Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 24)
October 16, 2011
Text: Matt. 22:15-22
Beloved in the Lord, our God rules all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth. He is God of all that exists, the entire universe, even of the powers that are hostile toward Him, even of unbelievers, even of the devil. For all belong to His Kingdom of Power. God rules over a three-fold Kingdom, the Kingdom of Power which I just described, the Kingdom of Grace, which consists of the members of the holy Christian Church who are still on earth, and the Kingdom of Glory, which consists of the members of the holy Christian Church who are in heaven. In each component of His three-fold Kingdom, Power, Grace, and Glory, God rules all things for the benefit of His believers, of His children, of those who are in Christ. Which is to say, He rules all things for your benefit.
This is true on earth as much as it is in heaven. Despite all appearance perhaps to the contrary, God rules this earth and all the people of the earth. The devil may think he
rules, and certainly there is a sense in which he is called “the prince of this world” (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). But in reality, the Ruler of all things is God. And God rules the earth in two ways, through what theology calls the two realms
, or again, two kingdoms
, the Kingdom of God’s right hand
, and the Kingdom of God’s left hand
. The Kingdom of God’s right hand is the Christian Church, operative in the Kingdom of Grace and the Kingdom of Glory. In this Kingdom, God rules solely by His Word. In this Kingdom, God seeks the hearts of men, that they believe in Him, receive the salvation of His crucified and risen Son Jesus Christ, and serve Him with a willing heart, out of love for the God who created, redeemed, and sanctified them. The Kingdom of God’s left hand, however, is the civil realm, civil authority, civil government, operative in God’s Kingdom of Power. And in this Kingdom, God rules by the sword. In this Kingdom, God rules through the authorities that He Himself has established to curb sin, reward good behavior, and otherwise order society. St. Paul describes this well in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s instrument for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (vv. 1-4; ESV). St. Paul then goes on to remind us that this is why we pay taxes, “for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (vv. 6-7). Fulfill your Fourth Commandment duty, a duty not only to parents but to all who are in authority: “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
In Romans 13, St. Paul is essentially preaching a sermon on the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson this morning, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). In other words, recognize that the Kingdom of God is not opposed to civil rule. God works through civil rulers for the benefit of His people on earth. This is part of His Kingdom of Power. This is the Kingdom of God’s left hand. Now, the point should not be lost on us. We owe our government obedience, respect, and frankly, our tax dollars. We ought to render to our government the things that belong to our government, whether that be taxes or revenue, obedience to the laws of the land, or honor and respect for those who are in authority over us. This is the case, in fact, whether your guy is in office or not. You owe whoever takes the oath of office honor and respect and obedience as the ruler God has placed over you. Remember that God uses even unbelieving rulers as ministers for our good, just as He used Cyrus for the good of Israel, as He says in our Old Testament lesson (Is. 45:1-7).
As Christians, we have a very special and important service to render to our civil government. We are royal priests of God, called to be a Kingdom of priests before our God, the priesthood of the baptized. And so we are called to pray for our government, as St. Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). So also, as royal priests, we are called to inform the government concerning God’s will on whatever issue to which the Word of God speaks. We owe it to the government to uphold marriage as a sacred institution, instituted by God Himself in the Garden of Eden, the most basic building block of our society, to be entered into by one man and one woman for life. We owe it to the government to warn against the murderous practices of abortion and physician assisted suicide, and now embryonic stem cell research, which means the destruction of tiny unborn babies, sacrificed to the false god of medical research. You owe it to your government, your state, your country, and your tiniest neighbors to vigorously oppose such wickedness. This is also why the Christian must vote if at all possible. It is our responsibility as priests of God who are in the world, but not of the world. We owe it to the government to speak to any and every moral issue. To say that we should not legislate morality is a ridiculous proposal. Laws against murder, against stealing, against rape, are all the result of moral legislation. Therefore to remain silent on a moral issue, like that of abortion just as an example, is to commit the same sin as the Germans who remained silent during the Holocaust, or the Russians who remained silent as Stalin sent millions to their death for criticizing his regime, or the Iraqis who remained silent as Saddam Hussein gassed his own subjects and committed atrocious crimes against humanity in his lust for power and influence. And we must remember that while we are to obey the government in every circumstance, there is one exception to that rule. When the will of the government comes into conflict with the will of God, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), and this no matter what the consequences. For whenever a civil ruler acts contrary to God’s will, asks us to sin, or leads the nation into national sin, he is acting outside of his vocation, outside of the office to which God has called him, and that ruler should not be obeyed. Let them take all our earthly possessions. Let them put us in prison. Let them put us to death. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
Render, therefore, to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s does not prevent you from rendering to God the things that are God’s, as long as Caesar is not commanding you to sin. So what is it you owe to God? Your very self. For He has created you, and He has redeemed you with the blood of His own Son. He has sanctified you with His Holy Spirit. And all of this, out of His pure grace. God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die a horrible death on the cross in payment for your sin and the sins of all people. He graciously forgives you all your sins for Jesus' sake. He loves you and makes you His own child in Holy Baptism. He speaks His tender Word to you and nourishes you with the Supper of His Son’s body and blood. Therefore render to God the things that are God’s: a holy life lived sacrificially for His glory and for the good of your neighbor, the confession of Christ to the world no matter what the consequences, adherence to His pure doctrine and the right use of the sacraments, and the support of His holy Church through your offerings, your time, and your talents. Live faithfully in the vocations in which God has placed you, every relationship you have to others. Be faithful spouses, parents, children, students, citizens, members of the congregation, friends, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. Run for public office if you have the God-given ability required for the job. Participate in society as priests of God, the priests God has called you to be. That is rendering to God the things that are God’s. And you do this not in order to be saved. God gives you all that is necessary to be saved in Christ Jesus. You are already saved, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, without works. But you do these things now as a result of that salvation, as your sacrifice of thanksgiving.
You also do these things, dear brothers and sisters, because you recognize the grace of God in His First Article gifts, which is to say, you recognize that all that we have, all that is good, material and spiritual, is from God, given freely, as a gift of His grace. Indeed, every good gift, and every perfect gift, comes down from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). You recognize that God has placed us in this world and given us all that we need for the support of this body and life. You recognize this and you give thanks. And you pray that as one redeemed by the blood of Christ, God would make you a faithful steward of His gifts. For He rules all things for our benefit. This is true not only of the Kingdom of God’s right hand, His holy Church, but also of the Kingdom of God’s left hand, the civil realm. And to confess that truth, in spite of all that is wrong with the world, in spite of all the things you see on the evening news, in spite of the stock market and high gas prices and especially our national sins with regard to the sanctity of life and marriage… to confess the truth that God rules all thing for our benefit, is to live by faith. God ever keep us in that faith, the one true faith of Jesus Christ. And God make us faithful stewards of all the good gifts of His creation. And finally, God make us faithful and obedient citizens, royal priests of God who are not of the world, but certainly live fully in the world. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism
(St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).