Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?"
But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The debate is over 2,000 years old. It rages on today. It has been going on for as long as men have served the true God, I suspect. The debate began when God created man and placed him in society. He tells us in His Word that the government is His, and the authority it exercises is His. He commands us to good citizens. Many religious leaders impress on us the need to serve God first - We ought to obey God rather than man. They often suggest that being a good Christian is at odds with being a good citizen of the state. And how we divide this up and how we act it out has been the focus of controversy ever since.
I wish I could say that Jesus settled the argument in our text, but things are never settled in the church. Jesus gave us guidance, but the debate is never settled among men. It just keeps coming up again and again. One generation says "Yes," and the next says "No." There are answers, but the Old Evil Foe does not permit us to rest long on them - the answers are just contrary to the flesh, and so we tend to travel from one extreme to the other like a pendulum swinging back and forth. So we need to keep coming back to Jesus and the Word to hear how we might properly deal with the issue of God and Caesar, of Church and State, of citizenship in this world and in the kingdom of God. Our theme this morning is The Things that are Caesar's.
The setting of the Gospel lesson is late in the ministry of Jesus. The enemies of Jesus are becoming bolder, and more aggressive. The Pharisees have decided that it is time to trip up this Jesus guy. They choose a sure winner, the unresolvable issue (at least for the Jews) of how to deal with the foreign occupation. If Jesus answers the question that one should pay the Roman taxes and humble themselves to this Gentile domination, then He would multiply His enemies, lose the favor of the more militant faction, and probably disappoint the masses because they were fed on a daily diet of ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, and hatred for Rome.
On the other hand, if Jesus answers that they should not pay taxes, He would be guilty of fomenting revolution and the Romans would take care of the Jesus problem. Even if they did not, if they could get Jesus to say that the taxes to the Romans ought not to be paid, the Jewish leaders could use that as a pretense to arrest Him and lock Him up, and throw away the key - and that would solve the Jesus problem.
If Jesus tried to be coy and take a middle ground, or not answer clearly and definitively, they could use that too to damage His reputation, and turn the more aggressive and radical groups against Jesus. In any case, the figured, they had Jesus caught in a "no-win" situation. It was politics as usual back then just as much as today. So they sent their disciples along with the Herodians, government sympathizers and friends of King Herod, and sprung their trap on Jesus.
Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Of course, there is the double-edged trap. Is it morally and religiously lawful? They expected the answer to be "No." Is it socially and legally in the sense of Roman law, lawful? They knew that the answer would have to be "Yes." So they figured that they had Jesus, with witnesses no matter which error He slid into. But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?"
Then Jesus did the unexpected. He asked them for the coin with which they would pay the poll-tax. When they produced it, a denarius, He asked them "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" In other words, whose coin is this, who issues this money? And they had to admit that it was Caesar's - and then Jesus said those famous words, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."
Jesus answered the question by implying that there were things that were properly under the regulation and possession of the government, and things that were not. He also suggested by His answer that the Pharisees were guilty of confusing what belonged to God and what belonged to the state - and apparently were "rendering" to neither one the appropriate things. They were not giving government its due, and they were withholding from God what truly belongs to Him.
So the question this morning is, which are the things that are Caesar's? Logically and necessarily, we then also need to consider what are the things that are God's?
First of all, we recognize that everything is the Lord's. Psalm 24 says, "The earth is the Lord's and all it contains." Since God has created government, and all the authority which government exercises is from God, generally the things that are Caesar's are what Caesar says they are. The things that are Caesar's ultimately change throughout time. As the government changes, so do its demands and controls. In our nation, we have a great deal of freedom. We acknowledge as a society the right to certain freedoms that people in the time of Jesus, for example, did not enjoy.
Caesar's things include whatever Caesar chooses, except when the government attempts to take the things of God. And so, to understand Caesar's things, we must recognize what it truly God's. And God's things are very simple and basic. God created you, so God has the right to tell you how to live. You owe Him obedience. You owe Him thanks for the simple fact of your existence. Besides all of this, God has created everything you need for life, and daily and richly provides. For these things you owe God genuine and heartfelt appreciation, great thanksgiving, and your unwavering trust. You should love God!
That isn't how we feel, or how we behave as a rule. We take the good for granted and grumble about the difficult or painful. We disregard God's plans and will for our lives and our behavior, and we serve ourselves and hurt one another. We sin against God, and by our sins we deserve to be wiped from the face of creation and forgotten by God as a bad investment. His Word even says that this is what we deserve. But God does not discard us. He does not destroy us. He does not wipe us away, but He has redeemed and rescued us. When we had set ourselves up as His enemies, He still sent His Son Jesus to face our sins and die our death and receive on the cross all that our sins merit before God.
God has taken our sins out of the way by punishing them in the body of Jesus by sufferings, pain, and death on the cross. He has demonstrated that our sins are forgiven by raising Jesus from the dead. And now God declares through the preaching of His Word that anyone who knows what he has accomplished in Jesus Christ, and trusts Him for what He promises because of Jesus Christ, has forgiveness of sins and eternal life, starting right now!
Therefore we owe God thanks and praise, to serve Him and worship Him with holy lives and to give ourselves freely to our neighbors for Him. The things that are God's are our intellects, and our wills, and our affections and values. The rest is Caesar's.
We are to pay taxes cheerfully, for the government is simply a servant of God for the purpose of social order. We are to obey the laws, even the ones we do not like or agree with, because the state exercises God's own authority - and we owe God obedience. When we give God what is God's, we end up being good citizens, because serving our neighbor by good citizenship is will of God - it belongs to the things of God which we should give to Him. We owe Caesar good citizenship, for when we disregard the government, we disregard God. When we disobey the government, we disobey God. When we rebel against the government, we are rebelling against God Himself, with the single caveat that when the govenment command us to do what God forbids, or commands us not to do what God commands us to do, then we must recognize that the government has itself rebelled against God and has no authority, and then we ought to obey God rather than man.
But even then, when we disregard Caesar for the sake of faithfulness to God and for the sake of conscience, we owe it to God to endure whatever standing for the truth costs us in terms of pain, or social pressure, or fines, or prison, or even death. Those are the things of God. We owe it to God to bear faithfully the cost of being faithful, whatever that cost might be. Sometimes the cost is faithfulness to the government when we don't want to be faithful, and sometimes it is bearing government sanctions for being faithful to God by disregarding the government.
We owe God our values. We owe God our love and our affections (that is, what we choose to value here on earth). We owe God our intellects - to use them for Him and His purposes, which means for the welfare of our neighbor, And we owe God our wills - to desire and to will what God desires and wills. The rest of the stuff, our time, our money, our property, and even sometimes our lives in this world, fall into that category of the things that are Caesar's.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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