Monday, October 17, 2011

Jesus Renders Unto You

+ 18th Sunday after Pentecost – October 16, 2011 +
Text: Matthew 22:15-22

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

            You wouldn’t want to play Jesus in a game of chess. But for some reason, the Pharisees always seem to try. The Passover is near. They’re gathered in the temple. It’s Holy Week. The plot to kill Jesus is being hatched even as they plot this little game of entrapment. Everyone’s gathered for the big match: the power-hungry Herodians and the oh-so righteous Pharisees. A strange alliance proving that even in Jesus’ day, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
            So they sent their disciples to Jesus. The game is on. 1st move:

            The Pharisees blow a little smoke up Jesus’ tunic with sarcasm thick enough to build another wall around Jerusalem: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you don’t care about anyone’s opinion, you are not swayed by appearances.”
           2nd move. Check. “What do you think, Jesus, is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar, or not?” Good move. Jesus is trapped between Rome and Jerusalem. If Jesus says no, the Herodians get all upset: “He’s a traitor to Rome, an insurrectionist, a tax-cheat and a threat to national security – why, he may even claim to be king.” If Jesus says yes, he’s a traitor to his own people, a Roman loyalist, and a supporter of the occupying foreigners, an enemy of Israel and an enemy of God.
            They think they have Jesus right where they want him.

            Or is it the other way around? Jesus has them right where he wants them. Think you can out-wit and out-play Jesus? “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites, you - two faced liars and pretenders. Show me the money. Bring me the coin for the tax.”
            “Whose image, icon or likeness is on the coin? Whose inscription?”
            “Well, then. There’s your answer. Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. It’s his image, his inscription. So give him the coin.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He’s got one final move.
            “Render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things that are God’s.” Checkmate.
            Jesus avoids the trick question and catches the Pharisees in their own trap. Give to God the things that belong to God.

            So what, exactly, is God’s? If the coins are Caesar’s because they bear his image and inscription, then what, or rather who, bears God’s image and inscription? Caesar gets the coin. But what does God get? Follow Jesus’ illustration all the way through. Who bears God’s image? What has God’s inscription written on it?

            You do!  You are made in the image and likeness of God. Yes you are marked by sin and death from Adam. Yes the law is inscribed on your heart and it condemns you all the more. But your Baptism – your 2nd birth - bails you out of your first birth. You are Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, who has taken your sin, death and condemnation. God writes his inscription in blood and water on your forehead and on your heart: “Forgiven. Saint. Holy.” You are marked and branded by Christ Crucified. God doesn’t want your coin. God doesn’t demand taxes. He wants you. And not just part of you. All of you. Your heart, soul, mind and strength. Your fear, love and trust. He wants you.

            It’s quite different when it comes to taxes, however. What’s the bare minimum payment I can make and stay out of jail? Loopholes, credits and deductions. Avoid, not evade taxes, that’s the key. In the end you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but not a penny more.
            But that’s exactly how we – and the Pharisees - end up using God’s Law too. What’s the least common denominator when it comes to the 10 commandments? When the Law says, “Love your neighbor.” You’ll ask, “Well, who’s my neighbor?” And then define it so narrowly you can keep it perfectly and pat yourself on the back.
            We treat God the same way – like a divine IRS agent. Render to God the things that belong to God. What does that mean? How much? 10, maybe 15% to show how generous I am. What’s the bare minimum I can give God and stay off the naughty list this Sunday, this week, this year? I’ll put in my tax - 10% of time, talent and treasure and get on God’s good-side.
            Counting. Keeping score. Numbers, charts and percentages – that’s all Law. That may work in Caesar’s realm, but not in God’s. The kingdom of God doesn’t work by the Law. It’s Upside down, inside out, and sometimes just plain crazy.  The last are first, the first are last. Losers are winners, and tax collectors and prostitutes slip through the pearly gates ahead of life-long Lutherans.  Jesus doesn’t just want 10% of you in his kingdom, he wants all of you. And He is restless until He has all of you - your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength, your fear, your love, your trust.

            Have you rendered unto God the things that are God’s? No. You haven’t. You won’t give it. You can’t. You and I are so wrapped up in ourselves that we won’t give to God the things that are his. It’s my time. My treasure. My talent. Mine. Mine. Mine. You can’t have it God. I’ll give you every other Sunday and an hour a week. But the rest of the day – the rest of the week is mine. And don’t you dare interfere with my plans. Repent. The law has no loopholes or credits, only punishment and death. God wants everything, your whole life and you won’t give it up.
            But he knows that. He knew the Pharisees were hypocrites and he knows we are too. That’s exactly why Jesus comes to rescue, save, suffer and die for you. Have you rendered unto God the things that are God’s? No. More importantly Jesus gives to God the things that are God’s for us who haven’t. His perfect obedience. His perfect life. His perfect death. He does it all for you. Jesus, the image and likeness of God nailed to the cross, there’s the coin of the kingdom: Christ crucified for you. Whose inscription does this sacred fleshly coin bear? Yours. Your sin and death, engraved by Roman nails in Jesus’ hands, feet and side. On the cross, Jesus renders to God what is God’s and to you what is His. Your punishment is His. His blessing is yours. Your sin is His. His forgiveness is yours. Your death is His. His life is yours. All of Christ – his perfect, fear, love and trust in God – for you. All of Christ, his heart, soul, strength and mind - is spent on saving you. Jesus loves his neighbor as himself – even better than Himself - He loves you to death, literally.
            Debt settled. Penalty paid. Eternal amnesty. Jesus is the sacrifice offered up, perfectly, once and for all, for you. Game over. It is finished. The Law is fulfilled. Not partially. Not 10 or 15%. Not by loophole or deduction. But by His holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. That you may be his own and live under him in his kingdom.

            For Caesar’s kingdom is coming to its end. Rome burned and collapsed. So will our nation one day. And that coin of Caesar Jesus used as an object lesson is now a museum piece and a bulletin cover. An artifact of history. The kingdom that once proudly and defiantly stood behind it is no more. The same is true of our pennies, nickels and dimes. Just like all earthly governments – they are temporary. The kingdoms of this world and all their famous images will die. They serve the purpose of the law. That’s why God sets them up. And the end of the Law is always death.
            But the kingdom of God has come among us in the flesh and blood of Jesus...His kingdom comes with His dying and rising.  His kingdom has no coin because there are no transactions in his kingdom.  No deals to cut. No taxes to pay. No tariffs or duties. It is all free, grace, gift, gratis, thanks to the king who hung on a cross to reign. 
            This kingdom has no end. Jesus comes to you in His kingdom - his image and likeness, his very body and blood - here on the altar. And his kingdom will come down from heaven on the world’s Last Day as Christ gathers to himself everything that belongs to God. To gather you, his children, created, redeemed, baptized and made holy in the image of His eternal Son and your names inscribed forever in the Lamb’s book of life.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.


  1. awesome message. Praise God for His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness through our risen Christ!

  2. Jan,
    Thanks for your comments, encouragement and for reading! Blessings in Christ.