Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
October 19, 2014, Pentecost XIX
Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
From the book of Exodus:
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
From St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Tell us then, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Before the Civil War, about 15% of the US money in circulation was fake. At that time there were approximately 10,000 different currencies. One expert said, “People had a hard enough time remembering what the different currencies were supposed to look like, let alone recognizing counterfeits.”
Today only a tiny fraction of our currency is counterfeit, but our Government is constantly trying to stop criminals from passing off phony money. For example, a few years ago the US Treasury department redesigned the $5 bill because counterfeiters loved the $5 bill. They could bleach it and then reprint it as a $100 bill because it shared the same security marks as $100 bills.
So, how did the Treasury change their design of the $5 bill? They changed the IMAGES on the bills. Things like watermarks, micro-printing and changing Lincoln’s image on the front to be larger. It’s those IMAGES on our bills that guarantee that your money is legitimate.
Now let’s look at our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus has been preaching, teaching and healing for about 3 years now. Large crowds have gathered to listen to Him and there was beginning to be talk about making Him the new king of Israel. Look at His qualifications:
1) He could inspire huge crowds with His words.
2) He could feed thousands with very little food.
3) He could heal the sick, the lame and the insane.
4) He even had the power to raise people from the dead.
If Jesus was their King, there’d be no power on earth that could stand against Israel. Not even the hated Romans could hold them back. Israel would once again be a great nation!
There’s one small problem. Judea already has a king by the name of Herod. He’s the one who beheaded John the Baptist. Herod’s followers were called Herodians, and they were quite happy with their king; they were not interested in Jesus or anyone else taking his place.
The Pharisees and the Herodians were enemies; but their common foe, Jesus, brought them together. The Pharisees opposed the Roman poll tax for several reasons: 1) They did not want to submit to a Gentile power; 2) Caesar was revered as a god; and 3) they had better uses for the money than to give it to Rome. Since Herodians were the party supporting Herod, they were in favor of the tax. After all, Herod’s authority was given to him by Caesar; and Herod would have had a difficult time staying in power without Rome’s support.
Palestine was an occupied nation, and the Jews had no special love for their conquerors.
Every tax the poor people had to pay was another reminder that they were not free. The Zealots, an “underground” organization of Jews, often staged protests against Rome. They would oppose any Roman tax.
Think of our American revolution. In the beginning, the colonies were proud to be British. There were small instances of Parliament’s control that bothered the colonists, the Currency Acts of 1751 and 1764. But when the French and Indian War took place (1754-1763), King George III lost a great deal of money due to buying expensive supplies for his army and the colonies. In order to pay off his debt, he imposed taxes on the colonies without their consent.
It is easy to see why the Pharisees and Herodians chose the poll tax as the bait for their trap. It appeared that no matter which side Jesus took, He would create problems for Himself and His ministry. If He opposed the tax, He would be in trouble with Rome. If He approved the tax, He would be in trouble with the Jews.
Jesus immediately saw through their scheme. He knew that their real purpose was not to get an answer to a question, but to try to trap Him. They were only acting a part, and this made them hypocrites. On this basis alone, He could have refused to answer them. But He knew the people around Him would not understand. Here was an opportunity for Him to silence His enemies and, at the same time, teach the people an important spiritual truth.
Each ruler minted his own coins and put his own image on them. The “penny” (denarius) had Caesar’s image on it, so it belonged to Caesar. “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” was His reply. “And give back to God what belongs to God.” In this simple, but profound reply, Jesus taught several important truths.
The image on our money declares WHO those bills belong to. Look at any bill you have and you’ll see these words: “Federal Reserve Note. The United States of America” Those words on those bills declare WHO those bills belong to.
So, then, what do I give to God? Where do I find God’s image? Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’” We were made in God’s image and likeness. You and I need to give what belongs to Him – back to Him. I need to give ME to God.
Now how do I do that? How do I give myself to God?
First, I need to BELONG to Him, which means I need to believe in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:13 tells us, “Having believed (in Jesus), you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” He puts His image inside us that says we belong to Him.
So, when our faith in Jesus leads us to belong to Him, God expects us to repent and be baptized. Some people think that this faith/repentance/baptism thing is like car insurance.
They make their monthly payments and they think they will be protected against an accident.
Let’s say you go to an insurance agent to buy some car insurance or homeowners insurance. You sign some papers, pay a deposit and set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to pay the bill. You might go back to your insurance agent maybe twice a year on Christmas and Easter (oh, that’s church). Actually, you may never need to back to your agent and they know that.
There are people who treat salvation in Jesus that way. They sign up (join a church), pay their bills (pledge) and then show up only once in a while, if that. But Jesus said: Give to God that which belongs to Him. So, do you really belong to Him, or are you only “pretending” to be His?
A hypocrite is someone who “pretends” to be something they’re not. They’re counterfeiters. A hypocrite tries to look like the real thing, but they had no intention of actually BEING the real thing.
There is an expression: “you can tell what a person’s priorities are by looking at their checkbook.” Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)
Some people say they have a personal relationship with God. Jesus says your relationship with God is not just “personal”…it’s “purse and all.”
Here’s an illustration: Not everyone plans ahead when they come to church. We come to the part in the worship service when the offering plate is being passed. So, you take out your wallet and discover you have two $20s and a $5 bill. Now you’re faced with a split second decision: “Do I give the $5, one of the$20, the $20 and the $5, both $20s…or ALL of it. Gee, I wanted to go out to dinner after church. And so you do the math and you give God $5.
Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve given God your leftovers because your heart isn’t focused on God…it’s focused on your treasure. Proverbs 3:5-10 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight…Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
So everyone take out your wallet, or at least imagine in your mind. When you made Jesus the Lord of your life, you died to your old life and now you live for Jesus Christ. Everything belongs to Him. So, look in your wallet. Do you see money in there? If you’re a Christian, whose money is it? That’s right, it belongs to God. Isn’t it appropriate, that our money has the words printed on it: “In God We Trust.” In a few short moments, you will be putting a portion of your money in the offering plate; a portion of your money to God… but it is ALL His. Every bill, every coin; It’s all God’s. Whatever you spend your money on, you’re spending God’s money. Everything about us, belongs to Him.
There was a man by the name of Emil Mettler. He owned a restaurant in London and was a close friend of Albert Schweitzer. Mettler was known for the fact that he would never allow a Christian worker to pay for a meal. One day he was opening his cash register in the presence of the Secretary of the London Missionary Society. As Mettler was making change for another customer, the Secretary happened to notice a six-inch nail among the bills and coins. “What is this nail for?” he asked. Mettler explained, “I keep this nail with my money to remind me of the price that Christ paid for my salvation and of what I owe Him in return.”
We were created in the image of God. We are His special treasure. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not parish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). May we so live our lives that we reflect the image of God through His Son, Jesus Christ; that our witness brings others to Him; that through faith, repentance and baptism we may claim heaven’s guaranteed reward.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations; Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.