October 16, 2011
TEXT: Isaiah 45:1-7/I Thessalonians 1:1-10/Matthew 22:15-22
Give Back to Caesar What Is Caesar’s…and to God the Things of God
Vicar Alex Post

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau published an essay called On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Thoreau believed that the United States government should not be obeyed by any morally upright citizen, since it perpetrated such injustices as the slave trade. Thoreau wrote that it is better to suffer a prison sentence and have one’s property confiscated than to continue to pay taxes to a “machine” that has no regard for the rights of people. After failing to pay the poll-tax for six years, Thoreau was imprisoned for one evening – until someone else “interfered” and paid the tax for him.

October 16, 2011
TEXT: Isaiah 45:1-7/I Thessalonians 1:1-10/Matthew 22:15-22
Give Back to Caesar What Is Caesar’s…and to God the Things of God
Vicar Alex Post

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau published an essay called On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Thoreau believed that the United States government should not be obeyed by any morally upright citizen, since it perpetrated such injustices as the slave trade. Thoreau wrote that it is better to suffer a prison sentence and have one’s property confiscated than to continue to pay taxes to a “machine” that has no regard for the rights of people. After failing to pay the poll-tax for six years, Thoreau was imprisoned for one evening – until someone else “interfered” and paid the tax for him.

This essay, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, became an inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Leo Tolstoy, among many others. Henry David Thoreau received inspiration from his stay on the edge of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts, where he determined that government is not only unnecessary for the wellbeing of people, it is inherently immoral. However, we hear quite a different view of government from Jesus Christ in his answer to the Herodians and Pharisees.

The disciples of the Pharisees tried to spring a sneaky trap for Jesus Christ when they asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”  They combined forces with the Herodians, who were partisans of the corrupt Herod regime, which was itself in service of the powerful Roman Empire. Now, the Pharisees were concerned with upholding the laws of the Torah, and with being faithful to the temple in Jerusalem, while the Herodians had purely political concerns, especially their connections in Rome. But the Herodians and Pharisees formed an unlikely alliance in order to entrap Jesus, who was on their territory, preaching about a Kingdom from above that would never pass away.

Earlier, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus, they asked: “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus answered by turning the tables on the Pharisees with the question of whether the baptism of John the Baptist was from heaven. Now, the stakes are higher, and the trap is trickier: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” If yes, Jesus would incur the wrath of everyone; no one liked to pay taxes, much less to a faraway and oppressive emperor in Rome. If Jesus said no, it is not lawful to pay taxes, he could be arrested for tax evasion, and even for treason against the government.

But Jesus amazes everyone with an awe-inspiring answer. “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Give back! This means that the government owned the tax money to begin with! After all, the local government coined the denarius, just as our federal government coins and prints our money at the mint. Paul echoes this teaching in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…pay to all what is owed to them…” And Peter likewise urges us to “be subject to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor…or to governors…” (1 Pt. 2:13-14).

Even Henry David Thoreau notes the hypocrisy of those Pharisaic disciples and Herodians. Thoreau wrote, “If you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable…and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar’s government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it…” The problem is that Thoreau does not recognize that “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed” (Rm. 13:2).

During the time of Daniel, who was both a prophet and a politician in the courts of Babylon, God “anointed” King Cyrus (Is. 45:1) to “subdue nations,” which came to pass when the Persian Empire invaded Babylon from the east. Cyrus did not even believe in the One True God, and yet God used Cyrus for the sake of His chosen people in order to demonstrate that He is the LORD (Is. 45:3-6). God similarly worked through rulers such as Caesar Augustus and the evil emperor Nero. Who knows how God is using the wicked rulers of our world today to accomplish his hidden will?

You and I are commanded to obey the government. But any time it is impossible to obey God and the government, you and I “must obey God rather than men,” as the apostle Peter declared when he was commanded to stop teaching in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 5:29). We have failed on both accounts. We have failed to obey the government that God has given to us for our protection. We have grumbled and complained about giving back our taxes. We have despised our leaders instead of praying for them.
At the same time, we have not spoken up when we should have. We have ignored government waste and irresponsibility. We have failed to defend God’s gift of marriage in our society. We have allowed countless injustices close to home and far away, including the abortion of innocent lives in the womb, without being bold witnesses to the truth of God and the eternal Law of our Lord.

Yet your greatest failure, and mine, is not only that we have neglected to give back to Caesar what is his, but that we have not given to God the things that are His. God does not only demand a tax of our income, or earthly respect and obedience, but God requires our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and all that we have. God has created us out of pure mercy and love, but we gave our bodies and souls to sin and the Devil instead. God gives light, but we wallow in darkness; God gives us all good things, but we by the sinful nature do the things that are wrong and unnatural.

When God looked down from heaven and saw that we had rendered to the world and the devil the things that belonged to Him, He had mercy on us. God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ; “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Col. 1:15) Jesus Christ has His image and inscription on the whole creation, and through His redeeming, precious death on the cross, He has given back this fallen world to the Father. All creation, including each of us, had rendered itself dead and buried. But through the death and burial of Jesus Christ, we have died to sin. We no longer render anything to sin or to the Devil. Instead, we daily put our sin to death by repentance and the forgiveness that God gives. We daily render nothing to
Satan except the disdain and mockery that he deserves, for he has been defeated by Christ, and his time is short.

Jesus’ death on the cross is the great exchange. Unlike our civil government, in which we exchange taxes for road repairs, police and armies, or our society, where we exchange labor for wages, there is no exchange between us and God. Jesus Christ himself makes the transaction – the redemption by His blood! The rate of the exchange is God’s everything for our nothing. It is all what God does for us. Jesus bought back each of us, stamping His image and His inscription on our foreheads in the holy washing of baptismal rebirth. Jesus gives us back to His Father as a new creation, holy and acceptable in God’s sight, not because of anything we’ve done or anything in us, but only because Jesus Christ is Lord – He loves us – and He laid down His life for us.

It is the Holy Spirit who then enables us to give back that which we owe, both to God and to the government. You see, for the gracious benefit of our lives here on earth, God has established two kingdoms: the right and the left hand kingdom, the spiritual and the secular, the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of power, the kingdom ruled by the Gospel and that of the Law, the Church and the state. Now, we live in both kingdoms simultaneously. In the state, God rules through his servants in the government, punishing the wicked with force and protecting the innocent with those leaders who do His will. In the Church, God rules through the saving Gospel and the holy Sacraments that create faith and sustain us until God calls us home to heaven.

God is in control of both spiritual and secular realms. In a way, there is not necessarily a separation of Church and state, but there is a distinction between the two. The government is how God rules the whole world through the Law, whereas the Church is how God mercifully rules His people through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Since you and I live simultaneously in both realms, Church and state, we do not choose between serving God or the government. In our many vocations in this world, obeying the government is part of the service God commands.

We serve God when we give back to Caesar, when we vote, when we protest injustice in society and propose positive changes, when we serve in public office, and when we pray for our leaders. We also serve God by giving back to God in His Church, not just an occasional gift, but a regular, cheerful giving back a proportion of what God has graciously given us. There is no compulsion or force in the Church of Jesus Christ. There is only grace, which is free. There is only mercy – every time that we fail to give back to God the things that are His. And there is peace, knowing that the God of peace dwells in us and gives us daily opportunities to be His witnesses and share His love with others.

Finally, brothers and sisters loved by God, may we marvel each day at God’s undeserved love for us. We cannot help but give back to God on account of His everlasting mercy toward us. He sent His Son from heaven, raised Him from the dead, and delivers us from the wrath to come! (I Thess. 1:10) He sent us His Word and the pure joy that comes from the Holy Spirit! (v. 6) He gives us the work of faith, the labor of love, and steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus Christ! (v. 3) We give thanks that God has forgiven our failure to give back what belongs to Caesar, to give to God the things that are God’s, and that He continues to forgive us each day. Christ will continue to strengthen and protect us throughout all of our days, until that glorious day when He will return with all the company of heaven. He will give us back to His Father, and we will live forever with Him in His love.

And the Lord, who began a good work in us, shall bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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