“Distinguishing Between God and Caesar”
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on Sunday, October 16, 2005. The text is the gospel lesson for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 22:15-22.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
our day we have as much problem distinguishing between God and Caesar as folks
did back in first century
Biblical vignette we have today comes from the 22nd chapter of
Matthew’s Gospel. Just two days before,
Jesus has entered
And so we come today’s lesson…
The Pharisees sent some disciples along with the Herodians to try to trap Jesus in his words. That question about paying taxes to Caesar. Is it lawful? They already knew the answer. This is the kind of question you ask when you want to inflict damage on the person who has to answer it publicly.
The Pharisees were nationalists who were opposed to Roman rule. If Jesus said “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” the Pharisees would denounce him. The Herodians supported the Roman rule with members of the Herod family as puppet rulers. If Jesus said, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” the Herodians would denounce him. These two opposing groups got together on this occasion to publicly embarrass Jesus.
this sound like current day
me tell you about the dilemma of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the 17th
century Lutheran pastor. He is the
called pastor to three congregations that are in or near
It is easier to talk about historical dilemmas than it is to talk about current-day dilemmas. That’s because we can walk on some folk’s cherished practices more easily if it is about today.
There is a church in
Am I stepping on any toes when I say to you this morning the words of Jesus: render to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Our first loyalty as Christians is to God. All other loyalties come after that. That includes our citizenship and family and friends and possessions and work. The first of the Ten Commandments is very clear on this: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. In other words, nothing else in all of life shall ever have equal allegiance from us as our allegiance to Almighty God.
You are I are citizens of
two kingdoms. We are citizens in this
world of the place and people where we live.
We believe that it is God who instituted civil government for the purpose
of keeping order and justice. We do well
to be good citizens. But we are citizens
Why did Jesus ask for a Roman coin, the denarius, on that occasion with the Pharisees and Herodians? Here’s why:
On one side was the portrait of Emperor Tiberias. On the other side in Latin were these words, “Tiberias Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.” The real rub for Jesus was not paying taxes; the real rub was the declaration that Tiberias was the son of God. The caesars demanded that loyal subjects treat them as gods.
Are there some things that you have mistakenly raised to equality with God in your life? Are you having problem distinguishing between God and Caesar? Is there some sorting out that needs to take place in order to get your allegiances and priorities straight again?
My hope and prayers is that we will always be wrestling with this issue of priorities. That is how Christian folks help one another as we pass through this world, a citizen of two kingdoms. May God help us.
In Jesus’ name.