Dear Savior, we live in a scary world where worries about war, money, and political upheaval have all combined to get us down on life itself. Everywhere we turn supposed “experts” are offering us advice and guidance. And yet, our distrust of them has frozen us into inaction and only compounded our fears. Remind us today that only You have real answers to real problems. Remind us that when we listen to You and act on the principles You lay down for us, we’ll successfully navigate the whirlpool of modern life. And in so doing, reinforce in all of us both our faith and our allegiance to You, alone. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ANSWER MAN, THE ANSWER GOD!
TEXT: Matthew 22: 15-21
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
We’re less than one month away from a new election of our national leaders. The frenetic pace of the campaigns, coupled with instantaneous media coverage via cable T.V. and the internet, have combined to a point where the media seems to manufacture news just to get ratings. One of the media’s favorite tactics to accomplish this is: “Gotcha questions.” You know how it goes. Some reporter has a political figure in for an interview and asks some obscure question about some obscure leader or topic. The candidate is a bit flustered, gives a mumbled answer, and immediately it becomes headlines. The upshot of it is: “See, they are unqualified for office! They didn’t know the answer!” I’m always amazed that people fall for this kind of media stupidity. Let’s be frank. Anybody can play “gotcha” with any other human being. If the disreputable car mechanic wants to flummox you with minutiae about your auto, he can. If the lawyer wants to trip you up over pages of contract fine print, they can. If I wanted to trip you up over Bible knowledge, I probably could, too. But, just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you’re stupid or unqualified to own a car, to sign a contract, or to be a Christian. When it comes to political candidates for high office, don’t they employ experts in these fields of minutiae? And aren’t we looking for someone who can see the big picture and then make sound judgments on the basis of what their experts tell them about it? One of the wisest men I’ve ever known, a college history prof, used to use the phrase: “Knowledge cubed.” That is, if you’re truly smart and wise, the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know—not just by a squared ratio, but by a cubed ratio! My father knew more about almost anything than I’ll ever grasp. And yet, when asked his opinion, he would usually say: “I don’t know.” He wasn’t afraid to utter those words—even though he could have talked hours on the topic. For he realized that for all his reading and retention, his grasp of the topic was incomplete. He was a wise man.
In today’s lesson, timed about a week or so before Christ was crucified, two religious/political groups who hated each other combine forces to attempt playing “gotcha” with Christ. The Pharisees hated the Herodians and vice-versa. The Pharisees were ultra-religious zealots while the allies of King Herod were strictly political animals who could care less about those “faith-based” weirdo’s. The fact that these hated enemies have combined forces against Jesus shows Christ’s growing power among the masses. They are so threatened by Him that they seek Him out and pose a “gotcha” question in order to make Him look bad and erode His political/religious base.
Jesus was not only a human, but also the eternal Son of God. He saw right through their scheme. But unlike any human, he didn’t duck the question, or attack them for asking it. No, He turned the tables on them with His answer and ended up “getting” them! And Christ did all this in perfect harmony with His mission and His preaching. Yes, right here we clearly see that:
JESUS TALKED THE TALK AND WALKED THE WALK
Make no mistake, these Pharisees and Herodians were extremely smart. They knew they had to somehow ally Christ to the hated Roman overlordship of the people, thus depriving Him of His base, or they had to marginalize Him from Rome and thus bring Rome’s wrath down upon Him to destroy Him. So, they butter Him up and then ask their trick question: “Teacher, we know you are 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?”
If Christ answered: yes! The people would be outraged. If He answered: no! Rome would be outraged. The question posed was a gotcha one. It was an either/or. Any regular human being would fall for it, too. But Jesus wasn’t a regular human being. He was also the Son of God. And in His divine wisdom (knowing their evil intent) He answers them this way: “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the (temple) 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.”
If any of you have read the “Odyssey” by the great Greek poet, Homer, you’ll recall on the long voyage home from the Trojan war the hero, Ulysses, once found himself and his ship of men caught between what we would call: a rock and a hard place. He had to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis, or ship-smashing rocks on the left and a ship-sucking whirlpool on the right. Ulysses steered between the two and was saved.
Here Christ does the same thing. And in His answer and by His actions, He shows that He is wise and all-knowing. He talks the talk, and also walks the walk of true Godliness. He also lays down a bedrock principle for us to follow. That is, while we live in this world we have to straddle two kingdoms, or two separate states of existence. One is spiritual, one is physical. One is honoring God and the other is honoring the state, or government. One is being a good Christian and the other is being a good citizen. Note well that for Jesus this isn’t an either/or issue. It’s a both/and issue. We have responsibilities to our lives in both realms. In the world we are to obey the laws, pay taxes, vote, and promote positive citizenship within the law. We are to do this because of the 2nd table of the Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But at the same time we are to honor and obey God and give Him, not taxes, but our very hearts.—“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” Of course, the trick is navigating between the two when issues seem blurred and conflicts erupt. And then, if forced to chose between a perfect God and an immoral government which is telling us to openly sin, as Peter says: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” In other words, don’t sin against your conscience and live a lie.
This wasn’t easy for Christ and it isn’t for us. And yet, He talked the talk of love and forgiveness and walked the walk of paying for human sin and hypocrisy all the way to the cross. There He died. There our worries and uncertainties died. There our future was sealed with His blood. And on Easter that future was clearly revealed to everyone. It is life, love, and joy. It is the ability to rise above the ups and downs of markets and politics knowing that the best awaits us in Christ, in heaven. And knowing that, my friends, is the reason why we will never have to throw in the towel to despair. Amen