Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22 (Pentecost 21: Series A)

Reading Time: 5 mins

It is not just a few words or a few questions coming at Jesus like a few drops of rain. It is the force of a people ready to revolt.

A sermon structure which focuses on the dynamics of Law and Gospel[1] can help us get beyond a hasty surface reading of Jesus’ final quote in order to see how this interaction between Jesus and his opponents points us to good news today and for all time.

I am going to suggest a “Four Pages” approach for this sermon that begins by acknowledging one of the ways my hearers experience trouble and a particular force of the Law in their lives. The sermon then connects our contemporary experience to that trouble in today’s text. From there, the big pivot of the sermon will shift our attention to the specific way the Gospel comes to us in the text. And lastly, we will look at how the Gospel of today’s text is good news for our lives today.

The basic outline looks like this:

  1. Trouble in the World
  2. Trouble in the Text
  3. Gospel in the Text
  4. Gospel in the World

For each moment, I will suggest a few different ways of stating the main idea and a few different methods a preacher might develop the idea to be heard and experienced by your listeners. With respect to how the statement of the main idea is related to its development, the preacher has to decide whether the idea is first stated and then developed (deductive), or whether the idea is first developed and then stated (inductive). I would suggest considering the following, as it heightens the pivotal turn from Law to Gospel:

  1. Trouble in the World—Deductive—The main idea stated up front and then developed. This clearly sets the stage from what we will be talking about and begins where our people are.
  2. Trouble in the Text—Inductive—The experience is developed and then stated clearly. By the time you state the point, the hearers have come to the same conclusion.
  3. Gospel Text—Deductive—Having just named the clear idea of the trouble in the text, there is a quick and clear transition to the Gospel. “X is so, and that is not good. But thanks be to God that Y is so, and that is good news!”
  4. Gospel in the World—Inductive—Give the image of what it looks like, and then land with a clear summary statement of what this means for us.

Here is a potential outline:

  1. Trouble in the World
  • Living out our faith, everything can feel like a fight.
    • Narrative: Someone has an opinion on a moral issue and not knowing how to share it or if you should, because you do not want it to become a fight.
    • Serial Depiction: Name some of the ways Christians are at odds with our culture or various powers and forces in our lives.
    • Image: Someone (representing the Church or an individual Christian) in a corner. Name all kinds of adversaries moving in on them with hostility.
  • Our life of faith can feel like a losing chess match.
    • Analogy/Image: You are playing chess against a superior opponent who continually outmaneuvers you, and even their gambits and sacrifices are just bait, as you are forced into uncomfortable positions. Talking with people about issues of faith can feel just like this.
  • You ever wonder, “Why does God not act?”
    • Image: Craft a verbal image of what it feels like from our perspective. We are down here struggling, and all kinds of things are going wrong, and God seems like He is upstairs sleeping, or watching butterflies, or just does not seem to care.
    • Serial Depiction: List of all the times you/we have cried out to God to act (based on what He said He cares about!), but nothing seems to happen.
    • Narrative: Talk about a recent church closure.
  1. Trouble in the Text
  • The Pharisees corner Jesus.
    • Image: Jesus is cornered. The mob moves in, armed with another malicious question.
    • Narrative: Recount Matthew 22:15-17 in your own words, highlighting the stakes.
    • Dialogue: Recount the scheming meeting between the Pharisees and their disciples, about how they will trap Jesus.
  • Jesus finds Himself in an impossible position.
    • Analogy/Image: Continue with the chess image and combine it with a Pharisee’s inner monologue. “If Jesus goes here, we have Him. If He says this, and goes here, He is playing right into our trap as well.”
    • Character: Present Jesus thinking through the dangers of each of His options. “If I say, “Yes,” that would not be good because...”
  • The very reign of God is in question.
    • Serial Depiction/Image: Jesus standing against a deluge. It is not just a few words or a few questions coming at Jesus like a few drops of rain. It is the force of a people ready to revolt. It is the force of a religious institution. It is the force of the literal Roman Empire. It is the force of “force” itself: Money, power, military arms, all the peoples of the world and their deeply held passions.
  1. Gospel in the Text
  • Jesus is Lord / The reign of God is not threatened.
    • Explanation: Connect the phrase “Caesar is lord” to the early creed “Jesus is Lord.”
    • Image: Imagine Jesus flipping the coin to them... dismissively. He is not threatened. Much like Jesus before Pilate, He is completely calm and supremely confident. No threat or force can hinder His Kingdom.
    • Image: Jesus smiling. It is a, “I know something you do not,” smile, which can be quite unnerving.
    • Image: Help your people imagine God’s laughter in Psalm 2. The nations have plotted in vain, and God above laughs. But ultimately, there is both judgment and salvation behind such laughter. Perhaps Jesus even gives a chuckle after verse 22.
  • Jesus wins the skirmish and the war.
    • Image: The opposing chess player knew they had a win, but they were utterly shocked by the sacrifice of their opponent’s most valuable piece (or perhaps a humble pawn is promoted and reveals new might that was previously unseen).
  1. Gospel in the World
  • We are free to render unto God the things that are God’s.
    • Serial Depiction: We give to God our praise, and He receives it gladly. We give to God our offerings, and He extends His Kingdom of Grace. We give to God our sin, and He erases the debt and gives us grace.
    • Image: Empty hands raised to God. We bring nothing and God gives everything.
    • Lyrics: Unpack or maybe simply recite some great lines from a Stewardship hymn, like “We give Thee but Thine own.”[2]
    • Image: Placing a gift in the offering plate. Unpack that single still frame with an inner monologue of a faithful Christian who trusts Jesus as King of all.
  • We rest in and under the very reign of God.
    • Narrative: A person troubled by a headline, or a possible confrontation actually stops to pray about it.
    • Enactment: Have a moment of prayer in the room. Invite people to bring their scariest concerns to God, even the seemingly most unsolvable ones, and to lay them before God’s merciful and powerful throne.
    • Image: Ascension Day and Jesus on His throne provide peace because He is above and beyond the mess. Yet, He rules over and deeply loves the world He created, died for, and will remake.

Maybe only one of the possible main ideas above has any traction for you. Go from there. I have found that I rarely write a sermon linearly. Find a moment which feels compelling and work backwards or forwards from there. Possibly none of these ideas for development resonate with you, I am not offended. Rather, let that rejection be an invitation for you to consider how you might bring an idea to life for your hearers in service to your proclamation this week.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 22:15-22.

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 Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 22:15-22.


[1] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/dynamic/lawgospel-structure/

[2] This is hymn 781 in the Lutheran Service Book.