The prepared sermon text for this morning’s message mixing religion and politics 🙂 is below. It might mix religion and politics, but it doesn’t confuse the kingdom of heaven with the kingdoms of people. You can find the audio at this link. You will notice differences with the prepared text below. I would note that during the children’s message we looked at the “propaganda” on the dollar bill and then I encouraged everyone to put the dollar bill they were looking at into the offering plate. As always, lines with a strike-through are there for organizational purposes but are not read aloud. Next Sunday we will look at the last five verses of Luke 22. I also encouraged everyone to read Luke 20 and 22 in preparation. A list of the passages we will examine for the rest of Lent is available from http://revmarple.com/fish-story/
An old adage says, “Talk to me about anything except religion and politics!” The fact that you are here today suggests that you do not mind hearing about religion—though some might cringe every time it seems to get political. Some people hate it when that happens, even though your faith should always make a difference in your politics. No doubt some of that antipathy to mixing faith and politics is that too often people have confused the kingdom of God with the political parties or kingdoms of men. But spies for the scribes and chief priests wanted to really mix it up – they came to Jesus not only with a religious question but a political one. It was a trick question. “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” If Jesus says that it is not lawful, according to the law of God, to give tribute to Caesar then He could be handed over to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor and put to death for inciting rebellion. If Jesus says that it is lawful then He would lose His popularity with the people who hated paying taxes to the Romans and the people would no longer stand in the way of the scribes and chief priests seeking His death. This is why they presented it as a yes/no question – neither option was a good one for Jesus – but Jesus sees it as a false choice as often happens when people confuse the kingdom of heaven with the kingdoms of men, so He will not give a yes or no answer. And a yes or no answer would miss a far more important issue than the question is asking. Listen to how Jesus handled the situation:
- Jesus’ answer is render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
- But the main opponents of Jesus were more concerned with Caesar’s kingdom than God’s kingdom. If you asked them, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar?” they would have to say, “Yes.” They participated in the Roman economic and political system. This is why they would be carrying a denarius. In fact, the scribes and chief priests did more than just participate in this system they even collected the tribute for Rome and the currency they would use to pay it would be the denarius. So Jesus says to the spies, “Show me a denarius.” And when they produce one we know that Jesus is charging the religious leadership of Israel with being about the business of Rome and not the kingdom of God. What the scribes and chief priests were doing was incredibly unpopular. One of the themes of the Old Testament Prophets was that the nation of Israel should not have paid tribute to other nations for protection but instead should have trusted God. So for many people this was a real question of conscience. They hated that Israel was an occupied nation under Roman control. But the religious leaders of Israel were collaborators with Rome. (Given the way that we use the word hypocritical today, it would be a good description of the scribes and chief priests here.) Collaborating with Rome was one extreme position at that time. At the other extreme were the Zealots who wanted to rebel against Rome and did not want to pay the tribute. But Jesus refused to join either extreme. Jesus did not have a denarius on Him and He didn’t want to lead an open revolt. Jesus was not a political revolutionary but a religious reformer. He was a different kind of leader—a different kind of king. (And when the spies produced a denarius, like a good teacher Jesus asks them “Whose likeness and inscription does it have?)
- The denarius has the likeness and inscription of Caesar. You will remember from the Christmas story, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). Caesar Augustus at one point had himself proclaimed as divine and added to the name he used at the time, “Son of the Divine.” But Augustus died in the year A.D. 14 and his son Tiberius became the new emperor. In the ancient world money was often a common form of propaganda. And the denarius was no exception. It had the likeness of Caesar Tiberius on it and it had an inscription that read, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” So the denarius itself is making a political and religious statement. It also is making a statement of ownership. The denarius belongs to Caesar. It is his currency. And Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The denarius belongs to Caesar, give it to him. (Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. What belongs to God? Everything, even the denarius belongs to God, but in a special sense all human beings, even Caesar belong to God, because we are made in the image of God.)
- Human beings have the likeness and inscription of God. The denarius had the image of Caesar and so it belonged to Caesar. Human beings are made in the image of God and so we belong to God. You do not need to have stamped on your skin, “Belongs to God.” You have been created in the image of God. Caesar Augustus’ claims to the contrary none of us are divine, only Christ. Caesar Tiberius’ claims to the contrary none of us are the Son of God. Caesar is not Lord, Jesus Christ is Lord. Furthermore, Christ is the exact imprint of God’s nature. As the Apostle Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). But while we are not divine we are all children of God created in the image of God. We have God’s likeness and so we belong to God. Indeed, Christ could take on human flesh because we are made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s is a minor point. Sure the denarius belongs to Caesar, though ultimately it too belongs to God. But even Caesar belongs to God. And so do you. So render to God the things that are God’s. Render yourselves and all that you have to God. (How do we render ourselves to God?)
- We are to follow Jesus who rendered Himself to God even through His death on the cross.
- [Jesus rendered Himself to God even through His death on the cross.] This scene foreshadows the false charge that the religious authorities will make to Pilate concerning Jesus. They will say that Jesus was “misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar” (Luke 23:2). We will look at that passage in a couple weeks. But for now, I just want you to see that this scene is preparing us for His trial and death. Indeed, Jesus was rendering to God the things that are God’s when they tried to trap him with questions like this and Jesus was rendering to God the things that are God’s when He was being tried, and Jesus was rendering to God the things that are God’s while on the cross dying for us. He was rendering up Himself to God by that sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. He gave all of Himself for us. That is what it means to render ourselves to God.
- Thus we who trust in Jesus will follow Jesus and not hold anything back but render ourselves completely to God. And God teaches us how to do this. When we pay taxes, it is out of submission to God because God put those authorities in our lives. When we render to Caesar respect and honor, it is because we honor and reverence above all else the true God. Jesus is encouraging us to get beyond the political questions because they are only secondary concerns. The primary rule is the kingdom of God. And the rule of God is far more important than the nations of the earth. Jesus did not come to set up a kingdom like the nations, He did not come as to be that kind of king. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has brought the kingdom of God amongst us. He is the kingdom Himself. We do not need to ask, “Is it lawful for us to render to God the things that are God’s?” It fulfills the law to render yourselves and all that you have to God – the law that has been summarized as “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” So you render your all to God – all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. You give to God what is already His. Rendering to God the things that are God’s looks like the Christian who uses all of their money and possessions for God’s purposes – not just the portion you pay the state, not just the portion you put in the offering plate, but all one hundred percent is for the purposes God has for it. When this grips you, then you will look at money differently. Rendering to God the things that are God’s looks like the Christian who uses their time wisely – taking time to rest, taking time to enjoy family, taking time to study Scripture, taking time to pray, taking time to serve others. You will even learn to look at time differently. Rendering your all to God looks like the Christian who loves and worships and honors God not just on Sunday morning but with everything that you do. We render it all to God rejoicing because Jesus rendered His all for us. Indeed, we have been rendered to God because we have been purchased by the blood of Jesus. That’s why we find ourselves doing these things – we belong to God not only because He is our Creator but now also because He is our Redeemer. We still stand in this creation and live in the kingdoms of the world but we also stand in the new creation and the kingdom of heaven. We might even say that our old selves belonged to God as our Creator but the fall marred the image of God in us. But our new selves belong to God as our Redeemer and that’s why we can image God to the world around us. Jesus is Lord—behold, He is making all things new. Glory, power, and honor be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alone! Amen.