[Matthew 22:15-22] Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Man Owes His Whole Self to God
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” We rightly believe and teach, from this word of our Lord, that we are, in fact, as Christians, commanded by the Lord to live our lives subject to the governing authorities.
Jesus did not teach an anti-government message, and the Scriptures are not cynical or negative about governing leaders. Instead, Jesus our Lord teaches that we do indeed owe something to governing authorities.
What all do we owe the governing authorities in our nation, our state, and locally? Scripture’s spells out clearly what we owe: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities… Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” [Romans 13:1,7]
“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” [1 Peter 13-14,17]
This is not a popular teaching, maybe especially among those of our own political leanings, but it is what God’s Word teaches, popular or not. According to God’s Word, we owe subjection to rulers. And we owe revenue and respect and honor.
“Honor the emperor.” “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” These emperors and Caesars were not necessarily honorable people, but they were still to be honored. These rulers – whether emperors or local rulers, such as Pontius Pilate – did not always uphold godly beliefs or right policies. In fact, they were pagans who did not honor the true God. And the Caesars and governors of that day did not always come into office through honorable means, but sometimes through nasty politics, deception, bribes, and violence.
Nevertheless, God commands, “Honor them. Respect them. Be subject to their laws, except when their law conflicts with mine.” Give to Caesar what is owed to Caesar.
Why are we subject to rulers? Because God is at work in the world through them – sometimes with His grace; sometimes with His wrath. Scripture tells us: “… For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed… For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath… for the authorities are ministers of God… For he is God's servant for your good.” [Romans 13:1-2,4,6]
God is the God and Ruler of all things. In civil government, God uses sinners and gives good and bad rulers to bless and to discipline us. In God’s wisdom, both the good and the bad work out for our good.
But what do we not give to our governing authorities? We do not give to governing authorities that which we owe to God alone. “Render to God the things that are God’s.” What do we render to God?
The coin which had Caesar’s image and Caesar’s name inscribed on it belonged to Caesar. What in this world has God’s image and God’s name inscribed on it? You! Your whole self. Body and soul. Our complete self is God’s.
To God belongs our very self and our whole self - our heart, our mind and soul, our belief, our love, our trust, and our ultimate loyalty. To governing authorities I owe certain actions – honor, obedience, respect – but to God I owe me, my whole self. Man owes his whole self to God as God’s special possession.
By the fall into sin, we are fallen from God’s image, but, in Baptism, God’s image begins to be restored in us. And by Baptism God’s name is placed on you as a seal of ownership. You are His. Sinner though you be, He has purchased you at the cost of His own Son. You are His. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are rendered unto Him.
What does being rendered to God look like? Daily repentance from our mountain of sin, striving to believe God’s Word, a holy life lived according to God’s Word. Not by our own doing. But the death and resurrection of Jesus is in you, active and moving, daily and richly forgiving your sins, and continually rendering you up to God just as He Himself was rendered.
We render, in this world, that subjection and honor we owe to man. But we are being forever rendered unto God – our whole self. This is the work of Christ in you.
We should be careful, therefore, that we do not render unto man – even unto our leaders – what we owe to God. Your political leaders get your obedience and taxes. They do not get your heart and your faith. If they do, we’ve made them into an idol, false worship.
It’s just as we sometimes sing, “I’m But a Stranger Here, Heaven Is My Home”. We are “strangers and pilgrims on earth”, and “our citizenship is in heaven” – “and from heaven we await a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20]
We have each indeed fallen far short of giving to God all that which belongs to God. And we have each misplaced our faith at times. None of can claim we’ve managed to give our whole selves to God in this life. And none of our loved ones have. No one has. And even God’s name on us is sometimes sullied by us.
JESUS CHRIST ALONE HAS ACCOMPLISHED WHAT HE COMMANDED IN TODAY’S GOSPEL. That’s the essential point to understand. Again, Jesus Christ alone has accomplished what He commanded.
Jesus Christ alone gave perfect obedience in this world to civil authority, when He subjected Himself to Pontius Pilate. And Jesus Christ alone has given His whole self to God the Father, completely.
Jesus gave this full offering of His self to God – not for Himself alone – but for you. Jesus came to be our High Priest. A priest gives an offering on behalf of others. And Jesus alone is the sufficient offering for all – Jesus is the express image of the Father, God’s perfect likeness. [Hebrews 1:3]
What Jesus rendered unto God in His own self-offering, He rendered on your behalf as your High Priest. For you, and indeed for all people, what is owed has been given. So that all people can look at Jesus on the cross and say, “That was given for me. What I owe has been rendered in Him.”
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And render to God what is God’s – everything. Let’s give thanks daily that Jesus has rendered it all to God for us who couldn’t, and that, in Him, even we ourselves are now being rendered to God day by day. Amen.