Bible Text: Matthew 22:15-22 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Trinity 2023 | Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not? Why would this be the question that catches Jesus? If He says, “No,” obviously they could hand him in to the authorities for insurrection – it’s illegal not to pay taxes. But why would He say no? What reason could Jesus possibly have for saying no, you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar? Because people don’t want to pay taxes, that’s why. You don’t want to. No one wants to part with money. And this is especially the case when you distrust your government, when you know that their using your money for ridiculous things, and worse, evil things, things that are against your religion. When you paid taxes to Caesar, you were paying taxes to upkeep temples to false gods and to promote the cult of Caesar, where everyone was required to call on Caesar as Lord and Savior and offer a pinch of incense to him as a god. So for Jesus to say, yes, go ahead, of course, pay taxes to Caesar, support this false worship, it wasn’t so easy. It’s the same reason a lot of Christians don’t want to hear it today, because your tax dollars do go to fund the slaughter of the innocent at planned parenthood and they do go to fund wars you can’t agree with and they do go to fund the teaching of the false religion of evolution in your public schools and the normalization of sodomy and fornication in sex ed classes. Do you want to give your money to that? I don’t. But take a look at your coins and at your bills that you use every day and see what inscription is on them, and give to your government the things of the government.
Give to Caesar the things of Caesar is Jesus’ perfect answer. Anything else would have gotten Him killed, either by the authorities or by the mob. The beauty is that Jesus intends to get killed by the authorities and the mob. But He will do so on His own terms. So many times they try to get Him on their terms. Every single time He puts them down. He’s showing us here that He lays down His life because He wants to. No one takes my life from Me, He says, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again. So when Jesus is finally arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He literally has to compel them to arrest Him. I am He, He says. Take Me. He dies not as some accident of history, but as planned from eternity, the God-Man who loves you and wants to suffer for you and reconcile His Father to you and free you from the bondage of sin and the fear of death and deliver you into His Kingdom where you live before God in innocence and purity now and forever.
But this isn’t the Savior the Jews wanted. They wanted a savior who would overthrow Caesar. What else could Isaiah mean when he says that the nations will come groveling to Jerusalem? Even Jesus’ disciples expected this from Him, to save them from the Romans. And this isn’t peculiar to the Jews. At the time of the Reformation, when the blessed Martin Luther brought the Gospel to light again, and after so much darkness and ignorance and spiritual despair, he showed people with utter clarity who their Savior was and that forgiveness of sins and everlasting life were totally secured by His sufferings and death and resurrection, that there is absolutely nothing we need to do, but God gives this salvation freely to us in the Word of forgiveness and in the body and the blood and adopts us as His own children in Baptism, when Luther preached that, the majority yawned. They did. And they chased after a different freedom. Other preachers arose immediately and told them want they wanted – the poor wanted the rich’s land, the politically oppressed wanted equality with their oppressors, and they found preachers who would tell them that Jesus would free them from all their earthly poverty and all their social injustice. And this is exactly what we have in our time too. People want a political Savior. Sometimes Jesus gets preached as the Republican Savior who will free you from high taxes and usher in economic prosperity through capitalism and hard work. And sometimes He gets preached as the liberal Savior who champions redistribution of wealth to the poor and open borders for immigrants. Why? Because this is the Savior people want, the one who satisfies their lust for money and control and power and earthly gain. Whether on the right or the left, it’s all the same. And this desire for a false Savior resides in your sinful heart. So listen to Jesus.
Because Jesus responds with a decided, I don’t care. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I don’t care. Now He does care, and we’ll talk about that in a bit. But the first answer that needs to come from Jesus is, “Get first things first. You think Caesar’s taxes are a burden? You think the government is oppressing you? You think this is what you need freedom from, this is what you need a Savior from? This is weighing you down? Don’t you feel the weight of your own sin? Don’t you have a far heavier burden that weighs on your conscience and on your very soul? Don’t you see that the evil and corruption in your heart weighs you down to hell itself, that it separates you from your God and Creator, that the wages of sin, the weight of sin, is death?” Come unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy laden, burdened not with taxes, not with political oppression, but with sin and death and the devil, and I will give you rest. I will yoke you to Myself, Jesus says, Take My yoke upon you, and I will give you My righteousness, My sonship, My inheritance, a clean conscience, and you will see that I have paid a far greater debt than Israel can owe to Rome or the United States can pay to China, I pay with My blood and My suffering for your sin, and I reconcile you to God. Know that, seek that, look into the depths of hell and see that I bore that, and then you will see what it means to be free and to have riches and contentment that no man can take from you now or forever.
That’s the first thing. Don’t thirst after a political Savior. Jesus will not be that. Render to God the things that are God’s, and God’s thing, His first thing, what He desires above everything else, is that you are reconciled to Him, that your sins are washed away in Christ’s blood, that you call on Him as Father and know His love pray to Him and live with Him as His child now and forever. For this, the Father sent His Son. For this, the Son took on your flesh and blood and lived for you and suffered for you and rose to life for you. For this, the Spirit now cries in the Gospel and in the Supper and in the baptismal waters. This is why we pray, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, all before we pray for our daily bread. Seek ye first, first, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and everything else will be added to you. Only then will you see that Jesus cares even about the trivial things, even about this fallen nation, even about your taxes and your food and the care of your body in this short life.
Christians have always made the best citizens for two reasons. First, our Lord tells us to live moral lives and that’s what most governments want, moral citizens who won’t steal or cheat or murder or slander, but will work hard and respect authority. Second, our Lord tells us specifically to obey our government, to render to Caesar the things of Caesar, and we obey our Lord.
It is a privilege, an honor, to obey our Lord. He’s our Master. Don’t stress about taxes – my property taxes went up 80% or something this year, ridiculous – but Jesus tells me to render to Caesar the things of Caesar, and it is a beautiful thing to obey my Lord. Think this way. You get to confess to your Lord with every ridiculous tax you pay that you’d pay more, twice as much, if He asked you to, because you know He’ll take care of you despite it all. Of course He will. He’s laid down His life for you; the Father has given His Son for you and has secured for you everlasting life in body and soul; how will He not care for your body and make sure you have the stuff you need?
And this means that we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Now we live in a representative Republic, which basically means that you as citizens and voters are part of the government. You can replace your leaders by your votes. So it is a noble thing to be involved in the political process, to try to get moral people elected, who will encourage hard work, who will uphold the sanctity of human life and of marriage between one man and one woman, who will lower your taxes even. Jesus isn’t discouraging that at all. He is saying two things – don’t make it your obsession and don’t disobey the legitimate laws of your government. By obeying your government you are obeying your God. Do it with honor.
But there are things that don’t belong to Caesar and that Caesar can’t claim and that you may never give to Caesar, because they belong to God. It doesn’t belong to Caesar to raise your children. That belongs to mom and dad. The family is a divine institution, a God thing, God gives it to parents to raise their children. So you may not give it up to the public school system (or the private school system for that matter). You need to teach your children what the truth of the Bible is and raise them in the true faith and discipline them and show them the fatherly and motherly love which is the reflection of God’s own love for them. Use schools and teachers to help, but they can’t raise your kids for you. God speaks to parents and says, “Raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” So render to the home what God has given to the home, not to Caesar.
And even more, it does not belong to Caesar to rule over your soul. That belongs to Jesus and He exercises His rule in His Church, where He feeds you with His Word and His body and blood. The government may not intrude on this. Ever. This isn’t just a right guaranteed by our US Constitution. This is a divine right, written into nature and proclaimed clearly by our Lord Jesus. No government, no king, no president, no governor or health secretary or executive order ever gets to tell you that you may not worship your Lord Jesus as He has taught you to worship Him. I will never tire of telling you to learn the lesson of Covid. Because it will happen again. We cannot ever render to the government what belongs only to God. God tells us to meet together; God tells us to take eat and drink of the cup of Jesus’ blood, and it is our greatest privilege to render to God the things of God. If the government tells us to disobey God, we do not render to Caesar the things that belong to God. We answer with the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men.”
It is Jesus Himself who speaks as Wisdom in Proverbs 8, where He says, “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by Me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.” It is a gift of your Lord to have wise leaders and faithful rulers. So seek this from Him and pray for your government and strive to be faithful citizens. But know that in the end, all things come from Jesus. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. Of Him and to Him and by Him are all things. He will take care of our bodies, even through a corrupt government, and He will take down tyrants and avenge the injustices of wicked leaders – vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.
But He will work it all for His chosen ones, for His dear Bride the Church, because she, we, are the apple of His eye, and she is what He cares for and what He works all things to strengthen and preserve. He has laid down His life for His Church and given His Spirit to us and cleansed us of every stain and presented us pure before Him. So it is to Him, as a faithful Bride, that we submit and whom we love and honor above all things, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.