23. Sunday after Trinity Sunday
Matthew 22, 15-22
Then the Pharisees went and had a meeting to see how they might make use of his words to take him. And they sent to him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, Master, we see that you are true, and that you are teaching the true way of God, and have no fear of anyone, because you have no respect for a man’s position. Give us, then, your opinion of this: Is it right to give tax to Caesar, or not? But Jesus saw their trick and said, Oh false ones, why are you attempting to put me in the wrong? Let me see the tax money. And they gave him a penny. And he said to them, whose is this image and name on it? They say to him, Caesar’s. Then he said to them, Give to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things which are God’s. And hearing it, they were full of wonder, and went away from him. (Matthew 15:1-22:22 BBE)
1. In the Law of Moses it was promised to the Jews, that if they kept God's commandments, then they would be a kingdom (not a puppet kingdom as at the time of Jesus) and not have to submit to another country's kingship. Throughout the centuries, this promise was precious to them and they hoped things would change for the better again. Then finally the mighty Romans took over, and the Jews were utterly shocked and almost in despair. However, they never gave up hope that one day they would be free again. The Romans humiliated them, and the Jews gave up fighting against them. They never gave up their hope, though.
2. Aren't we all at least a little bit like these Jews were then? They remembered very well that they had been a free kingdom, but they completely forgot that attached to this promise was also the admonition to keep God's commandments and that they should live according to God's will. The promise they remembered; God's commands they forgot about! “The kingdom is ours”, they said, “we want it now!” It is like an evil servant woman saying to her mistress, “You promised to pay my wages, so give them to me now. However, don't tell me what I have to do, because I’ll do what I want to do.” It is not right to speak like this. If someone wants to receive a salary, he needs to do what his employer asks him to do. That is how it was with the Jews, too: they were obstinate and disobedient to God; they did not care for His commandments but still wanted to enjoy their freedom.
3. And so they tried to test the Lord. How would He answer? They thought they catch Him no matter how He answered this question. The Roman emperor was a heathen; could it be right to pay taxes to him instead paying taxes to their own king? Because they expected Him to give the wrong answer, they even took mercenaries of the puppet king Herodes with them. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, they asked Him. If He answers with no, in no time the mercenaries would take Him with them for interrogation. If He says yes, the people would suspect Him of being a blasphemer and liar, and a false teacher. Because everyone knew that in the Old Testament the promise is written that Israel will be a free people not serving another nation. Either way the Lord would answer, the Pharisees thought this to be a no win situation for Him. No matter how He would answer, His death would be sure -- so they thought. They were evil enemies of the Lord Christ.
4. What happened, though? The Lord beat them with their own weapon. “Let me see the coin”, He said. After they gave Him a coin, He asked them, “Whose picture and whose name is on it?” Even the simplest of minds could answer this question, and so they quickly said, “Caesar's picture and seal are on it.” We know His answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. To admit to Him that they use Caesar's money is like admitting that they have already accepted him as king. The Lord only showed them that He does not to take away from Caesar what is rightfully his.
5. What a masterpiece of the Lord Christ! They meant to catch Him, but He caught them. The Pharisees meant to get rid of Him but they are caught themselves. He does not need to answer 'yes' or 'no' to their question. Unwittingly with their evil planning, they hand over their sword to Him so that He can destroy them. It is actually suicide what these “holy” Pharisees do.
6. Two things we shall learn from this account of the Lord Christ: 1. From the vice of the Pharisees, we shall learn how evil we ourselves are in our evil plotting. We all, without exception, are like these Pharisees: we love to complain if something hurts us and often we think we are treated unjustly. And it is true, people very often treat us unrighteously and are unfaithful to us. When this happens we start shouting and telling them our legal rights; all we concentrate on is how they have mistreated us. We wail and complain, just as those Jews complained about the Romans who reigned over them in opposition to God and the Jewish law. The Romans who were heathens had absolutely no right to reign over the Jews; they did not care for the Word of God or the Law of Moses. The Jews were badly hurt by this cruel reign and felt terribly sorry for themselves. They were wrong, though -- just as wrong as we are when we feel sorry for ourselves and try to avenge ourselves. If our neighbor treats us badly, we try to get even with him, but we must remember how much we deserve to be punished by God and say to ourselves, „If I consider correctly, I must confess that I’m such a bad sinner before God, and by being such an offender myself, I deserve to be punished by God. Actually I deserve it if He takes my life away.
7. The Jews felt badly about the Romans reigning over them; they thought, “We are God’s own people; these heathen don’t know anything about God, they live a idolatrous and shameful life. Why should we let them lord over us and demand that we serve them?” Therefore, God-fearing, pious Jews petitioned God for help, and asked Him for mercy. But they did not push their supposed legal rights, because they knew that because of their sins, they deserved the Romans reign over them. They lived in sin because hardly anyone, the Pharisees, the scribes, as well as the common people, were interested in the teaching of God anymore. Miserliness, stinginess, lust, greed, pride, and other sins were openly displayed. What else should God have done about it? Should He protect them, even though they did not care for Him in the least? Should He uphold their rights while they were not the least interested in serving Him? They didn’t care for His right and Law -- why should He care for their rights? Anyway, God did not promise them an eternal, physical kingdom without demands. No, He leveled His promise by stating that He would give them their own kingdom if they would live pious lives and obediently keep His commandments. They willfully forgot about God's conditions and did not care for His Word, but at the same time, they wanted their own kingdom. They thought themselves godly, but they were godless. Just like a farm hand who wants his pay whether he deserves it or not. It is as this old saying goes: you reap what you sow. If a farmer, or a peasant doesn’t want to be obedient and pious, if He doesn’t want to pay the due tax to his lord, then it’s only then it is if the lord takes the property away from him and gives it to someone else who is pious, and obediently does what his lord tells him to do. The same it is with the Lord God on high.
8. And so we all have to learn to be careful about complaining: let’s not focus on how others wrong us, but rather let’s focus on how we wrong God, and then in humility and patience lift up our hands to God and say, “It’s true, I’m being wronged by that person, and He has no right to do this or that to me, because I didn’t wrong him, but I know that I have wronged God. If He would write down my sins, it would be a long list of sins. This list accuses me and tells me that I have sinned against God ten thousand times more than my neighbor has sinned against me. Remembering this, I need to pray, „O Lord, forgive me, as I also forgive my neighbor.”
9. It would be wrong if we would insist on our rights while God is wronged by us. On the other hand, it is not wrong to take legal matters to court and let the judges decide, because the law and the legal courts are something, which God Himself has set up. However, if it’s not possible to take matters to the courts, then beware of complaining and being impatient, but think and speak to yourself, “I know that I’m right and the ones who wrong me are wrong, but I must confess that I have deserved it.” If we think like this, we won’t act as the Jews did: they gave a pretty bad example with their lives and thought that even though God had no rights anymore, they still could demand their rights. It is as evil peasants do: they do not want to pay their taxes, but still they want the protection of their lords and their armies. What do their lords do about such behavior? They take by their heads and punish them.
10. The poor pastors have no power to take the people by their heads and ask as the lords and princes do in order to make them pay the dues that are owed. The people think it’s all right if they do not only not pay their taxes, but also even wrong them as much as possible. What is the outcome of this evil behavior? The pastor can’t punish or force anyone to pay taxes like the lords do, but looks down from heaven and He sends pestilence to the people, or thieves, or mercenaries: they take all you have. He even can make thunderstorms come and destroy wine, grain, fruit, roots, and cabbage on the fields. When this happens, dear people, don't cry, don't get upset -- perhaps you think God treats you unjustly, but actually you deserve that much worse things to happen to you. Do not complain about all the bad luck which happens to you; instead complain about your own sins and your unrepentant lifestyle, complain about your stinginess, pride, false security, and contempt for God's Word, etc. Such sins harm you and bring God's wrath upon you.
11. This the Lord Christ shows to the Jews with this parable. They complain about having lost their kingdom to the Romans; He tells them not to concentrate at what they have lost, instead remember their sinful behavior, and remember that they did not give to God what was rightfully His. Of course, the Jews did not want to change their way of life -- all they wanted was to have their kingdom back. Our Lord said 'No' to that. He seems to say that the emperor of Rome serves His purpose. The Romans punish them according to the Lord's Will. It is true that the Lord God promised the Jews their own kingdom -- but only if they would live pious lives in obedience to Him.
12. How is it with us in Germany? The Turks are standing at our door wanting to take over Germany. We think the Lord God would wrong us if the Turks should be victorious over us. However, let us not focus on the Turks -- let us focus on God instead! If we focus on God, we soon will find out that that we deserve to be threatened by the Turks. The Catholics hold on to their idolatry and not only show contempt for the Word of God, but even persecute those who read and preach it. We have the Gospel; why don't we begin to live according to it and straighten up? That was point one of today's Gospel message. Now comes point two.
13. We are to distinguish between the Kingdom of Heaven and between our secular kingdoms. We see in today's Gospel text that the Lord Christ does not damn Caesar and his need for taxes. He lets Caesar have all the things he thinks he needs to have: palace, food, marriage, etc. He says, “Give to Caesar, what's Caesar's.” With this He means to say, “You are a farmer, a peasant, a citizen, a nobleman, a farm hand, a servant girl, master, or mistress: stay with it; don't think you have to steal from Caesar what's Caesar's. A farm hand needs to serve his boss; a child needs to obey his parents. I do not want to tear down the differences in rank. These are ranks of the authorities; they are needed, but they don't hinder my kingdom, which is not a kingdom of this world, anyway.”
14. By speaking like this, the Lord Christ tells Christians not to think that we are above the secular government -- we still have to obey the secular government. Do not change your profession as the monks have done, thinking that if they continue with their secular jobs they will not receive God's blessing. So, stay within your rank and profession, and give to Caesar what is Caesar's -- God will not hinder your doing this, all He does is ask us to be obedient to Him.
15. That's why the Lord Christ says, “…give to God what's God's!” -- with this He means: believe in Me, listen to the holy Gospel, live according to God's commandments and in the fear of God, be merciful, kind, and patient. To live like that is a sacrifice which pleases God. The other things, your physical life here on earth, your rank or position, your profession or job -- leave this to Caesar. You see, this way Caesar (the secular government) and God can live side by side, even though the Jews would have liked to get rid of Caesar.
16. However, God is not set against a secular government (it doesn't hinder your to living a godly life), and wants you to live your life according to the laws of your government; He doesn't want Caesar (the secular government) to interfere, to hinder you to living according to your faith and to God's commandments. He wants the government to enable you to give to God what's God's. Like I said before, giving to God what's God's is living in obedience to Him, listening to His Word and putting it into practice. There is nothing more we can do.
17. The secular government is not to hinder their subjects living a pious life -- wherever the authorities want to keep their subjects from living a faithful, pious life, the subjects must not obey them, but instead be willing to suffer for their faith. It is a great sin if the secular authorities want to keep their subjects from living a faithful and pious life. If you have to choose between obedience to your secular government and obedience to God, you have to choose obedience to God, and be willing to suffer the consequences. One example of this would be when the secular government forbids the Christians to take the whole sacrament (bread and wine) and force their subjects to go to idolatrous church services, or to pay for the forgiveness of sins, or to pray to the “saints”, and other abominable practices. By doing this, they overstep their authority and are in disobedience to God, because God commands us to listen to His Word and live according to it. When the authorities want to keep their subjects from living a life in obedience to God, then the subjects are not bound to be obedient to the authorities. We read in the Book of Acts that we should be more obedient to God than to men. Remember, the Lord not only asks us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but also He asks us to give to God what is God's.
18. If the secular government wants us to live in disobedience to God's Will and is angry with us because we want to live a life in obedience to God; and therefore, to beat their subjects, or even take their lives -- we have to accept that, and know that while it is true that the government is our lord here on earth, we still have a far greater Lord - the Lord God in heaven. If you have to choose which one of these two lords you would rather anger with your disobedience (Caesar or God), it is better that you choose disobedience to Caesar. The reason for this is that if you are disobedient to God, God might punish you with eternal death and fire, while Caesar is only able to punish you with temporal punishment. So you see, you are much better off irritating Caesar than you would be irritating God. When I say Caesar, I am talking about any kind of authority. When Christ speaks about Caesar, He also means all the secular authorities. If you are obedient to God and His commands, then such obedience will receive an eternal reward. If you live in sinful obedience to Caesar, but against God's Will, you only gain a short temporal reward which might not even last your whole life here on earth, but still you would have to suffer for your disobedience to God's Will throughout eternity. I am saying this as a comfort to the poor persecuted Christians who live under authorities who punish them for being faithful and believing Christians, and who are forced into false church services. The Lord God wants you to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. All the secular government is able to provide us with is food, drink, clothing, protection, and peace, and whatever belongs to our temporal dwelling down here on earth. God, however, gives us body, life, and the hope of eternal life. Should we exclude God, who wants to give us eternal life, from our lives, and be disobedient to Him, because we want to serve man instead, and receive temporal rewards? No, this is far from us -- this is not His divine will for us!
20. I remind the authorities that Christ did not say, “Give to Caesar what's Caesar's -- that's enough!” No, He did not say that; if He would have said so, it would be all right for us to only serve Caesar, but instead He said, “Give to Caesar what's Caesar's, and give to God what's God's!” With this, He set limits to Caesar's right over our lives, and he should be satisfied with this. However, if Caesar wants more, and also wants to receive what is actually God's, then know that you are not indebted to give all to Caesar. If you love life and your soul -- then do not give it to him. As Caesar is not authorized by God to demand from you that you live in disobedience to God's Will as it is revealed in the Scriptures, you are not authorized by God to live in disobedience to His will, and if you have to choose to either live in obedience to God and disobedience to Caesar or disobedience to God, and obedience to Caesar, you have to choose obedience to God.
21. It is a terrible misery in Germany that princes and bishops hinder the common people from listening to God's Word and following His commandments. These princes and bishops are not satisfied with civil obedience; they also want to keep their subjects from being obedient to God, and publicly live in disobedience to God's Will. That is why they do not allow their subjects to go churches where the true Word of God is being taught. They prohibit good, Christian books from being read by the people, and they employ false, lying preachers who preach the old dirt which the Bible does not talk about and which is not comforting to anyone. Worst of all is that these bawlers do nothing but blaspheme the Gospel and swear against it.
22. These bawlers stand up for this terrible, terrible, abominable mass-sacrifice, the praying to the “saints”, going on pilgrimages, buying absolution, and the idolatrous thought that through the ritualistic confession of sin, fasting, celebration of certain holy days one can earn the forgiveness of sins. Willfully they destroy this wonderful sacrament of bread and wine, which is commanded by the Lord God, and is a custom from the earliest time of the church. It is a crime against God to willfully destroy Holy Communion.
23. The princes and bishops act as if the Lord Christ would have said, “Give Caesar everything and nothing to the Lord God!” It is a terrible wrong for them to act like this. It is true that the people need to be obedient to the authorities; this does not mean, though, that the authorities; have a right to keep their subjects from be being obedient to God. God wants the subjects to be obedient their dominions - it's even an order of God to be obedient to your authorities, He doesn’t want anarchy or disobedience to happen - as history teaches us, disobedience to the authorities has always been punished severely.
24. God asks us to be obedient to the proper authorities, but also He demands from us obedience to His Word, too. Body, property, and goods are all subject to Caesar, but the heart is God's. If Caesar is not satisfied with what he has got, and wants to reign over the heart, too, demanding that everyone must believe what Caesar wants him to believe, and go the church Caesar wants him to go to, and not where the Word of God is being preached, then Caesar will be judged by God. God wants to reign over His kingdom, He does not want to share it with Caesar. If Caesar does not give up this foolish thought, then evil things will come from this. History teaches us that when the great kings did not want to share with God, but kept everything for themselves, God finally destroyed these tyrants, so they lost it all.
25. Here you see how God has put limits to Caesar's reign and does not permit him to interfere with God's reign. He tells Caesar not to mess with God's rights and might! As Christ says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's” He seems to say, “Only give to Caesar what's Caesar's -- but don't give him what's Mine! If you give to Caesar what is actually God's, you are disobedient to Me. He might reward you for that with temporal rewards, but I will reward your disobedience to Me with eternal fire. May Caesar stick to what is rightfully his. However, you, my dear, beware that you do not give to him what is actually Mine. These two kingdoms are separate from one another: God's kingdom and Caesar's kingdom.”
26. You see the Lord God sets limits for everyone. There is a great difference between secular government and tyranny. A tyrant takes from the people as much as he can. The Lord God does not like that to happen. By saying, “…give to Caesar what is Caesar's…” He sets a limit to Caesar's demands. We are only to give to him what is rightfully his. The Lord Christ distinguishes between what is Caesar's and what is not. The Lord God did not create a secular government just for the sake of the authorities. He does not want them to create beggars through their greed. The government has the right to ask for taxes, but it has no right to ask for more and more.
27. In a state of emergency when you have to become a soldier in order to defend your country from enemies, you should do this; nobody should resist that. If there is no emergency, then the authorities have no right to rule like tyrants, and they have no right to overburden the people with taxes, etc. If Caesar asks for too much, he asks for what is not his and irritates God. God punishes tyrants; He does not let them go unpunished.
28. So much for today. May God give His mercy and grace to our authorities, and to us, so that both of us give to God what is rightfully His. If this happens, then Caesar also will get enough. Let us pray to God that He helps us to live a peaceful, God-pleasing life here on earth and be eternally blessed through our faith in Jesus Christ. May our dear Lord God grant us this through Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit. Amen