All Authority

All Authority

mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Matthew, chapter 22:

He said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him, and went away.[1]

Yes, they were. Stunned? Definitely. Silenced? For now. Finished with
Jesus? No, not by a long shot. Those who had approached Jesus with the
question about paying taxes to Caesar just needed to catch their breath. To
regroup, gather strength, and come back at Him for another round. No, they
weren’t finished just yet.

so, in language eerily similar to that from the conclusion of Jesus’ temptation
by Satan, these evil ones likewise left Him and went away, until a more
opportune time.

shouldn’t surprise us, really. Whenever any of us sins, we’re merely following
the devil’s pattern and plan. Using Satan’s methods. Fulfilling his will and
objectives. These so-called holy men of Israel, those who would hold
themselves up to be spiritual examples, they were just as corrupted by sin as
you or me. They took pride in their outward piety, yet pursued their own
sinful ways. Every day, as they went about the city, portraying themselves as
paragons of virtue, they, too, were in willful violation of the Law and the
true spirit of God. And so, like the devil, and like our own sinful nature,
when they had been humiliated thoroughly by the true Holy One of Israel, these
evil ones were beaten back only temporarily.

“beaten back” is a suitable term for it, because Jesus is surely locked in a
pitched battle with these men, and with all the forces of evil.

the past three weeks in the appointed Gospel texts, we’ve seen Jesus on the
offensive. In each of these lessons, He told a parable which showed how the
unfaithful or the disobedient would be denied entry into the kingdom of
heaven. First there were the two sons sent to work in the vineyard. Then
there were the evil tenants who would not give the landowner the crop to which
he was entitled. And last week, there was the wedding banquet, to which the
unworthy guests refused to come, so the king sought out others with whom to
share his feast.

let’s step back a moment, and look at the overall dynamic of this battle. How
has it developed? How did it get to this point?

know, of course, that Jesus had been preaching and teaching and healing around
the countryside. He’d developed a large following. Almost everyone who had
seen and heard Him had concluded He was some sort of prophet. Some had erroneously
concluded that He was the Prophet; that is, only the forerunner of the

a few had recognized that He truly was the Messiah, the Christ, the rescuer of Israel. Some of these had mistakenly assumed He was coming as an earthly king to free them
from their enemies. Others had to be told explicitly by Jesus Himself that He
was a Messiah who was going to die for the people.

His real role, the religious leaders recognized that Jesus was some sort of
threat to them. They just weren’t sure how. Was He going to teach some new
form of Judaism, reducing their authority and upsetting the apple cart of their
carefully-ordered and controlled faith?

He going to encourage some sort of revolt, like the Maccabees or the Zealots,
triggering reprisals by the Romans which might destroy Jewish culture, faith,
and the temple? They couldn’t have that, so they used every opportunity to
undermine this backwater rabbi, asking more and more difficult questions to try
to destroy His credibility.

attacks started while Jesus was still teaching and performing miracles out in
the countryside. They took offense that He had forgiven the paralytic’s sins.
That He ate with sinners and tax collectors. That His disciples broke the
Sabbath when they plucked heads of grain, and sinned further when they failed
to wash their hands properly. They were first turned to thoughts of killing
Him when He healed on the Sabbath. They demanded their own miraculous sign
from Him, and twice He told them they would see nothing but the sign of
Jonah—the three days hidden away in the belly of the beast of death before

claimed it was by Satan’s authority that He had cast out demons. They tested
Him on every point of the Law they could think of, and His answers were always
right, always true, and frustratingly destructive to all their plots.

now Jesus had come to Jerusalem. Nothing they had tried so far had tripped Him
up, or even slowed Him down. Right into the capital city, the heart of Jewish
life. Right into the temple grounds, He came. He overturned the tables of the
moneychangers and sacrifice sellers, whose commerce generated a tidy prophet
for the temple and kept the leaders in a comfortable lifestyle. Untrained,
unapproved, and not even of the priestly tribe of Levi, now He was teaching on
their turf, within the walls of their dominion. Something had to be done!

Jesus had been confronted. The leaders demanded to know what authority He had
to do and say these things. And, rather than stating by whom He had been given
authority, Jesus answered in such a way as to demonstrate that He had authority
of His own.

He had put them on the defensive by asking if John the Baptist’s authority had
been divine or human. Surely, if they acknowledged that John’s authority had
come from heaven, then how much more so had the authority of Him who had been
showing far greater signs than John? And so, they had weaseled out of the
question. But Jesus wouldn’t let them off the hook. He wouldn’t back off. He
wouldn’t let them off the ropes.

had hit them with the three parables, and each time they were more deeply
convicted of their sins and their unbelief. And so they decided to come up
with a foolproof plan to trap Him in His own words. A question that seemingly
had no answer that would not get Him in trouble.

Jesus said the people should pay the tax, then He was not a loyal Jew.
But if He said they should not pay it, He was a rebel against Rome, subject to arrest and punishment. A perfect trap, it seemed. What’s more, it had
to be sprung in a clever manner.

they made sure that there were witnesses who would have motives to report this
fellow’s answer to the right authorities, regardless of what He said. For
this, the Pharisees enlisted their usual rivals, the Herodians, into the plot.
He’d be caught either way, and get what’s coming to Him.

in what may have been the prototype for our modern style of the ambush
interview, these evil men approach the Lord with false humility and false
praise, hoping to lull Him into thinking they wanted His advice and respected
His opinion. Trick Him into giving an opinion that we can use to damn Him,
they thought. Play it dumb. He’ll think He’s got us, but we’ll have him

was a method almost as old as time itself:

God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?…you will be
like God, knowing good and evil.”[2]

was a perfect trap, laid by evil men who were in the grip of the Evil One.
Jesus would have to give an answer that would go against one source of
authority or another, and then they’d have the answer to their problems.

we just love to catch others in their words, too? To notice that slip of the
tongue, and jump on it with both feet? To find that little mistake or weakness
in our spouse or children or parents or friends or co-workers, and use it
against them? We love to gain the upper hand, to take a little extra authority
and make ourselves superior to others.

our nature, really. We look for these opportunities because, despite our
adoption as God’s children through baptism, we are still children of Adam and
Eve, too. We want our taste of that forbidden fruit. We want our eyes to be
opened, to have a power that we don’t possess by God’s granting. We want to be
like God, knowing good and evil. Even more, we want to be able to dispense
good and evil.

devil first used this technique against our race, and we picked right up on
it. The serpent may have been the craftiest of creatures back then, but we’ve
taken it to a fine art form. We find ways to twist words to suit our own
purposes. We use flattery and false humility to bait others into saying things
so that we can use their mistakes to make ourselves look superior. So we can
manipulate them into doing what we want them to.

even look for ways to create friction or conflict or controversy by meddling in
the lives of others, sometimes simply for the entertainment value. To see a
reaction, so that we receive some sort of validation that we’ve influenced
someone else, no matter how negatively.

worse, we’ll often use the Law as a weapon against others. We’ll lull them
into a false sense of security and then pounce, holding their shortcomings up
to ridicule. Sometimes we do this publicly to humiliate them, to make other
observers see how clever and witty we are. Other times, it’s done in private,
so we can hurt them in the dark confines of their own heart and ours. To
increase their anxieties, play on their fears, keep them off balance, and keep
ourselves more in control. It’s a sickness, really. A collection of symptoms
that all arise out of the disease of sin, which has no cure within us.

there is danger in doing this. Mortal danger. If we use the Law as a weapon
against others, a way to trap them for our own purposes, we will pay dearly for
it. Living by that sword will make us die by that sword, and whatever we do to
the least of our Lord’s brethren, we do unto Him. He who knew the evil intent
of the Pharisees and Herodians knows your evil intent, too. And He will speak
to us as He spoke to them:

hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?”[3]

more, He will ask all of us, “Why are you trying to trap and condemn my dear
brothers and sisters, those whom I have freed from condemnation with my great

who attempt to trap others often trap themselves. And there is irony that
(even in their false humility and false flattery) these evil leaders in the
Gospel text condemn themselves and speak great truth.

said that they knew Jesus was a man of integrity. That He taught the way of
God in accordance with the truth. That He wasn’t swayed by men, or cared about
who they were.

very words, no matter how insincere they were, no matter how evil their intent,
acknowledge in Jesus an authority that their hearts and minds were unwilling to
give Him. Integrity so perfect that He was without sin. Teaching and living
in the way of God in such perfect accordance with the truth that He is the
very Way, and Truth, and Life.

be to God that Jesus was not swayed by men; He is swayed and
governed and driven by who He is. He did not pay attention to what men
are in Caesar’s realm; He pays attention to what men are in God’s
realm: His precious creatures, whom He longs to draw unto Himself in love and

is certainly an object lesson in this confrontation between Jesus and these
religious leaders as to the proper separation of state and church, too. Jesus
distinguishes between the secular government—the kingdom of the left, and the
dominion of God—the kingdom of the right. Jesus pretty much settles the
question of the rightness of taxes and the validity of worldly governments
right here. As Christians we are called to respect and obey the worldly
authorities set over us when they are governing in a godly manner, and to use
the avenues and abilities God has given us to try to influence them to change
for the better when they are not. Yet, in this world, we Christians must live
in the tension between these two kingdoms. We must neither seek theocracy nor
abandon government and God’s good purpose for it to the realm of secular
humanists or those who would cause great damage to Christ’s Church. But before
we can do that effectively, we must be clear and confident in which kingdom our
primary loyalties reside.

Christ, our citizenship resides eternally in the kingdom of heaven, and we
dwell only temporarily in the realms of Caesars and presidents. Some have
chosen to place their faith in those who would be worldly Caesars. But in
trusting any prince or ruler of this world above the trust they have in God,
their eternal lot is with another Prince of this World, Satan—he who rules a
kingdom of darkness and despair and torment. However, things are different for
you, because


have been chosen to be God’s own people. You are given unto God the Father,
offered up as tribute to your Creator by His one and only Son. Your account of
what is owed to God—the perfect obedience you could not fulfill, and the
wrathful punishment you could not withstand—has been paid in full by the life
and death of Jesus Christ.

your Lord and King has already collected all of the tax and all of the debt you
owe to God, and He has given you back a refund of immeasurable proportions: A
washing in royal blood—not the blood of Caesar but the blood of David’s son. A
gift of royal decrees, recorded for you in His own words through His Holy Spirit,
and written on your hearts each time you read and hear and speak and sing
them. A royal feast which brings the king’s own body and blood to us, assuring
us of the redemption by which we are given seats at the king’s own table, now
and forever.

we hear it today in Jesus’ own words, we can be certain that it is
permissible and right to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s out of our fleeting
and decaying earthly goods and possessions. These are all God’s gifts to us in
the first place. It is also right to give to God what is God’s, even out of
our own weakness and insufficiency, for He enables and blesses whatever good we

joy and our confidence, however, come not from these things, but instead is
anchored in that which leaves us far more amazed than the Pharisees were that
day: That God has freely and lovingly and generously given us what is His
own—the gift of life and salvation in Christ Jesus which will be ours forever.

Matthew 22:21-22

Genesis 3:1b and 5b

Matthew 22:18b