“The Great Debate” — Matthew 22: 15-22

October 19, 2014 Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Dear Friends in Christ,

Let me paint a picture for you this morning and you see where you fit. It’s a family dinner. You are with extended family. There is one person in the group who starts talking politics or social issues or whatever. This does not surprise you because this has been happening for years. How do you react? Do you engage in the debate? Do you change the subject to the weather or something safe? Do you run as fast as you can to the kitchen to help with the gravy? Who are you and where do you fit?
Knowing almost all of you here this morning, I would say we have all three. For those of you who change the subject or skedaddle to some other part of the house I am with you most of the time. Experience has taught me that. At times I like to engage the debate. But think about it this way – do you ever leave that family dinner thinking you really ever changed someone’s mind? Many times it just causes tension and the joy of another family gathering goes right down the toilet.
Jesus got dragged into many debates. The text says, “You do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” That should be part of the constitution of all of us. But the problem is He is God and we are not. Oh, how we would love the magic words to put someone in their place. He’s Jesus – Son of God and Savior. You – sinful human being. We are on two different playing fields. What can be done? Come along as we step into . . .
Do you remember a great debate when an opponent was silenced? They rarely happen. Here is one that worked. While receiving some tough questions from the press during the Desert Storm conflict, General Norman Schwarzkopf found himself debating with a reporter as to why we didn’t look to the French for more support. Growing tired his quick wit offered, “Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without your accordion.” Insulted, but not converted, the reporter didn’t ask the general any more questions.
The great debate today is Jesus versus the Pharisees/Herodians. These two groups of people were not usually on the same side. They ask the debate question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17) Remember the Herodians are puppets of the Romans and believed taxes should be paid to Caesar or that person was a traitor. The Jews believed paying taxes to Caesar was against God’s will and they shouldn’t have to do it.
So we see the trap. If he speaks against the Pharisees, he’ll show He is a traitor to his own people – the Jews. If he agrees with the Pharisees, the Herodians will have cause for his arrest. Then they could lawfully kill him. In this way the Herodians could carry out the dirty work of the Pharisees. They have to be thinking: “We’ve got him.”
In a simple way, we see ourselves. Can’t we manipulate others to get what we want? Spouses do it. Kids and parents do it. Workers and employers do it. Neighbors do it. Oh, we like to play the game. Herodian or Pharisee? Take your pick, we have been there.
In this great debate, Jesus has an answer. He does not avoid the question or withhold the truth. You and I might be looking for a quick exit. Not the Savior. He proclaims both Law and Gospel. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (v. 21) Since Caesar is on the coin they are obeying the Fourth Commandment, by honoring the ruling authorities by paying taxes. That is being faithful to God, because He put the government in place. Doing our duty as citizens we are giving thanks to our loving and generous God for his gift of civil governance and peace.
But that is not the end. We are to understand the “give to God what is God’s.” It is to see the Holy Spirit at work in the Gospel. It is to believe that same gospel and to recognize that faith in Christ is the highest worship of Christ, the ultimate “rendering to God.” We receive the bounty of his grace in the Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution. It is to cling to Jesus as the one who paid the tax debt by his suffering and death on the cross for you. The tax bill is paid in full. The bill collector of the grave was unable to hold Jesus. The effects of the debt – death and hell – had no power over him. He rose from the dead to prove that the debt is truly and completely paid.
Jesus won the great debate as only he could do. What does that mean for you and I? Don’t go off running from the great debates of our society. Recently, the Supreme Court took a pass on marriage. This is our great debate because society is on the precipice of falling. Have we learned nothing, sociologically from the breakdown of the family these last 40-50 years? If we add another layer away from God’s design what can we expect?
This is a tough one because it is government that gives me and other clergy the right to marry men and women. It is not official until I sign a piece of paper and send it to the county clerk. So, does God want us to just throw up our hands and give up because people are making these laws? No, of course not. He wants us to engage in the great debate. How do we know that? Because in his Word – our only source of right and wrong – He only blesses one avenue for His creation – male and female. “Be fruitful and multiply.” Science teaches the parts only work one way. The Creator knew this and called it good. When people want to be God they do nothing but mess things up. A gentle reminder – I’m not God, you are not God, the Supreme Court is not God, the pontificators of our time are not God. There is only one true God and He is in control.
In the greatest debate ever waged – Satan against Jesus – Jesus has won. Don’t run to the kitchen to make the gravy, but share God’s Word and keep it at that. The Holy Spirit has to do the rest. Many of you get frustrated and I feel your anguish – I too share it at times. But lean on the Great Debater. The one who loves you so much He doesn’t want to see you perish. The One who cares for you so much that He has promised not to leave you or forsake you. That’s what I take from the Great Debate. I pray you do too.