15 Then the Pharisees went and took counsel to entangle Him in His words. 16 They sent their disciples to Him with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God truthfully, and are swayed by no one. For You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, “Why test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.” They brought Him a denarius. 20 He said to them, “Whose is this image and inscription?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard these words, they were amazed, and left Him and went on their way.
17 Brothers, become fellow imitators with me and observe those who walk according to our example. 18 For many are walking in such a way that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. I have told you of them often and tell you again, even weeping. 19 Their destination is destruction, their god is their appetite, their glory is in their shame, their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, from where also we await for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our body of humiliation, so that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working of His power even to subdue all things to Himself.
Though the legal challenges continue, we in the United States of America have just held a general election and through it, God appoints earthly rulers to rule over us and to preserve peace and civil order among us.
The Scriptures reveal to us God’s purpose in placing civil rulers over us.
In 1 Peter 2:13-17, we read: “Submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to governors, as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and to praise those who do right. For it is the will of God that by doing right you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. As free people, do not use your liberty as a covering for evil, but live as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, we read: “Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
So, we see that God gives us rulers to punish evildoers and praise those who do what is good and right that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life and be able to preach God’s Word and also worship Him and serve Him in accord with His Word. And, indeed, such rule of government is needed that God’s Word might be preached among us and to those lost that all might repent of their sins and trust in Christ as their Savior.
While the people of this world remain under the spiritual kingdom and rule of darkness, we believers have our second citizenship (our primary citizenship) in heaven, in God’s kingdom, and we await the return of our Savior to change our weak and humble bodies into glorious and heavenly bodies like that of our Lord Jesus.
In Philippians 3:20-21, we read: “But our citizenship is in heaven, from where also we await for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our body of humiliation, so that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working of His power even to subdue all things to Himself.”
The question we consider today is how do we live in a God-pleasing way as members of two kingdoms — the kingdom or rule in which God placed us in this world and in the kingdom of our crucified and risen God and Savior? We look to the Word of God for the answer.
The Jewish people in Jesus’ day faced this same dilemma. They counted themselves as a nation and kingdom under God’s rule and law, and yet their nation was under the rule of the Roman caesar — an unbelieving ruler whose laws certainly were not in full accord with the Scriptures.
The Pharisees sought to use this dilemma to their advantage against Jesus by sending some of their disciples, along with political supporters of King Herod, to Jesus with the question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
They wanted a yes or no answer because, if Jesus said yes, they could accuse Him of being a traitor in regard to His own people and a sinner for voicing support for a pagan and corrupt Roman ruler. If Jesus said no, the Herodians would bring word to Herod that Jesus was advocating insubordination and rebellion against the king, which would likely have meant arrest and execution by Herod.
But Jesus was not fooled by their words of flattery or by the purpose of their question, and Jesus’ answer still gives us direction today as citizens of God’s kingdom and yet citizens of earthly kingdoms.
Jesus asked for a coin used to pay taxes to the Roman ruler and asked, “Whose is this image and inscription?” And when they answered, “Caesar’s,” He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Verse 22 tells us that “when they heard these words, they were amazed, and left Him and went on their way.” But, as I said, these words of Jesus still apply to us today.
Like the Caesars and the Roman emperors, our rulers and government officials are often anything but godly and just. Not only was homosexuality and pedophilia common in the Roman Empire, but unwanted infants and children were abandoned on the dung heaps to die. And our rulers, many falsely claiming to be Christian, have stooped to the same depths of depravity — supporting the killing of unborn children, euthanizing the old and the so-called “useless,” defending the practice of homosexuality, and the list goes on.
And we must remember that it was under the godless rule of the Romans that Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The Romans ruled (and it was possibly under the reign of Nero) when Paul wrote the words of Romans 13:1-7: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil works. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from him, for he is the servant of God for your good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is the servant of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who practices evil. So it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are God’s servants, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: taxes to whom taxes are due, respect to whom respect is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.”
So, how should we live as citizens of the United States, even if God gives authority to rulers and a government which support abortion, euthanasia, sexual perversion and other evils? Whose image is on our coins and currency? And, perhaps we should ask who defends us from foreign armies? Who arrests and punishes evildoers and provides us with at least some degree of peace and safety? Who builds our roads and provides countless other services? Who provides us with Medicare and sends us Social Security checks. So, unless we are willing to give up all the benefits our government provides, we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s — as St. Paul writes, “Render to all what is due them: taxes to whom taxes are due, respect to whom respect is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.”
But Jesus also said we are to render “to God the things that are God’s.” What does this mean?
We are also citizens of Christ’s kingdom, and thus our focus is on Christ and on His eternal kingdom. We do not set our minds on earthly things or to gratify the longings of our flesh, we set our minds on the things of God and seek to live as children of God, looking forward to the day of Christ’s return and our being changed into his image and likeness.
St. Paul wrote to the Colossians (3:1-4): “If you then were raised with Christ, desire those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on earth. For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then you also shall appear with Him in glory.”
We are to put off our old sinful nature with its evil works and put on the new nature which is ours in Christ and live in accord with God’s Word. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Eph. 4:22-24), we are to “put off the former way of life in the old nature, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and … put on the new nature, which was created according to God in righteousness and true holiness.”
How does this relate to our duties as citizens in this world? We do all in our power to support rulers who uphold what is good and right according to God’s Word, and we expose the sin and hypocrisy of those who live and rule contrary to God’s Word, warning them of the eternal consequences of their sins and calling them to repent of their evil ways, look to the LORD God for forgiveness and then conform to God’s Word.
And when it comes to our obedience to civil rulers, we obey and honor them where we can but, should rulers forbid what God commands or command what God forbids, we answer with Peter and the apostles (Acts 5:29): “We must obey God rather than men.”
In this way, we render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things which are God’s.
And what if we have disobeyed God by failing to render to our rulers the honor due them or to God the honor due to His name? What if we have failed to obey civil rulers, neglected or circumvented paying our taxes, grumbled or complained about our rulers, spoken evil of them or neglected to pray for them?
And, what if we have failed to render to God the things which are God’s? What if we have used government laws and guidelines to excuse our disobedience to God’s commands? What if we have neglected God’s Word and Sacrament? What if we have failed to speak the words of God in fear of government retribution? What if we have failed to live as citizens of heaven and have become overly focused on the things of this world?
The answer is to repent — to examine our lives in the light of God’s Word, to acknowledge our disobedience and failings and to look to Christ and His cross for pardon and forgiveness and for the strength to amend our lives and live for Him.
John writes (1 John 2:1-2): “My little children, I am writing these things to you, so that you do not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
God grant to you pardon and forgiveness for all your sins through faith in Jesus and His cross, and God grant to you the wisdom and the strength to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]