This time, instead of approaching Jesus themselves, they decide to send some undercover spies, some people that Jesus does not know or recognize, at least that is what they are attempting. They know that they will get no where if they try to trick Him, so they recruit some of their disciples to approach Jesus to trick Him. But, of course, Jesus is on to them. (Hey, He is Jesus. He is all knowing.) Their idea is to present Jesus with a question of such a nature that if He answers one way He will set Himself at odds with the government officials and make them suspicious of Him, and if He answers another way He will offend another, His own people. In their own opinion, either way, Jesus is trapped into getting Himself in trouble and that will take care of Him for them.
These recruited disciples begin with flattery, certainly an attempt to build up Jesus’ ego so that He might be caught off guard and trapped. They begin with, “Teacher, we know 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. Tell us, then, what you think” (v. 16). Notice several things about this flattery. First they call Him “Teacher” because He does teach others, yet, notice their sarcasm as they do not like what He is teaching. It is rather ironic that the words they use are words of truth, yet they are not words which they believe. “We know that you are true” and we know that you “teach the way of God truthfully.” Neither of these might be said of those who are asking the question. Second, there is irony in the words “you do not care about anyone’s opinion” and here I would emphasis the word opinion. I would suggest that there may have been a note of sarcasm in their expression when saying these words, especially since they believed that Jesus did not care about their “opinion,” which really bugged them. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law expected others to give them certain privileges and respect because of who they are and they do not like the fact that Jesus does not understand that He is supposed to do this too. Finally, notice that they do not ask Him to tell them the truth in the matter they are going to present, but they are only asking for His “opinion.” As if this matters to them as we will see.
And now comes the loaded question. The question they ask is this, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (V. 17). It is almost as if they are asking, “have you ever been caught cheating on your taxes?” “Have you ever been caught beating your children?” “Have you ever been caught beating your spouse?” The thought behind their question is this: If Jesus answers that they should not be paying taxes to Caesar, the people will love Him, but they can then turn Him over to the Romans as a traitor. If He answers that, yes, they should be paying taxes to Caesar, then the Romans will have no problems with Him, but the people will turn against Him because they do not like paying taxes to Caesar. What a dilemma they believe they have set for Him.
Jesus, being God, being all knowing, sees right through their plan. “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax” (v. 18b, 19a). “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (v. 20). Jesus calls them what they are, hypocrites. The word means “actor.” They are acting like they want Jesus “opinion.” But Jesus, rather than run from their question, and their trap, meets them head on. Show me a coin He says.
They find a coin and they answer His questions. On the coin is the image of Caesar and the inscription is also an inscription giving evidence that it is a coin of Caesar and the Roman empire. There is no mistake, it is a coin belonging to the Roman government. We could look at one of our own coins. We have images of past presidents as well as buildings, memorials, and the like on our own monies. The inscriptions we have are also inscriptions having to do with the things of our country.
Jesus’ answer to their question then is this, “Therefor render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21). Simple enough. If it has Caesar’s name on it, it must be his, give it to him. If it has God’s name on it, give it to God, it must be His.
Our parable this morning reminds us of several important facts. One fact of which we are reminded is that we should never underestimate God or in this case, His Son, Jesus. He is all knowing and all seeing. He knows what is in our hearts and on our minds, even before we speak or ask.
More implied than directly stated in this parable is the fact that God gives. He gives all things. He gives faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gives families. He gives food and drink. He gives house and home, monies and goods. He gives good governments. He gives all things and we are the ones to whom He gives. And He gives without expecting anything in return. As a matter of fact, He even goes so far as to give us His son and the life of His Son for ours.
Here and in other places in the Bible we are reminded that God gives government. Certainly we would agree that not all governments are Christian governments, but all governments are from God because the main purpose of all governments is to bring order to the land, which brings peace to the people. Without governments there would be only anarchy and chaos, thus no peace. Thus, governments are given for the sake of law and order and peace in the land.
Here and in other places in the Bible we are reminded that we are to support our government. We are to pay our taxes to keep our government going. Again, government is a gift from God for the keeping of good order and peace in the land. Yes, we are to pay our taxes. We are still to give to the government the things that belong to the government (just look on a coin) and we are to give to God the things that are God’s.
I do not want to sound like a broken record, or should I say, CD, but God gives to us all that we need. Here I would refer you to the Apostles’ Creed and the explanations to the articles of the Creed. In the explanation to the first article we list God’s gifts as “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” In the second article we list the fact that we believe that it is Jesus “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” And finally, in the third article we confess that we believe that “the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” And all this He does because of His great love for us.
No, today is not “Stewardship Sunday,” and I am not one for preaching stewardship sermons. I believe that if I preach the Gospel, you will be motivated, by that Gospel, to give. I also believe in preaching the text and this text does speak about stewardship, that is it speaks about how we are to be good stewards of all that God gives to us. With this text it is only fitting and proper that we should come to some understanding from this parable that we will want to return our first fruits to the Lord according to what He has first given to us. That is what is meant by “giving to God the things that are God’s.”
Have you ever been caught stealing from God? That is not the type of question we like to hear. And we might think that this questions is a loaded question and we would rather not answer it. The task that is before us, according to this parable is this: Do we recognize the gifts that God gives? And if we do, how do we respond? Do we respond begrudgingly? Do we respond joyfully? Do we respond according to whether or not we like the pastor and what he is preaching or doing? Do we respond to how we are treated in church or in the world? Do we respond just by giving our leftovers, our change, or our collection? Or, do we respond with our lives, living lives of faith, as priests serving God by serving others?
We get it right when we start with God. God gives and we are given to. God gives faith, forgiveness and eternal life. And God motivates in us a response of faith. Because we are conceived and born in sin, our first response to what God gives is usually a response of sin, to sin in thought, word and deed, to sin sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing and sins of omission, failing to do what we should be doing, like living lives as priest, serving God by serving others. And so, God’s response to our sin was to give the life of His Son. Jesus came to live perfectly for us in our place because we cannot be perfect. Jesus came to take our sins and pay the price of our sin because we cannot. Jesus died and rose for our forgiveness and eternal life. So now, moved by God, our response to God’s gifts, moved by God, is to give our lives and I do not necessarily mean in death, but that we give ourselves while we live to Him. Only as we give ourselves to Him will we be able to share with Him anything else of which He has first given to us. Again, it all begins with God, He first gives to us and stirs in us. Yet, once we have given ourselves to Him, which we do only with His help, then we will be able to joyfully give of our first fruits, our tithes and our offerings, while at the same time, giving to the government the taxes that we owe. Thus, as we fail to joyfully give of our first fruits, tithes and offerings, it shows that we have failed to give ourselves to the Lord and that we are instead refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give.
God is the prime mover and He continues weekly and daily to give to us, to stir in us, to move us to be the people He would have us to be. And He does this, stirs and works in us through the very means He has given us to do this work, His means of grace. As we make regular and diligent us of His means of grace, as we do every Sunday at divine service, He gives to us, pours out on us and lavishes us with all His good gifts and blessings and stirs in us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. And in so doing we will be witnessing our faith and we will be saying, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.