The heart of this text is Jesus’ instruction in verse 21: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In its specific narrative context, this sentence functioned as a shrewd response. It helped Jesus avoid a carefully orchestrated trap. Instead of catching Him, the would-be entrappers went away marveling. But that is not all Jesus was doing with this instruction. He was also conveying a number of deeper theological truths about rule, authority, and submission. These truths apply to all people of all times and places—including your hearers. I suggest you take the opportunity to proclaim some of these truths in this week’s sermon.
Like you and me, your hearers struggle to live rightly under authority. This is always the case for fallen human creatures—especially for those whose culture flees authority and chases autonomy. But the need to reflect on submission to ruling authorities is particularly pressing at the present time. Sixteen days after you preach this sermon, Americans will elect a president for the next four years. Given the depths to which ads, campaigns, and debates have sunk, it seems increasingly necessary for preachers to help Christians interpret rightly and participate faithfully in this quadrennial civic institution.
In other words, preachers need to help Christians navigate election season faithfully. This text can help.
You might begin by locating this episode in its narrative context. It took place early in Holy Week. Later that week the issue of authority would become paramount. On Friday, Jesus would submit Himself to local authorities and accept their cruel and unusual punishment. On Sunday, He would vindicate His clarification to Pilate about authority (John 19:11) and justify His future claim to have all authority in Heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). It is worth noting that, on Friday, Jesus did not assert His authority to escape another carefully orchestrated trap. It is also worth noting that, on Sunday, His resurrection did more than send people away marveling. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides the foundation for all Christian thinking about who is in charge and how we live under God.
Jesus’ death and resurrection provides the foundation for all Christian thinking about who is in charge and how we live under God.
How might we summarize that thinking? It is simple. “Give to God the things that are God’s.” If we get this straight, we will be better able to get everything else aligned too. This includes our relationship to the things that are Caesar’s.
So, perhaps your sermon should start here. “Give to God the things that are God’s.” What is God’s? Well, everything. He is the Creator, after all. Everything that exists is a result of His benevolent decision—including us. As the poet said, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
The idea that everything belongs to God invites us to think about stewardship. In His inscrutable wisdom, God entrusts the things of this world to us. He does this on a personal level by giving us resources, families, vocational responsibilities, and other first article gifts. He does this on a social level by delegating to civic leaders a portion of His authority. The power by which rulers of the world rule is always on loan from God. Which is a reminder that (1) civic authority is always only temporarily held, and (2) those who hold it always remain accountable to God. Our elected leaders would do well to remember that. And because we, the people, participate in choosing them, your hearers should be doing the reminding.
Stewardship, in this sense, is exercised by your hearers through participation in the political process. At the very least, this means voting. But it also involves engaging in civic conversation, speaking up not only for righteous ends, but also through righteous means. In other words, Christians should model Christian political engagement.
Stewardship, in this sense, is exercised by your hearers through participation in the political process.
Landmines are everywhere. Quietism is a constant temptation, but so is the scorched-earth policy that characterizes most campaigns and much online rhetoric. Christians live by a higher standard. They refuse to play in the dirt and sling the mud. Instead, they demonstrate respectful and responsible engagement, even when they are the only ones playing by these rules. Here is some pastoral encouragement along these lines.
In this way your sermon on this text will distinguish law and gospel. The command to live differently than the world will provide sufficient opportunity for repenting. Your hearers (like you and me) have imitated the wrong people far too often. Either we have abdicated our part in the process, or we have engaged in unchristian political talk and action, or we have put too much trust in princes, policies, platforms, or Supreme Court appointments. For such, the Law calls us out.
And what about the promise? It is latent in the second half of Jesus’ instruction. “Give to God the things that are God’s.” What is God’s? Your hearers. They belong to God. They are His children, individuals of His own choosing, and people of His own redeeming. Through faith in Jesus, the crucified and risen possessor of all authority, they have been returned to their rightful owner. This is good news! Your proclamation of this promise aims to strengthen their security in their Christian, baptismal identity. With confidence in Christ, they go forth with a renewed Spirit-wrought ability to give to Caesar whatever belongs to Caesar—respect, honor, prayers, participation, obedience, and, yes, even taxes.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 22:15-22.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 22:15-22.
Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 22:15-22.