Let us pray: Dear Savior, every day we show our spiritual immaturity by testing You and questioning Your grace and goodness toward us. Every day we play games like “let’s make a deal” with You, even though You never join in those games. Today inscribe in our hearts and minds that Your love and forgiveness, Your blessings, are not dependent upon actions. All stem as a result of Your boundless and selfless love toward us. May we ever revel in that blessed truth. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR GRACIOUS LORD AND SAVIOR!
TEXT: Matthew 22: 15-21
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
I read the newspaper every day in order to keep abreast of the latest news and to protect myself from the weirdness that infects our modern culture. I truly believe that none of us can afford to be ostriches—the world is just too interrelated. An article in the “Boston Globe” got me a little steamed this past week. It was about the upcoming Senate hearings on Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court. Now, I don’t really care what your views on her nomination are, since that belongs to the political sphere and is not theology. In this vein good Christians can disagree. However, the nasty way it is being handled does impact us since it touches on ethics, and Christians should always strive to have the highest of ethical standards.
The “Globe” article stated that enemies of Ms. Miers are planning to ambush her in her hearings. They are going to ask questions of legal minutiae to try to make her look bad. Questions like: “Jefferson wrote a treatise on Virginia property law in 1795, what was his view on property rights based on that treatise?” I must say, this approach is awful. If someone sought to quiz me today on the arcane elements of Greek grammar that I learned 25 years ago, I would make some mistakes. If someone asked me the recount in detail all the fine points of Luther’s writings on the Psalms, I’m sure I’d leave a lot out. Indeed, if all of us had to pass such “tests” we’d all fail! Anyone who has been out of school in the working world will forget, or simply put many of these points of minutiae out of their minds. Factoids can be gleaned quickly off the internet. Factoids don’t make a person wise. Only time, experience, and knowing what is truly vital make for wisdom.
We see this same “testing” spirit, a negative type of testing, in today’s text. Here we have two political camps: the Herodians (followers of King Herod and grossly immoral people) and the Pharisees (the Puritans of that day) joining together to try to make Christ look bad. These two camps hated each other since they were opposites. But they hated Christ more. And their mutual hatred caused them to come together to try to box Jesus into a corner so that they could either accuse Him of violating payment of taxes, or siding with Rome, thereby alienating the masses or the government. Either way they thought this was a “win/win” situation. It was a set-up to hasten Christ’s downfall and popularity.
I want to focus on this aspect of our lesson by reminding each of you:
DON’T PUT GOD TO THE TEST
Notice how these “holy men” begin their questioning of Christ. “Teacher, we know you a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This question drips of sarcasm. And if Christ says: “Yes, pay the tax” the masses will hate Him. If says: “No, don’t pay it” Rome will hate Him.
“But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
We’re told at this answer they were astonished and amazed. They didn’t have any answer, so they simply walked away. Yes, Jesus passed their test by turning the test around on them, didn’t He?
Some people like the Victorian atheist, Charles Bradlaugh, test God to belittle Him. Bradlaugh used to come on stage for a speech, take out his watch and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds. Then after a minute had passed, Bradlaugh would say: “See, God didn’t act, so there’s your proof He doesn’t exist!” I’m sure you’re not that crass, but do you put God to the test, too? Have you continued to dabble with a particular sin using the rational: “If God really didn’t want me to do it, something would happen to show me that. Since it hasn’t, God must not really care?” Or, perhaps you have prayed about a job with these words in mind: “Lord, if you agree to give me this job, I’ll agree to come and worship You more often?” Whenever we attach conditions to our relationship with the Lord, we’re testing Him. And we’re also trying to turn His blessings into something we’ve earned because we call the shots, we set up the paradigm which makes Him dance to our tune.
I’ve seen people question God’s goodness and also seen them test that goodness more times than I can remember. “Lord, if you really love me, you’ll heal my cancer, cause me to win the lottery so that my debts will disappear, or miraculously make my 5 year-old terror into a model citizen.” Such tests can be subtle or gross. They usually ignore the rest of His words of Biblical guidance dealing with lifestyle changes to gain better health, or being more frugal to pay down your bills, or hands-on parenting which is the only way to lead a child into maturity. Then, too, such an approach is totally immature on our part. Where is a reliance upon: “Thy will be done?” Where is faith in His undeserved love for us in Christ? You know, when you play “let’s make a deal with God” you already have the outcome in mind. So, faith and trust in His outcome are tossed aside. Testing God is tantamount to dictating to God. And that is a violation of the 1st commandment because it sets you up as god. Don’t put God to the test is really the same as: Don’t try to shrink Him down to your size! Don’t ascribe your motives and thoughts to Him. For as God says in Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”
These great church leaders of Israel didn’t really believe that Christ was the Son of God, or even Godly at all. Their feeble attempt at testing Him was similar to Satan when he tempted Christ in the desert with the phrase: “If you are the Son of God….” All tests of God really question His divinity. They question His goodness. They question His power. They set us up as idols in opposition to Him.
No, my friends, we don’t live on tests or deal-making in our relationship to God. We live on grace. We feed our souls on the truth that no matter what happens in life God loves us in Christ and nothing can subtract from the forgiveness He won on the cross. And when in faith we submit our ego to His will by saying: “Thy will be done” and meaning it, blessings will come our way freely from His loving hand.
Our testing of God is akin to walking by sight and not by faith. It is our seeking to impose our will on Him because we trust our will more than we trust His grace. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t Put God to the Test! Instead, when He tests you in order to cause you to grow in your faith, pass His test by pleading the mercy of Christ and saying and meaning: “What God ordains is always good.” And never forget: God does test our faith at times, not to make us look bad, but to show forth His goodness in our lives and to cause us to appreciate it all the more. The Herodians and Pharisees didn’t learn this lesson. They ignored it and walked away. What will you do? Amen