SERMON TEXT BELOW
Pentecost 21, 2023 Proper 24
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
October 22, 2023
Isiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
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Questions. Are they good, or bad? When discussing issues of faith with family and friends, questions can be a great tool to help clarify and understand someone else’s beliefs and practices. You are talking about church and your aunt says, “I used to go to church, but now I am spiritual but not religious.” A simple question like, “What do you mean by that?” can help clarify if this is something thoughtful or just something she says to have an excuse not to go to church. If someone says, “I know that this thing I am saying is true”, ask, “How do you know?”
Questions can be very useful. When you are starting a new job and you don’t know how to do something properly it is good to ask for help, “Can you please show me again how to do this ?”
Questions can be very helpful, and questions can be used as weapons. Too often questions are not looking for information, but rather are just being used to trap someone. In politics, questions at a debate, at press conference or shouted at a candidate can be gotcha questions trying to force a candidate to choose between two possible answers knowing that either answer will damage their campaign or credibility. No matter who is the president is, it seems that the White House press secretary has to be an expert in not answering questions if the answer would harm the president. A reporter asks a gotcha question and the press secretary responds that the president is doing great things -- better than anyone ever before. Gotcha questions are pretty common today, but this isn’t anything new.
Two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, the Pharisees are plotting against Jesus. On Sunday, Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem and promptly cleanses the temple of those selling animals and exchanging money. The religious leaders see Jesus as a troublemaker who needs to be eliminated. They try a series of gotcha questions.
The chief priests and the elders challenge Jesus’ authority and Jesus asks them where did the baptism of John the Baptist came from; from heaven or from man? Jesus responds to their gotcha question with a gotcha question of his own which the religious leaders refuse to answer. Jesus then tells them the parable of the two sons and the parable of the vineyard and the tenants. These parables are harsh accusations against the religious leaders, and they know it. They want to get rid of Jesus, but they fear the crowds.
Jesus then tells the parable of the wedding feast as a warning that those who reject Jesus will be cast out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The religious leaders plot to trap Jesus with another gotcha question, Matthew 22:17 (ESV) 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Now, nobody likes paying taxes but it is a fact of life. The Pharisees don’t actually care what Jesus thinks, the question is a trap. If Jesus says it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar they will accuse Him of being in league with the Romans against the Jews and the Jews will reject Jesus and treat Him like a tax collector. If Jesus says it is not lawful then they can accuse Him of leading a rebellion against Caesar and Jesus will be in trouble with the Romans. The goal of the question is not to gain information, but to hurt Jesus no matter how He answers.
Now as good as press secretaries and politicians are at not answering questions, Jesus is the best. They cannot trick Jesus because, being the Son of God, Jesus is pretty smart. Jesus easily avoids their traps. His time has not yet come, but it is coming soon. On Thursday, Jesus will surrender to arrest, torture and crucifixion. This is why He has come to Jerusalem. But He will go on His own terms and not be trapped by the Pharisees’ clever question and He lets them know that He is in charge of this conversation.
Matthew 22:18–19 (ESV) 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.”
A denarius at this time bears an image of the emperor’s head along with an offensive inscription. It reads on one side, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus”, and “pontifex maximus” meaning more or less “high priest” on the other side.
Matthew 22:20 (ESV) 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They answer, “Caesar’s.”
Jesus brilliantly tells them, Matthew 22:21 (ESV) 21 … “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”
Caesar made the coin. He has his picture on it and calls himself the Son of God. If He wants it back, give it back to Him. But that is not all that Jesus says. The next few words are the heart of the matter…but I am afraid these often get lost because we think Jesus is teaching here about taxes and our relationship to the government.
The heart of Jesus’ teaching is…”[render] to God the things that are God’s.”
What does this mean? In the context of this tumultuous and troubled week in Jerusalem, what does it mean to pay God the things that are God’s? It means to do the Father’s will. It means to repent and believe what John the Baptist preached about Jesus. It means to know who owns the vineyard of this world and to whom does the fruit belong. It means to have a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb -- now and forever. To have a place at the feast is to honor the master of the feast by accepting His invitation and worshipping His Son. To pay to God what is God’s is to know who Jesus is and to know what Jesus has done.
To render to God what is God’s is to repent of your sins and follow His Son as a trusting and obedient disciple.
The Pharisees and the Herodians are asking Jesus the wrong question because they reject Him as the Messiah and the Savior of the world. To them Jesus is just a problematic prophet causing trouble; a crazy rabbi from Galilee.
You are not like the Pharisees. You know who Jesus is. You know Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You know Jesus has come to offer Himself on the altar of the cross as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. You know Jesus gives to you the robe of His righteousness to clothe you for the wedding feast and give you a place here at His table for a foretaste of the feast to come. You know that on the Last Day you will have a place at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.
To render to God what is God’s is to repent of your sins and follow His Son as a trusting and obedient disciple. To render unto God what is God’s is to daily struggle against the temptations of the devil, the world and your own sinful flesh that all want you to cast off the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, reject the Lamb of God, be too busy for the wedding feast, and deny that you are a Christian by living like a godless pagan in order to fit into a world of godless pagans.
To render to God what is God’s is to surrender lordship of your life to the Lord of Life. Hour by hour, day by day, week by week, year by year, live out the prayer, “Thy will be done.” Thy will be done in all that you are given to do. Thy will be done in all your life. Thy will be done even in those parts of your life that you like to keep tucked away from others -- even hidden, if that were possible, from God -- your life on the internet, your financial life, your sexual life. Surrender your false lordship of these areas. Pray, “Thy will be done.”
You are a child of God who carries the name of God watered onto you at your baptism. You are welcomed to your place at the table to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. You belong to the creator and you are made holy through the blood of His Son, Jesus. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You wear the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. You belong to God. As St. Paul writes to the church in Rome, Romans 12:1 (ESV) 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
You are a beloved follower of Jesus. Give to God what is God’s because you belong to Him. Amen.