Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read, especially these words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The season of Advent, the coming Christ—as the word advent means a coming, or an arrival—looks at this Jesus coming to us. And we see Him as He is that Jesus who comes to save us. You see that’s what those words mean, “Hosanna” means save us now. And this is said to this One who comes to those people then.
Of course, this is a curious thing, isn’t it? As I’m always making the point, where is God? He is omnipresent, as we say it theologically. He’s everywhere, right? So, how can this God who is everywhere come to be somewhere? How can this God who is everywhere have a “location,” so to speak? And what does it mean, then, that He would come to His people?
In a sense that’s what the season of Advent is all about. I’m pretty sure I say this every year, but, remember that Advent is this spot in the Church year where we have one eye at the Lord’s coming again at the end of time, especially like we talked about last week, and the other is on coming for us at the first Christmas. In other words, we could say that this is one eye on His coming to be judged for sin, and another on His coming to bring the judgment against sin in this world. That’s one sense, I think that’s one we can understand about His coming.
The other sense is that this is actually a mystery. How can the God who is everywhere be somewhere specific? We can’t define it per se. We can understand that it happens, for example, we know that this Jesus is God with us, He’s Immanuel, but how does God come to us in the flesh of man like that? Like always, I have to give that very technical answer of “I don’t know.”
In view of that mystery, then, come back to those words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Blessed is this Jesus, this One who comes in the Name of the Lord, those words that we say every Divine Service, as we say the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy; calling upon this One who comes to us in His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look first at what this coming was about.
When we look at Jesus’ preaching something I think we always want to jump over is His message when He first starts preaching. Do you remember what He says when He comes on the scene? In language that reflects this coming to us, He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s from this Gospel of Matthew itself. Jesus is baptized, He goes out into the wilderness, then He comes back and starts preaching, and Matthew says that’s what He preached. He said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Now there are three things noteworthy about this. The first is that word for “at hand.” That’s the same word you have when Jesus draws near to Jerusalem in the first verse of our Gospel Lesson today. Just as Jesus draws near to Jerusalem here, so also the Kingdom of Heaven draws near. In particular, it draws near in Him.
The second thing is that call to repentance. Now, as I say that, that’s a word we use a lot. We talk about things like Luther’s first thesis in the Ninety-Five Theses. Do you all remember what that one says? It says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said to do penance [or more properly we could say repent], He meant that the entire life of a Christian should be one of repentance.” So, what does that mean then? Well, as Lutherans we say that this means two things: contrition and faith. In other words, it means that you need to have sorrow for your sins. You need to recognize how devastating your sin is before God, how it disrupts your ability to stand near to Him—or as I was reading Luther on this passage He said that it means that you can’t come to Him. Right? Because of your sin and how corrupting and awful it is, you can’t come to God. No. Instead, He has to come to you. But this sorrow over your sin has to come first. Second, faith. Second, you have to trust that this sin is forgiven by that blessed blood of this God made flesh for you. You have to trust that this Jesus who entered into your flesh did so to take upon Himself your sinfulness and your brokenness coming that you would be redeemed.
The third thing is that this call to repentance is why He came. As He says in Luke, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This is His why He has come, for that call. When He comes, this is a part of it.
But think about why else He says that He comes. He says earlier in this Gospel from Matthew why He has come. He has come not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for the many. We think about kings and royalty, and as they go from place to place, they have attendants serving them, giving them care for their every need. But as we look at this Jesus, is that the point? No. Look at how He came at His birth. He came in this lowly farm animal trough. He was born and laid in a manger. He wasn’t laid in a comfy bed, but straw. He wasn’t clothed in rich fibers, but in swaddling cloths. He came this way to show the world His role. He wasn’t coming for the comforts of the wealthy. Look even at what the prophecy from Zechariah said in the lesson this morning: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” He wasn’t coming to receive the honor of other people taking care of His needs. No. He was coming to serve us in dying for our sins. He came to die for us, for you.
He also says it another way: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” As I said that about Luther making that point that we can’t be the ones who come to God, this only hammers it in place that much more. If you’ve ever been lost, or thought you were, I’m sure you can relate. Thankfully, as an adult I’ve not been too horribly lost. I’ve been unable to find a location I was trying to get to and have had to ask for directions, but wasn’t lost in the sense that I didn’t know where I was, just more wasn’t sure where the goal was. I also haven’t gotten lost when doing something like hiking. I’ve gotten off trail and thought of how scary it would be to be really in the middle of nowhere and get totally lost and not be able to find your way. And think about how that goes sometimes. You hear those stories on the news about hikers who get lost and they send the search teams to find them. They have, sometimes, helicopters, and people on foot, and maybe even things like sniffing dogs. And then when they find them, there is much rejoicing.
You see, your Lord knows that’s your state in this broken and fallen world. You are lost, and so He has come. He has come to seek and to save you. He has come to serve you by dying for your sin. He has come to call you to repentance that you would trust, not in your goodness, but in Him and His mercy for you.
And how has He come? Well, we look at this coming at the first Christmas, and obviously, we’ll look even more at that in the weeks ahead. But we also look at what that life was, how He came to this world and redeemed it. This One coming in the Name of the Lord, who rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday to ride to His death, but the One who had come into this world, born into it that first Christmas. We see that coming.
But we talked about this God coming now, being in a place now. What’s that look like? How does He come now? He comes to you where He promises to. You know that’s something I say with some regularity, but we have to deal with Jesus not according to what He can do, but according to what He promises to do. And think about what that means with this location of Jesus. We deal with Him where He promises to be, not wherever He can be. So, where is He? Everywhere. But where does He come to you now to call you to repentance, to serve you and give His life to you, to seek you and save you. Right here. He comes to you in this Word that’s preached to you. He comes to you in His body and blood. He came to you in baptism.
In all of this you know that He has come to you. Again, looking at Luther on this, he made the point that this faith that this brings is not just a knowledge that Jesus has done this, not just a trust that He’s done it, but a trust that He’s done this for you. Your baptism, the preaching, the Lord’s Supper, the absolution. Those tell you that He’s done it for you.
Then call on Him where He promises to be. Call on Him with that word, “Hosanna, in the highest.” Save us now, Lord. Save us from suffering. Save us from coronavirus. Save us from broken lives and broken relationships. Save us from divisions and discord. Save us from violence and terror. Save us from all sorrows and sadness. And He will. He will because He has come to save you from your sin. All of that comes from the very sin that He came to die for. And as He comes to you now, He tells you all of this is dealt with. Not just for the world, but for you. And as He says that, know then, that means for you. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, for you as He comes. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest! Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This evening we meditate on the Epistle lesson from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Amen.
As we gather for Thanksgiving this year, there’s no doubt that this is unlike any Thanksgiving we’ve ever had. While many of you might recall concerns for flu outbreaks in years past, we certainly haven’t seen anything with the reach that we see with the pandemic this year. But no matter the circumstances as we gather to give thanks, we hear the same lesson we hear year in and year out for this occasion: the healing of the ten lepers. In the midst of things, I’m sure we can appreciate that familiarity in a time when things have become so uncertain and unfamiliar. Likewise, I’m also sure that there is no question as to why this is the lesson. After all, just look at what happens.
I’ve pointed this out before, but it’s not mystery why this is the reading for a time of giving thanks. You’ve got the lepers who are healed, and you’ve got the one in particular who comes back and gives thanks to Jesus. There’s the point: giving thanks, right? And as we look at these lepers, we should understand why. These men were in a spot where they had lost their lives to this disease, in a sense. The were cut off from their families. They weren’t allowed to see them in their homes. They weren’t allowed to eat meals with them, to hug their children, to kiss their wives. No. In view of the risk that their infection could spread to the others around them, these lepers were separated. And the worst part of it was that they couldn’t go to the Temple either. They, in a sense, were cut off from their families, their loved ones, their homes, and worst of all, from God Himself.
The healing of Jesus restored all of that to them. They were healed. The showing of their healing to the priests allowed them to go back to all of this. They’re now allowed to live in their homes, they’re allowed to hug their children and kiss their wives. And they’re allowed in the Temple. They’re allowed back in that place where God meets with them. Certainly, it’s understandable how they should give thanks!
But for our part right now, we perhaps don’t feel as much like those healed lepers as the lepers before they were healed. Here we are preparing to observe one of the biggest days of gathering with family and loved ones, and yet it’s been shot. We’re stuck in our homes, we’re separated from those gatherings, we can’t hug all of those we’d like to hug, we can’t share that joy of a meal with those we’d like to feast with. And the fellowship at church is very different than what is ordinary. It’s still connected by the Spirit in the Gospel, but not in the body as God intends for it to be; those two not intended to be separated when it comes to the Church. And so, it’s a question we might be asking: how do we give thanks in the midst of this?
Of course, then you have the epistle lesson. Then you have Paul with his words that I so often point out as challenging even in regular circumstances. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Now as we’re talking about thanksgiving, hopefully you can see the connection, especially as Paul says that we should let our requests be made known to God with thanksgiving. This rejoicing goes hand in hand with thanksgiving.
Rejoice in the Lord always! Give thanks always! Give thanks even for the coronavirus!
What? Even for the coronavirus! Isn’t that blasphemous? Aren’t viruses and death the consequence of sin, the due judgment for our rebellion against God? Are you saying we should give thanks for our sinfulness and rebellion against God?
Oh no, may it not be! But we know that God uses these things to His good, and so we can thank Him. In fact, we should clarify what that means as well as this rejoicing. I’m sure you’ve heard me say that when Paul says rejoice here, or when he tells the Church in Rome to rejoice in their sufferings. When Paul says, “Rejoice always,” “we rejoice in our sufferings,” I don’t picture him as a cheesy grin on his face, just thanking God for how terrible things are. It’s not as thought we should picture this to say, “Oh golly, Lord, I’m just so excited for how this coronavirus is going, thank you!”
And yet there is this call to rejoice, to give thanks. And to understand that I think we could see the heart of this as Paul goes on. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything.” Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Your gentleness. I looked this up and it was compared to the position Christ was in by His attitude in chapter two just before this. You know that’s a relatively well-known passage, but you might not remember it off the top of your head, and that’s OK. It’s where Paul tells the Philippians that they should have the attitude like Christ. They should be like Jesus and think of others’ interest as more than their own. And in that Paul describes how Jesus was God in the flesh, but didn’t count that divinity something to be grasped, and so He lay down His life and considered our lives important, even to the point of obediently dying on the cross. Christians, this reasonableness here in our lesson tonight is like the gentleness, the meekness, the humility that Christ has. He knew who He was. He had confidence in His identity as the One who was God in the flesh. The world didn’t see Him that way, and when He spoke about it, they mocked Him. But He didn’t show it off, He didn’t rub His divinity in their faces. No, despite what they told Him to do, to save Himself, to get down from the cross, to use His power to spare His own life, He calmly, reasonably went on with His purpose.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Rejoice in this God always. Don’t be anxious. Again, but how?! How do we not worry? How are we not anxious? The hospitals are filling, the numbers are skyrocketing! What if I get the virus, or what if my loved ones get it?! Of course I’m going to be anxious, how could I not? “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
You might remember a few years ago, I attended a mini conference session with Dr. John Kleinig, the one who wrote the commentary I’m working from for our study on Hebrews, and Dr. Kleinig entitled his presentation that day “Don’t Waste a Good Worry.” His point? When you’re worried, don’t home in on that anxiety, instead pray. Don’t focus your attention on the fears that might overtake you. Instead focus your eyes on the Lord, the Author and Perfector of your faith. The One who for that joy set before Him endured the cross scorning its shame.
You see, you can rejoice because this is your Lord. Your Lord has joy in you. Your Lord Jesus has in His mind that joy that would lay down His life for you and carry your sin to the cross. Your Lord Jesus has in mind that joy that would lay down His life for your loved ones who might get sick. Your Lord Jesus has promised you not that you won’t feel like a leper on Thanksgiving, or on Christmas because of the need to protect people and not get them sick, instead He has promised you the fellowship of His eternal feast where you will be not only with all of your loved ones in the faith, but with He Himself, the Groom I spoke about Sunday who has loved you more than His own life.
And as we meditate on this love of our Lord, we think about who He is as the loving Lord, and think about where He is as the One sitting at the right hand of the Father. And as I say that, what does that mean? What does that mean that He sits at the right hand? It means that the Father has seen fit to give this Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. It means that Jesus has sovereignty over all things, that He reigns over all things. He is in charge over all things.
Now as we look around us, we might be inclined to turn back to fear. We might be inclined to say, “Ok, that’s all well and good, but what about this virus.” Do you think Jesus isn’t capable of working things with the virus and around it? And to be clear, I’m not advocating we throw all caution to the wind, we need to care for our neighbor. But where we might fall short, don’t you think He’s capable to work around it? Don’t you think whatever He works with it, He works in that same love that motivated Him to lay down His life for you, for your loved ones, for the whole world?
To be clear, this doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing for us and we won’t suffer, we won’t have pain, we won’t know loss in this broken and fallen world. That will keep happening that we’ll keep looking back at Him, but He has baptized you. He has made you His own. He has loved you, laid down His life for you. Won’t He certainly care for you in all things?
There is your ability to have reasonableness when others lose it entirely. There is your ability to have peace when the world only sees fleeting security. There is your ability relieve anxiety when worries pile upon worries. Just as our Lord had this ability in His identity as God’s Son, you have it in your adoption to God’s family in Christ.
In fact, as you might feel like a leper yourself at this time, you have the joy of knowing that you aren’t. Even the leprosy of your sin has been cleansed from you. That’s where peace and contentment come. Even further, I’m not going to read it, but as Paul goes on from these verses he describes that: the ability to find contentment in any circumstance. That’s yours as well. This same God who provided for Paul will provide for you. As He says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
And as we hear all of that, I hope we can understand how we can give thanks. Sure, there are many concerns that we have at this time. There are many worries, and challenges, but there is still reason for thanksgiving. Thanks be to God for all of these good gifts to us, His care, His love, His forgiveness, life and salvation, His peace, and His contentment. Thanks be to God, rejoice in Him. And as Paul concluded: To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
Sometimes when our Lord speaks in parables, the point of the parable isn’t exactly clear. Today’s parable is the opposite. Jesus gives the summary in verse thirteen and we need to hear it, to know it, to inwardly digest it, and to store it up in our hearts: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Jesus’ return could be anytime now, so we must keep our hearts attuned to the faith so that we are ready when that time comes.
But as Jesus makes this point, he does so within the context of this parable, this story, about a wedding. There’s the wedding, there are the attendants, there are the lamps and the oil. I think a lot of it doesn’t make sense to our ears. So, how do we understand all of this?
Well, to start, we have to understand a bit about weddings at that time. You see in the first century in Israel, weddings were a bit different than we have them today, as I’m sure you gathered just from hearing the reading. We think of weddings in view of this context of romance. You have this couple who meets, who finds attraction, who dates, falls in love, and when they decide the time is right, they get married. All the more now, there’s usually this period of testing the waters by moving in together, or even an avoidance of the actual marriage itself, for a commitment just of the heart and what we often call love.
At the time of Jesus, this wasn’t how it worked. Now, to be fair, I think there are some ways that today is better. At that time marriages were arranged by the parents of the pair getting married, something that admittedly doesn’t sound enticing. But, to be fair, parents do care for their children and do want what’s best for them, and in light of that, many marriages did grow into very loving relationships. But lest, we get ahead of ourselves and this parable, it was that arrangement that began the process. The parents would agree to the marriage. Then, there was the betrothal. This betrothal was much more than engagement is for us. In our day engagement is fairly serious, but breaking them isn’t horribly uncommon. At that time, the engagement was contractual. If an engagement was broken, that breaking occurred through a decree of divorce. This is what you see Joseph pursuing with Mary when it comes to his attention that she’s pregnant with Jesus.
After the betrothal period, something that could last up to a year, but with the couple still living in their parent’s homes, then the wedding. Now the preparation for the wedding would have been happening during this year. The husband would have been preparing for them to have their life together. He would have prepared a home for them, like Jesus references when He speaks of going to prepare a place for us in John 14.
And when, finally, the day came, the bride would be brought to the home. She would be brought to the home to await the coming of her bridegroom. In the parable, she’s there already waiting. But then you have the attendants. Apparently ten attendants was a lot, so this indicates the wedding is a really big deal. But you’ve got these attendants and they’re there to celebrate the coming of the groom.
Now, it was apparently also common for these weddings to happen after sundown to aid those traveling in being able to get there, perhaps after working in the light of the day, or if traveling from a distance, being able to travel in the light of the day. So the groom would come later, such that time would be given the guests to arrive. However, things didn’t really get rolling until the groom came.
In this parable, though, it appears the groom was delayed. It’s not clear why, but it must have been important. Just like now, it’s not as though the groom would unintentionally dawdle to delay the start of things. So, whatever is causing him to tarry is necessary. During that time, though, the attendants are to still attend.
And that’s where we come to the detail and heart of the parable. There these attendants are, and you have the ten of them. They’re there waiting and waiting and waiting. They’re waiting so long, in fact, that they all fall asleep. Now, if you watch my devotions, you know I made the point that this falling asleep isn’t the issue. You know, the point of this parable isn’t that we as Christians should never sleep, but try to stay awake all the time. Even as we hear Paul talking about us not being asleep in the epistle lesson, he’s speaking figuratively in the same vein that the parable is speaking. No, the sleeping isn’t the issue. Instead, it’s the preparation. Instead it’s what happens once the bridegroom is at hand.
And what’s that? Well we see in the parable this alarm that the bridegroom is coming. And we see that there are these five virgins who are prepared, having brought an extra flask of oil. These are wise attendants, they knew their jobs and made sure to do them. Then there are the foolish ones. In the Greek, they’re called morai, morons. Why are they morons? Because they didn’t come prepared. They weren’t ready to do their job. And so, they have to run off and get more oil.
Now as we say this we can get caught up in asking questions like, “wasn’t it selfish that the wise virgins didn’t share?” Or “Could they really have gotten oil from sellers at that time of night?” These things miss the point. What is the point? They weren’t ready. The bridegroom came and they had been unwise and so they weren’t ready to welcome him aright. And this was an insult. It was so insulting that when they get back, they aren’t allowed into the feast.
So, how do we translate this for ourselves, then? I think you get the general point, this is telling us that we need to be ready for when Jesus comes back. But what does that look like?
Well I had a great experience with that this week. We were sitting down at the table for breakfast and our older kids told our youngest to repeat what he had just told them. And what was that? He said, “I want to go to heaven.” Actually, he said, “I want to go to Amma and Papa’s” that’s his grandparents, but then he said, “but I really want to go to heaven.” Now, it might be easy to say, “well but he’s just three, he doesn’t understand what death really is or what heaven really is.” And in terms of our rationality, there’s something to that. But when it comes to true faith, he gets it. He trusts my wife and I when we say, “as much as you like treats and fun here, it will be even better with Jesus. And Jesus being there will be the best part of all.” Why don’t we have that attitude? Because we don’t really think it will be better. We think the pleasures of this life are the be all end all. We think that the treats and the toys of this life are as good as it gets. We think that enjoyment that comes from breaking the commandments is better than keeping them, and that the righteousness that comes from being a good person of our own strength is better than the righteousness Jesus gives to us. By that I mean, we like to say that it’s good that Jesus forgives our sins, but we like to think that those sins aren’t that bad and of course He would.
And so how much are we like those moronic virgins? How much are we actually not prepared for our Lord’s coming? Look at us. Like I said last week, look at how we put our trust into politics. Look at the reactions to the virus. As I say this, I hate that I always have to qualify what I’m saying, but especially with the increase in cases, we need to be taking caution. We need to be caring for our neighbors and taking care, especially in view of increased hospitalization numbers. But look at the great fear that dominates this so much. How many of us really look at this say, “I want to go to heaven?”
Sure, it’s OK for us still to want to go to “Amma and Papa’s” or whatever those joyous things we have on earth are. It’s OK for us want to see our children get married, to meet our grandchildren and have time with them. It’s OK for us to want to enjoy some things yet. But it’s not OK for us to want that more than to want to be with our Lord. It’s not OK for us to fear death more than we hope in the joy that is to come with Jesus. It’s not OK for us to fear things in the future more that we trust in Christ’s care for us.
You see, what’s the point of Jesus coming and dying for our sins? What’s the point our bridegroom coming to this world at the first Christmas to betroth Himself to us, dying the death we deserve, but rising to new life and ascending to heaven to prepare the home for us? It’s so that He can take us there. It’s because He is that groom who, despite tarrying for some important necessity, can’t wait for us to be in the feast with Him. He doesn’t want to look through the door and say “I don’t know you.” No, He wants us in the feast with Him.
And as I speak of that feast, I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m always reminded of the wedding of some friends of ours of Indian heritage. You see in India, it’s still common to have very grand wedding feasts, lasting even up to a week as was often the case in the times of Christ. And this wedding was a feast. For an evening and two full days we feasted. It was food buffet after food buffet after food buffet. Oh it was glorious. And Scripture tells us our eternity with our Lord will be a feast. It will be even greater. Or as we look at feasting for thanksgiving this week, it will be far beyond that. Isaiah 25 calls it a feast of rich food, of aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined.
And the best part then will be that our groom will be with us. It will be the feast of our eternal union with Him, where we will not be divided from Him by our sin, by the suffering and pain that sin brings, by the division and turmoil that comes with it, nor by coronaviruses. No, it will be us with Him, where He will come to us, having cleansed us from every offense against Him, and He will wipe away our every tear.
Christians, what a joy that will be. We can see why He calls us to be watchful for it. In His love for us, He wants us there and He doesn’t want us to miss out on it. He even blesses us with the foretaste of it in His feast here at His rail. Be prepared Christians. Whatever distracts you from that preparation, strip it away. In place of sins and earthly pleasures, put in your lamp repentance, faith, love, humility, watchfulness and sobriety. And most of all hope for that time. Fill that lamp that you will be ready for the day of His arrival. As the point of the parable says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” You don’t know when it will be. And sometimes you’ll doze off waiting for it. But keep that lamp full by His Word, by His gifts to you, keep it filled with the things to which He calls you in His promises. And keep it filled with those promises most of all. Because He wants you at that feast with Him, where He can show His love to you in caring for you eternally. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
As we hear the predicament of Jesus in the Gospel lesson, I think if we look around it’s one we can relate to. I have been speaking with regularity about the division that we see in our country, how we see it increasingly becoming divided, especially in politics. There’s the left, there’s the right, and the two are going farther and farther apart. In that division, then, the members of both sides want to claim as many as they can. They want this person, or that person to be clearly seen on their side. Or if the person appears to be on the other side, then they become outcasts, personae non gratae. For example, I don’t know if you saw any of the conversation about the rapper Ice Cube just before the election. He had reached out to the campaigns of both candidates in hope of having conversations about how those candidates could help black people with the specific issues they face. He made it known publicly that President Trump’s campaign had reached out and spoken with him, but Vice President Biden’s campaign had not. What was the response? “Ice Cube is endorsing Trump!” And along with that a mass rebuke from those who wanted Biden to be elected! Of course, Ice Cube never actually expressed an endorsement, but that’s the way this went.
But, that’s how social media goes altogether now, isn’t it? Either you’re on my side, or you’re on their side. It appears Jesus could likely identify with that as we see Him in the gospel lesson today, doesn’t it? Here He is, and as seems often to be the case, He’s in a spot where people are trying to trip Him up. Matthew tells us it’s the Pharisees this time. He says, “the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.” They’re setting Him up to fail, the word there is like a snare has been set. The trap is being laid out so Jesus will step in it and be caught up in His own words. In what and how do they do this? They ask Him about how the Roman Empire should be viewed. They say, “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.” They of course start with some flattery, to butter Him up, then comes the question, “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Now you might wonder how this is a trap. What does it matter how Jesus responds? To their point, He’s pretty clear about not caring whether or not He upsets the Pharisees. So, what’s the issue? That’s because the Herodains are there too. You see the Pharisees would likely have been aligned with the idea that Rome shouldn’t be there and shouldn’t be paid. They were known for their zeal and purity, and would have wanted freedom from this Caesar who would demand that they follow his rules and would insert his people into things even like their worship. This Caesar would not deserve their taxes. But then you have the Herodians. They would have been aligned with King Herod, the Jewish King. The king who had been installed in that role by this government of Caesar. To them, Caesar would have been AOK. So, if Jesus says to pay the tax, there are the Pharisees ready to pounce. If not, there are the Herodians. If Jesus says to pay, The Herodians call Him their own and the Pharisees will call Him persona non grata. If not, vice versa.
So, what’s the decision? Ultimately, the decision is that Jesus is wise. The decision is that Jesus knows hearts. Matthew says that Jesus responds, “aware of their malice.” Jesus is aware of their malicious intent. He sees right through their façade, He doesn’t look upon their faces, their appearances just like they know He doesn’t—or claim they do. In other words, Jesus is aware of their evil. What evil is that? It’s the evil of their sin. It’s the evil of Jeremiah 17:9; the evil we all bear: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” Jesus knows the sickness that they don’t trust in Him, and Jesus knows the sickness, the evil in which they do trust. They trust in earthly kings and princes to accomplish their salvation.
And so, He responds, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And when they do, what happens? He points out the nature of the coin, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And whose was it? Caesar’s. So, what does Jesus say, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He says give what is deserved to Caesar, and give what is deserved to God. And the people marvel, they go away in awe of the wisdom of this man. And that’s the thing for us to take away most of all from this. There is this wisdom of Jesus. Jesus is the One who is wisdom incarnate, the One who demonstrates the knowledge, the prudence, the discretion described in our reading from Proverbs. That’s absolutely the takeaway here. But as I say that, I think that’s something we all recognize. We all know that Jesus is so amazing as God in the flesh. Of course, we don’t get that in its fullness, but we know this to an extent. So, is that it?
Well if you’re keeping track we’re only about half way of the usual sermon length, so it would seem not. But it’s especially not in view of this division that we have in our country. It’s not even in view of how we ourselves as Christians often respond. You see, we so often get sucked into the same perspective. Either the government is illegitimate, in a sense, compared to God, and so needs to be ignored. Or we think the government is our salvation. And what is the Word for us to hear in this?
First, in view of how Jesus says that there is something to be rendered to Caesar—and this word for rendering has roots in giving what is owed in particular in view of retribution. Return what is owed to Caesar in retribution for what Caesar has done. And retribution has negative connotation, but make that a bit more neutral. Give back to Caesar in payback or justice for what Caesar has done. How do we understand that? Well, Paul uses the same word in Romans Chapter Thirteen. Speaking of the Government—this same Roman government Jesus describes—saying “one must be in subjection [to the government], not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” So, God puts the government in place and we are to be subject to it—not because it executes God’s righteousness perfectly, but because He uses it. And then Paul uses this same word from Jesus to give: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” There is what Caesar is owed. The government is owed taxes, revenue, respect, honor. Why? Because this is God’s servant for our good, for the ordering of society. Not always perfectly—never perfectly, but that honor is owed.
But then there’s the flip side. However, render to God what is owed to Him too. While we certainly always need to hear that aspect of rendering to Caesar what is Caesars, right now, I think we need all the more to hear that we should render to God what is His. As I speak of this division, I think this comes down to a problem. I think those on the left and those on the right are falling into the trap where they want to render to Caesar what is God’s. You might be thinking, “how so?” You might especially be thinking, “I see how the people on the other side do it, but I’m not!!!” And to be fair you might not be. Afterall, I think those faithful Christians who would be inclined to the left see things like how the left purports to be seeking justice and care for all peoples, and all the more they might see how President Trump has acted in a way that is inconsistent with the Christian faith in His words and life, and they see the right as incompatible with the faith. Then those one the right see how the left in many ways is seeking to do away with a society grounded in the understanding of God’s order for creation and His care for life and the unborn, and they see their policies economically as the most beneficial for bringing us to the closest we’ll be for economic justice, and they see the left as incompatible with the faith. In either case, the decision is being sought in view of things oriented toward the faith. However, look at the reactions we have. Many on the right are distraught at the thought of Biden having won the election. Many on the left were distraught at the thought that Trump was going to win, especially when there was the expectation for a landslide. What does such anxiety indicate?
It indicates that we think the government is our savior. Again, this is found on both sides, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t vote or have passion about political things, but when we are so anxious about political outcomes what does it indicate? It indicates that we are putting our faith in human governments rather than in our God. Think about that explanation for the First Commandment. What does Luther say about it? You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. When we have this anxiety, we are trusting that the government is our salvation, just like the Herodians. Or we’re trusting that God’s kingdom will be of this world like the Pharisees.
Again to be clear, I’m not necessarily rebuking your political views. As I’ve heard many of them, I think they come from a place generally grounded in faith. But we all need that rebuke of our political trust. Christians, the government is not your savior. The promise is not that the government will save you, nor that it will bring about a utopia. If your attitude is along those lines, and to some degree or another, I am guessing it is, there needs to be repentance. It is not promised that the government will take care of you.
It is however promised that God will take care of you. So, as you look at the political situation, remember that: GOD will take care of you. He is the One who will do it. He is the One who sent Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate, who sent the Son into the flesh as Wisdom Incarnate to redeem you. GOD will take care of you, not the government, nor the political circumstance. Likewise, God will take CARE of you. This Jesus who has redeemed you has taken your sin to the cross and taken care of it. The retribution that is owed to you, what should be given to you by God because of your sin, that has been suffered by Jesus that you would be forgiven. And in the promise of His resurrection, it is shown that you are cared for. In fact, in your baptism, in the preaching of the Word, the forgiveness of your sins, in the Lord’s Supper, it’s proven that God will take care of YOU.
Rest, then, in this God, Christians. Don’t rest in being on your side of the political division, rest in Christ. Rest in His wisdom and His knowledge and His care. Render to Caesar in that what is Caesar’s, and Caesar is owed something. But make sure to render to God what is God’s. After all, He is owed much more than we can ask or imagine in His love for you. That love found in the Christ who has taken what should be rendered to you and relieved you of that by His grace in the Wisdom that is His forever. Amen.