What Shall We Render to God? by Pastor Paul Becker
July 2, 2023 ~ Matthew 22:15-21; Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus was followed by many kinds of people, each defined by what was hidden in their hearts. Some people were devoted, while others were self-interested, "nebby," critical, or outright oppositional. In Sunday's scripture, we were introduced to the Herodians, political opponents of the Pharisees. They were not devoted to Jesus.
The Pharisees were primarily middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. They were distinguished by strict observance of Jewish traditions and written law. They believed in the resurrection, the end of time, angels, demons, and hell. They also taught that a King from the lineage of King David would restore Israel from Roman occupation.
Unlike the Pharisees, the Herodians were not concerned about spiritual matters, nor did they advocate the idea of a Davidic King to restore Israel. No, the Herodians were political pragmatists. They favored submitting to the Herods and, therefore, to Rome. The Herods were a dynasty of rulers appointed by Rome to rule over the Jews. You could say that the Herodians wanted to "game the system" to curry Roman favor and maintain Roman protection.
The Pharisees and Herodians opposed each other on Jewish independence, thereby making it difficult for the factions to agree on anything but plotting against Jesus. The Pharisees sent their students, joined by Herodians, to trap Jesus with a question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? It was a trick question. If Jesus said paying taxes was lawful, He would irk the Jews who favored the Pharisees. If Jesus said that taxes should not be paid to Caesar, Jesus would irk the Jews who agreed with the Herodians. He could also get the attention of Roman authorities by telling Jews not to pay taxes.
Jesus accused his Inquisitors of being hypocrites because of the trap they set. He asked for a Roman coin and asked whose image and inscription were on it. The answer was "Caesar's." Then Jesus said, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." The coin was within Caesar's authority to claim as a payment for a tax.
When Jesus spoke of rendering to God, what was to be rendered? Scripture teaches that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:27) Therefore, we must render to God what displays His image and likeness. And what do we render to God? Our lives. As an application to this teaching, offering ourselves in worship on Sunday mornings, coming to the table of the Lord's Supper, living in the sin-cleansing power of our baptisms, loving God by loving our neighbors and one another, and time in God's Word and prayer are all means of offering our lives as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Render to God what is God's.