Sermon for Pentecost 21 – 10.22.23

+ 21st Sunday after Pentecost – October 22nd, 2023 +

Series A: Isaiah 45:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 1; Matthew 22:15-22

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church

Milton, WA

“The Things of God”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A good boxer knows when his opponent is about to throw a heavy right hook, but a great boxer will use that attack, duck to the side, and throw a counter punch. A good chess player will see his opponent’s opening move, a queen’s gambit perhaps; but a great chess player will counter the opponent with a challenge or trap of his own. 

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus and the pharisees are in the ring for another round, trying to corner Jesus. There’s a chess game going on and the pharisees’ disciples think they have Jesus in check. And yet again, Jesus turns the tables on his opponents; he issues a challenge of his own…not for trophies or titles, but to bring his hearers to repentance and forgiveness.

Matthew sets the scene, “the Pharisees went and plotted how to entrap him in his words.” 

This also sets the tone for what follows. Jesus’ opponents aren’t motivated by truth or goodness. While claiming to follow God’s Law, their conversations have shown repeatedly that they did not hear or heed God’s Law from the mouth of the Son of God himself. While each group probably had its own opinions about the temple tax, neither group – the pharisees or Herodians – really care about the question or the answer. They care about one thing and one thing only: discrediting and destroying Jesus by any means necessary.

“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.[b]

You can hear their tone just by reading it. Their words drip with sarcasm and double meaning. Fake flattery. It’s all rather ironic too. The pharisees don’t even believe what they are saying, and yet, they are right. Jesus is true – the Truth of God in the flesh. And he speaks and teaches the Father’s ways and words truthfully. But they will say anything to trap Jesus. Solomon warned about this in Proverbs. A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.

Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 

In politics this would be called a gotcha question. So they toss him a controversial topic: the temple tax. If Jesus answers, “No, it isn’t lawful”, the political Herodians might have reason to go after Jesus for being a traitor or a religious nutcase. And if Jesus answers, “Yes, it is lawful”, then Jesus the pharisees can peg Jesus as a traitor and blasphemer for supporting the Romans. Again, Jesus’ opponents don’t really care about the answer. They only want to trap, discredit, and destroy Jesus. 

But like a champion boxer or a master chess player, Jesus knows it. He sees it coming a mile away. He doesn’t engage their question. instead he challenges their treachery…He knows their evil intent. He calls them out on it. And then punches back with a challenge of his own.

Jesus begins with an accusation, a rebuke; he knows their wickedness. “Why do you tempt me, you hypocrites?” Next, Jesus gives them a non-answer to the question they really don’t care too much about. 

“Show me the coin for the tax.”  And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Then pay Caesar’s things to Caesar.” A rather simple, clever reply, the coin bears the image of Caesar’s ownership. But notice that Jesus hasn’t really answered the question about whether or not it was lawful because the pharisees don’t care about the question and Jesus knows it. Jesus won’t fall for their trap. The one thing we do know the pharisees believe here is that they thought it was God’s will to oppose and reject and ultimately crucify Jesus.

Finally we come to the counterpunch. Jesus throws down his own gambit. Jesus’ opponents came pretending they wanted to know what God’s Law required. So Jesus gives them a full dose of His Law.

Render, or pay to God the things that are God’s.

This is the knockout punch. The checkmate move. The question really isn’t about Caesar’s authority – as Jesus tells Pilate at his trial before the crucifixion, “You would have no authority at all unless it had been give you by my Father in heaven.” No. the issue is whether or not the pharisees – and all who hear Jesus words – believe that he is and bears the authority of God, as the Son of God, as the one the Father sent with all authority to teach, preach, heal, forgive, live, die and rise from the dead. 

Jesus brings it back to the first commandment. It’s always a first commandment one way or the other. 

Who was their god? What or who did they fear, love, and trust in? It wasn’t Jesus. 

What about us? What are your hopes and fears about tomorrow? What weighs on your mind this morning or last night or throughout the week? Where are you looking for help and rescue from all that threatens your life and your future? In who or what do we fear, love, and trust? If it’s not Jesus, we’re no better off than the pharisees. Today’s Gospel reading isn’t really a matter of taxes, but a matter of trust. Have we given to God the things that are God’s? No. But there is one who has. 

And the good news is that Jesus did this for you. He is the image of God in human flesh, the second Adam, new humanity. He came into our flesh to render to God what was God’s, namely our humanity, and to restore the image of God to our flesh. He rendered to God the things that are God’s. He did it “not with gold or silver,” not with the coin of Caesar, but with His holy and precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death at the hands of the Pharisees and the Herodians and the Roman government all of whom served as God’s instrument that you would belong to him, be holy in him, be saved and declared righteous in him. 

The devil and world looked at Jesus on the cross and thought they had Jesus cornered at last. Thought they had Him nailed down. But not even death and the grave could hold Him, this perfect image of God in Man. Nothing can hold Him, for He holds all things. Yes, even you. 

God’s put His image and inscription on you in your Baptism. He’s restored His image and likeness. You are saved and declared righteous in Jesus. You holy and precious in Jesus. You don’t belong to Caesar. You belong to God in Christ crucified and risen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Beautiful Savior

is a traditional Lutheran Church, faithful to God's Word and His Sacraments. We equip God's people to serve, love, and encourage one another as we grow in our personal relationship with Christ. We reach out to the community as beacons of light, sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Church Office Hours

Monday - Thursday 8:30am-3:30pm

Friday 8:30am-11:30am

The office is closed on Fridays during the summer months of June, July, and August.

Preschool Office Hours

August - May
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

By appointment only June and July


2306 Milton Way
Milton, WA 98354
(253) 922-6977
(253) 922-6977