Give to Caesar What’s Caesar’s and…

20th Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 22nd, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:15-22

Our text for this morning is one that is very familiar with many of you. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b] I’m sure that you’ll all agree with me that the one thing our modern day Caesar wants the most from us is our money! Oh they’re going to get it, you can be sure of that, after all their name is all over “your” money… even though it’s in your pocket right now, it isn’t really yours, it’s Caesar’s, and he’s just letting you use it!

In this political season there’s a lot of talk about the best way to take our money and then the best way to spend it. In our political system here in the U.S., we are assured that we have a say in how this decision will be made; we have elections and the person or the party with the best ideas in how to collect and spend our money will supposedly be the one elected. But in the end, no matter who is elected we are always reminded that it never really was our money. We are reminded that the golden rule of any form of government is, “He who makes and distributes the currency, makes up the rules.”

But if we would just remember that our money really belongs to someone else, life sure would have a lot more peace and contentment in it. Like the old folks use to say back home, “Money will buy ya a nice dog, but only love will make him wag his tail and be your friend!”

In our gospel lesson this morning we discover something else about money… it can be a trap, even when you use it to trap someone else!

We meet Jesus teaching in the temple and it is the week of His passion; in other words He is only days away from His suffering and death. He knows this; He knows what is waiting for Him, so this is His last attempt to bring faith to an evil self-serving nation. He is teaching in the temple for good reason; it is the very heart of their identity as a people called by God to relate to Him in love and trust and then reflect that relationship to other people… other nations. He has just finished condemning the religious leaders as phonies, imposters. The word I used last week was posers! And now they’re flaming hot with anger and thinking only of revenge; they want to trap Jesus with His own words so that they can arrest Him and turn Him over to Caesar for execution.

The Pharisees went off away from the others and devised a way to trap Jesus. Jesus own words will be coaxed out of Him and they will be words of treason! Once that was done, with the members of the Herodian political party as witnesses, the governor will quickly arrest Jesus. So the Pharisees picked some of their youngest and brightest disciples and taught them what and how to ask Jesus. So while Jesus is teaching, this group of strangers approaches Him and begins to ape the words of admiration and praise that their teachers taught them: “Teacher, we know that you are (the real deal and that you) teach the way of God truthfully, and (we know that) you don’t care about anyone’s opinion (of you, because you’re) not (fooled) by appearances.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment. If they really believed that, would they have said what they just said? After all weren’t they just doing the very thing they said Jesus could see through? If only they had eyes of faith to see that they were actually talking to God! Well so much for that; the puppets had to ask the question that the puppet masters put into their mouths. So here it is: “Tell us, then… Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now remember, because of their lack of faith they do not see God in Jesus. To them there is nothing divine about Him; he is just a man who’s causing troubles with the status quo; He’s rockin’ the boat and they want Him thrown out so that they will continue to have smooth sailing. But Jesus is God and He sees the evil intent in their hearts, so He says to them: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites? (You who say one thing with your mouth but then you do the evil that is in your hearts. You don’t really want to hear God’s powerful Word and allow that Word to change you. You are in it for the money! You are here to just keep getting richer while God’s Kingdom suffers at your hands and His people pay for your greed!) Show me the coin for the tax.” And out of their own pockets comes the very thing they supposedly hate… Caesar’s money; money that undeniably belongs to Caesar, because it has his name and his face on it! So Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is (on) this?” And the answer they gave not only reveals their hypocrisy but Jesus divine wisdom. “And they (answered) “(It’s) Caesar’s.” (And Jesus) said to them, “(Then give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar), and to God the things that are God’s.” Scripture says that they were amazed at Jesus answer; they marveled at the wisdom in His Words, but they would not let that wisdom change them. Why? Because they were hypocritical impostors that didn’t care one bit about being rich in the Kingdom of God; they only cared about becoming rich in the kingdom of men!

The funny thing about money is that it will buy you a bed, but not sleep. It will buy you books, but not brains. It will give you a beautiful house, but not a home. It can afford medicine, but it can’t give you good health. It will bring you amusement, but not happiness. It can buy a beautifully hand carved crucifix, but not the Savior who hung upon it! No, to have the things that money can’t buy, we have to be resting in God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that rest can only come through Jesus Christ!

When the Pharisees presented a coin to Jesus, He pointed out the image of Caesar.

By doing this He’s presenting the reality that each of us lives simultaneously in two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. He was teaching them and us that just as the coin was created in the image of Caesar, we are created in the image of God. This means that every thing on earth and every part of our bodies, even the smallest of thoughts in our minds, belong to God!

Now there may be some here this morning that are like those disciples of the Pharisees; they’ve given God their mind but their heart is far away from Him. Some may have given Him their heart, but they’re unwilling to truly hear and learn from the Word, because they have their own way of thinking about how God’s Kingdom should be built. Some may be willing to give their muscles, but unwilling to bring their bodies consistently to worship and Bible study! Many give God 1 or 2 hours a week of their time, but God wants all 168 hours of every week! Some consistently give God about 2% of their income, thinking that someday they’ll reach the 10% goal, when in reality it all belongs to God, even if Caesar’s image is on it!

It becomes so easy for us to forget that God is actually with us in this sinful society when all around us evil greed and injustice seems to control everything. But just a few short days after the occurrence of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilate, teaching him this very truth. There before Pilate, Jesus stands beaten and bloody, and Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to free Him or execute Him. And to this Jesus Words ring in our ears with the truth about the kingdom of men: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” [John 19:11] And here is the meat of Jesus teaching for us this morning: While the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God are two separate kingdoms, they both are ultimately controlled by God!

In God’s Kingdom of grace we are changed… we are recreated so that we can be in God’s presence even while living in the kingdom of man. God’s Word gives and teaches us and eternal righteousness of the heart so that through us and the sharing of the gospel, others may know of God’s mercy and love and be drawn into His Kingdom of Grace also. But God’s Kingdom does not destroy or take over the kingdom of men, instead it enters into individual families, communities, and governments it and changes them by changing the people who live in them.

What is the change that the gospel brings into these various groups that make up the kingdom of man? It brings a realization of God’s presence! As individuals, families, communities, and governments begin to realize that everything they do is not only seen by God, but ultimately judged by Him, God’s Kingdom is breaking in and His way of love, forgiveness, and mercy begins to be seen in how all of these groups serve each other. Individuals begin to give of their time, talent, and treasure in a way that honors God and helps build His Kingdom. Families begin to work, live, and worship together in a way that is pleasing to God! Communities begin to care for the weakest and poorest members in a way that reminds them that they aren’t alone! And governments remember that they are there to serve first the will of their Creator, and then address the needs of their constituents.

Now I know that all of this can seem a bit ideal, and that is because it is ideal!

It’s a picture of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men! It is what was happening that day in the temple when Jesus was teaching the people about God’s love as the Pharisees were demonstrating men’s greed! Jesus, God in human flesh came to His people that day to plead with them one last time to repent. He asked them to turn to Him and walk to the cross; a place where God’s own blood would be spilled for them as a payment for their sins. He asked them to follow Him by faith and see a better way; a way that trusts in God even when it seems that evil has won the day. He asks them and He asks us today to hear His Words of forgiveness spoken for those evil men that persecuted and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” And He shouts so all can hear God’s proclamation of victory, even you and me today: “It is finished!” Your debt is paid in full! I your God have broken into your reality; I came to you myself and became your Savior, your Brother, and Friend!

So there you have Jesus teaching. It is not as simple as the simple minded hypocrites like to make it. Living in two Kingdoms at the same time never is easy. One kingdom says the rich should keep getting richer so that they can provide for the poor, and the other kingdom says you will always have the haves and have-nots, the question is what is it that they have or don’t have? Do you have Jesus? Is he the most important thing in life to you? Are you resting in the Kingdom of God knowing that Jesus is with you while you’re waiting and working in the kingdom of man, or is the Kingdom of God something that you will take seriously someday, just not this day?

I’ll close with this story. A businessman had an angel come to visit him, and the angel promised him that God would grant one wish. The man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal, with the stock market quotes for one year in the future. As he was studying the future prices on the stock exchanges, he became excited at the certainty of acquiring even more wealth, wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But then he glanced across the newspaper page, only to see his own picture in the obituary column. Suddenly, all of his current and future wealth meant nothing to him. He fell on his knees and confessed before God his sinfulness and his lack of faith and trust in Jesus gift of eternal life. How do you think that man spent his wealth from that point on?

And now dear friends, God grants the same blessing to you. He tells you now, that one day, perhaps soon you will die! Knowing that will you turn to Jesus? Will you rest in what God has done for you upon the cross and within your baptism? Will you allow the Kingdom of God to transform you and work within you, and then use the time, talents, and money that God has given to you to break into the kingdom of man? Will you be satisfied with what you have and use it to help those who don’t know Jesus have peace with God? I pray that God will enable each of us to do this very thing. And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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