Thursday in the Twenty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

A Free Church in a Free State

Jesus has just finished three parables which we have taken up the last four days in which he prophesies ill tidings for the nation; well, ill if your concern is some theocracy ruled by men, but not ill at all if your concern is salvation through faith in Christ, growing in holiness, serving in humility, and one day living in a theocracy in heaven ruled in righteousness by the only true King.  And it’s exactly this issue of government we take up today.

The Pharisees and Herodians (Jews connected with the Herodian family which ruled Galilee and other parts of the countryside in submission to Rome, and who had a personal interest in furthering that families’ fortunes) come to Jesus “to entangle him in his words”; that is, to get him into trouble.  They come flattering Jesus as a man who judges rightly and is not swayed by appearances (i.e., worldly power or consequences), and then ask: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  If Jesus answers, “Yes,” he runs afoul of many Jews who hate their Romans overlords; if he answers, “No,” he runs afoul of the Roman authority.  But Jesus sees through their malice, requests a coin, asks whose image it bears, hears that it’s Caesar’s, and answers with those immortal words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Our money is coined by the government and ultimately belongs to it.  The New Testament teaches that Christians are to pay taxes and to respect the governing authority (Romans 13:1-7).  We owe these things to “Caesar.”  But to God we owe worship and ultimate obedience, and when the two conflict Scripture is clear where we must stand (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).  Scripture teaches a free church in a free state, and history proves that this is the best relationship between the two.  The state cannot compel one’s conscience, for that is a sacred thing that must be protected.  In our day, it is the conscience that the state is trying to compel by forcing bakers, florists, and other businesses to render a service for an event which they find morally objectionable, and physicians and nurses to participate in a procedure that they find morally reprehensible, and all of this on religious grounds going back two millennia.  But our nation has experienced a sexual and cultural revolution and demands that everyone get on board or get run over, and Christians might have to get run over.  Our brothers and sisters in Muslim and Communist nations have it far worse.  But if we must be run over, let us be run over as model citizens and people of impeccable character, that they may be ashamed who revile us (1 Peter 3:14-17).

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