Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
"Render therefore to all their dues: Tribute to whom tribute is due; Custom to whom custom: fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." Romans 13:7
Saint Paul advises the Christians that they should be subject to the government and pay taxes and customs to whom they are due. Likewise, Peter advises the Christians that they should be subject to all the ordinances of man for the Lord's sake. But the same Peter also said, "We ought to obey God rather than men," namely in spiritual things. If the government demands something which wars against God's law, then a Christian must obey God rather than men. But in all other matters a Christian is obligated to obey the government. Therefore Paul says that the government is ordained by God as a help to the people, and Paul advises the Christians that they must be subject "not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake " For the conscience demands that we must obey the government, which watches over our natural welfare and prevents evil men from doing violence. If there was no fear of the government, then the slaves of the enemy would first kill the Christians; for this reason the Christians receive much protection from the government. The government does not command the people to do evil: fines have been set for drunkenness, cursing, fighting, stealing, whoring, and for all kinds of sins which are customarily practised in the world. But the sorrowless do not obey the government; they transgress the king's law right before the eyes of the government. Honest thieves steal under the protection of the law: for example, they who take another's property by the law. Such thieves do not worry about the forbidding of the conscience; when they can evade the king's law, then they do as much evil as they can. Whores also commit adultery, and liquor merchants sell their merchandise, although the king has forbidden it. What do they care about the king's law, who trample God's commandments under their feet? Some, who cannot deny their evil works, want to be honorable people without penitence and without repentance; through an obvious lie they want to be taken into the company of the Christians. And although all have done much evil against God and their neighbor, so that according to the judgement of the Christians they should suffer public church punishment, nevertheless the king's law has not been able to sentence any others to that punishment than those who are public whores or thieves and whose adultery or theft has become known. And they, again, are so hardened that they lie before God and the congregation that they are penitent of their sins although there is no sign of penitence. Even of this they lie before God and the congregation, that they intend to make repentance although there is not even a serious intention. And when in this way they have lied openly in the church; they imagine that God has already forgiven them all their sins and that the congregation is obligated to acknowledge them to be Christians; and as soon as they are able, they begin again to commit adultery and steal as before. Under this condition even the devil would be ready to suffer church punishment, if the Christians supposedly would acknowledge him as their Christian brother when he has confessed in the church that he is a whorebuck, and also lies before the congregation that he intends to make repentance. The devil is not so foolish that he will prevent whores and thieves from confessing their adultery and thievery in church, when the adultery and thievery have become known publicly, for through such a confession God becomes well mocked, when whores and thieves lie in church.
He surely permits whores and thieves to promise to make repentance; but he does not permit true penitence to come to the whores and thieves, through which they would become freed from his clutches. But if the adultery or thievery have not become known, then the devil teaches them to deny and cover up their sin. All impenitent whores and impenitent thieves speak thus: "We do not need to cry out to the world; surely God sees our innocence and knows our honesty," So also do drunkards and liquor merchants when they are summoned before the law; they deny their evil deeds and even swear themselves to hell; they give their soul as a guarantee to the devil, that with a false oath they might be able to redeem themselves from liquor fines. It is better that the soul burns in hell than that here one confesses his adultery, theft, drunkenness, and liquor business. The devil of honor and the devil of greed whisper in the ear and say: "Lay two fingers on the book and swear by God and His Gospel that you are innocent. Why do you need to cry out to the world that you are a whore and a thief? You become honorless if you cannot swear." "Do not confess." — so whispers the devil of greed — "Do not at all confess that you have been drunken or sold liquor; why do you need to confess that? Lay two fingers on the book and swear that you have not been drunken or sold liquor; if you swear, then you will escape the liquor fines," And what does that slave of sin care about his soul? The devil's slave must do as the master commands. He does not care about his soul, just so here he does not need to pay fines; the devil may grind his soul to flour, just so here he does not become honorless. Behold, such subjects are the slaves of this world! They are so obedient to the government that they evade the king's law and trample the king's commandments under their feet, and they hate those officers who want to teach the people of the world to live according to the law.
Because of this matter, all the apostles have advised the Christians to live according to the king's law and to be subject to the government for the sake of the Lord, who has established the government for the mutual welfare of the people. For if there were no government, then the devil's slaves would kill the Christians first. We know that the king has not commanded anyone to do evil; but the enemy, who cannot tolerate the Christians on earth, has often incited the government to persecute the Christians. The wise of the world and heathenish pastors, who are the enemy's best friends, have gotten the government to believe that the faith of the Christians is a remarkable superstition. They have lied that the Christianity is harmful to the nation. And for this reason the government has become deceived and has begun to persecute Christians, when heathenish pastors have lied that the Christians are wild spirits. But afterwards it has been noticed that the heathens themselves are wild spirits, who so often make insurrections against the government. It has never yet been heard in the world that true Christians have raised an insurrection. But it has often been heard that the heathens, both the baptized and the unbaptized, have made an insurrection against the governments as it has happened even in these times, because of which civil war and great bloodshed have come in the kingdom. From this the enemy gets occasion to rejoice and to make sausage, "for he was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). So when the people become so insane that they begin to kill one another, then the enemy gets occasion to laugh.
Oh, if all good Christians would now pray God that He would give the government the right enlightenment that the living Christianity is not harmful to the country, as the heathen pastors and the wise of the world have lied; but on the contrary, that the government would begin to know that true Christians are also faithful subjects, and that none are so inclined to cause an insurrection as heathenish people who do not have any knowledge of true Christianity, especially that heathenish people who have the Lutheran faith in their skull, but the devil's faith in their heart. Such heathens are virtuous whores, who swear before the court that they are free from adultery, so also honest thieves who swear themselves free from all debt, sober drunkards who swear before the court that they have not been drunken, and honorable liquor merchants who, before the law, swear themselves free from liquor fines, likewise tax thieves who steal customs money. Are there many people here who would not be worthy of fines even according to the natural law, if their former life should be examined before the law? Would not all be obligated to pay fines — some for adultery, some for tax theft, some for fighting, some for cursing, some for drunkenness, some for liquor business, some for neglecting the prayer day, some for transgressing the Sabbath. But although everyone is worthy of fines, even before a temporal justice, not a single one because of this is a whore or a thief or a drunkard, but they are virtuous, honorable, pious, and praiseworthy, honest and serious old Christians, daily makers of penitence, those who daily wallow in wilfull sins. But such subjects of the king and emperor would still need to be fined, that they might remember how they transgressed against the king's decree. — We now pray to the King of all kings that He would preserve our government from that heathenish people who first trample the king's commandments under their feet, and then also cause an insurrection when all scoundrels and rascals cannot live as they want. All true Christians have always, according to the apostle's advice, shown obedience to the government and willingly have paid taxes and customs to whom they are due; and we hope that they, even henceforth, shall do so. May the King of all kings grant the government wisdom, that all faithful subjects would become protected from violence and plots of evil men, and that Christianity would become helped forward by the government; as we hope that the King of the Christians will hear their petitions and protect them from evil. Our Father and so forth.
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
The Saviour said to the Jews in today's gospel: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." With the guidance of these words, we shall, through God's grace, consider how a Christian is obligated to the government and to God. First consideration; "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." Second consideration: "Render unto God the things which are God's."
First consideration: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." Although the Jews said to Pilate: "We have no king but Caesar", nevertheless they did not want to be Caesar's subjects because afterwards they rebelled and wanted to break themselves loose from Caesar's rule. And from all aspects of the matter we surmise that if the Jews would have converted to Christianity, they would in no way have made insurrection against Caesar. But the Jews wanted to be independent. In their minds it was a great disgrace that they had to be subjects of a Gentile government and pay taxes to a heathenish government. The Jews were so holy that they did not go into the heathenish house of the Gentile judge; they feared that they would become smitten by heathenism if they would go through the gate into Pilate's house, and therefore they stood outside while Pilate examined Jesus. Although the Jews were now so holy that they feared that heathenism would cling to them if they would go into a heathenish man's house, on the other hand they were so insubordinate that they did not want to pay taxes to a heathenish government at all. Therefore they wanted to catch Jesus in a snare when they brought this question before Him: "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not?" Namely, they knew that the Jewish nation did not want to pay taxes to Caesar at all. If the Saviour had forbidden them to pay taxes to Caesar, then the high priests would have accused Him before the governor that He was opposed to the government. Again, if the Saviour had commanded them to pay taxes to Caesar, then the common people would have become angry at Him. This question was thought up with such great cunning that they thought they would get Him in a snare, no matter how He would have answered.
But we know assuredly that the Jews themselves were obstinate both against Caesar and against God. And even worse, this obstinacy of the Jews has adhered to all the slaves of the world, as the Jews said to the Saviour: "We are born free and have not been slaves to anyone." So all the world's slaves think that they are free, and because of that freedom they want to live according to their own will. They cannot willingly bear it that the government through the law prevents their self-governing rule. They all complain that the law is harsh and the tax is heavy. So, for example, the liquor merchant becomes very indignant when he is fined for selling liquor. He thinks that it is an unjust law which prevents him from using his own merchandise as he himself desires. The drunkard also considers it evil when he is fined for drunkenness. In his mind, it is an unjust law which prevents him from enjoying this "God's grain". Whores also consider it evil that they have to pay fines to the church for "love" and even suffer the shameful church punishment. And also tax thieves who steal customs money do not consider such a theft to be a sin at all, but they think that it is an unjust law and that the "government is rich". All of these become angry, especially at the informer and accuser, "who get their neighbor in trouble because of envy". "Is that not a great sin," say transgressors of the law, "that the accusers cause loss to their neighbors?" Through them drunkards, liquor merchants, and tax thieves have to pay fines and "the innocent lose their possessions". "Is this not a great sin and injustice?" "Yes, certainly!" So think liquor merchants, expecially, who first only from love give the drunkard a farewell drink so that the heart would become warmed; and when the drunkard's lust for liquor has been kindled to burn through that first drink, the drunkard's heart becomes so loving that he gives the liquor merchant his last penny for the second and third drink. Therefore, is it not a great sin and injustice that compassionate liquor merchants must still be fined because they do good to the drunkards, who are in pitiful distress because of their desire for liquor? Although the liquor merchants and tax thieves have the assurance that the king's prosecutors bring harm to their neighbors, no doubt they are also convinced that all drunkards shall thank them in eternity because they have kindled their desire for liquor and thereby have helped them into hell before their time. Because of these loving deeds they shall thank the liquor merchant and say: "Many thanks, dear brother, for this, that with your liquor you have helped me into hell before my time!" And whores also shall thank their whorebucks and say: "Many thanks, dear brother, that you have excited me into adultery, and through this have helped me into hell!" And the guardians of the law who have not brought harm to transgressors of the law shall receive thanks from all drunkards, saloon keepers and tax thieves, who say: "Many thanks, dear guardian of the law, that you have not caused us harm! Through the law you have not hindered us from running to hell!" And sorrowless pastors will also receive thanks and praise. Virtuous whores, honest thieves, sober drunkards and honorable liquor merchants shall thank them and say: "Many thanks, good teacher, that you have promised the kingdom of heaven to all the impenitent; you have allowed us to go to hell in peace!"
Now since all can live according to their own free will: when the liquor merchants strip the drunkards naked, whores get illegitimate children and finally become a burden to the congregation, tax thieves can steal as much money as they want — then without a doubt the king's law becomes fulfilled. When poor drunkards and poor whores become a burden to the congregation, no doubt they then have lived according to the king's law; and when tax thieves steal the customs money, then no doubt they have paid taxes to the government. Surely the king does not want anything else for his subjects than that they would drink and fight, commit adultery and steal, make and sell liquor, knowing well that whores and drunkards are quite the soldiers, liquor merchants give them boldness to war and tax thieves bring taxes to the government, with which such an array is paid. "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's."
Second consideration: "Render unto God the things which are God's." The Jews did not: want to give taxes to Caesar, but they themselves wanted to eat and drink their tax money. But they imagined that they were giving God the thanks and honor which is due Him, when they said to the Saviour: "Give God the honor and tell us if you are the Son of God."I And according to their understanding, it was blaspheming God when Jesus confessed that He was the Son of God. But the Jews, however, considered themselves to be the children of God, for they once said to the Saviour: "We have a father, namely God." Nevertheless the enemy had reversed their eyes, for they considered the Saviour to be a false prophet who was in league with the devil. In their minds the Saviour was a disturber of the people who confused the people with false doctrine and counseled people to the wrong way. The devil had given them the assurance that Jesus of Nazareth was a dangerous person who should be destroyed; and they therefore imagined that they were doing honor to God when they began to accuse Him before the governor Pontius Pilate. Spiritual hatred became a matter of conscience; and therefore they said to Pilate: "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." This matter, that the Saviour confessed Himself to be the Son of God, riled the Jews so much that they had to answer for the sake of God's honor and give God that honor, that His Son was mocked, reviled, and despised, scourged like a thief and crucified like a robber.
And even now this is the best honor which the Jews can give to God: namely, hating and persecuting Christians. The Saviour Himself has said that they will think they are doing God a service when they kill the disciples of Jesus. But which God is it, to whom they do this service? The Apostle Paul testifies that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not." And in another place the same apostle says: "... God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that all might be damned who believed not the truth." ( 2 Thess. 2:11-12) If the god of this world has not blinded the understanding of the unbelieving ones, no doubt they would take heed of the time of grace, but since the god of the world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, then the God of heaven has also sent them a strong delusion that they should believe a lie; they believe more easily what the devil, the world, and their own flesh reveals within, than what the word of God shows. Thus they believe a lie and deny the truth. They believe that their former life should be acceptable to God, although the word of God shows that the former old life is not acceptable before God at all. They also believe that the former dead faith should save them, but they do not understand that "faith without works is dead". They believe as the Jews that God is their father, because they are born of Christian parents, have also been rightly baptized, have learned to understand the chief articles of the Christian doctrine, can read, go to church and to the Lord's communion a few times, say prayers on Sundays, and other such things. They believe that this outward service of God should be acceptable to God, but they have not believed that this outward service of God presses them into hell, since through it true penitence and repentance have not come to them, a change of heart and mind has not come, true conversion and new birth have not taken place. In this way they have given God thanks and honor with the mouth, but with the heart and life, or with thoughts, words and deeds, they have given honor to the god of this world who has blinded their minds or reversed their eyes so that they see true Christianity as a false doctrine, superstition, or wild disease, but their natural condition they see to be true Christianity. Since the devil has given them the assurance that Christians are false prophets and wild spirits, he has undoubtedly also given the world's children the assurance that they are true Christians and children of God. The Jews did not know either that they were the devil's children, but they imagined that they were God's children because they said: "We have a father, namely God." But the Saviour said to them: "Ye are of your father the devil; ye do that which ye have seen with your father." And Apostle John says: "In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God; he that committeth sin is of the devil." If we, according to this sign, want to distinguish God's children from the devil's children, then all would become the devil's children who live in willful sins, as in drunkenness, lewdness, envy, hatred, and cursing. And this kind of life is acceptable to those who oppose Christianity, who hate the Christians and think they are doing God service when they kill the disciples of Jesus. Such old Christians are certainly godly in church and ungodly behind the church; they sing in church and howl behind the church, bless in church and curse behind the church, are virtuous in church and commit adultery behind the church, are sober in church and drunkards behind the church, are honest in church and steal behind the church; they drink from the Lord's cup in church and behind the church they drink from the devil's cup. Such are "old Christians" who serve God with the mouth but with the heart they serve the devil.
Therefore give honor to God, you few souls who have felt God's great power in your hearts. Confess yourselves before the world to be God's children, as our Saviour confessed Himself to be the Son of God before the church council. Do not give the devil that honor that because of fear of the world you deny the great power of our Lord Jesus Christ to help sinners from the devil's dominion, although slaves of the world consider it blasphemy and a sign of pride, that a whore and thief confess themselves to be children of God. But the Saviour Himself has said that "the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you...but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness." The children of the world have not received the assurance from above that they are God's children, but they imagine that they will become saved when they die. And the devil himself has given them this presumption, so that they would remain in their sorrowlessness.
You also, you awakened souls, give God the honor, and fearlessly confess before the world what the preceding grace of God is effecting in your hearts through true repentance and penitence. And you penitent robber, rebuke the other, although you yourself have not yet received the promise; proclaim the truth to the world's impenitent robbers, and then turn yourself to the crucified and thorn-crowned King and say: "Lord Jesus, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!" Perhaps He will give you that great and precious and weighty promise: "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise." Upon this promise of grace you can die in blessedness. Amen.