Pastor Sherry’s Message for October 18, 2020
Scriptures: Ex 33:12-23; Matt 22:15-23
Anyone who has spent any time with young children knows they can ask some questions that contort our minds as they force us to search for explanations they can understand (assuming we understand). Here are some examples you may have heard in the past:
- Why do leaves change colors; why do they fall off the trees?
- If shampoos come in so many shades in the bottle, why is it only white when you use it to scrub your head?
- If the #2 pencil is the most popular kind, why is not #1?
- Why can’t dogs have kittens?
- Where does the water in the sink come from?
- Why is the sky blue?
The story is told of a young child who had been watching TV. She grew tired of the political ads and the programming aimed at adults; So she asked her Daddy to please read her a fairy tale instead. He had no sooner begun when she interrupted with a question: “Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with “once upon a time?” “No,” he answered, “only those that begin with, “And when I am elected….”
Two of our Scriptures today involve important questions.
Let’s examine them together. First, our Gospel lesson, Matt 22:15-23, takes place just a day or two before Jesus is arrested. He is teaching in the Temple. A group of Pharisees gather—together with a delegation of Herodians–to entrap Him by using a question. Now the Pharisees were nationalists. True, they felt responsible for teaching the Israelites how to relate to God, but they also loved their country. As a result, they hated Roman rule. The Herodians, on the other hand, were not even a religious group but rather a political party. They favored the rule of the secular
Herodian kings. And they supported Roman rule because doing so was their pathway to wealth from influence-peddling. Needless to say, with these 2 unlikely groups in cahoots or colluding together, Jesus knew something was fishy.
Notice their approach: They begin with flattery. If they truly believed what they said, they would not be trying to entrap Him. They claim they know He is a man of integrity. They say they believe He teaches accurately and truthfully. They affirm that He does not pander to any specific interest groups–He’s not on the take like they are, and He does not slant what He says in order to gain popularity, like most politicians, and like them.
If they truly believed their flattery, you would think they would admire Him and leave Him be. But no, they are in a devilish pact to bring Him down.
So they ask …is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? I have so much admiration (and love) for Jesus. He is so smart and so cool! He calls them out on their conspiracy! In v.18, He asks, Why are you playing these games with Me? Why are you trying to trap Me? (This is the way Eugene Peterson translates it in his modern paraphrase of the Bible called The Message.) Now if Jesus said don’t pay taxes, don’t support Rome, the Herodians would have had a fit and tattled to Rome. Rome would have considered such a statement treasonous, and would have invoked the death penalty for Jesus. On the other hand, if our Lord said do pay taxes, the Pharisees would have accused Him of being disloyal to the nation. In Jesus’ calm and unruffled way, He sidesteps their trap by asking to see a coin. The inscription on the coins (denarii) of that day read, “Tiberius Caesar Divi August: Filius Augustus Pontifex Maximus,” translated this meant, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” This inscription claimed Caesar was a god, which he clearly was not! Jesus, who is God, looks at the coin and says, This engraving, who does it look like? And whose name is on it? They have to say Caesar’s as that is whose head was on it and that is what the coin read. Then, He says, give Caesar what is his, and give God what is His.
As He often does, He has turned their question back on them and evaded their trap brilliantly! In the Greek of that day, the word Jesus uses is apodote, which meant, render, give what is due by obligation. Now the Jews resented Roman rule, but they also profited from Roman roads, viaducts, and architecture, Roman trade, and Roman law and order. They clearly owed Rome something in taxes. Jesus is saying the coins which bear Caesar’s image belong to him; thus, they were to give Caesar his due. As long as what Caesar required did not conflict with what God requires, Jews and Romans could peacefully coexist. (Persecution broke out against Christians, however, when the Romans demanded that Christ-followers say, “Hail Caesar! Caesar is Lord!”)
But there is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? The really difficult, mind-contorting question is, “what do we owe to God?”
We saw the answer two weeks ago when I preached on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. They and we owe God our love and gratitude. We owe God our worship. And we owe God our obedience.
We see it again today in our Old Testament lesson, Exodus 33:1. Moses has just come down from the mountainwith the 10 Commandments, carved into 2 stone tablets by the finger of God. He arrives to the camp and is stunned to catch them dancing around a goldencalf. They have committed spiritual adultery. Right out of the gate, they have broken 3 of the newly minted 10 Commandments!
God has seen their apostasy, and has essentially told Moses He is fed up with them. Because God keeps His promises, they may proceed on to the Promised Land, but He will not be going with them. In other words, they will now longer enjoy a personal relationship with Him. To their credit, the people do not want this, nor does Moses. Moses intercedes for the Israelites. He asks God to (v.13) teach me your ways so that I might know You….that is, “Help me to understand You better; Teach me about Your character, Your nature.” Then he reminds God (v.16), How will anyone know that You are pleased with me and with Your people unless You go with us? What else will distinguish me and Your people from all the other people on the face of the earth? God then relents, because of His relationship with Moses and with His chosen people.
Next we see that God allows Moses to have a special, profound, personal revelation of Him. Moses gets to see God—in the rearview mirror—and live. Imagine the state of his faith after this!
So that was ancient Israel. What is the point for us, living today in the USA?
Now I am not suggesting we answer our grandchildren or our children’squestions with a question.That is a technique Jesus often used.
Neither do we want to be like the young photographer sent to record the fires on the West Coast, who didn’t ask enough questions. He arrived on site and found he could not get good picturesdue to the dense, dark smoke. So he prevailed upon his agency to charter him a small plane from which to memorialize the damage. They agreed and he sped to the airport to hop on awaiting aircraft. As He jumped on board with his gear and closed the door, he yelled, “Ready for take off!”
The little aircraft proceeded down the runway, and jerked and shook its way airborne. The photographer, somewhat alarmed, noticed that the pilot looked young and nervous. Nevertheless, he asked the pilot to fly low, over the flames. ”Why?” the pilot asked. ”Well because I’m a photographer and I need to be close to the action to record the fire.” The pilot was silent for a few moments, then said, “Oops, I thought you were the flight instructor.” We do want to ask the important questions.
Today’s important question is, “What we should render to God?” Our Scriptures today teach us that we want to offer Him a heartfelt desire to know Him personally. This sincere quest to know Him will lead us to loving Him, being grateful to Him, worshipping Him. This also implies that we will become obedient to Him while serving Him. When we do these things, God is with us and God protects and blesses us. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams