In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
But this is easy to confuse, isn’t it? When you view someone as an authority figure, you don’t always distinguish what the limits of their power are. We sinners tend to react in two ways to authority. We simply bow to them without thinking whether they are acting within the sphere of the power given to them, listening to whatever they say, and letting them do whatever they want to whether it is right or wrong. OR we rebel, obstinately backbiting, gossiping, maligning, and generally resenting any kind of authority figures in our lives. As sinners those are the two basic default reactions we all have. Both are equally harmful to your neighbour and yourself.
For what good does it do you to complain and think badly of a police officer or tax agent just for doing the work that as society we ask them to do? When we think about it we see the logic of not abusing them, or thinking and talking badly about people in such positions. But we are not logical beings. We are beings of passions, of irrationality, of sin. Or as Saint Paul said, “The good I wish to do I do not do, yet the evil I do not wish to do, this I keep on doing.” Repent of your sinful irrationality. Trust in Jesus who has done all things well, including what you can not do, paying the debt you owe.
Ignorance is no excuse. So if you lack knowledge receive what is given today. Taxes and death are constants in this world and both exist because of this reality of sin. For without Adam’s sin, there would be no death, and there would be no rebellion and irrationality. There would be no need for taxation to maintain authorities whose job it is to keep us in line and keep evil doers from harming others. There would be no need for such authorities if not for our sinful rebellion in attitude and action.
This is what Our Lord had to teach. The Pharisees were rebellious against the Roman government of their day. They hated the authorities God had put over them. But against Our Lord they made common cause with their enemies, the Herodians. The Herodians were Jews who were passive, and didn’t speak up about the abuses of their ruler, Herod. They supported him because he gave them favours, plum jobs, and the best government contracts, etc. Both the Pharisees and the Herodians had made their choice. They knew what Jesus said that no man can serve two masters, that you will love one and hate the other. The Herodians had chosen to serve government and trust it as their god, looking to Herod for all good things in their lives. The Pharisees claimed they trusted in God, but the Son of God stood in front of Him and they rejected Him. For in reality they were authorities unto themselves. They trusted in themselves, in their own righteousness, and in their own legalistic rule following. They thought that God and the world owed them. They were your classic guys with daddy issues. Your classic Joe who hates authority and sits in the coffee shop with his buddies complaining about the government and taxes, about how everyone has wronged him, and how he knows so much better than everyone else. Such ones won’t ever submit themselves to any authority other than themselves. They are annoying, self-righteous, and pathetic.
Together they thought they had set their trap. If Jesus says, “Don’t pay taxes to Caesar,” the Herodians will have him arrested. If He says, “Pay taxes to Caesar,” the Jews will know Him to be a traitor to His own people and to His God.
In their foolish arrogance they were blinded to the truth. For if you believe in God, then you trust Him, listen to Him, read His Word, and long to hear what He says. Thus, you know that He puts authorities in place for your benefit. You can only serve one master, so you love Him. He is your God and Father who gives all the good things you have to you. But He gives you those good things through His servants whom He puts in place. He gives us the good of earthly peace, justice, order, and stability through governments. He gives us eternal peace, forgiveness, life and salvation through His Son and through His Son’s Word and Sacraments distributed by His Church’s authorities. Thus you love them for you love your God. They are as God unto you giving you His gifts according to their vocations.
So give to God’s servants in government what you owe them: honour, respect, support, taxes. Don’t do this on account of the man, for the person in that office is not always worthy of such honour. But a Christian respects the office that God has created which they hold and thus gives the office holder such honour praying that they might do as God wills in their office. And likewise, you give to God and to His authorities in His Church what is due to God: your heart, your prayers, your thanksgiving, and worship for the salvation so richly poured out on you through Jesus Christ.
For Christ our Lord used both sets of authorities to accomplish His salvation of you. He willingly let Himself be crucified. But it was the governing authority who had the job of judging and executing judgement. It was Pontius Pilate who judged Him rightly saying, “I find no sin in Him.” But nonetheless, as the holder of God’s sword of justice he allowed God’s justice to fall upon and devour the innocent Lamb of God.
It was God’s authorities in His church, His highpriests, men who did not believe in Jesus, who did not deserve the office they held, but who nonetheless wielded their authority to deliver God’s salvation for mankind by sacrificing the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They spilt the blood of the true Passover lamb causing God to sheath His sword of eternal judgement on your sin and pass over you so that you do not get what you deserve.
On this side of heaven Christians live in two kingdoms: God’s kingdom where He rules us with His grace and Man’s kingdoms where sinful humanity is ruled by law and force. Thanks be to God that our ultimate citizenship is of heaven above through Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON