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Worship Theme: The Church honors governing authorities
Sermon Theme: The Christian Honors Government?/.
I’m tired. I wish I could say it was because of a long week, or being woken up multiple times in the middle of the night by the screeching of a dying smoke detector and sleepily stumbling around the house trying to figure out which one was the culprit. But that’s not the reason I’m tired. I think it’s because I have political exhaustion. It’s a real thing. This is not fake news. These last few weeks we have been inundated with political ads in every aspect of life. Turn on the TV, scroll through social media, check your email, listen to Pandora, drive down the street, you can’t avoid the politicians and their message. Add to it that this is a very contentious election and, from the politicians to their supporters, there is very little civility and respect for one another. Oh, and let’s not forget that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic where everyone has an opinion on whether it is political or how the government is doing in providing measures to keep people safe and whether we ought to or want to follow their directives. Can I throw in the hot button issues of social injustices and how our leaders are handling that too? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired.
Guess what? Today’s readings from the Bible bring us back into the political ring. They all deal with government and how a Christian ought to view and interact with government. Perfect timing! These are words that we all need to hear today, whether it serves as a reminder or you’re hearing them for the first time. At a time like this when politics are so heated and when even Christians are wrestling with issues with government, we need to hear how God wants us to view government. You might notice that the theme for today’s sermon printed in the worship folder says, “The Christian Honors Government” and then, it’s not a typo, but the punctuation is both a question mark and a period. Which is it? The reality is that we are wrestling with that thought right now. Should the Christian honor government, even though one doesn’t agree? The Christian honors government? What starts out often as a question, I pray ends today as a statement.
The stage was set. The sides were drawn. Unexpected alliances were formed. False pleasantries were exchanged. Then the debate was on. Let’s hear your opinion! And all the while one side hoped to trap the other in his words to discredit him in front of his supporters. It was the beginning of what they hoped would be the greatest smear campaign ever!
Now I’m not describing a political debate that has taken place recently, although it would seem that way, but rather the political debate that Jesus was in as we heard from the gospel for today. Jesus was in a political debate?? He sure was. His enemies were trying to trap him in his words. “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” It’s interesting to note the two groups that joined together here to trap Jesus. The Pharisees and the Herodians each had their own political ideals, but they set aside their differences for a bipartisan attempt to get rid of Jesus as they both saw Jesus as a threat to their leadership. They saw this question about paying taxes as a sure-fire way to get rid of Jesus. Either he says, “No, don’t pay taxes,” and then the Herodians report him to the Roman governor and Jesus is executed for treason, or he says, “Yes, pay taxes,” and he would be discredited among the Jewish people who despised Rome. Either way he answered, they were finally going to get Jesus out of the picture.
But Jesus knew their game. He called them out for their hypocrisy and asked them to bring him a coin. Then he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” That coin was similar to our coins. Take a quarter for example. Whose face is on the quarter and what does it say? You have George Washington and the inscriptions “In God we trust” and “E Pluribus Unum” which means “out of many, one.” What did the coin that Jesus held have on it? On one side was the image of the current emperor of Rome, Tiberius. On the other side it said, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.”
Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The crowd heard this, was amazed and left Jesus alone. They were floored that Jesus had avoided their cunningly devised trap. Let’s unpack that statement, because what Jesus says here lays the foundation for how the Christian is to look at government.
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” In other words, Jesus says to give to the government what is the government’s.” And so, the big question is what are you to give to the government? Obviously in this immediate context, it’s the imperial tax. But God expands this as you heard in the reading from Romans, chapter 13. What are you to give to the government? Give yourself, subjecting yourself, or willingly placing yourself under the governing authorities, in other words, give obedience to laws. Do not rebel. Pay taxes. If you owe revenue, pay it. Give government respect and honor.
Why should we do such things? Government has authority from God and was created by God for the same reason he created anything in this world, for your blessing. You may laugh or even cringe at that thought, but that is the purpose of government, to be a blessing to those that are under its leadership. The role of government is to curb and control the outward actions of people in this world for the good of society. The role of God’s kingdom – the work that God does through the proclamation of the gospel – focuses on the inside of a person, on the heart as it seeks to change a person from sinner to saint through the blood of Jesus. The struggle that Christians often have is when the government doesn’t line up with God’s kingdom. But understand that they won’t. Each serves two different purposes with two different means.
The question that the crowd tried to trick Jesus into is still asked of you. “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar?” “Is it right to give honor to the government?” Do Christians honor government? There’s that question mark again. And now is a time for you to give honest reflection. The reality is that you are tempted by your own perception of morality to rebel or fight against the government and its leaders and sometimes you even try to justify it as “Christian.” To spread lies, to make false accusations, to blatantly refuse to obey laws, let’s call it like God does. It’s sin.
Do you think Jesus liked or even approved of everything that the Roman Emperor did? No. How often did you hear Jesus speak out against the government? He didn’t. What did he disapprove of and speak out against? Sin. Disobedience to God. Even when the governing authorities both within the Jewish community and the Roman state turned as wicked and evil as it could, unfairly accusing, illegally putting on trial, and executing an innocent man, Jesus Christ, he still did not speak out.
Jesus’ perfect obedience both to his Father’s will, and our eternal needs, and to a government that put him to death, was done in your place for all of your failures to honor the government and to honor God. To pay for all of your sins. Thank God for that! In Christ, you are forgiven. And that forgiveness which makes you a citizen of God’s kingdom and gives you a place in eternal life I pray gives you a new perspective on life in this world.
There was more to Jesus’ statement. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” What are we to give to God? Honor God by honoring his will, and his will is that you honor government. By honoring government, you honor God. By faithfully and obediently living underneath the government, whether a good or a bad government, you give obedience to God and trust that God is in control.
Daniel of the Old Testament, famous for being thrown into a lions’ den, is a beautiful example of what it means as a child of God to live under a less than ideal government. He was part of a group of young Israelite men who were brought over to Babylon when Israel was conquered. Daniel was placed into a program to be raised up as a government leader in the very government that had destroyed his home, the temple of God, and tore him away from this family. What did Daniel do? Did he refuse? Did he rebel? No. He served faithfully. He did it under pagan kings. The only time he didn’t obey, was when he was told to do something against God. Even then, he was well aware of the earthly consequences of his actions like being thrown in a den of lions. But he honored the government, because he honored God.
Do I like the current tax rate? No, I’d always love for it to be lower, but I will still pay my taxes on April 15. Do I like that there is a mask mandate in Wisconsin? Masks aren’t my favorite things to wear and there are a lot of differing opinions about them, but I will wear it because I am asked to by my government for the safety of my neighbor. Do I like to go 25 miles per hour down my street? I’d sure like to go faster, but I try to keep the lead out of my foot. Will I agree with all of the policies that will be put in place by whoever is elected in the coming weeks? Probably not. But I will give them my honor and respect. Why? To honor God by honoring my government. The Christian honors government. Period.
I’m still politically fatigued. But thankfully we’re only a few more weeks away, God-willing, from the end of this political season. Here’s how I can find rest. No matter who is elected or what laws are enacted, our God reigns. “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad!” (Psalm 96:9-11). Amen!
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