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Text: Matthew 22:15-22, Isaiah 45:1-7
Render Unto Caesar What Is Caesars, and to God What is God’s
Preached by Vicar Christopher Amen

Dear Christians bearing the image of Christ,

Politics can be a slick game. We see and hear strategies done by politicians seeking favor among most of the people. This is nothing new, it has been done throughout American politics and it has been done among political groups throughout history. And we see it being done in today’s Gospel reading.

The right wing conservative Pharisees were highly religious laymen who opposed the governmental rule of Rome. The left wing liberal Herodians were the loyal party of the Roman empire, the puppets to Rome’s king in Galilee. The Pharisees and Herodians had nothing in common, except their opposition to Jesus. These two opposing groups band together, attempting to be very slick and entrap Jesus. “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;” flattering words from scheming hearts. Following this setup was the real trap, “Tell us, then, what do you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Text: Matthew 22:15-22, Isaiah 45:1-7
Render Unto Caesar What Is Caesars, and to God What is God’s
Preached by Vicar Christopher Amen

Dear Christians bearing the image of Christ,

Politics can be a slick game. We see and hear strategies done by politicians seeking favor among most of the people. This is nothing new, it has been done throughout American politics and it has been done among political groups throughout history. And we see it being done in today’s Gospel reading.

The right wing conservative Pharisees were highly religious laymen who opposed the governmental rule of Rome. The left wing liberal Herodians were the loyal party of the Roman empire, the puppets to Rome’s king in Galilee. The Pharisees and Herodians had nothing in common, except their opposition to Jesus. These two opposing groups band together, attempting to be very slick and entrap Jesus. “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;” flattering words from scheming hearts. Following this setup was the real trap, “Tell us, then, what do you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Talk about your trick question. The Pharisees have been telling Jews that the Messiah would come and free them from Roman rule. If Jesus answers, “yes, you should pay taxes” his poll numbers would drop considerably. Not only that, but he would be discredited as a blasphemer, claiming to be the Christ, the Son of the living God and yet not bringing about freedom from Rome. Thus they would have ammunition to discredit and possibly kill him.

The Pharisees were sure they were in a win-win situation. They knew the Romans enjoyed having control and wanted their taxes paid. So they teamed up with the Herodians, if Jesus answers “no, don’t pay taxes,” the Herodians will arrest him as a revolutionary and kill him themselves. Politically this move was very slick and shrewd. The religious and conservative right joins with liberal Roman left and put forth a loaded question.

In this way the Pharisees and Herodians were attempting to put forth both the kingdom of God and the political world as the same thing, Jesus answers their devilish question. “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?” And they said, “Caesar’s.”

This would be Tiberius Caesar, the stepson and successor to Caesar Augustus. Jesus’ question makes them acknowledge the validity of Roman rule. Yet, the Pharisees thought they still had Jesus trapped. But what they didn’t realize was that Jesus was teaching the truth of God’s kingdom while having them answer their own question. “Then he said to them, ‘therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Roman rule included unfair taxes to be sure, and later in history the Romans would go on to persecute the Christian church. There were real Christian concerns with supporting and paying the government. Satan tries to pose the same question to people today. The issues of paying taxes that do not necessarily go 100% to support the things you wish, is a struggle still today for some Christians. Satan attacks us and has us question if we should pay taxes and what we are to think of them. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

All things are God’s. As he spoke through the prophet Isaiah to Cyrus, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God… I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” Despite the fact that Cyrus did not believe in God, God used him to set his people free from Babylon. While God is not the author of evil, he is always in control over evil. “I am the LORD, who does all these things,” including at times bringing physical and political defeat. He does this for the sake of their souls. God always does things for the eternal benefit of his church.

Even groups like the Pharisees, Herodians, and the ruler Cyrus who oppose the Gospel are used by God for his purposes. “I am the LORD, I make well-being and calamity.” These are important things to remember in our decaying society, where persecution of the Gospel is present, and increasingly false preaching abounds. Rather than being concerned with earthly kingdoms, Christ is concerned for you and all people, eternally. He does not make promises of earthly riches at all times. This is what the Pharisees wanted. At the same time it is also what the Herodians wanted, and it is what our sinful flesh wants from God. “Consequently no one should fear even if all the wisdom and the power of the world oppose the Gospel.” (Luther)

The civil government is God’s instrument which he holds in His left hand to care for you and me. Sometimes by bringing well-being. Sometimes by creating calamity. Over the centuries, there have been many different forms of government but all are of God. The Scriptures give us no prescription for what type of government we should employ. Americans tend to be a bit idolatrous on this point in that we tend to think that a democracy or a democratic republic is inherently Christian.

We are tempted to make an idol of government, to treat Caesar like God. We want the government to be the great fixer of all those ills that come our way – hurricanes, terrorism, floods, economic troubles, etc. Smooth words in our country and in other countries come close to promising that the state will provide all we need from cradle to grave. We are encouraged to put our trust in government and the related institutions of education and insurance and human charity. We are encouraged to put our trust in the potential of man. That of course, as a ground of ultimate reliance, is Satan’s lie. He is the slickest politician of all and constantly tempts us to treat Caesar like God.

On the other hand, he also tempts us to treat God as if we were paying Him taxes; half-heartedly attending worship now and then if no other priorities prevail; forking over some cash from leftovers; fulfilling our religious responsibilities to be good citizens of the church with an eye on others and what they are doing.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. God gave political power to the Romans for a period of time. During this time he sent his Son to the world. Caesar appointed Pontius Pilate to be an earthly ruler, and Pilate asked Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Or as he said through Isaiah, “I am the LORD who does these things.”

Jesus didn’t play the slick games of politics. He rendered to Caesar what was Caesar’s. He submitted himself to the authority of the government and faced capital punishment. He was crucified, dead, and buried. He did so that you can have forgiveness, true freedom. Jesus submitted to Pilate’s authority by going to the cross, at the same time he was submitting to his Father’s authority by going to the cross. This is because Jesus was here to free his kingdom. But his kingdom “is not of this world!”

The coin belonged to Caesar because it bears his image and carries his inscription. So what is it that is God’s?

The Gospel is God’s. The gifts of forgiveness, his Word and his Sacraments are his to give.

He gives these gifts to you. For you are God’s! He created you in his image. And he recreated you when He put on you his inscription of the cross – in Holy Baptism you received the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark as you one redeemed by Christ the crucified. He went to the cross undeserving of death so that you can have life.

What benefits does this baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. The gifts of baptism are not of this world, but bring you into the kingdom of God.

The death and resurrection of Christ “breaks into pieces the doors of bronze and cuts through the iron bars,” of the prison of sin that we are in. Jesus took on the slickest politician, the father of all lies, Satan, and created calamity for him in hell, crushing his head.

Jesus didn’t come to play the games of politics. He didn’t come to give you a certain type of government or free you from taxes. He comes to bring true freedom from sin, death, and the devil. Through the crucified and risen Christ, God has claimed us as his own. He has opened the doors to heaven and brings us in, and no earthly power may close it.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.