The Pharisees tried to get Jesus onto thin ice: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” If Jesus says, “Yes,” then He comes off as siding with Rome against His own people. If He says, “No,” then He opens Himself up to charges of revolt against Rome.
Holding up a coin, Jesus asks: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they reply. Jesus has them pinned to the mat. It’s too late to debate the subject.
You have Caesar’s coin in your pocket. By accepting Caesar’s currency, you have acknowledged the coin of the realm and thereby the authority of that realm over your life, like it or not. You travel on roads built by Caesar. You are protected on those roads by Caesar’s soldiers. You seek justice in Caesar’s courts. You use the public buildings and services established by Caesar. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
We victims of government are also the beneficiaries. We pay money into the system. We expect it back in the form of grants, loans, better roads, pensions, health care, police protection, a standing military…the list is endless. It is self-evident that no government bureaucracy can spend all of this money wisely and to our liking all the time. What government ever has? It’s a messy, broken, sinful world. But we are citizens of this earthly kingdom nonetheless. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, unless Caesar commands that which is contrary to God’s Word.
There are some things, of course, that we cannot give to Caesar. There are some things that belong only to God. That’s the other kingdom in which we live. Our Lutheran Augsburg Confession says: “The power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded.”
As Christians in a free society, we thank God for our liberty. Christians will exercise their right to vote. They will see public office as a noble calling. Faith in Christ and the Scriptures will inform their individual views without forcing their faith on others. Faith will influence their use of reason and natural law to govern justly, to protect life from the womb to the tomb, to restrain open lawlessness which cries out against even the natural knowledge of God and harms society, and against injustice.
But we dare not make Jesus a Democrat or a Republican or even an American – or look to earthly kingdoms for that which only the King of kings can give us. Christ pointed us to a better kingdom, an eternal one that never disappoints. He commissioned His Church to preach pardon by the blood of Christ, not politics. We dare not make Christ into an American Caesar, nor America into a new Israel.
We are marked with the image of another King and another Kingdom. At our baptism we were stamped with the image of our Savior – an image restored by One who died and rose again.
This week we once more celebrate Independence Day. We are grateful to God for our country despite its flaws – our flaws. We serve our own beloved land best by serving Christ first in our separate lives and inviting others to an eternal citizenship. For neither Caesar’s sword nor Caesar’s laws shall ever do what the Spirit’s Sword – Christ’s gospel – can do – change one heart at a time – for a kingdom that shall never end.