TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – 10/22/17
GOD’S THINGS – HE KEEPS FOREVER!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting
To the Church at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. AMEN. Dear hearers of the Word made flesh,
“How can you not love taxes?” You want Hitler destroyed who destroyed millions! You want Soviet Socialism stopped which slaughtered tens of millions! You’re thankful for the cleaner water and air and the regulation that helped clean up industrial pollution. You want security against growing threats of terrorism. You love interstates to drive on to get through Minnesota and to South Dakota (and other places)? What wondrous help first responders give. Surely you give thanks for widespread assistance to those severely handicapped. “How can you not love taxes?”
“How can you not hate taxes?” When over-taxing or over regulating hinders and restricts those working hard to get a start or pay debt. When there is so much government waste and debt? When tax supported laws and actions sometimes harm and are sometimes used for things contrary to God’s Word? “How can you not hate taxes?”
The Herodians loved the power and position that Rome’s taxes afforded them! They lived well off the tax burdens on the working people. The Pharisees hated the power and position that Rome’s taxes afforded Rome and their puppets! Yet for the purpose of entangling and stopping Jesus these political opposites join forces. “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
They framed their question for a “no” or “yes” response - “is not lawful” or “is lawful.” Should Jesus respond “is not lawful” – they could nail him with the wrath of Rome. Should Jesus respond “is lawful” – they would use it to alienate Him from the people. Many in Israel chafed under Rome’s rule and taxation. Some were openly refusing to pay taxes and had fled to the mountains! After smooth words of flattery to Jesus - they voice their shrewd and cunning question - “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “whose likeness and inscription is this?” Jesus met their question with His own – Whose ikon and inscription is this? It was, of course, the image of Tiberius Caesar. The inscription read – “Tiberius Caesar, majestic son of the divine Augustus.” Jesus’ question forced them to give an answer - a perfectly obvious answer. They said, “Caesar’s.”
Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. So few words in His answer yet their relevance is both profound and timeless! While their question dealt with coins bearing Caesar’s image – His answer dealt with bodies and souls bearing God’s image. While their question attempted to equate God’s kingdom with politics and power on earth, Jesus’ answer equated God’s kingdom with God’s presence in Him and with the things of God.
The striking feature in Jesus’ response here is attention to God. It is holy week and the stakes are high! As always Jesus lasers in on God’s care and giving. Before this when His authority was challenged with questions He made clear that John’s testimony to Him as the Messiah was from above – from God. Then He reveals God’s beautiful wedding feast invitation to all and His choosing of you! After this when the Sadducees question Him about a widow of seven brothers in heaven – He witnessed the truthfulness of Scripture and the power of God in the resurrection.
Always – He glorifies God’s grace and His answer here transcends human feelings and thoughts about politics and power. Caesar is not independent, but is, in fact, subject to Christ and His kingdom. The things of Caesar truly are the things of God. God is at work for His Church also in the politics of worldly kingdoms. This is true both when earthly power is rightly used and when earthly power is wrongly used.
Consider the prophet Isaiah’s testimony to Cyrus. God anointed a pagan, secular king to set His people free from Babylon. “I am the Lord and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I the Lord do all these things.” While God is not the author of evil, He is always in control over evil. As He used Cyrus and Persia to bring restoration and prosperity to His people, so at an earlier time, He used Assyria and its rulers to bring devastation and deportation to His people (Isaiah 10). “I the Lord do all these things,” even bringing His people defeat and loss for the sake of their eternal life. As Dr. Luther taught, “Therefore we should not be afraid of powers. But we should fear prosperity and good days which cause us more harm than our anguish and persecution;” (Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 5, p. 299).
Caesar’s Lord therefore says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, (we are to pay our taxes - but they aren’t the chief thing). “Give to God the things that are God’s.” The Gospel is God’s. The preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus is God’s. You belong to God, body and soul. The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade, on your right hand. He will keep your life. While we are to give taxes to Caesar, we are never to sacrifice to Caesar the truth of God’s Word or the welfare of our souls or the souls of others. We are never to give Caesar first place of our fear or our trust. We are not to major in minors.
That is sometimes trouble for us. Through the Apostle Paul the Holy Spirit reveals that we are to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God…(Rom. 13). God delegates some of His authority – to parents and families and to sub-authorities including government. Yet we are tempted to demonize government – to fear it above all – as if it has the final word. God will use authorities to bring peace or to bring calamity as He wills for the sake of His church and here Jesus makes it clear that we cannot hide behind His robes attempting to throw off taxes. His word also makes it clear we are not to idolize government, as if it can fix all the ills that come our way. Smooth words in this land and others come close to promising necessities from cradle to grave. There is temptation to trust government and its institutions – to treat Caesar like God.
God help us see the clear distinction Jesus draws between His kingdom and the kingdoms of this world – “that we might so pass through things temporal that we lose not things eternal.” “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Compared to what the risen Christ gives you at the font and at the altar and through His Word, taxes are no big deal. God’s will for you and His care for you is far more than care for the here and now. As you are fed with His gracious gifts – you will have an impact on society and on government. You are not to live in lax quietism unconcerned about public life and justice. But the political earthly kingdom will not make God’s kingdom come – to you – or to others. Your life is to be focused on what the Lord gives you here and what He desires all to receive.
God’s kingdom does not come with ballot boxes or legislation. Jesus leads us differently in teaching us to pray daily to our Father in heaven - Thy Kingdom Come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity. Beloved of God – so has God’s kingdom come to you! He has chosen you, because the Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
It is the Holy Spirit who is convicting you of sin and of righteousness and of judgment (John 16:7-11). He convicts you of the sin of unbelief in Christ – convincing you not to trust in princes of any party – convicting you that if your hope is in anything but the return of Christ you will be disappointed. It is the Holy Spirit who is convicting you of righteousness – of your righteousness before God because Jesus goes to the Father. That’s why He is in Jerusalem on this Tuesday of Holy Week. Soon His way to the Father will pass through Golgotha Christ will not institute His kingdom by fighting for political power. The Messiah will not reveal His love and power by driving the Romans out of Palestine. Rather, Jesus submitted to Caesar, even when Caesar appointed a governor name Pontius Pilate to be His earthly ruler. Three days after this response Jesus stood before His governor. Pilate asked, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered “You would have no power over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10, 11). As Isaiah said it, “I, the Lord do all these things.” While calamity befell Jesus, eternal prosperity falls to you. How can you not hate the human injustice of what Roman taxes worked? How can you not love the divine justice God worked for you also through Roman taxes.
Governor Pilate swung the sword of capital punishment that God ordained the state to swing (Gen. 9:6/Rom. 13:1-10) - striking down the only human being who has perfectly paid taxes, not only in deed, but also in thought. So your sins of reluctance, of forgetting, of shading taxes were washed clean by Him. Just as God anointed Cyrus to bring His people back from exile in Babylon, so He anointed His Son to bring you back from captivity to sin (all of it) and death and hell. That also is what the Holy Spirit is convicting you of – of judgment – of Satan being judged –the ruler of this world cast down - no longer able to accuse you before the Father. That’s why we wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
On the third day after that infinite payment Christ swept aside another joint political effort – the large stone - the seal on the grave – the guards – all of it. The living Lord comes to you now not with outstretched hand looking for tax payments! He comes with heart and hand open wide with the full blessings of His body sacrificed and His blood shed for you.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Compared to that - taxes are simply no big deal. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? Yes. Is it lawful to pay taxes to God? Heavens no! He will receive your fruits of faith – what He works in you - freely given – but no taxes here. In Him all your debt is paid. In Him you are perfectly prepared for the final audit. He is the Lord, and He does all these things. You are free!
How can you not hate your sin? How can you not love your gracious, forgiving God? Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” In the Name of Jesus, AMEN.
Heavenly Father, Your gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is our life in a world that is passing away. Through the work of the Holy Spirit active in Your Holy Word, anchor our hopes where true joys are to be found helping us to live in joyful anticipation of the great Day of the Lord, Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Lord, You gather and build Your Church around the Holy Gospel. You have established the Preaching Office that the word of Christ may be proclaimed and the Sacraments of Christ be administered. By these means You establish Your Church to be a temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Grant Your guidance and Your blessing to this congregation as today they gather to call a shepherd to feed and serve them. Let Your Holy Spirit rule and direct hearts that discussion and decision be done in the spirit of Christian love, for the good of the Church, and for the glory of Your Name. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Hear us also for congregations long absent a pastor and for mission endeavors where pastors are seeking help from laity to hold up their hands and free them for the duties of their office. To that end grant your blessing to Deirdre and her placement to aid Gospel outreach in Germany to those fleeing Moslem lands and now hearing the Gospel. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Almighty God and Father, You have revealed that You delegate some of your authority – appointing earthly governments and institutions that are accountable to You. Help us neither to demonize nor to idolize governmental authority. Bless our nation and those in authority to make decisions needed to provide for the common good. Give us patience and wisdom, that we may encourage and support those who carry the heavy mantle of leadership. Have mercy on those in other lands who lack the freedoms you have given us and upon those whose lands are torn by terrorism. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, You have called us to be Your children and heirs of Your gracious promises in Christ Jesus. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may forsake all covetous desires and the inordinate love of riches. Deliver us from the pursuit of passing things that we may seek the kingdom of Your son and trust in His righteousness and so find blessedness and peace; Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Father, You established the marriage covenant and desire that we keep in holy. We give thanks for and pray Your blessing upon Jim and Marcia who celebrate their anniversary. Grant that all husbands and wives may love and forgive one another in Christ. Strengthen those in singleness with Your love giving them fellowship among people faithful to you. Guide the youth of the Church to seek a spouse in chastity, honoring Your gift of marriage. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Father, Your Son bore the weight of our sin and carried the weakness of our flesh in His body on the cross. Be with those in sickness and medical treatment, especially Rufus and Gabriel and Lou and Darice and Teresa. Grant comfort to those in sorrow – especially Barbara and her family at the death of Russell and to Karen and Teresa. Receive our thanks for all those who have departed this life in the faith and now rest from their labors. Turn our hearts to the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life that Christ has opened for us. Give to us patient trust and joyful expectation in waiting for His return. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
All these things and whatever else You know that we need, grant us Father, for the sake of Him who died and rose and again and now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.