All Saints” & “Render Unto God

A Sermon in Two Parts

The 23rd Sunday after Trinity, within the Octave of All Saints’ Day

November 7, 2021

 

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. – St. Matthew 21:22.

 

          Two themes are met together on this day: The Godly examples of the saints and the example of the Son of God in confronting enemies to the faith of the saints.  The two themes are linked in several ways.

I

          The saints’ lives give to the Christian life the character of a struggle.  That is not welcome news to many (perhaps most?) Christians today.  We seem rather to be content with our spiritual condition.  We have good hopes, bright prospects, and very little that corresponds to the spiritual struggles of our saintly exemplars, and of the Son of God Himself.

 

          Well, my friends, that is not what we are in for as professed Christians.  Jesus Christ made it quite clear that troubles and difficulties are the standard for the Christian’s life.  Accordingly, He counseled all to be aware of the cost before getting involved. Remember His reasoning: No one starts to build or to undertake any other enterprise before knowing he has what he needs to finish it. Otherwise the plan will end in disaster.  He warns us to count the cost before getting committed to Him, because it will be a struggle.

 

          What is the struggle?  In Revelation 3:21, Jesus appeared to John the Apostle and made this promise: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in His throne.”  It is Jesus, mind you, our Good Shepherd, our Redeemer and the author of our title as “Christians”, Who uses the word “overcome.”  And He promises to reward those who overcome, “as I also overcame.”  The reward is the throne of heaven – to reign with Him on His throne if you overcome.  What are we to overcome?  May I suggest to you, the answer is very short and simple: Self.  One might ask, “How do you know that?” 

 

          Jesus patiently explained (even to His enemies, St. John 5:20; 10:17) how God the Father loves the Son and loves those who love the Son (chapters 14-17 of St. John’s Gospel).  God is love (I St. John 4:4-8).  Love exists between the Persons of the Trinity and also reaches all His creation.  And love is unselfish.  The Father sacrificed His Son for our sins.  Jesus seeks not His own will, but the will of the Father (St. John 5:30).  He does nothing of Himself but only what He sees the Father do (id. 5:19).  His doctrine and His very words are not His own but are what the Father taught Him to say (id. 8:28, 7:16, 14:10). Likewise, the Spirit testifies not of Himself, but of Jesus (id. 16:13-14). 

 

          In this way, the three persons of the Trinity are loving and giving towards each other.  As the Son does the Father’s will, the Father commits all judgment to the Son and requires all humanity to go through the Son in order to come to salvation and to glory.  The Spirit likewise points to the Son, shows us everything about the Son, and leads us into the Way by inspiration and by strength to follow in the ways of the Son.

 

          God’s plan to redeem and save us proves He is love, and is not selfish.  His love extends not only among the Persons of the Trinity but to all fallen creatures in this world, the least worthy of His love and, in fact, unworthy of it.  He loves them – you and me.  And how does He prove it?  By giving His life!

 

          This is the part Satan cannot figure out because he disbelieves God’s love.  You recall from The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis) that Satan’s futile effort is to figure out what God is up to when He claims He loves us.  Satan says love is a false label God uses to disguise a fundamentally selfish plan to dominate and exploit God’s creatures – just like Satan’s own plan.

          The accusation is answered by the death of Jesus Christ for us. That is love – in action – love to the uttermost, an irrevocable commitment.  His mortal life is dead – for us!  That is proof of His love.  Satan cannot comprehend it.  He has no answer to it.

 

          Now God is expecting you and me to live lives that show something of His love.  This is where the struggle comes in.  Even Jesus, before He was crucified, struggled with the prospect of having to give His life in this way, as witness His bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He sweat blood over the issue – have I got to do this?  He knew, of course, being God Himself, and the Son of God, that He must.  But He struggled with it.

 

          Self-denial to the point of death is “ugsome” – to use the old-fashioned word used by some of the martyrs in the English Reformation.  They faced bloody and flaming deaths for their Faith, and although they knew they would have to go through with it, still they shrank from it because of “the ugsomeness of death” – especially when unjustly inflicted.  And so did Jesus.

          That is the hub of the struggle – for every human being.  Yet if we are to be unselfish and loving in the image of God, in which we were made, we must find a way to live a life that reflects His selfless love.  We do not have the ability ourselves to do this.  He does.  And He has given that to us as a gift – the gift of Himself, His Love, received through His gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  This requires us to struggle, to put down – to crucify – every day, the selfish side of our life (St. Luke 9:23), and never slacken until death ends the struggle. That is the “overcoming” – overcoming selfishness, and self.

 

          This gives meaning to His promise of dominion and rule to those who “overcome”.

          Look at hymn number 130 (1940 Hymnal) that we sang today. See how much of this language is in that one hymn.  Hear how it resonates with the promise of Jesus to those who overcome: “Who are these?” says the person looking at this – quoting John the Evangelist in Revelation – “Who are these like stars appearing?” “These are they who have contended for their Savior’s honor long”- His honor, proving that He is not self-centered but that He is loving and self-giving and self-sacrificing.  “Wrestling on till life was ended, following not the sinful throng.”  This speaks against selfishness, towards selflessness.  It is a wrestling match for our whole life. There is no end until our death day, until it is you – or I – for whom the bell tolls.

          “These who well the fight sustained, triumph by the Lamb have gained” – not by their strength, but by the strength of the Lamb of God Who gave Himself for us, and lives in us by His Spirit dwelling in us (Galatians 2:20), empowering, moving and inspiring us to do the same.  It is all God’s work, from beginning to end.  “Triumph by the Lamb have gained.”  What an excellent Gospel hymn that is!

          “These are they whose hearts were riven, sore with woe and anguish tried.”  Will it be easy?  No.  Is this the right and the true Way?  Yes.  These are the ones “who in prayer full oft have striven with the God they glorified.”  They wonder, “God, is it really necessary for me to go through this?” – just as Jesus did in Gethsemane.  But they have put their life and their will on the altar for Him, and they know the answer.  Therefore this verse calls it “their painful conflict” which is now over, and “God has bid them weep no more.”

          Do you know Christians who because of their painful conflict against their own sinful nature are weeping?  Where are they?  In what church?  This sounds quite different from the Christianity we are generally acquainted with.

          “These like priests have watched and waited, offering up to Christ their will.”  They have sacrificed their will, as a “holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).  “Soul and body consecrated, day and night they serve Him still.  Now … blest they stand before His Face.”  Excellent summary, all in that one little hymn, 130.  That is the nature of our struggle, and of the glory and beauty of heaven’s kingdom and of Him Who created it.

          The Epistle contrasts the struggling saint with the earthly-minded person who has no concept of the struggle towards glory, truth, selflessness and love – but who minds earthly things instead.  Of such, the Apostle rightly says, “their god is their belly” – signifying that their appetites, lusts and wills are the center and goal of their life.  Their only struggle is to get ahead, get satisfied, get wealthy, and the like.  Such are the objectives of unsaved humanity: they mind earthly things.  And their glory is in their shame.  The accomplishments they consider great are things they got by self-centeredness.  In this they have Satan’s witness – i.e., that they are entirely self-centered. And they glory in it.

          Politicians these days who are so easily bought are those who are entirely self-centered regarding their public office.  They glory in acquiring and occupying an office of power, honor and privilege. Such a mindset makes people do or say anything to keep the position that they have made their god.  This makes persons who are so oriented an easy mark for bribery or fear – for any and all forms of temptation or pressure to betray their oaths and their public trust in order to save their careers.  Harry Truman once said, “In politics, you’ll never get rich – unless you’re crooked.”  How many rich politicians do we have today who got their riches after they got into politics?  They are selling their souls to keep their selfishly-gotten gains.  Their glory is in their shame.

          Christians are to be different – to be like Noah’s Ark, floating up above all the evil of the world.  The Christian is in the world, but not of it.  If we were of the world, the ark would be swamped and would soon be on the bottom.  We are in the world, but not of it.  We take no part in the storms of its selfish strife.  Instead, we bear witness that there is a better way.

          Have you ever watched a storm at sea?  It is a marvelous, inspirational thing to see – from a safe place on shore, with a pair of field glasses.  On Canada’s east coast once, while watching a storm, one could see far off shore a red buoy which every so often would disappear in the hollow between high waves.  Sometimes, the waves kicked up high enough to break over the top of the buoy, knock it over and seem to pull it under.  But always it came up, and always in exactly the same place, because as all good buoys it was well anchored to the bottom.  

 

          The storms and strife of life may hit us and knock us over, even sink us.  But we will float up again, right in place, if our anchor grips a rock – as that old Gospel hymn says, “My anchor holds because it grips a rock.”  And that rock is Christ.  In order for that buoy to change position the least bit and give in to the forces of the storm all around it – the raging wind and the towering waves crashing over it – it would have to break its line to the anchor.  It cannot do that and still be a faithful and true navigation marker.  You and I, when we are true to Jesus Christ, will not give in to the stormy wild forces that would overwhelm us in this life, and sink us.  Christ will not let His faithful ones be overcome by these in any manner or degree, but will hold us firm.  “Thou hast holden me by my right hand.” Psalm 73.  Holding to Him, we are able to withstand any storms.  We will always come up again, holding our place, faithful and true.

II

          Now let us look at Jesus.  The Pharisees tried to sink Him as in a storm, by their plot to entangle Him in His talk.  He knew their plan. He read their hearts and minds.  They were out to ensnare Him, and they began with weasel-words and sweet-talk: “We know that you are true and do not act in respect of persons, but speak truth.”  Really? They did not believe that at all.  They believed He was false, and they were plotting to show it.  But they lied to Him, and said, “We believe you are for the truth;” because they wanted Him to take the bait. What was the bait?

          There was a worldly strife at that time about whether Judaeans should pay tribute to Caesar or not.  Popular sentiment was against paying it, and that put the people – and anyone who might side with them – in conflict with the governing power, Rome, which had forcibly taken over Judaea and now ruled it. 

 

          Superficially, Judaea might seem to us to have had a just claim of ‘no taxation without representation,’ but that was not the case.  When the American colonies asserted such a claim, they were an integral part of Britain’s empire, and as colonial Britons they had certain governmental rights and economic interests toward which the home country had lately become hostile.  Judaea, however, was a conquered country with no claim of any rights.  The Roman conqueror’s currency was in circulation among the population in Judaea, and that was the money to be used in paying the tribute.

          In that setting, Jesus, after exposing the Pharisees’ wicked intent, obtained their admission that the image imprinted on the tribute money was Caesar’s.  Their admission alone dictated His moral conclusion which they could not answer: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” 

          Do you see what Jesus did?  He did not take sides on the tribute issue.  There was no need to, because the obvious higher moral principle He revealed (i.e., render to all their dues) inherently resolved the matter of tribute both to God and to Caesar.  He said, in effect, I am not of the world that produced your question about tribute.  I am from above.  You belong to God.  Tribute money belongs to this world.  Give to this world the things that belong to it.  And by the same principle, because the image of God is stamped on your heart and soul, give your heart and soul to God. 

 

          Masterful!  A model of brevity and simple, unanswerable Truth.

 

          Here Jesus implies further that we ought not to give heart and soul the state – to all the fears and hopes and anxieties that are inflicted upon us by the system of the world. 

          The converse of His answer is also true: Because it is your duty to pay God His tribute, the same principle requires you to pay the state its tribute as well.  Do not be high-handed about this.  You use Caesar’s currency; therefore, pay his tribute.  That is only fair.

 

          In this, Jesus disproved what people sometimes say these days, that Jesus was a revolutionary.  He was nothing of the kind.  He was an emissary from a different kingdom, from heaven, saying, I am not here to upset your kingdom.  I am here to show you the true kingdom which is over all.  “If my kingdom were of this world,” He later said to Pilate, “my servants would fight.  But my kingdom is not of this world.” 

 

          The Pharisees directly lied about this to procure His death.  They told Pilate they found Jesus “forbidding to give tribute to Caesar” (St. Luke 23:2).  On the contrary, Jesus saw the unquestioned duty to pay Caesar’s tribute as evidence of the higher duty to pay God’s tribute as well – that is, the obedience and heart-worship we owe to our Ruler and Judge whose image we bear. 

          As our Ruler and Judge, His command is: Overcome by God's grace and the Blood of the Lamb, all the selfishness that is in your mortal nature.  And if you faithfully carry on this lifelong struggle to the end, He has promised that you will sit on the throne with Him in heaven.

          Your tribute to God is to take up that message.  To agree with it.  To make it your own.  To love Him because of the great love He showed in overcoming all the temptations to selfishness that Satan inflicted on Him throughout His mortal life - until His crowning act of love in sacrificing His sinless life to God for you and me, great offenders and sinners against Him. 

 

          This is the same struggle that all the saints have taken on.  In it, they conquered selfishness by the unselfish love of the Lamb of God, and by His Spirit working within them – as in that old Gospel hymn: “Deny thyself and take thy cross, is the Redeemer’s great command: Nature must count her gold but dross, if she would gain that heavenly land.”  So many Gospel hymns put these things simply and beautifully; it is good to remember them and use them day by day.

          Hold onto Jesus, our High Priest, the Promise of Life Everlasting.  And like that sea buoy, we will keep coming up, against all the violent forces trying to sink us or drag us away – always holding true because anchored to Christ.  In this way, we - with all the saints - join the same struggle in which Jesus overcame.  In Him, we, too, shall overcome, and share His eternal dominion.

          Lord God our Father, Inspire us with this: that our true hope in all life’s worst attacks and storms may be our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.  Through the sacrificed Lamb of God, we are more than conquerors and have all power through Him Who lives in us to do as He did.  May we, through the power of Thy Spirit, withstand all the attacks of the world, the flesh and the devil, and set aside and overcome our self-will, as He has done and proved it by His blood.  Give us grace to follow Him in crucifying our mortal nature – knowing that “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24) – always holding true to Him regardless of the cost to us in this life, because we are anchored in Him, the Rock of our Salvation.  This we ask in Jesus Christ’s Name.  Amen.   

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