Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, AD 2020

Matthew 22:15-22

 If you’ve been paying attention the past few weeks as we hear from Matthew 21 and 22, you should notice that the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jewish people have been taking a pummeling from Jesus. He has spoken parable after parable showing that they have not been faithful in the leadership position they are in. They have instead been hurting their own flock by trying to hinder them from the one thing they really need – Jesus. Instead of repenting and turning to Jesus, the very message that John the Baptist had been preaching from the beginning, they cling even harder to their own position and try to take Jesus down.
This is where we are in today’s gospel lesson. The Pharisees are unable to undermine Jesus’ authority legitimately and therefore are just going to try to trap him in his words. They want to trip him up in a technicality. They are trying to make him look bad in front of everyone. Which is exactly why we should not take their question seriously, and why we should be careful in understanding what Jesus answers.
We have Supreme Court hearings going on right now. Imagine this – one of the politicians who is supposed to vet the nominee decides he has made up his mind about the person already He isn’t trying to honestly find if that nominee is worthy of the position. So instead he is going to try to trap the nominee in their words, to have them slip up and say something unpopular or offensive to many. That then gives an easy foothold to stand on to deny the nomination.
Even more, we know that the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to slip up. They send their disciples and the Herodians to catch Jesus in his words. It’s possible that these two groups were sent purposely to trip Jesus up. The pharisees’ disciples, on one extreme, despise Roman taxation and even Roman rule. The Herodians, on the other, support Caesar and are comfortable in the current regime. Ever been in a group of mixed political opinions and then “tossed a grenade” into the conversation by saying something controversial? That’s what the pharisees are trying to get Jesus to do.
They try to butter Jesus up with their empty words: “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.” To them, these words mean nothing, as they show by their actions. Yet they are true. If only they listened to themselves – Jesus does teach the way of God truthfully! He is the way, the truth, and the life. His way demands they repent and turn and believe in Him. For He is the very One who spoke to the prophet Samuel about David, saying, “The Lord sees not as man sees, man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  
So when they ask “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus knows their wicked intent. If they truly knew Jesus taught the way of God truthfully, they wouldn’t be asking this question. If they truly knew Jesus was God, they wouldn’t be trying to trap Him. They’re not asking about anything Moses wrote about in the Old Testament. They’re not asking about God’s Word. They leave that behind and take up a point to confuse and trap Jesus. What does the Christ have to do with paying taxes to Caesar or not?
This is the way the world often works against Christ’s church. They question the church with bad intent, not caring about what God’s Word really says. Instead, they throw upon the church the questions of the day because they want to discredit it. No matter what Christians do, the world is always looking to pin sacrilege or rebellion on them. When Christians participate in anything in society, they are often tagged with being “too political” or “not focusing enough on the gospel.” Yet when Christians hold back, they can be seen as “unAmerican” or “not relevant,” “not loving.” The world is always ready to accuse the church.
Therefore, we should, like Jesus, ignore their accusations and rest on the true authority, God’s Word. Too often Christians get overly involved in social issues because the opinion of the world prods them to do so, or, on the other hand, they hold back from protecting their neighbor because they don’t want to seem controversial. Our guide is not in the opinions of man, nor do we need to have an opinion on everything going through the news or on Twitter. Christians are much better served by dwelling on what God thinks is important, not on the current controversy of the moment.
For Jesus’ answer is not primarily “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” but “[render] to God the things that are God’s.” Should we follow the fourth commandment and obey any legitimate government authority? Yes. Should be pay taxes to whom taxes are due? Yes. Is there anything belongs to Caesars that is not God’s? No. You don’t need me to tell you to pay taxes. The U.S. Army can make you do that. The pharisees and Herodians didn’t need Jesus to tell them to pay taxes – the Roman legions could make sure of that. Caesar puts his image on the coin, sure, give it back to him. More important, pay God the things He is owed.
Pay God’s things to God. Do the Father’s will – repent, believe in Christ, the one who has come to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus Christ, the very image of the invisible God, died on the cross and rose again, and now has ascended to the Father with all authority and power. His authority is greater than any Caesar, president, or the Supreme Court. We have exchanged his glory for that of other things, often looking to our political heroes for deliverance instead of Christ. While politicians and their professionally marketed images may fail us, Christ never will.
For just as the denarius Jesus held in his hand bore an image of Caesar, you also bear an image. As baptized Christians, the image of Jesus Christ was put on you by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and the inscription read “Child of God.” The Father has predestined you “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29). Believing in Christ, “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Do not let the world and sin distract you from the fact that your resurrection has begun in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ. Your new self “is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). Christ has defeated sin and this world, He is the true ruler with all authority. Now he rules secretly, through His Word and Sacrament, strengthening us with His body and blood, as His kingdom works through us, making us more like Him, growing in His image. One day He will return and judge the living and the dead, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We who have been baptized into His death and resurrection and bear his image will be held in His hand, and thus live in blessedness and righteousness forever. Amen.
Image from: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. 
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