Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Date: Pentecost XIX Proper 24 + 10/19/14
“Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? I do, by the grace of God. Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? I do, by the grace of God” (Confirmation, LSB 273). So you said, so you pledged at the confirmation of your Holy Baptism.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” (Pledge of Allegiance of the United States). So you said, so you promised hand over heart or with a proud salute.
Two pledges of allegiance, one to God and one to the nation in which we live. This is the order of things as Christians living in this world. For others it may be only the latter or for insurrectionists even neither at all. Today we hear our Lord Jesus answer those who plotted how to entangle Him in his talk, asking with coyness, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” With that answer Jesus turned their malicious intent around to stab their hearts. “When they heard it, they marveled,” that is, they were taken by surprise. “And they left him and went away.” But not for long, of course. For this was still Tuesday of Holy Week. And they would be back; back not with more questions, but with Judas and a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and with lanterns and torches and weapons” [John 18:3]. When Pontius Pilate sought to release Jesus these cried out, saying, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s?) Finally, Pilate asks the angry crowd, “Shall I crucify your King?” to which they all cried out “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:12-16). And isn’t that the creed of every unbeliever?
We know and acknowledge according to this dictum that we Christians have Dual Citizenship. Jesus once prayed for us, saying, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16), that is, in Christ we are not the world’s possession but God’s.
Nevertheless we still live in this fallen world. As long as we live therefore we have these two obligations to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It may seem easy enough to decide what things belong to the secular government and what things belong to God. Trouble happens whenever Caesar, the secular government, overreaches its proper, God given authority, to demand anything of us in the spiritual realm. Think of the so-called State Churches of Europe. Or think of the recent controversy over our government’s demand that Christians support abortion or even more recently of recognizing same-sex marriage. To be fair I suppose the reverse is true, too, when a religious institution overreaches its proper, God given authority, to demand anything of the entire citizenry in the secular realm. Once again this also could be the case with so-called State Churches that require financing from everyone regardless of their religious confession.
Yet there is something more here. For St. Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “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” (Rom 13:1). In the book of Daniel it is written, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan 2:20-21), even as we heard in Isaiah this morning how God chose to work through Cyrus king of Persia (Is 45:1-7).
Ultimately, you see, Cyrus doesn’t endure. Caesar doesn’t endure. Both the scoundrels, heretics and tyrants of the past as well as the heroes and deliverers they are all gone. Ultimately, you see, everything in the end belongs to God! He has the last word. The good news is that you can know what His last word will be because He has clearly revealed it in the sacred scriptures and spoken it into your ears with “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Knowing that, for now we endure even when liberty or justice is denied us, and when false teachers would lure us or force us away from the truth with desirable sounding lies. To the world we appear oddly out of step, behind the times, small and weak, unsuccessful. Those who allow the world’s agenda and wisdom to rule “get in step” with the changing times and boast of their progressiveness, growth and strength. But in doing so they have mixed the things of Caesar with the things of God and risk losing both.
You see the same mockery and opposition Jesus endured also comes against us, and yes, sometimes to our ignominious defeat and even death. So, as the Apostle Peter warned us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). For when His glory is revealed it will be for your glory too! For God has said, “’I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” be he scoundrel, heretic or tyrant.
So pledge allegiance for now to Caesar but for now and forever to God, and the God of peace will be with you.