God’s gift (Romans 13) to protect the innocent and punish the criminal no matter if the one holding the office is a Christian or an unbeliever.

 

I warn you. If you use the failings and faults of governing officeholders in order to purposely despise and dishonor government, then you will invite the wrath of God and you will reap the anarchy that you sow. Seriously. One of the most troubling things that I see today among us is that we Americans tear down not only the person but also the office. I beg you to remember that no matter who wins elections in this country (especially the Presidency) you are to honor and respect the person for the sake of the office. You may not like a certain person who occupies the White House, but Jesus says: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

 

What are you to give to Caesar? Well, according to Romans 13 it includes paying taxes. I know you hate that. But I’m here to tell you that paying taxes is holy work. Loving work. We pay taxes so that the Lord will use Caesar to provide for us. To build roads, fill the potholes, and keep the peace in our communities and country. To make sure we have clean drinking water, that our toilets flush properly, that our food is safe to eat, to provide relief and rebuilding after we lose everything from hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes. To provide shelter and food for the poor. Oh, I know, there is lot of room for improvement and repentance in the way Caesar spends or assesses our taxes. So, you as a citizen need to do you part to bring about such improvement by voting and getting involved in grassroots politics.

 

You’re also to give Caesar “honor,” (Romans 13). However, it is to be the proper kind of honor. Honor because earthly authorities are God’s instruments. God’s hands. To care for citizen, community and country. To do earthly work not heavenly work. Work for this world not for the next. Civil authorities can’t give you salvation or bring about the kingdom of God. That’s not their bailiwick. Salvation is the church’s chore. God uses the church and the ministers in the church to provide His kingdom reign and bestow the gifts of salvation.

Don’t make the horrific and spiritual deadly mistake that is so prominent today of turning God into Caesar or Caesar into God. Governing authorities are not little divinities to be worshipped as givers of salvation. They are simply creatures that God uses to take care of His creatures and creation for this life – for this world. Honor them in their office for that reason.

 

It’s a no brainer that Caesar wants your taxes and your honor. However, Jesus also says, “Give to God what is God’s.” What does God want from you? Seriously, what does God want? He wants your wholehearted fear, love and trust in above all things. He wants your broken and contrite heart that grieves your sin and desperately wants Jesus’ Good Friday forgiveness. He wants your faith, your hope and your trust. He wants your time, talents and treasure (before taxes / not after taxes)!

 

Psalm 116 teaches you what God wants. Listen. We sing it a lot on Sunday mornings. “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.” (LSB, p. 160).

 

You give God yourself because He given Himself to you for your salvation in Jesus’ Good Friday sacrifice and by giving you His Triune Name in holy baptism.

 

The highest honor and worship that you can give to God … are you listening? … this is really, really important … the highest honor and worship that you can give to God IS TO HAVE GOOD USE OF HIS SON JESUS! And how do you do that? By coming to hear the absolution, sermon and words at the Lord’s Supper that categorically promise that He died FOR YOU and that all your sin is forgiven! And not only hearing it BUT ACTUALLY BELIEVING IT! Giving your “Amen!” which means: “Truth!”  How does the Bible spell that? Yes, that’s right: F-A-I-T-H!

 

Well, as usual, I’ve preached too long. So let me finish this way. In the end we all must confess that we don’t want to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s let alone give to God what is God’s. We daily sin much in the way we deal with the Lord’s representatives in civil authority. We also daily sin in the way the Lord provides salvifically for us through Word and sacrament in the divine service. Instead of faith, the highest worship of God, we do just the opposite, mistrusts, doubts, and misgivings.

 

However, because Jesus sent me to say it I am here to tell you that you are forgiven. Really you are. Jesus promises. He says so. He’s caught you in His Word of absolution. And His good use of you His forgiven people will be to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and what is God’s to God.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

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