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Trinity 23 – Matthew 22:15-22

by pastorjuhl ~ November 17th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Whether or not your candidates won or lost in Tuesday’s election, one thing is certain: you are a citizen of two kingdoms. These kingdoms are to remain as far apart as the east is from the west. Caesar does his thing. God does His thing. These two kingdoms are gifts from God, yet they must remain separate from each other. So what does Jesus mean when He answers the slippery question of the Pharisees with render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s?

Let’s take Caesar first. The authorities are set in place by God according to the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. Holy Scripture teaches this truth in many places. For example, Saint Paul says in Romans chapter 13: 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. Saint Peter writes in his first epistle: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. There are all sorts of ways of governance. There are all sorts of ways governance arises. There is no authority without God, even if the authority is godless.

It is our responsibility as subjects to give what is due the authorities, chiefly honor, obedience, and taxes. Everything earthly and transitory belongs in Caesar’s kingdom. You may not like what Caesar does, but you may not oppose this command. Again Saint Paul in Romans chapter 13: Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

It is our responsibility as subjects to pray for the authorities, whether or not you voted for them. It is also our responsibility to guard against offending the authorities, as well as leading peaceable lives with our neighbor. A Christian should and must prove to be the best citizen toward the authorities.

This is what the Pharisees did not comprehend. They sought to join forces with the ruling authorities in order to bring down Jesus Christ and His disciples. Consider their false compliment to 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. These are words of hypocrites, actors playing the part of pious teachers of the Law, but behind their masks they are whitewashed tombs. Their words are true, but they don’t believe them. False flattery gets them nowhere as they try to trap Jesus in His words.

Nothing but trouble happens when well-meaning people try to mix Caesar with God. There are rulers and obedient people in the so-called “left hand” kingdom, the kingdom of the ruling authorities. But when we place them on a pedestal and believe earthly rulers will hasten either heaven on earth or Judgment Day, we render to Caesar what should be rendered to God. In the Church, there is only one Lord and Master: Jesus Christ and His Word. When we place His Word from the so-called “right hand” kingdom into the realm of Caesar, we are playing with fire.

For example: reading into the Bible that our country is God’s favorite country. Another example: tying everything that happens in Caesar’s realm to events in Holy Scripture. When the Psalmist writes, blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, he is not talking about the United States of America. He is talking about the nation that God gathers from the world into His Church through the preaching of the Gospel. It is a nation that knows no borders, a nation called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit in Preaching, Baptism, and the Supper that is blessed by God. This is not to say that God does not bless our country. But it is to say that God does not necessarily love the USA more than He loves other countries.

Christians live in two realms. You have sacred duties toward God in addition to your obligations toward secular authorities. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, Render to God what is God’s. You render faith, you render your conscience bound to His Word, your serve God, and, above all, you bind your heart. Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment says it best: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” You won’t find this in the Constitution of the United States or in the Declaration of Independence. You will only find it in God’s Word.

What if Caesar sticks his nose into God’s business? This we see happening little by little in our country. Consider the so-called H.H.S. Mandate that is a part of our country’s recent health care legislation. The government has redefined what is considered “church” into the strict definition of public gathering for worship. Our synod’s Concordia Plan Services, among others, may be forced against their conscience to pay for abortifacient drugs for workers. There is no “conscience clause” for sacred and secular organizations who wish to opt out of this mandate. Not only is the H.H.S. Mandate a matter that binds consciences, it also violates the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. Please do not misunderstand me. We are not protesting against health care legislation. Our synod takes no position there. We are protesting against having our consciences bound to provide drugs that kill unborn children.

What should we as Christians do to combat Caesar from overreaching his realm? God’s good gift of government allows proper means to dissuade authorities. We use those proper means to confess the Truth. If this is not successful, then it is the Church’s responsibility to refuse to obey, to suffer, and in all things give God honor. Our answer must be that of Peter and the apostles when the high priest told them not to proclaim the Gospel: We must obey God rather than men. This response will not be popular. There may be persecution for the Church in our country. Nevertheless, we remain faithful to our Lord and His unchanging Word above all things.

Legislation comes and goes. Politicians come and go. The Word of God endures forever. Though we live with one foot in the realm of secular authority, we are bought with Christ’s blood, baptized into His death, and brought through this vale of tears to the Day of Resurrection, where all secular authority has its end. As we prayed in the Introit from Jeremiah chapter 29, He has a plan for us, plans from wholeness and not for evil. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Live as obedient children among earthly rulers, but more importantly, live and rejoice as redeemed children in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, where Christ reigns supreme as victorious Lord of all!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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