Sunday, October 19, 2008


Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Matthew 22:15-22

It seems that the Church Year, which has been around for a lot longer than our country, has brought us a timely topic in the Gospel reading. Jesus’ famous saying to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s shows that God has something to say about our relationship to government. A timely topic with the election just weeks away and our nation facing a financial crisis. The Bible is clear that we are to obey government. God has instituted government for the good of society. Taking Jesus’ teaching on giving to the government what is owed it and to God what is owed Him doesn’t help us out much in who to vote for and how to get through the financial crisis.

There’s something bigger going on here. You and I could each give a list of all the big things going on in our lives. At the same time, we collectively are facing an onslaught of issues and disagreements and views on how best to run the country. For months we faced skyrocketing gas prices. When it seemed we were finally getting a break from them we were hit with a meltdown on Wall Street. Last year we were reeling from out of control fires, as if we hadn’t gone through enough three years before. As some are again flaring up around the region we wonder if we’ll be hit again. People are facing uncertainty with employment or with the value of their house, or if they’ll even get to keep their house. We live in uncertain times on the world stage with wars that don’t seem to have an end in sight and economies crumbling around the world and the continual threat of terrorism.

Sometimes the big problems may not seem to press down on us. They may not seem to affect our day to day decisions. The relentless pace of our lives may give us more than we can handle without having to worry about what’s going on in the world, let alone the nation. If we’re struggling with problems with our kids, facing stress at work, in conflict with our neighbors, constantly bombarded with health problems, we may wonder when we’ll get a break. When you’re living in a fallen world, the problems you face can seem relentless. When you’re surrounded by sinners along with yourself there will be no end to difficulties.

But Jesus has something to offer you. And it’s much more than a trick for knowing how to walk into the voting booth on November 4 or whether to buy or sell stocks. He has something to offer you in the barrage of difficulties you face.

If we weren’t flies on the wall, as the Holy Spirit has allowed us to be with Matthew’s comment that the Pharisees were trying to bring Jesus down, we might think that the men who came up to Jesus posed a legitimate question. In the same way, if Jesus weren’t God and had simply taken the men’s words as they stood, He would have had reason to believe that they were asking Him a fair question. After all, isn’t what they said about Jesus true? “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.”

It’s true: He’s genuine, He’s the real thing. And, yes, He does teach the way of God faithfully. At the same time, He is not swayed by the mere opinions of people. He is God. He is a Rock when it comes to being the source of truth and acting on it. The question they ask is indeed a legitimate question. We have those same kinds of questions today. The campaign this year has shown that there are many disagreements about the role of government in society. Even among us Christians, what does it mean to obey government while still being faithful to God?

The men who approached Jesus weren’t interested in His opinion. They didn’t care about His teaching on the matter. This was one more attack on Him, one more attempt to bring Him down. The religious leaders were relentless in their attempt to get rid of Jesus. And He knew it. His answer silenced them. They couldn’t believe it. They had been foiled again. How could they bring this guy down? Matthew says that they left Him. Did that mean that their relentless pace was finally slowed down? No, it means that they left Him at that moment. They would emerge again at an opportune time. We know that they would finally be successful in bringing Jesus down as they would arrange things so that He’d be hanging on a cross by the end of the week.

No, the relentless pace continued. Jesus’ entire three year Ministry was a constant barrage of attacks from them, of being tempted by the devil, and of facing struggles and problems. I don’t know how you’re feeling today, and how you’re doing with all that’s going on on the big stage of the world and the nation or in your personal life, but I don’t imagine it’s any worse than what Jesus had gone through in His Ministry.

What was different is why He went through it. You’re stuck. Sometimes you can’t get out of the mess you’re in. When life’s relentless pace seems to kick it up a notch, you may feel like you’re just hanging on. Jesus put Himself in the thick of the problems and sin of this world. When you’re struggling to overcome a habit that’s causing you heartache, before you can get a leg up on it, new temptations overcome you. If the issues facing our society are enough to cause you to despair, you may wonder what hope there is for you to be a Christian. When all the little things in your personal life pile up so that you’re racing like mad to put out fires here and there, you may wonder if there’s any solace in the new life Christ has given you.

Don’t walk away from here today glad that you have a better attitude about how you’ll vote or what you can better do to manage your money. Walk away from here rejoicing that you have received what Christ gives you. And that is Himself. With everything God commands us there is a blessing involved. When Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s we can rejoice that God cares enough about us that He doesn’t leave societies to their designs but institutes order for the well being of people and the punishment of those who cause others harm. Before you wonder about our government, just think about the government of Jesus’ day, the government of Caesar—he declared himself to be God. When we pay our taxes we also have the opportunity to pray for our government, pray God to guide and bless our leaders, that they would lead in a godly way.

When Jesus enjoins us to render to God what is God’s we can rejoice that no matter what condition we live in, whether we live in a free country or not, all that we have is from God. Blessings in this life are granted freely by God because He loves us. But if the relentless pace of life has you wondering if there’s more to life than simply trying to keep your head above water, then know that rendering to God what is God’s means that all who we are and what we have is from Him because He has reconciled Himself to us. It’s easy to put blame on others or government for our problems, but we are too often like Caesar, putting ourselves before God. If the financial crisis has you down, do you trust that God will keep you in His care—no matter what? When you’re facing one thing after another in your personal life and you just want it all to go away, are you refusing to rejoice in the blessings God gives you even in the midst of trials?

Let us not test God. Let’s instead render to Him the confession due Him. Confessing our sins, acknowledging our lack of trust in Him, seeking our solace in Him alone. The relentless pace of problems in our lives is unmatched by the relentless pace of God in loving us and serving us. Rendering to God what is God’s is done through the Son of God. Living in peace is not being free from difficulties but in thanking God for salvation in the one who was marred beyond recognition. When all you see around you is things falling apart, look to see the one who is in the center of it all, the precious Lamb of God, the Son sent by the Father to rescue us not from financial collapse or even sickness but sin and hell. Our country may rise or fall, but God has prepared a place for you in heaven which will remain. God is relentless in His love for you, His unfailing love upholding you through the temporal things and gracing you in His presence for eternity. Amen.


1 comment:

Peter said...


Very powerful sermon with the focus of keeping our eyes and faith upon Jesus. Luther talked about spiritual attacks as being one of the three ways (prayer and meditating on the Word are the others) that God makes us theologians. Your sermon did an excellent job utilizing this and how we are drawn by the Holy Spirit to cling to the gospel for salvation.