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God’s Work in the Church and in the World

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his talk. 16And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15–22)

In the world, but not of the world (John 17:11; 14-16).  This is the reality of the Christian.  The Christian is both physical and spiritual in one person.  We are flesh and blood, but as flesh and blood we also have a soul.  God promises us, right now, eternal life through Jesus Christ.  But right now, we seem Him not except by faith.  His Word gives what it says, but the world says something different.

When the pastor baptizes with water, the naked eye would tell us that water is applied, and that’s it, added is nothing more and nothing less.  Reason would say that the one baptized adds to the meaning or the significance of Baptism by choosing it and that if not, it is meaningless and futile.  Just by ourselves watching and seeing what’s going on in a Baptism, everything would tell us that nothing extraordinary is going on.  But God here speaks differently.  He says that one is to be baptized into the Name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not any ordinary Name.  St. Paul the Apostle, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that, As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death (Romans 6:3).  Christ Himself says, Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God and Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).  St. Peter, one of the twelve disciples of our Lord, also writes, There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

It is true that because of what God does, because of what He works and gives through Baptism, all who are baptized and believe God’s promise of forgiveness in Baptism have a clear conscience before God.  God’s Word cannot here fail.  His promise is sure and true.  Where God forgives, sin is forgiven.  Where He promises, that promise will be fulfilled.  Our conscience might tell us, even after hearing the words of absolution from the pastor, that our sins remain, that we’re not sorry enough, or that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness.  But here, we are to heed the Lord’s Word and not our own.  Even the devil, though he continue to plant doubt within the mind, and though He try to condemn, he can judge us none.  God is the One who justifies us.  No one, not even Satan, can be against us if God is for us (Romans 8:33, 31).

God’s promises are as good as done, but heaven, where our true citizenship is, we do not fully enjoy at the present (Philippians 3:20).  In the world we have tribulation.  There is suffering, burden, and enmity, even within one’s household.  We are God’s people and eagerly await our Lord’s return, for He will come again, a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).  But the Lord, as long as He prolongs His coming, says, “Wait”, that is, believe in me. “While you are here, your flesh will be tried.  You will be tested. Troubles will come, but fear not, I have overcome the world.  Your sin troubles you, but from your sin you are forgiven.  Live not for yourselves, but believe in me and love one another, your neighbor, and help them in their need.

To our eyes, things look as they appear.  But truly the phrase, ‘there is more here than meets the eye,’ is surely valid.  This especially holds true for the church, for it is a man speaking that you hear, words you speak in the liturgies, bread and wine that you eat and drink in the sacrament.  But what does God say?  St. Paul writes, These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13).

In another place He says, And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In Church, a man does speak and a man does preach, pages from a book are read, and bread and wine are consumed.  But more is going on here than meets the eye.  Though man speak the Word of God, it is God’s Word, no ordinary Word.  Though bread and wine be consumed, given also is the body and the blood of Christ for the remission of sins.  These things then are no ordinary things, nor is church just an ordinary place where ordinary things happen.  God is here, giving life through His Word and Sacraments.  Here is where He forgives sinners and gives eternal life.  Here is where He strengthens and increases faith, that we live out our lives in the world as His Holy people.

In this place is where God works by means of His Word.  He forces none to believe.  His Word goes out and those who believe will hear and believe and those who don’t, don’t.  God in this Kingdom of His, this Right Hand Kingdom, the Church, rules by His Word alone.  Here we have Christ, forgiveness, grace, and mercy.  Faith is the means whereby we apprehend God’s goodness and His gifts as our very own.  The one who disbelieves does not have God’s promise of help and comfort, but God’s judgement and condemnation remain upon Him.  This too may not be seen in the now time, but in the hereafter, it will be his reality.

God rules His Right Hand Kingdom, the Church, according to the Word.  By His Word He forgives sin and by His Word, He retains sin.  But in the world that our Lord rules, He rules not only according to His Word in the Church.  He rules another way, too.  He rules by means of force and with the use of authorities for the keeping of peace and order.  This is called the Left Hand Kingdom.  The Lord works through governments to bring about justice, order, and civility among its citizens.

Evidence for this Biblical teaching is given in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where He writes, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (Romans 13:1-7).

St. Peter writes similarly where He says, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

So also in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians to the question of taxes do we have evidence for such a thing as paying taxes and giving honor to whom honor is due.  They had asked Jesus the question, Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? in order to trap Him with His own words, but it was they who were silenced, not Christ.  Jesus answered their question with neither a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’.  Instead, He said what is right and true, and also the very thing that they themselves were not able to deny, Give the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.

The taxes that Caesar demanded were Caesar’s due.  Taxes that the American government demands are also their due.  This is because the government is established according to God’s order.  This does not mean that every government will be good.  Nor does this truth mandate that every government will be godly.  What it does mean is that whether good or bad, that their goodness or badness is not the final answer as to how you are to view it.

Parents can be either good or bad.  But being one or the other doesn’t change what God commands in the Fourth Commandment where He says, Honor Father and Mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2).  Fathers and mothers bear the responsibility of care, love, and discipline.  That is their lot.  But the one who is in their charge has the command to honor them who have that responsibility, whether they carry it out or not.  God doesn’t judge you based on what another is supposed to do.  He judges you based on what you are to do.  And thus you have Christ, judged for you that you not be condemned eternally.

Concerning the government, you aren’t judged based on what the government does with its God given authority.  Nor are you condemned because of any misuse or abuse of that authority, unless you are the one’s bearing it.  What you are accountable for is what God gives you in His Word.  Is it lawful to pay taxes?  If the government is due taxes, yes.  Not doing so is in direct contrast to what the Lord says.  The only time when it is permissible to not do as the government demands is when the government demands to be done what God forbids to be done.  Should the government try to keep the church from proclaiming Jesus Christ, We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  Should the church suffer for being faithful to our Lord, then let it be, for as Christ suffered, so will His church in the world.  But Christ’s church is His blessed Bride.  Though she look unimpressive and ordinary before the world, she is the bride of Christ, washed in His blood, precious and holy, awaiting union with her Christ.

God’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  Your citizenship is in heaven.  But in the meantime, you live in the world.  Christians are not hermits, nor do you live in communes as if to separate ourselves from the world.  You live in the world as God’s people.  It is true that you abide by man’s rules, giving honor here where it is due.  But it is also true that God is the ruler of all things, that He rules in the one kingdom using even physical means to bring about order, working through the established authorities to serve justice and providing help and sustenance to all people.  This is why police officers carry guns, batons, and other means of protection, not only for themselves, but also for others.  This is also why parents discipline, teachers correct, and judges judge.  Through these, our Lord works in His Left Hand Kingdom.

But through the Right Hand Kingdom, God works and rules through different means than force.  He works through words, Words declaring forgiveness to penitent sinners, sinners who are sorry for their sin; and words declaring no forgiveness to impenitent sinners, sinners who are not sorry for their sin.  Here in this Kingdom, God works through preaching and proclamation, through absolution and Sacrament.  Those who deny these deny also our Lord.  But those who hear and believe, these are given the very things that the Lord declares: sins forgiven, eternal life, and peace with God.

Honor is given God through believing His Word and living in the world through your respective callings, your vocations given by God, serving one another in love, and giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, as well as giving to God the things of God, hearing His Word, believing His promises, and receiving His blessing in the Sacrament of the Altar.  God’s Word, His promises, and the Lord’s Supper point to Christ, who truly and fully gave to God His Father that which we could not.  Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient and completely kept God’s command to love God and love neighbor for you, not so that you don’t do what God says, but that you do, rightly, through faith in Him who did.  Jesus was obedient, not for the reason that He needed it, but for the reason that you did.  Christ fulfilled the law for your sake.  For your sake He died and rose again, that you live forever with Him, even now, in your bodies, in the world, but through faith in God’s Son.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Mt22.15-22, Pentecost 18, 2011A, Sermon Outline & Notes

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