It’s not tax time now. That’s April 15. Most of us are used to having our taxes taken out of our paychecks. I might be one of the few who pays quarterly. We do know what it’s like to pay sales taxes, though that gets rolled up in a purchase price, and then there are fees. We owe government; we owe it a lot. We are Christians. We are not of this world, but we are in the world.
It’s almost time for the offering. Perhaps you give your offering every week, perhaps every other. With the special services coming up, we have opportunities to give offerings at least twice a week, and to give above and beyond what we normally give. At the same time we’ve definitely entered charitable donation time. I don’t know how many solicitations I’ve gotten for donations in the last month. Some are for the missions of our church. Some are for many different organizations. We are in the world, but we are Christians.
The Pharisees and Herodians did not have a serious question for Jesus. They already knew their answers. The Pharisees did not like paying taxes to Cæsar. They hated just the idea of a pagan Gentile ruling Jews. They were quite happy the people couldn’t use pagan coins in the temple complex. The Herodians however were quite happy to pay taxes to Cæsar. They supported the Roman government and the rule by the Herods; that’s why they’re called Herodians.
They already knew what they believed to be right, and they weren’t going to change their minds. If the Pharisees paid the poll tax, it would only be grudgingly. The Herodians were definitely going to pay the tax, and they’d be happy to catch anybody that failed to pay it! They really didn’t care what Jesus had to say. They just wanted Him to say something bad. They wanted Him to agree with one or the other; that would let one or the other have a problem with Him and be able to get rid of Him. They never thought there might be a way out of their test: pay to Caesar and to God!
They believed one or the other must come first at the expense of the other. The Herodians had no use for a religious government. The Pharisees had no use for a pagan government. They could not see how a government led by the ungodly could have any good or actually be from God. They longed for a return of the days of Israel’s theocracy.
Today Jesus reminds us that The Church is in the world. We Christians live in the world. We live under governments that may be more Christian, less Christian, or not at all Christian. We live under governments that have many good laws. Perhaps they have not good ones too. Some governments have bad laws, laws contrary to God’s Word. How should we relate to them? Should we support them? Should we rebel against them?
God instituted civil government. When He created Adam, He made Adam the lawman, the judge, the general, just like He made Him the preacher and the father. His faithful descendants served in these offices, but the wickedness of Cain’s descendants would not be reined in. So God sent The Flood to destroy the wickedness on the earth. After Noah came off The Ark, God told him the life of a murderer is to be ended. He was not speaking of vigilante justice. He was instituting civil government.
Many governments have come and gone since then. Scripture tells us about Egypt, Israel and Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander, Rome, and more. We know about the Holy Roman Empire, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Soviet Union, Russia, China, and so many more. We live in these United States of America, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, and different municipalities. You know the laws, you know the taxes, and you may even know where the police might watch for speeders. You even have opinions on whether the laws and taxes or authorities are good or not.
Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s. Respect the laws. Pay your taxes. Pray for the government. If it goes wrong, and that does happen, pray God to enlighten it so it would change its wicked rules and laws for the benefit of all. When it does good, pray for it. At all times, pray that it may do what is good in God’s sight and stop evildoers and protect us – those are some of the things our taxes are supposed to pay for! Pray that we may live in peace and safety and give thanks for all the blessings God gives us through government! And when government opposes God’s Word, be prepared to speak, because . . .
We are to give to God what is God’s. When government makes a law that is contrary to God’s Word – this has been happening in the realms of marriage and life issues – then we must not say the government is right and go along with it; we must pray God to enlighten our rulers and change the rules. We may even need to speak out about it, if the opportunity comes to us.
But there is so much more to giving to God what is God’s. It’s not just about Sunday morning. It’s about our entire lives. God comes first. That makes sense. He created us. We owe our lives to Him. If He wanted to, He could end us at any moment, for any reason. That knowledge should make us fear Him, yes be scared of Him. But is that the attitude God wants us to have towards Him? Does He want us to be scared of Him?
We should be afraid of Him. Our sins have brought on us bonds and chains that we are too frail to escape. Our sins bind us to hell. They earn for us evil and not peace. So this week and next we pray God to absolve us, to loosen and remove those chains, to free us from our sins that have offended Him. We pray Him to do it by His bountiful goodness, for the sake of Christ our Lord.
Forgiveness is not just something God does. He does not leave sin overlooked or unpunished. He doesn’t punish you. He punished His Son Jesus for you. His Son, the very image of The Father, bore on The Cross your image of sin and death. He gave up His life to pay the debt of your sins. He gave up His entire self for your sake. He did it to free you from sin and death. You are free. You owe God nothing for your sins.
How do we respond? He has become our Lord. Therefore He desires us to serve Him. You serve Him when you pay your taxes and when you pray for the government and when you serve our country, whether in the government, the armed forces, police or fire departments. You serve Him as a godly parent or employee or child or spouse. You serve Him by supporting the work of His church, whether in this congregation and school, or Synod and District, missions here and abroad. For He has given you everything you have not to pad your pockets, but so you may confess Him by supporting the work of His Gospel throughout the world.
Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s. Give to God what is God’s. Don’t pit the one against the other; put each in its proper place. Serve God alone. Give to Him your heart’s affection; give Him your offerings too. Set aside your offerings before you do anything else with your pay. But while serving Him, serve our land. Pray for it and pay your taxes and thank God for it, for this too is good and pleases God our Savior.