Pentecost 5 July 5, 2020
575, 579, 578, 577
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Dear fellow redeemed in Jesus Christ, fellow heirs of eternal life in Christ Jesus,
My wife’s parents have an interesting situation when it comes to their citizenship. They are citizens of the United States of America, but their home is in British Columbia, Canada. They have all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens, even though they do not live or work in the U.S. They can vote in U.S. elections, even though they are currently ruled by the Canadian government. They have United States passports, but Canadian drivers’ licenses. To add another twist to their citizenship, my father-in-law was born in Nigeria, Africa while his father served as a missionary there. So, he is a United States citizen, who was born in Africa, and lives in Canada. Try explaining that to a border patrol agent!
It is quite interesting situation they are in, being U.S. citizens but living in another country. And yet, couldn’t every Christian say this of themselves? When God brings someone to faith in Christ Jesus, He makes that person a member of His kingdom. Heaven is now the homeland of every believer. We are temporarily passing through this life on our way to our eternal homeland of heaven. Jesus has secured our visas for heaven by rising from the dead and our passports are stamped with His blood.
If heaven is our homeland, what then is our responsibility here on earth? Since God is the supreme Judge of our souls, do we still have to yield to the laws of man? As we approach our nation’s holiday of the 4th of July, let us consider our dual citizenship as Christians. Let us seek to keep in mind our responsibilities as a citizen of this world and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The Word of God to which we direct our attention this morning, is found in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 22, verses 15 through 22:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? “Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.
So far the Word of God.
We are told that if you want to keep your friends, there are two things you should never talk about—religion and politics. Everyone seems to have their own religious and political views, and are deeply passionate about both. If you express your own views, you run the risk of ruffling feathers. It seems that the Pharisees and Herodians were counting on that as they approached Jesus in our text. The Pharisees were a sect of Jewish religious leaders and the Herodians were loyal followers of the political leader, Herod. Here we have the religious leaders and political leaders coming together to try and trap Jesus in His words, like someone might use a net to trap a bird.
As false teachers so often do, these men approach Jesus with smooth words and flattering speech, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” They thought they had set the perfect trap. The Jewish people despised the Roman government and the ungodly Caesar, Tiberius. So if Jesus told them that they should pay their taxes to Caesar, the people would surely turn on Jesus. On the other hand, if Jesus were to forbid paying taxes to Caesar, the Herodians would report Him to Pilate and have Him arrested as a man who defied the laws of Caesar.
But Jesus cannot be fooled. He really is true and truly teaches the way of God in truth. “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” While His enemies thought they had the upper-hand, as always, Jesus shows Himself to be the Master Teacher. They brought Jesus a denarius—a coin worth less than twenty-five cents. Showing them the coin stamped with a likeness of Caesar He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” They thought they had asked the perfect question to entrap Jesus, but the Master Teacher uses their question as the perfect teaching tool for all generations.
First, Jesus teaches us about our responsibility as citizens of this world. The Pharisees along with most Jews of the day hated being ruled by the heathen, Gentile government of Caesar and Rome. They thought that since they were the people of God, that they should not be subject to any man or heathen government. The Jews would have liked nothing more than to be told that they don’t have to pay taxes to this ungodly ruler.
We can identify with that sentiment, can’t we? Which one of us wouldn’t love to be told that since we are Christians, we no longer have to pay our taxes? But Jesus gives us no such permission, does He. In fact, He speaks about our responsibility to the governing authorities. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Caesar for us today is the elected and appointed officials in the U.S. government, city, state, and government officials. Jesus teaches us that we are to render to our government what is due them.
Our responsibility to the governing authorities goes far beyond the question of paying taxes. It also includes our ATTITUDE toward the government. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul teach us that the governing authorities are placed over us by the ultimate authority—God. The Bible says, “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1b) The U.S. government and its leaders are placed there by God.
We are blessed in this land that if we disagree with the political positions of our leaders, we have the opportunity to express our disagreement with our votes every two, four, or six years, as well as challenging laws through our court system. But as long as that man or woman is in office, they are there because it is God’s will for them to be there—for better, for worse, or for something beyond our understanding. Though we may disagree with the rulers, though they may be unfaithful to God, that does not give us the excuse to rebel against them. In fact, in Romans 13 Paul says that when someone resists the governing authorities, they are, in fact, resisting GOD.
What is due to the leaders God has placed over us? The Apostle Paul writes, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) In 1 Timothy 2, Paul writes that God wants us to pray for all men, especially “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” And the Apostle Peter teaches us to “honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17)
God is the ultimate authority. He has placed the governing authorities over us to rule over us in earthly matters. To rebel against the government would be to rebel against God Himself. The only time we are given permission to disobey an order of the authorities is when they tell us to do something that is contrary to God’s Word. For instance, when Nebuchadnezzar commanded that all people bow down to his statue and worship it, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did not lead a revolution, but silently refused to bow down. When Peter and the Apostles were commanded to stop preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified, Peter replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) But in all other matters which do not go against God’s Word, we are to give honor, fear, taxes, and pray for those in authority over us. This is our Christian responsibility as citizens of this world.
By bringing us to faith in Jesus, God has also made you and I citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus talks about our citizenship in heaven when He speaks of rendering “to God the things that are God’s.”
But what are the things that are God’s? In short— everything is God’s. The earth and everything in it belongs to God. He is the author and giver of life. He also sustains life by giving seed to the sower, bread to the eater, sunshine, and rain to produce crops. But the “things that are God’s” go far beyond that.
His greatest gift was His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Though Jesus is true God from all eternity, though He created the earth and everything in it, though He is the King of kings who is over and above all the ruling authorities on this earth, Jesus humbled Himself and placed Himself under the authorities of this world—even yielding Himself to Pontius Pilate whose injustice led to Jesus’ death. Jesus was the model citizen. In doing so, Jesus became our righteousness.
But God went further for us. He placed on Jesus our sins of rebellion and disrespect, our sins of failing to honor the authorities and pray for them. Every one of our sins was placed His only begotten Son and punished Him in our place. Jesus died to set us free.
Now you are sons of the King of kings. The Bible declares that you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26) Paul writes that “all things are yours” through faith in Christ. In fact, in Revelation 1, we are reminded that Jesus has made us kings and priests to God. As sons of God, sons of the King of all Creation, having become kings ourselves, perhaps we have no obligation to the un-Christian rulers of this world. Perhaps they should be serving us!
Well, in a way they are—though it may not be immediately clear to us. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the Bible says that God put all things under His feet—including ALL the governing authorities. Now Christ rules over them for the good of His body, the Church—that’s you! Those governments are serving God’s eternal purpose for His Church and the spread of the Gospel.
Back to our text—what are “the things that are God’s?” WE are the things that are God’s! “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Our lives, our all, belong to God. Jesus purchased us with His own blood and God set us apart as His own by giving us His Holy Spirit. Therefore we give God all the glory and praise both in our body and in our spirit, which are God’s. We worship Him with our lips, with our hearts, and with our daily lives. We honor and pray for the rulers HE has placed over us. What is our responsibility as citizens of the kingdom of heaven? To live our lives to the glory of God who loved us and saved us!
This is our dual citizenship as Christians. We have responsibility to our government as citizens of this world. We pray for those God has placed in authority over us. Whether or not they are honorable makes no difference, we give them honor and fear confident God is in control and makes ALL things work together for the good of His people. We gladly pay our taxes to glorify our God knowing He will provide for our bodily needs.
But our lives, our soul, our very being belong to God. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven we look to glorify God in our body and our spirit which God has purchased with the blood of His own Son. In love for the Savior, may we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, and thereby honor both God and the government He graciously provides.
Christ, by heavenly hosts adored, Gracious, mighty, sovereign Lord,
God of nations, King of kings, Head of all created things,
By the Church with joy confessed, God o’er all, forever blest‑
Pleading at Thy throne we stand: Save Thy people, bless our land. Amen. (TLH 566:1)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.