In our devotion today, which comes from Concordia Pulpit Resources, we read about Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees regarding whether they should pay taxes to Caesar.
1 Thessalonians 1:1–10
In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously tells the Pharisees to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Because Jesus gave Himself completely to His Father, offering Himself up as a living sacrifice for our sins, we no longer have to render payment for our sins. Rather, we can render to God our faith, a gift given and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
In today’s text we have those disciples of the Pharisees and several Herodians, both considered enemies of Jesus, approach our Lord. The disciples of the Pharisees take the lead and greet Jesus with some very nice compliments. In fact, not only are these compliments extremely nice, they’re true! “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” (v 16). Surely because they’re speaking such flattering words, Jesus is almost certain to consider them as friends. Surely he’ll speak openly and freely with them, answering any question they’d ask, revealing to them what he may not be willing to reveal to others.
And yet these compliments come from what we’ve heard recorded at the beginning of the text, the plot of the Pharisees to entangle Jesus in his speech. The fact is, this debate isn’t about a wholesome desire to understand God’s Law. It’s all about discrediting Jesus. “Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’” (v 18). Instead of accepting their words as kindness, Jesus reprimands them and calls them the wicked hypocrites they are, knowing full well the origin and devilry of their words.
They speak this way to trap Jesus, and so they ask him the question: “Teacher, . . . tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Loaded question. If Jesus speaks against the disciples of the Pharisees, he’ll show himself to be a traitor to his own people, the Jews. If he agrees with the disciples of the Pharisees, the Herodians will have open cause for his arrest. Then, in fact, it would be lawful to kill him.
Yes, Jesus reprimands his opponents, and harshly even: “You hypocrites!” But in love, Jesus does not avoid their question and withhold from them the truth. He answers them and boldly proclaims both the truth of God’s Law and the salvific Gospel as the answer to their question. Jesus calls for a denarius and shows them that since Caesar’s mark is on the coin, it is the duty of the citizen to keep the Fourth Commandment, to honor the ruling authorities by paying taxes. That is indeed being faithful to God, because all things are God’s already, even the government he puts in place to govern! Jesus makes it clear in this particular case that by doing our duty as citizens we are giving thanks to our loving and generous God for his gift of civil governance and peace.
But that’s not the end. We are to understand what it is to “give to God what is God’s.” It is to see the Holy Spirit at work by the Gospel. It is to believe that same Gospel and to recognize that faith in Christ is the highest worship of Christ, the ultimate “rendering to God.” When we hear him cry out, “It is finished,” the tax bill is stamped “Paid in Full.” We know that the payment was complete and perfect because the bill collector of the grave was unable to hold Jesus. The effects of the debt—death and hell—had no power over him. He rose from the dead to prove that the debt is truly and completely paid.
May God grant to you such faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, that you receive the eternal gifts that Christ’s rendering to God earned for you, and may you by that faith render to God the worship that is God’s for you to give.
Devotional reading is adapted from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 21, Part 4, Series A © 2011 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.