Beloved. We are approaching the end of the current Church Year. Only this week and next week remain. We have been hearing the past few weeks of the opposition to the Christian life that we endure here and now. We have been hearing that being a Christian does not mean that everything will go well for us, that our life will be easy. We will face opposition from the devil, from the world around us and from our own sinful nature within us. Then next week, and also picked up in the first season of the new Church Year, Advent, is the theme of Jesus’ return on the Last Day.
Here, in these few weeks, of the Church Year—this week and next—we have the pattern and focus of our lives as Christians. We are engaged in battle against our spiritual enemies that are all working together and plotting to destroy our faith in Jesus; to turn our eyes and focus away from Jesus; they are scheming to lead us into sin; to stop us from doing the good that the Holy Spirit wants us to do and which He is leading and empowering us to do; they strive to lead us to do the evil works that destroy faith. Nature around us is preaching and re-enforcing this: as the hours of daylight are now noticeably decreasing each day, we get a sense of the increasing darkness in the world and this reminds us of the foreboding gloom that spiritually surrounds us.
This is the Christian/ spiritual warfare that we are engaged in beginning at the very moment of our baptism when we were joined with Jesus, when our sins were washed away, when the Holy Spirit created true faith in our hearts, when we were brought into God’s holy kingdom and made kings and priests and heirs of heaven. We will be engaged in this warfare—the battle for our very soul—until the moment of death. And as we—strengthened and preserved by the work of the Holy Spirit in the word and Sacrament—remain faithful to the end, we will hear Jesus’ pronouncement [Mt 25.23]: Well done, good and faithful servant.
St. Paul describes our life on earth as Christians/ our spiritual battle this way in today’s epistle: Brothers, join together in imitating me and in paying attention to those who are walking according to the pattern we gave you. We follow the blessed apostle in faith/doctrine and works. In the midst of this spiritual battle, it is absolutely vital that we not lose sight of who we are—namely, our Lord’s dear Christian and citizens of heaven—and where we are going—namely, eternity in heaven, soul and body. This is what St. Paul writes in today’s epistle: But our citizenship is in heaven. We are eagerly waiting for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. By the power that enables him to subject all things to himself, he will transform our humble bodies to be like his glorious body. By looking at all times toward Jesus and His return on the Last Day when He will bring us soul and body—glorified body—to heaven, our lives on earth have form and focus. We do and judge all things by how it will affect our faith and our eternal hope. Are they leading toward the goal of strengthening and preserving faith or do they hinder it. And, again, our heavenly hope strengthens us for whatever our spiritual enemies try to throw at us to destroy/ weaken faith.
Today’s Gospel is often—and correctly—looked at emphasizing Jesus’ words: “Therefore give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Here we see that in this world, the Christian lives under a government. No matter what that government is, it is appointed by God. God does not rule us directly but indirectly, that is, as Luther points out in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment, God rules us through our parents and other authorities in the home, in school/ workplace, in the state and in the church. As we honor those in authority over us/ those God placed over us, we are honoring God. Even slaves their masters, as St. Paul writes [Eph 6.5]: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ. As Christians, we give the government—as God’s representative—the honor, taxes, etc. it is due; but to God we give fear, love, trust, obedience, worship, faith, etc.
But today in light the Church Year and its focus on the battles we are enduring from our spiritual enemies, we will focus on Jesus’ other, almost easily overlooked words: Show me the coin. As we do so, we will see how dangerous our spiritual enemies are—in particular, the sinful world around us.
Why did Jesus say: Show me the coin? Because the Pharisees went out and plotted together how to trap him in his words. That’s the whole basis of this exchange: these religious leaders of the Jews wanted to get Jesus into trouble with either the people—so they would reject Him—or with the Romans—so they would see Jesus as an enemy of the state and kill Him. These religious leaders of the Jews, who were very nationalistic, who opposed the rule of the Romans, joined together and made common cause with their enemies the Herodians, who were very pro-Roman and wanted to keep the Roman puppet king of the Herods in power. These two groups were otherwise hostile toward each other and hated the other. The so-called divisiveness that people want to find in our nation is nothing compared with 1st Century Palestine. The Pharisees sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. So when they ask their question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?, Jesus says: Show me the coin. That coin, then, points to the wickedness of the world—to our spiritual enemy—that it is united in opposition to Jesus—and His Church, His dear Christians. You cannot expect the sinful world around us to do the Church, to do the Christian any favors. After all, wherever there is a Christian, wherever the Church is, which clings to Jesus for forgiveness of sin and eternal life, there it is preaching to the world—you cannot save yourself; that the world doesn’t want to hear. Whenever the Christian and the Church stand up for God’s holy law and strive to live in accord with it, the world is and feels the rebuke; it doesn’t like to be reminded of its sin. We, as Christians, must guard ourselves from friendship with the world, from trying to seek the approval and acceptance of the world, of trying to be that right combination of Christian and person of the world: I can go to church on Sunday but the rest of the week be like everybody else. Instead, hear Jesus say: Show me the coin and remember the world is still united in its opposition to Jesus and His dear Christian. Hear also St. Paul in the epistle: But our citizenship is in heaven.
When Jesus says, Show me the coin, let us also remember what led up to it. Not only were natural enemies united against Him, but they used dangerous weapons. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in accord with the truth. You are not concerned about gaining anyone’s approval because you are not swayed by appearances. So tell us, what do you think? That dangerous weapon is flattery. They tried to get Jesus off guard by “buttering Him up.” By this flattery they were hoping their true motives would not be seen. Always beware of flattery because it appeals to/ strokes our old sinful nature. Even here the devil tries to get us off guard. By pointing out how “good” we are, how we live such a fine Christian life, perhaps we may be led down path of beginning to think: I really am a good person; maybe I not really all that bad a sinner. From there it’s just a short step to thinking: maybe I don’t really need confession/ absolution, the word, the Sacrament, or even Jesus Himself. The Church and my faith really aren’t so vital after all. Beware of every attempt that tries to tell us that we are good enough on our own, that our sins aren’t that bad, and that compared to most we are really good. Daily examine heart and life in the mirror of the holy Ten Commandments and there recognize your sin and turn in faith to Jesus, your Righteousness and Your Savior from sin. Cling to the forgiveness He won for you.
Again, we dare never expect favors from the world around us. Remember how this account began: Then the Pharisees went out and plotted together how to trap him in his words. And then notice Jesus calls them out on it: But Jesus knew their evil purpose and said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites?” And it didn’t matter what Jesus had said, they would later twist His words. Jesus had said: “Therefore give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” but before Pilate they accused Jesus saying [Lk. 23.2]: “We found this fellow …forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar.” Even if, as happened here, the world is amazed, even if Jesus turns human wit and wisdom into foolishness, the world will still not believe. Our text ends: When they heard this, they were amazed. Then they left him and went away. The stupidity, the irrationality of unbelief! They marveled; they admitted that Jesus had wisdom far beyond theirs but they didn’t linger to see what more the divine wisdom would teach them.
This account shows us just who one of our spiritual enemies is whom we, like Jesus did, must fight against—the sinful world around us. Jesus’ simple word here, Show me the coin, shows us that. Show me the coin reminds us that the world is united in battle against Jesus, that it has dangerous, cunning weapons and evil intent. As the world hated and opposed Jesus so it will hate and oppose His Church and His dear Christian. That’s why we are engaged in spiritual warfare.
Jesus’ simple command, Show me the coin, also points to us, His dear Christians and citizens of heaven, and how and what we are to be as we live in the midst of the sinful world. In the Gospel Jesus says: Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius. He asked them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” “Caesar’s,” they replied to him. Then he said to them, “Therefore give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Notice Jesus’ emphasis on the image: “Whose image and inscription is this?” So what does this have to do with us? St. Augustine has a wonderful insight here: We are God’s money. But we are like coins that have wandered away from the treasury. What was once stamped on us has been worn down by our wandering. The One who restamps his image upon us is the One who first formed us. He himself seeks his own coin, as Caesar sought his coin. It is in this sense that he says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” to Caesar his coins, to God your very selves. We, dear Christian, are that coin—a coin stamped with the image of God. When He first created Adam, He stamped His image, the image of God on him. But by his sin, people have lost that image of God—that is, our will and intellect has lost the ability to know and please God; we don’t know God perfectly and rightly; we are not righteous always doing God’s will. That’s what St. Augustine means when he writes: We are God’s money. But we are like coins that have wandered away from the treasury. What was once stamped on us has been worn down by our wandering. But we, as St. Augustine notes, have been “restamped” with the image of God. That happened at baptism. There God has started to rebuild His image on us. That’s why through St. Paul, God tells us: Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. In holy Baptism, God has restamped/ renewed His image on us. It is still weak and imperfect and will only be restored completely in heaven. But in the meantime we, as Christians, have that image of God stamped/ being renewed on us. We belong to God. We have His inscription and His image, therefore let us give …to God the things that are God’s, that is our heart and life and faith and worship—our all. As we do so our spiritual enemies oppose us; that’s our spiritual warfare now. Let us hear Jesus’ word: Show me the coin and there see one of our spiritual enemies—the sinful world opposed to Jesus—but also let us see that we are God’s coin; we bear His image in this world. He called and claimed us and He is bringing us safely through it to Himself in heaven. INJ