Ps. 96; Isa. 45:1-7; 1 Thess. 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22.
Render, “[R]ender… to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21b).
Ever since JB enrolled Jesus, “Christ of God”, we have been on journey to discern the meaning. Only by knowledge of God revealed in his Son do we attain eternal life (Jn. 17:3).
In Israel’s history various prophets, priests, and kings were anointed, in measure, with the HS to be “christs”; all pointing to Jesus, possessor of the Spirit in full for service to God. Isaiah surprises; God anointed Cyrus, a foreign pagan king, to be Israel’s rescuer from captivity.
Babylon had decimated the kingdom of Judah; destroyed Solomon’s temple; and relocated the populace. Gone was the heart of Israel’s OT worship; temple, festivals, cultic sacrifices. What remained to Israel, weeping by the waters of Babylon (Ps. 137:1) hoping for restoration, was Torah, directing Israel to its prescribed temple worship.
Without a temple, the dwelling place of God with his people in the Promised Land, Israel was unable to celebrate: the Daily Sacrifices, Passover; Unleavened Bread; Day of Weeks; Pentecost; Tabernacles; Rosh Hashanah; and Yom Kippur.
In misery Israel suffered loss of identity and the acculturation of many into the Babylonian secular experience; others however held to the words of Torah and its prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, praying God to enact a second exodus and return to the Land.
After 70 penitential years in Babylon, God anointed Cyrus, king of Persia, his “christ”, “whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him… to open doors before him… I will break in pieces the doors of bronze…” (Isa. 45:1, 2). By Cyrus, God broke open Babylon’s imprisoning gates decreeing the Jews free to return to the Land and rebuild the temple.
Well into this second temple period, Jesus came to JB for anointing. Jesus and JB were now doing a new thing to which ancient Israel had been called; but failed, the “fulfilling of all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15).
The thing about John’s baptism to repentance and forgiveness is that it was in direct competition with temple sacrifices. Religious rulers rejected John’s baptism as preparatory of Jesus’ kingdom come near as superior Sacrifice, “Son and Lamb of God”. For their opposition, JB declared them, “brood of vipers” (Mt. 3:7), “children of Satan”.
Judaism’s second temple period had in-stoned form, ritual, rite, and moralism that separated the people from the heart of God. Temple and Torah, administered and taught by religious rulers, hindered knowledge of God who desires righteousness and mercy.
Temple and Torah under the Chief priests and Pharisees became a fortress prison, intensifying man’s bondage under sin, as with Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. JB proclaimed freedom in the coming nearness of God; and the people flocked to the new thing of JB’s preaching witness.
Like Cyrus’ rescue of Israel, Jesus on Holy Week entered the “belly of the beast”, Jerusalem and temple in triumph; conquering Christ and king to shouts of “hosanna”, “save us”. As first order of the rescue Jesus broke the temple doors, ridding it of bulls, goats, birds, and the purveyors; he stood alone, God’s sacrificial Lamb. Jesus is God’s new Sacrifice, new High Priest, and dwelling Place with men, in whom Israel’s Covenant is reconfigured.
The first to come against Jesus were High Priests and Sanhedrin Pharisees (the elders). On any other occasion these men where bitter theological enemies; but now they held common cause, demanding that Jesus explain the source of his authority to “[do] these things” (Mt. 21:23b). As opponents, Jesus taught in parables (13:13; 21:28ff.; 21:33ff.; 22:1ff.).
Today we encounter another opposing alliance, Pharisees and Herodians, attempting to ensnare Jesus in the volatile politics of Roman taxation; but Jesus keeps his eye on the cross and its glory for breaking the bondage of God’s people for a new Exodus into the heavenlies. Jesus ignores the entrapment question of secular taxes in temple and Holy City; instead, he proclaimed, the crux of his kingdom, “[R]ender… to God the things that are God’s.”
The Wicked Tenant Vinedressers refused God their contrite hearts. Of our-selves true contrition is impossible. Our every inclination, like our first parents, is self-justification and deflection from patent guilt. Instead of righteousness and mercy toward brother, God sees bloodshed and outcry (Isa. 5:7).
How then do we render to God the things belonging to him? There is only One who is “good”, Jesus whom God elected “Christ”, his “obedient new Israel”. On the cross Jesus perfectly offered God his heart as God’s very own for the sin of the world. Jesus is source of all righteousness, justice, and mercy for men who receive him baptized in the Spirit.
Christ crucified is the full revelation of God hidden in ages past. For love of the world God lifted-up his only Son (Jn. 3:14-16); and Jesus in handing-over the HS for the life of his church (Jn. 19:30) makes God known in Love (1 Jn. 4:8).
The church, God’s new Israel, loses nothing on leaving the old. Jesus’ resurrection to the Father makes his crucified “water and blood” our purifying Passover out of death to Life; he is our Unleavened Bread of Life, the Voice of the Spirit; we celebrate Easter and Ascension, “the Day of Weeks” in NT configuration. Jesus is the ingathering end of Pentecost and Tabernacles; he is our Rosh Hashanah, head of the church; and the eternal substance of our Atonement Day.
How then do we render to God the things that are God’s? Is it not in returning to him the Fruit he has given us in Baptism, Jesus’ atoning flesh and blood? All things belong to God, which he returns to us for Eucharistic thanksgiving (1 Thess. 1:2, 6, 9b) and faith’s increase, 100, 60, and 30-fold (Mt. 13:8).
In a moment, standing in the Office of Christ, according to your call and God’s ordination, I apply Jesus’ words to your Offertory bread and wine; elevate it, Host and Cup, in sight of congregation and heaven to “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29, 36).
How is this possible? “[W]ith God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26b). These Eucharistic “things” belong to God, placed into our hands; he alone accomplishes our contrition, our righteousness and merciful hearts toward brother and neighbor. God’s word is powerful for restoring men to his Dwelling Place, the crucified and risen flesh of Christ in word and sacrament, wherein we “Render… to God the things that are Gods.” Amen.