Sermon from Rev. Zickler for October 22, 2017

20171022 Sermon Proper 24 2017
October 22, 2017
Matthew 22:15-22

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel lesson previously read, especially these words: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Hearing our Lord speak those words, we probably most commonly associate them with the teaching that we call the “Doctrine of Two Kingdoms.” By that I mean that as Lutherans we talk about the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right. This is the idea that there are things that pertain to this world, and in particular, pertain to governing the things of this world, then there are the things that are eternal and pertain to our Life with our Lord. This association is certainly not wrong. In particular when our Lord talks about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar, we can most certainly think of Paul’s letter to the Romans and where he talks about earthly government in chapter thirteen.

You might remember some of what’s said there if you studied what Luther called the Table of Duties in the Catechism. In Romans thirteen Paul says things like, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” And “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” And as we hear those words, that’s a good reminder for us in our day. It’s a good reminder of how the Fourth Commandment calls us to be obedient to earthly authorities, to submit to them in things we might not even want to. That is, unless they demand for us to break God’s commandments, we are to submit to them even in things like paying taxes or being orderly according to the laws of the land. If we do not follow those laws we should expect to have to pay the consequences. This is what the Commandment demands now and so it’s good for us to hear. Likewise it was good for the Pharisees in Jesus’ company to hear those words.

I say that because those Pharisees did not like the government. You likely remember that the government then was the Roman Empire, and this didn’t sit well with many Jews at the time. The Pharisees in particular would have been upset about this because the Roman government had come in and they had partnered with the Sadducees which perpetuated the Sadducees rule in the temple. That meant that the High Priests were Sadducees, and so they had extra pull. So the Pharisees didn’t like that.

All the more they didn’t like the rule by an outside country. They wanted to return to the days of David when the Kingdom of Israel was in its heyday, when it was its own kingdom—independent, free to worship as they pleased, when they didn’t have taxes to pay to another occupying king. And along the lines of that longing for the glory days, they were looking for the Messiah who would come to them and He would free them from this foreign occupation. They were looking for the Messiah who would bring the back to that glory. So this is why Jesus responds like He does. What wisdom in His response too. “You don’t like Caesar, I know that. But you know what? You still have to pay taxes to him. He still has the right to demand that. Whether he is a Jewish ruler or not, he can still charge those taxes to accomplish the work of the empire.”

But of course, there’s an even greater wisdom in His response, isn’t there? There’s wisdom in how He handles the trick question, but there’s also wisdom in the irony of all of this. How so? Well, first of all there’s irony in how the Pharisees and the Herodians approach Jesus. That irony is their effusing praise for Him. “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.” So they’re saying “Jesus we know that You are really great, that You’re like God who knew David’s heart; that you don’t look at a man’s face, but we’re going to now ask you a dishonest question to trap you.” But in His wisdom, Jesus calls them on it, naming them hypocrites. But then the second ironic part.

These Pharisees are opposed to Caesar. They want to entrap Jesus into expressing support for him or rebellion against him in their hypocrisy. But they are all the more hypocritical in that they are partnering with these Herodians here to attack Jesus. You see the Herodians want Caesar (and with Caesar King Herod) ruling over them. And even though the Pharisees find Caesar’s rule oppressive and invasive, they’re willing to consort with them against Jesus. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this dialogue takes place during Holy Week, and, soon, these Pharisees will not just partner with Jews who like Caesar, but with Caesar himself through the person of Pontius Pilate in order to crucify Jesus, their true King. To connect the points, these Pharisees are working with a king they supposedly despise to bring down the real King of the Universe. So there’s the irony, but there is such wisdom in how Jesus responds. He knew that not only did they need to hear those words: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” just as much they needed to hear the call, “Render to God the things that are God’s.”

Of course, this wasn’t new in the history of Israel. If you remember in I Samuel 8, the Israelites got together and wanted to crown a king. Samuel told them they really didn’t want one—if you recall they had had judges before this, not kings—but they wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t listen to the fact that God Himself was truly their king. But they insisted on one. So, the Lord granted them their wish. He gave them Saul. And while yes He gave them David and Solomon, these three all caused trouble in their own right. As did their successors. This wasn’t what was really best for them. The Lord was the only one who could rescue them, who could redeem them, who could provide for their needs.

What they really needed was to understand that this LORD who was their God was the God we heard about who called Cyrus in our Old Testament lesson. And as I mention that, that is an amazing story. You see Cyrus was King of Persia, and when the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, after the temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and returned the Jews to their Promised Land allowing them to rebuild the temple. This return is described in 2 Chronicles and in the book of Ezra if you want to read about it. But the most incredible part is that this passage in Isaiah was written, according to my Study Bible, somewhere between 740 and 681 BC. Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Do you see it? Isaiah named Cyrus explicitly over a century before he freed Israel. All that is said in the Old Testament lesson is true. “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” It’s as though the Lord says, “Cyrus you are a king who conquers, but I am the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

In other words, Israel, render to God what is God’s. Pharisees, hear that you need to live under the king you don’t like, but you also need to see that you don’t need a king. You need the God of gods and Lord of Lords. And Christians, the same is true for you, render to this God what is His. Don’t be divided in this. When it comes to earthly things, render to the government that which is the government’s. Honor them as the authority they are. Honor the president as president. Honor the governor as governor. Honor the mayor as mayor. Pay your taxes. You don’t have to like all that they do, but you have to respect the offices. Imagine, Paul was writing Romans thirteen about the Roman Empire who persecuted Christians. Even as our government becomes pagan, it is owed our obedience in things which do not cause us sin against the faith.

But on the flip side, render to God that which is God’s. Don’t trust in the princes and kings of this world to provide that which no one but God can provide. Don’t expect any president to save us whether Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, or Green. Don’t expect the policies of any political party to bring about a utopia free from all struggle for us and for all. Don’t expect that all public servants won’t be without their faults and failures, their lies and their abuses. Even more don’t expect that these public servants will bring about the glory days of the Church in the US, where all of our buildings were full and growing, and the expectation was that everyone was church-going and Christian. Render to God that which is God’s.

But on the flip side of that, also don’t expect that any president or any public servant can cause such harm to the Church that the God who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords cannot overcome it. Don’t think that our Heavenly Father doesn’t look down upon us and know every breath that we breathe. Don’t think that He doesn’t keep His beloved flock close to His heart every moment of everyday. He most absolutely does.

And He does this precisely because of this Jesus whom these Pharisees and Herodians wanted to trick. He rules all things for us, because Jesus rendered all to Him. Our sin called for a tax to be collected of our whole life and being. But Jesus paid that fully in His death on the cross. And He declared the freedom from the debt in His resurrection. Yes, He rendered all for us, Christians. And He has given us new life. A life not grounded in the Caesars and rulers of this world, but one in Him.

Coming back to the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. From this we can see that the Kingdom of the Left, the governmental kingdom matters. It deserves our attention, but it is not our hope. The Kingdom of the Right is that hope: the Kingdom in Jesus. The Kingdom where He gave His all for our God. In other words, we are always citizens of God’s Kingdom above all, before any earthly nation. Citizens of the Kingdom of this God who deserves all, who demands all. Yes Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But Christians, in His Kingdom, you can give thanks that as His citizens this has all been rendered for us in His blood. Rendered in His death and resurrection. Thanks be to God. Amen.