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“Render to God and Caesar”
Mark 12:13-17


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost—October 11, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Before the Three-Year Lectionary series of the Scriptures read in worship was adopted by most denominations in the 1970’s, for over 1,000 years today’s Gospel Reading occurred every year, on or close to the Last Sunday in the Church Year, just before Advent, when the Church begins a new cycle of its seasons.

The origins of the Church Year are shrouded in mystery, and if you read the old commentaries there was always debate as to why this particular reading was assigned by the ancient fathers for the end of the Church Year.  For, at that time we traditionally focus on the Second Coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the end of all things.  But, what does that have to do with paying taxes to Caesar?

Some commentators even thought it was a fluke, the ancient equivalent of a typographical error, and that some other Gospel Reading should be substituted, dealing directly with the topics of the Second Coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the end of all things. That change was finally made in the Three-Year Lectionary, with the newly selected Gospel Readings for the end of each year focusing on those end time themes.  Today’s reading was relegated to occurring just once every three years, on a Sunday during the Pentecost Season.

But, actually, the ancient fathers may have had a method to their madness by assigning today’s Gospel Reading to the end of the Church Year.  Not so much regarding the question Jesus is asked, but the answer that he gives.  For, if you think about it, the answer Jesus gives is a beautiful, concise summary of how God wants us to live out our lives here on earth while we are waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the end of all things: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Peter says, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?”

Beyond the question about paying taxes, that is the bigger question Jesus is answering for us in today’s Gospel Reading: While his followers remain in this world, while you are waiting in this in-between time for the consummation of all things, “What kind of people ought you to be?” 

Peter answers, “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God.”  In his answer, Jesus goes further, explaining very practically what you are to do, HOW you are “to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God”: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  That is Jesus’ beautiful, simple formula for living life in this world while you wait for the next world: “Render to God and Caesar.”

This twofold division reflects the two kingdoms that Christians are part of while in this world.  On the one hand, Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Our true home is not in any city, state, or nation of this world. As Paul says in Philippians, “For our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Jesus put it this way, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

In this world you are only on a journey, a journey to the kingdom of heaven, which is your true home.  But, on the other hand, as long as we remain in this world, our Lord wants his followers to also be good citizens—really the best citizens—of the kingdom of this world.  Jesus sums this up in his beautiful, simple, divine directive: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Most important is rendering to God what he is due.  Render to God first of all your confession of your sins.  An old order of confession put it this way, “I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed, by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault.” 

Render to God your faith in his Son as your Savior from sin.  As the Scriptures say, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. . .  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. . .  Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. . .  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

Render to God your worship, as you are doing here this morning.  The book of Hebrews says, “Let us not give up meeting together,” and Paul says in Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Render to God your service.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain,” and Peter says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Render to God your faithful stewardship of the material possessions he blesses you with.  As the Psalm says, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? . . .  I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Most important is rendering to God what he is due.  But, our Lord also wants his followers to be good citizens of the kingdom of this world, to render to Caesar, the government in this world, what it is due.

The New Testament actually has many passages about our duties as Christians toward the civil government.  Render to the civil government first of all your obedience.  Paul says in Romans, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”

The exception to obeying the civil government is if the government requires you to do what God forbids, or forbids you to do what God requires.  An example is in the book of Acts, when the Apostles are ordered not to preach about Jesus, and they reply, “We must obey God rather than men!”  But, except for that exception, Christ wants his followers to render obedience to the civil government.  As Peter says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.”

Render to the civil government your honor and respect.  As Peter says, “Show proper respect to everyone . . . fear God, honor the king,” and Paul says in Romans, “Give everyone what you owe him . . . if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

A special duty and privilege that we have as Christians is to render our prayers on behalf of the civil government and its leaders.  Paul says in 1st Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”  That is why it is an ancient custom to include our nation and its leaders in our prayers during worship.

And, of course, as Jesus makes clear in today’s Gospel Reading, his followers are to render to the civil government our taxes.  As Paul says in Romans, “For the same reason you also pay taxes, because the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue.”

A final special duty and privilege that we have as Christian citizens under our form of government is to render to the civil government our participation, especially by voting, and other involvement in the governmental process. 

Our government certainly has many failings.  Those failings do not excuse us from our duty as Christian citizens.  On the contrary, our government’s failings make it even more important that we fulfill our God-given duties toward the civil government.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Render to God your confession of your sins;

Render to God your faith in his Son as your Savior from sin;

Render to God your worship, as you are doing here this morning;

Render to God your service;

And render to God your faithful stewardship of the material possessions he blesses you with.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Render to the civil government your obedience;

Render to the civil government your honor and respect;

Render your prayers on behalf of the civil government and its leaders;

Render to the civil government your taxes;

And render to the civil government your participation.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”   That is Jesus’ beautiful, simple formula for living life in this world while you wait for the next world: “Render to God and Caesar.”

Amen.

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