Matthew 22:15-22 – Render to God Jesus

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Matthew 22:15-2215 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Do you find your actions result in unintended consequences?

In 1912, we learned a lesson from the sinking of the Titanic – you need to have enough lifeboats for everyone on the ship. When the “unsinkable” Titanic launched on its maiden voyage there were 2,223 people on board, but the ship had enough lifeboats for just under 1,200 people. Because of this in 1915, the federal “Seamen’s Act” was passed in the United States which required all ships to have enough lifeboats for all its passengers.

Well, there was a boat in Chicago called the Eastland. When it was built, the Eastland had a design flaw – it was top-heavy, its center of gravity was way too high causing the boat to list. When the “Seamen’s Act” passed, the Eastland had to add more heavy lifeboats to accommodate the number of passengers. But this, of course, made the ship even more top-heavy. Anyway, on July 24, 1915, the Eastland was chartered by a company to take its workers on their annual picnic. As the passengers boarded, they stood on the deck to take in the morning air. But suddenly the boat tipped over on its side, and 848 people died because the boat had been made “safer,” but that safety resulted in unintended consequences.

Good intentions do not always equal good results. Sometimes unintended consequences cause more mayhem like in the case of the Eastland. But sometimes unintended consequences produce unexpected benefits. Something like that happens in our text today.

In this Gospel text, the Pharisees are out for blood. Jesus is a threat to their authority, so they want Jesus dead. The Pharisees are looking for a way to trap Jesus in His words. They wanted to set a trap for Him so they could accuse Him of a capital crime. So the Pharisees worked together with the Herodians to lay out their trap. This would be similar to the farthest left liberal and the farthest right conservative joining forces to achieve something together. It’s almost unbelievable that something like this would happen.

The Herodians represented the Roman occupation of Israel. Herod’s dynasty had come to power only because Rome had given it to them. The Pharisees and the people living in Israel hated the fact that they were under the Herod’s and Roman rule, but they couldn’t really do anything about it. Both the Herodians and the Pharisees viewed Jesus as a threat to their way of life, and as the saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

They lay a snare for Jesus. They are going to ask Jesus a question that will catch Him in His words. But first they try to disguise their trap. They lather their trap in honeyed words. “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.” Thinking they have Jesus fooled and off His guard, they set the trap. ”Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”Jesus & Pharisees arguing about the tax

Now, if Jesus says, “No,” the Herodians, the representatives of Rome, will think He is stirring up a rebellion. About 25 years before this, in 6 AD, a man named Simon the Galilean lead a revolt because of this very same tax resulting in a civil war. The Herodians would kill to stop another rebellion like this. But if Jesus says, “Yes,” the crowds who are following Him will be disgusted with Him seeing Him as a traitor to God the Jewish state.

But Jesus sees right through them. “Hypocrites. You evil, conniving, two-faced hypocrites. I’m going to ask you a question. Show Me the coin you use to pay the tax.” Someone in the group pulls a denarius out of his pocket and shows it to Jesus. And Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is on this coin? Whose icon and writing is this?”

They answer, “Caesar’s.” Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” In other words, Jesus tells these nefarious hypocrites, “Since that coin has Caesar’s icon and writing on it, give it back to Caesar if he asks for it. But any other ‘currency,’ any other thing, that has God’s icon and writing on it, when God asks for it, render it to Him.”

With this answer, Jesus makes those hypocrites look like Wiley Coyote trying to catch Roadrunner. They marvel and go away.

Passover LambBut, fast-forward a couple of days. These hypocrites will do exactly what Jesus says. They will render to God the things that are God’s. They will render to God Jesus. Desperate to get rid of Him, the hypocrites will arrest Jesus and bring Him before Pilate saying, “This Man is forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a king” (Lk. 23:2). They make sure that Jesus gets placed on the cross, and in doing so, they render to God Jesus, the Son of God.

Just as the denarius bared the icon and words of Caesar, Jesus is the icon and Word of God (Col. 1:15; Jn. 1:1-4). But these hypocrites call for Jesus’ death thinking it will benefit them and their way of living. But killing Jesus will have unintended consequences with eternal benefits. They offer to God the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – even their own sin.

Your actions also have unintended consequences. When we complain about our political leaders, we sin – not only against them, but also against God. Those in authority over us are placed there by God. If you resist the authorities, you resist and rebel against God (Ro. 13:1-7). You and I are sinners, descendants of Adam. We bear the icon of original sin (1 Co. 15:49) from the time we are conceived. Everything we do, even our righteous deeds fall apart in our hands producing sin and death.

BaptismHowever, God has given you the icon of Christ (1 Cor. 15:49). When you were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). When you were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God put His words, His name, on you.

In allowing Himself to be offered to God, Jesus offered to God the things that are God’s. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus redeemed you and all of creation and presents it back to God. Our evil toward God has resulted in the best unintended consequence – eternal life with Him. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 22:1-14 – I’m Serious. Come. Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

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Matthew 22:1-141 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who had been called to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who have been called, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and torched their city. Matthew 22 Wedding Garment Parable8 Then he says to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and call to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he says to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here even though you do not have a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

You have a God who wants to, “prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies” (Ps. 23:5). You have a God who has made for you “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full or marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Is. 25:6). But most of the time, we sinners look at God as though He is a blood-thirsty deity that we are fed to rather than a loving heavenly Father we are fed by (Capon). But a God full of wrath and anger is not the kind of God you have.

Jesus depicts God’s reign, His saving action in the world, as a king who gave a wedding feast. The king sends out invitations, and then he sends out his servants to call those who had already been called. But after these two calls, the guests still do not come. The king eagerly sends out other servants tempting the guests to come, “The feast is ready. Listen to this tasty menu; I’ve killed my best animals and barbequed them. The table is set. The wine is poured. Come to my palace. Let’s have a hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’, side-splinnin’ good ol’ time.”

The guests still make light of it all. They ignore the call and go about their regular business. One goes off to his farm, and another goes off to his business. Some of the other invitees make it clear what they think of the king and his party. They seize the king’s servants who were simply inviting them to come to a feast, treat the servants disgracefully, and kill them. This is no way to run a social life.

Pause here for a moment. Notice, the two types of people here. First, there are those who think that the king’s gracious attitude will absolve them from the bother having to sit through his feast (notice the sarcasm). These people say, “Oh, I have so much stuff to do, I can’t be interrupted to go to a boring party at the palace.” Second, there are those who think that they are too good, too fancy, too high-brow to be seen at the feast. Maybe they see the guest list and say, “Oh, I couldn’t be seen with the likes of those people. It would ruin my reputation.” But what is common to both of these groups is that they are lacking in faith that the king’s feast is the place to be. And by rejecting the king and his feast, the people are left with nothing because outside of this party, there is no life at all.

The palace is decorated, and the music has started. But the town is filled with indifference and violence towards the king and his party causing the streets flow with the blood of the king’s servants.violent-men (1)

So before he can preside over the party, the king has to oversee a slaughter. He sends out his armies shooting up cars, throwing grenades, launching missiles, and dropping napalm on the very people the king wanted at his feast. The king wanted to give them the best food and wine. But because of their violent refusal, the king takes their lives crosses them off of his list for good.

After this “shock and awe” display of wrath, the king dusts off his hands and determines to go on with the party. He sends out his servants, “Go into the main streets of the city and invite as many as you find.” So the servants go out and gather all the people they could find – both bad [πονηρός where we get our word ‘pornography’] and good.

Pause again. The king will stop at nothing to have his party. Evil is not a problem for God. Evil has already been dealt with on the cross, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God does not invite the good and snub the bad. He invites everyone – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the evil. The eternal Marriage Supper of the Lamb is open to all sorts of evil people – to drunkards, druggies, prostitutes, murderers – and even to you.

The only thing that can possibly hinder you from getting into the feast of God’s reign is rejection of the invitation. While you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you making you acceptable to God. Trust that provision and nothing else.

Back to the parable: The servants bring in everyone they can find, both the bad and the good. All these people are dragged off the street dressed just as they are – business casual, sweaty workout cloths, and even filthy rags – and are marched right into the palace. But before they are ushered to their chairs, the king’s servants give everyone something splendid to wear. The men get expensive Italian suits by Armani and Brioni while the women get evening gowns by Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. So, finally, the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The king comes in to have a look at the splendor. But he sees one glaring defect marring the whole scene. One character stands out like a monstrous, puss-oozing zit smack in the middle of an otherwise flawless face. There he is, a guy with no wedding cloths. The king walks right up to him and asks, “Hey buster, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless.

I think Jesus makes the man speechless just to get to the point of the parable. Stories, even good stories, have to end sometime. Seeing the lengths to which the king goes to get anyone in his feast, I’m sure any excuse would have done. If the guy had just said, “I didn’t want to get your fancy schmancy suit dirty. And I’ve been working all day getting sweaty and dirty cleaning the manure out of my barn. And I’m still bleeding from when I tried to jump over my barbed-wire fence when I heard about your invitation.” I’m sure the king would have laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it. The cloths are just for fun. Here’s a nice $50,000 Kiton suit. The color will distract from the poo in your hair! Here’s a nice Rolex watch. It will work as a Band-Aid for your cut.”

But this guy doesn’t even offer an excuse, and by doing so, he excludes himself from a relationship with the king. The king wanted a relationship with this guy and was willing to go to whatever lengths to make it happen. But by not believing and accepting the king’s provision and acceptance, this sorry dude brought judgment upon himself. “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness – where there is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Eschatological Lord's SupperYou see, God has prepared a table for you. He accepts you. He accepts you not because of who you are or what you have done. He accepts you because of what Jesus Christ has done. God simply wants you at His party. He has laid it all out with the best food, the most expensive china, and the finest wine. He will dress you in the righteousness of His Son.

Ephesians 2:4–7 4 God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved [you], 5 even when [you] were dead in [your] trespasses, made [you] alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised [you] up with him and seated [you] with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward [you] in Christ Jesus.

God invites you, “I’m serious. Come. Eat, drink, and be merry. This is My feast, and I want you here.” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 21:33-46 – The Seemingly-Absent, Gracious-to-a-Fault God

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Matthew 21:33-4633 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus keeps singing Isaiah’s love song about Yahweh’s vineyard (Is. 5:1-7). God wants to supply everything necessary for a feast – a time of wining and dining. He plants a vineyard, sets a hedge around it, digs out a winepress, and builds a watchtower to protect against marauding invaders.

But then, in our eyes, God made a mistake. “He leased the vineyard out to tenants.” Think of all the trouble God could have saved if He had simply had kept the vineyard with all of its grapes and wine for Himself. But, then, God does something even more silly, “He went into another country.”

Parable of the Vineyard“If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself,” we say. But that is not God’s way. He doesn’t set Himself up in the watchtower and manage the vineyard Himself. He lets the tenants figure it out for themselves. When the harvest is over and the wine is made, He expects those tenants to give Him His portion so that He and His tenants can eat, drink, and be merry together.

But the tenants see the Owner as remote and distant. So when the Owner’s servants show up asking for the Owner’s portion the tenants respond, “Yeah, good luck with that.” They think that whatever they send back to the Owner will mean less for them. So they beat one of the servants, kill another, and stone another.

If you don’t think the Owner is foolish yet, look at what He does next. “He sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.”

Finally, the Owner decides to do something so foolish it’s pathetic. He sent His Son saying, “They will respect My Son.” It looks as though the vineyard Owner underestimated how evil and opportunistic His tenants were. Why, why, would the vineyard Owner be so foolish as to send His Son while His vineyard is stained with the blood of His servants? But He does, and the Son goes willingly.

The tenants see the Son coming and figure this is their chance to make it big. “Come, let us kill the Heir and we will have His inheritance. And they threw [the Son] out of the vineyard and killed Him.”

Then Jesus asks the big question, “When the Owner of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those tenants?” There is no doubt that He will clobber and destroy them. The chief priests and elders, the leaders of the Temple, said to Jesus (lit.), “He will put those wretches to a wretched death.” You would too. You certainly wouldn’t have let things get this far. You absolutely wouldn’t have sent your own child. You probably wouldn’t have sent a second delegation of servants. You likely wouldn’t have gone to a far off country. And maybe you wouldn’t have even lent your vineyard out to anyone.

Parable of the Wicked TennantsBy acting with evil towards the vineyard Owner, His servants, and His Son, the tenants show that they viewed the Owner as evil.

Luther famously said, “As you believe, so it is.” If you treat God as a kill-joy who deprives you of good things, then that is the God you have. If you treat God as a threat to you and your well-being, then that is the God you have. If you think God is the kind of God who demands His rights and pays back evil for evil, then that is the God you have. If you treat God as a threat and enemy, then that is the God you have.

“The evil you think of God, you will receive from Him” (Nagel). Because the tenants are wretched, they get a wretched end. “As you believe, so it is.” If you insist that God give you what you deserve, that is all you will get. If you treat God as a threat and enemy, then that is what He will be (Nagel). But that is not what God wants.

God wants a vineyard, grapes, wine, and the joy that comes from it all (Ps. 104:14-15). God wants what is His to flow from Himself to you and to Himself again – back and forth, back and forth. That is God’s love for you.

God has set us as His tenants in His vineyard, but we have returned His kindness with sin and murder. It was at your hands and my hands that Jesus was thrown out of the vineyard to suffer, bleed, and die. The Father sent Jesus knowing we would treat Him with dishonor, and Jesus willingly came. He came and let His body be broken for you. He let His blood be shed for you. And He does not return your violence upon your heads. He gives and gives more.

Eschatological Lord's SupperToday, He willingly gives you His body and blood – in, with, and under the bread and the wine. He gives His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

You can believe God is a tyrant stealing all your hard work and all your joy from you, and He will certainly do that if that is what you believe. But He doesn’t want to. God wants the joy of the harvest. He wants us to join Him in the celebration, and He calls you to play your part in furnishing the fruit and wine for the festivity (Nagel). Amen.[1]

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] I am indebted to Norman Nagel’s sermon on this text as inspiration for this sermon.