(There are few topics in religious circles that generate more heat than that of the relationship between Church and State. Again and again the Supreme Court of our land has issued one decision after another – often contradicting each other – regarding the interplay of faith with the affairs of state. Should prayer be permitted in public schools? Should special creation have a place in the discussion regarding the beginning of life, or should evolution be the official state doctrine? Shall religious, Christian displays be permitted in the public squares of America? Can Christians wear cross jewelry or take a Bible to work with them? And on and on it goes. Frankly, it’s nothing new and it probably won’t go away anytime soon. In our text today, the Lord is approached by both the Pharisees and the Herodians, (two groups who usually didn’t like each other very much), to ask a question intended to trap Jesus in a “no-win” situation. “Should the Jews, (under Roman oppression), pay taxes to Caesar or not?” If Jesus responded negatively, the Herodians would turn him into Rome as a traitor. If He answered “yes”, the Pharisees would say that He sold out to the nation’s oppressors. Jesus’ response is a masterpiece! “…give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We too are citizens of two kingdoms: We are citizens of the United States of America and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. How do we deal with our dual-citizenship? Let us listen with care to the magnificent distinction that our Lord gives to those who would trap Him.
TWO MAJOR MISTAKES ARE MADE ABOUT BEING IN BOTH KINGDOMS:
Mistake # 1: “Our citizenship in the kingdom of God cancels out our citizenship in this world, therefore, let us withdraw from the world.”
From the third century, Monasticism was a reaction to moral laxity in the Church, and was also motivated my the ascetic lifestyles of Jesus and John the Baptist.
The reasoning behind Monasticism was simply that if a person removed themselves from the world and filled their days only with the things of God, then morality would improve.
Monasticism was and still is a life of rigid discipline with every moment of everyday involved in either labor or worship or meditation.
This strict asceticism could be done with a glad and sincere heart, in a spirit of genuine faith, but it often became a way of becoming righteous through personal behavior and thus making God happy with you.
Early in this nation’s history there have been groups that have become partial monastics and remain so to this day:
The Shaker movement on the east coast in the late 1700’s demanded the abolition of personal property and the celebate lifestyle.
Again, such legalism was less oriented toward the forgiveness of sins but toward right behavior.
In any of these examples, the complete with drawl of the church from the world makes it impossible to evangelize the world and cares for self above others.
Other than the Pharisees trying to trap our Lord, this was their desire too.
They wanted to circumscribe life in such rigid, Law oriented terms that the whole of Jewish society became “monastic”…the people of God removed from the world.
Mistake # 2: “Since God’s ways are good and right, the Kingdom of God should be established right here on earth.”
In 1118 AD, Pope Gelasius II issued a proclamation called, Duo Quippe Sunt, which claimed that all earthly power lay in the hands of the Pope – both the power of the state and the Church.
This way the world would be under control of the Church and it would have to conform to God’s will, as expressed by the Pope.
Needless to say, there were lots of rulers in the State who did not cooperate with this edict!
At the time of the Reformation, Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli established the rule of God in several Swiss cities under the law of the Church.
Once again, this was doomed to failure as local magistrates rebelled against such authoritarian rule.
Additionally, the staunchly Roman Catholic cantons of Switzerland defeated the forces Zwengli and he was killed in battle.
Today, in our own country, there are well-intended, but ill conceived ideas among God’s people that every effort should be made to make the laws of the nation be identical with the Law of God.
While we would concur that such laws would bring the Lord’s blessing, there is no indication in the Scriptures that it was God’s intent to make all nations “Christian nations”.
As the Christ addresses these concerns to, there is no attempt on His part to imply that Rome should amend it’s sinful ways and conform to the Laws of God.
What, therefore, is the meaning of the direction of Christ to, “…give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s?”
JESUS DRAWS THE RIGHT BALANCE ON THESE DIFFICULT ISSUES:
First, all earthly governments, regardless of their form, are divinely established.
God is the holder of all power and all authority, and He loans that to earthly governments of every kind to benefit the people. (Pr. 8:15-16) (Rom. 13:1)
Governments are held accountable to God for their performance.
The fall of governments is the hand of God in action.
Their function is clear:
Establishing laws, enforcing laws, and interpreting laws.
These things are to be done for the benefit of the people being governed.
Therefore, those things which citizens of a government are to give to “Caesar”, are those things which support this God-given role.
The paying of taxes.
Serving in various roles: political, military, voting, and the like.
What is not owed government is the allegiance we owe to God.
All of this is covered by the 4th Comm.: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and others in authority, but respect, obey, love, and serve them.”
On the other hand what is it that we as citizens of heaven are to give to God?
Our sincere thanksgiving to our Creator that we are given the opportunity to exist.
The most fundamental relationship of all: Creature to Creator.
Not only for life, but for all those things that support and enrich life.
Our sincere thanksgiving for His compassion on us sinners!
God did not write us off when humanity rebelled against us, but planned to save us from ourselves.
How can we be anything but thankfully awe-struck by the love of God in Christ Jesus?
Here is our God who is willing to lay down the life of His only Son so that we might forever be with Him!
Here is God, who loves us and prepares an eternal home for those who’s faith is in the payment for sins made by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our sincere thanksgiving to God, for the gifts of establishing His Church where we are strengthened and sustained in faith through Word and Sacrament.
Our sincere thanksgiving to God, who has prepared an eternal home for us forever with Him in heaven.
CONCLUSION: Never in the history of mankind has any human government been perfect. The power given government by God will always be abused by men who mistakenly think that the power they exercise belongs to them. Yet, let us give thanks for the imperfect blessing of government and do our best as Christian citizens to improve it. But never let us loose sight of the primary citizenship we hold in the Kingdom of God. Here at last will be the government of our dreams. At the end of this life, we shall experience the perfection of the government of God, but not until then. (ILLUS: In 1715, Louis XIV of France died. Louis, who called himself “the great”, was the monarch who made the infamous statement, “I am the State!” His court was the most magnificent in all of Europe, and his funeral was spectacular. His body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize the dead king’s greatness, orders had been given to dim the lights of the great cathedral, with only one candle set above his casket. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle, saying, “Only God is great!”Governments may be good or bad in this life. Let us remember that our great God is our final and perfect ruler. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (#575)
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