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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:15–22

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 19, Proper 24, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 19, 2014 

You have heard me say it before and you will hear me say it again.  Anytime you are doing any form of communication, three things are very important; context, context, and context.  This is true when you are listening to a speech.  This is true when you are reading a book.  This is especially true when you are working with the Bible.

In order to get a handle on how bizarre the situation is in todays Gospel, we need to look at the cultural context of the Gospel.  The Gospel we just heard tells us that some disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians came to Jesus.  Since most of us have never met any Herodians or Pharisees, we probably do not understand how strange this is.

One of the many things that you can say about the Pharisees is that they were extremely nationalistic.  They believed that Jerusalem should be ruled by Jews, not by gentiles.  After all, the law of Moses states, [Deuteronomy 17:15] One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Therefore they hated the Roman occupation.  They were realistic enough to understand that Rome had a lot of power.  So, they werent stupid enough to be terrorists against Rome.  On the other hand, if someone presented a reasonable plan to get Rome out of Israel, they would help wherever they could.

The Herodians were just the opposite.  As you might guess by their name, they supported Herod.  Herod was a puppet king of the Roman Empire.  The Romans had put his father in power and they kept him in power after his father died.  The Herod family was NOT Jewish.  So, if you were a Herodian, you were a fan of Herod, and, since Herod was a puppet of Rome, you were a fan of the Roman occupation.

Ordinarily, the Pharisees and the Herodians would be at each others throats if not literally, at least figuratively.  The fact that these two groups worked together to attack Jesus tells you something about how much they hated Jesus.

They had a plan.  The idea was to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place.  They asked Jesus a question that was designed to get Him into trouble: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? If he answered yes, then the people who hated the Roman occupation would hate Him too.  If He answered no, then the Herodians would report Him to the Romans and get Him arrested.  If He did not answer, then the crowd would label Him as a coward.  The Herodians and the Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a no win situation.

Of course, it is not so easy to trap Jesus in His words.  Jesus saw the fallacy in their plan.  There werent just two possible answers to their question.  There was a third answer: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.

The Gospels record many interactions like this between Jesus and His opponents.  The opponents come up with some sort of plan to trip Jesus up in His words.  They hope to embarrass Jesus in some way and diminish his influence among the people.  Then Jesus very neatly found the flaw in their plan and embarrassed them.  Plans to trap Jesus in words always backfired.

We are tempted to believe that Jesus won all these debates because He was such an excellent debater.  We are tempted to believe that it was His superior skill and knowledge that won all these debates.  While Jesus was the perfect human being and had flawless thought, that was not His main advantage.  His main advantage was that He knew the truth and He never wavered from it.  Making your case based on truth gives anyone a tremendous advantage over those who depend on lies.

The opponents in todays Gospel engaged in a logical fallacy called the false dilemma.  This is a logical fallacy that falsely offers only two possible alternatives even though a broad range of possible alternatives are really available.  The opponents offered two possibilities: either you pay your taxes or you dont.  Jesus simply exposed their faulty reasoning by showing that there actually were other answers.  We can pay our taxes, give our offerings, and care for our families.  God is gracious enough to give us the resources to do all three and maybe even have a little left over for recreation.  The opponents tried to trap Jesus using a dilemma that did not exist.

The enemy often presents us with false dilemmas.  One that involves our very salvation is the dilemma between self-righteousness and despair.  It goes something like this.  By the way, please remember that this is a fallacy.

As we read the Bible, we see that God gives us a lot to do.  Do you do what God says and go to heaven, OR are you failing and on the road to hell?  This false dilemma is all that the unbeliever knows.  He does not know that there is another way.  Good guys go to heaven.  Bad guys go to hell.  Are you good or bad?  How good do you have to be in order to be good enough?  This is the false dilemma of the law.

I can deny the truth of my sin and insist that I am one of the good guys that go to heaven.  This is self-righteousness and directly contradicts Johns epistle: [1 John 1:8, 10] If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us. To even say that I hope I am good enough to go to heaven is the most arrogant of all pride and a sin in itself.  If I go this way, I am lying to myself and calling God a liar.

My other choice according to this false dilemma is the utter honesty of recognizing my sin and believing I have no hope.  This is despair.  Here too, there is a strange sort of pride the belief that my sin is more powerful than God.  My sin is so terrible that there is nothing that God or anyone else can do.  In the case of Judas, the pride of his despair was so great that he took justice into his own hands and murdered himself.

What a comfort and relief it is to learn that the two choices offered by the law are a false dilemma.  Just as Jesus provided a third answer to the Pharisees and Herodians, He provides a third answer to the false dilemma of the delusion of the law.  In the middle of Johns condemnation of our sin, we hear, [1 John 1:9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Here is the way that God forgives our sin and cleanses our unrighteousness.  God has given us a third answer in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the one who did the work that makes this third answer possible.  Jesus actually did what God gave Him to do.  He kept Gods law perfectly.  Then He went to the cross and endured the punishment we deserve for failing to do what God commands.  In this way, He provided the third answer the third answer that avoids both self-righteousness and despair.  You are no longer responsible for your own salvation.  Jesus has taken that responsibility for you.  He is the one who earned forgiveness for you.  He is the one who offers to cleanse you of all your sin.

Jesus demonstrated the benefits of His third answer by rising from the dead and ascending to the Father.  Those who trust Jesus will also receive this blessing.  God will raise them to immortality on the Last Day and join body and soul once again.  On that day there will be a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and earth will have passed away.  Then our Lord [Revelation 21:4] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

The Pharisees and the Herodians in todays Gospel tried to make Jesus irrelevant by asking a trick question.  When that didnt work, they gave up on subtlety.  They decided that the only way to remove Jesus from the scene was to remove Him from this life to kill Him.  During the next few days they carried out their plan and arranged to have Jesus crucified.  When Jesus was dead, the powers of sin, death, and the devil thought they had won.  They didnt understand that the death of Jesus is His greatest victory.

It is by this victory that we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.  It is by this victory that even though we die, we shall rise again.  His resurrection is the assurance that the work He did on the cross is the ultimate victory the assurance that self-righteousness and despair are a false dilemma.  In Jesus Christ there is another way a way that leads to life everlasting Amen

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