Divine Service - Trinity 23
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Render … to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
Now what is so amazing is that in one sentence, Jesus not only escapes both dangers, He also is able to express the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Here is the Biblical teaching on the two kingdoms, the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of power, distilled into one sentence. We have an obligation in our worldly affairs to be good citizens: paying our taxes, dealing honestly with others, working hard. St. Paul elaborates on this by saying that to obey the government is to obey God. The Fourth Commandment, "Honor your father and mother," applies also to other authorities, such as the government, which we are bound to honor and obey.
However, the obligation to God is not similar. It is higher. We are to render unto Caesar the things that are his; but to God we are to render the things that belong to God. The obligation to worldly rulers consists of paying taxes and obeying the law. The obligation to render unto God the things that are God's is far greater, for what are the things that are God's? Everything. Render unto Caesar the tax money, but the LORD your God you shall love with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind. It is not a matter of warming a pew, tossing your leftovers into the offering plate, and saying a prayer or two now and then. To render unto God the things that are God's will mean perfection on your part: moral, religious, ethical perfection. "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I say?"
"Render unto God the things that are God's" is one of those passages that shows the full weight of God's Law. God's Law is crushingly comprehensive. It demands, and we cannot meet its demands. We can render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, but we are incapable of rendering unto God the things that are God's. The sinful nature hinders us.
This is why the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took on our human flesh. His incarnation was for this purpose: that He might, as a Man, render unto God the things that are God's: to do God's will, to offer Him a worthy sacrifice, to make atonement for sin – to bring man back to God.
So now, even as we live and move in the worldly kingdom of modern-day Caesars, paying our taxes and rendering the obedience and honor due to the government, we Christians nevertheless recognize that this is not the sum and substance of our lives. There is something else for which we live; there is something else that we are besides merely citizens of an earthly kingdom. I am often struck at what a privilege it is, an amazing undeserved blessing, to be a citizen of the United States. I am deeply thankful for that. And yet it pales in comparison, it is not even worthy to be compared to the one real citizenship that matters. For do you not know, we heard from St. Paul in the epistle, that "our citizenship is in heaven"? Our true citizenship is not here, it is in heaven. And so our goals are not attached to this worldly kingdom, but to attain unto the next, to attain unto the resurrection. What is the promise of that kingdom? What is the promise of Christ, who has indeed in our place rendered unto God the things that are God's? He "will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." Those are the words in the funeral liturgy, spoken at the graveside. There, in the cold horror of the grave, everything is in its starkest contrast. No Caesar, king, president, government, flag, or constitution, can take away your sins and deliver you from that grave. None of them are able. All fail. So render unto them the honor and taxes due them, but do not look to them for your help. Your help does not come from the government, from your social security and Medicare, from its laws and constitutions, from its flag and army. Your help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Your help is in the Lord Jesus, who has rendered unto the Father that things that are His, and will transform your lowly body even from the grave, that it may be conformed to His glorious body in the resurrection. Glory be to Him, therefore, forever and ever!
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts in Christ Jesus.