Matthew 22:15-22

Give Yourself Back To God

October 22, 2017

       “Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.” 

      That is how our passage for today begins. Actually they had been plotting against Him for some time.  They tried twice to trip Him up, but failed. Now they are trying again. But they didn’t send out their “first team”. It wasn’t that they thought Jesus to be an easy touch — they knew better than that.  It was that they were looking for a way to knock Him off His pedestal without risking their reputations.  Jesus had made them look bad twice, and they were tired of being humiliated.  So the Pharisees turned to their disciples — young men in training — young men with no reputations to protect — young men with nothing to lose.  The Pharisees designed a trap question and instructed these young men in how to use it against Jesus.

      But first they taught them how to set Jesus up.  Before they sprang the trap question on Jesus, they were to say: “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth.”

      Of course, they did not believe that. It was just a way of buttering Jesus up — getting Him to lower His guard.  It was just a way of distracting Him so that they could blindside Him with the question. Once they had flattered Jesus, they were to say:”Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”

      The beauty of that question was that it offered Jesus only two choices — Yes or No.  If Jesus said Yes, he would offend the people, who hated Caesar’s tax.  If Jesus said No, the Roman soldiers would arrest him for sedition.  Either way  — they thought — Jesus would lose and they would win.

      But – of course — if Jesus somehow found a way out of the trap — it would be the young men who would be humiliated instead of the Pharisees. That’s why the young men were sent in the first place. But nobody expected Jesus to escape.  They were sure that they had him.

      But Jesus didn’t say Yes and He didn’t say No.  He said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” 

      That brought everything out into the open, didn’t it? Jesus knew what they were trying to do, and he made sure that everyone else knew it too. “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?”

      But that wasn’t enough to save Jesus.  If Jesus had said nothing more, He would look as if he were simply trying to dodge the question.  So He  said, “Show me the coin used for the tax,” and they brought him a denarius. A denarius was a significant coin — wages for a day.  But it was significant in other ways too.  You see — the denarius bore the emperor’s image, and was inscribed, “Tiberius Caesar, August son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”           Jews found both the image of the emperor and the inscription offensive.  For one thing, the Ten Commandments forbid graven images, so they hated the image of the emperor on the coin.  For another thing, Jews didn’t believe that emperor was divine.  They didn’t accept the emperor as God.

 

 

      And then Jesus asked, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 

      They answered, “the Emperor’s.”  So Jesus said:

“Give therefore to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s ,

and to God the things that are God’s.”

      “Give to the Emperor the things that the Emperor’s.”

      The word that Jesus used really means, “Give back.” 

      Jesus was really saying: “Give back to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s.”  In other words – Jesus was saying:

      “Hey — this coin bears the Emperor’s image.  It bears his inscription.  It was minted in his mint.  It circulates at his pleasure.  If he wants it back in a tax, give it to him. Give it back!”

      Made sense – didn’t it.

      But then Jesus said something else – something else that also made sense – but that the Pharisees – their disciples – and throughout the centuries many people – and in many ways even we – do not like to hear. After Jesus said:  “Give to the Emperor the things that the Emperor’s.” He said:  “Give to God the things that are God’s” In other words – give back to the emperor the coins by paying the tax if he wants them – but give back to God the things that are His – and that He wants.

      “Give back to God the things that are God’s.” 

      What is it that belongs to God?  Well – a better question might be, what does not belong to God?  We know that God created all things – everything – and so everything depends on – and belongs to God. And God wants to use – and bless – and be a part of – all that He has made – all that He has!

      “Give back to God the things that are God’s. ” 

      To get more to the point — we belong to God .Just as the denarius bore the Emperor’s image, and could be given back to the emperor in a tax or in any other way the emperor so chose,  we bear God’s image. That is one of the first things that the Bible says.  In Genesis 1:27 – just 27 verses into scripture – it says:

      “So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

      So —  if it is appropriate to give back to the emperor what belongs to the emperor —  namely a coin that bears his image — so also it is appropriate to give back to God what belongs to God —  namely ourselves – who bear His image. 

      Give yourself back to God.   

      What does that mean?  What would it look like if we were to give ourselves back to God? 

      Let’s first look at what it does not look like.

      This is a little “prayer” that is somewhat amusing – but actually describes many of us in a serious manner.   

      A man named Wilbur Rees wrote a tongue-in-cheek prayer for half-hearted Christians — Christians who are willing to give God only a little bit of their lives.  Listen to his half-hearted prayer.  He prays:

“I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please,

not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man

or to pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”

      But – you know what — God does not want half-hearted commitment.  God doesn’t want us to be lukewarm.  God wants us to be hot!  God wants us to love Him! God wants us to give our best to Him.  God wants us to give ourselves back to Him!

      What would that look like?  What would it look like if you were to give yourself back to God – if you were to give your best to God?  The answer is that it depends.  It depends on who God calls you to be and what God calls you to do. But – there are some general things I believe you can know about what it might mean for you if you were to give ourselves back to God.

      First – it would mean putting the things of God first in your life. It would mean making the Church – the place where we gather as a community of Christians to worship God and fellowship with each other – important in your life.  This does not just mean attending worship – although that is important – but it also means participating in Sunday School, Bible Study, and fellowship times. It also means supporting the work of God in and through this Church with the money God has blessed you with – and getting involved in the work of the Church.  There is a lot of “behind the scenes” things that are done that keep this Church going – enough for everyone to share in – enough for you to be a part of.

      Putting the things of God first in your life. Giving your time – your talents – your money – all you have – back to God for God’s work.

      Second – it would mean listening to where God might want you to get involved in His work in the world. God has a place for everyone in His work – and a task for everyone to do. Where is your place?  What is your task?

      I know a man and woman who gave themselves back to God.  They have served now for thirty years as missionaries in Haiti, because that is where God called them.  I would not want to live in Haiti, but they call it home. That is their place in the work of God in the world – that is their task.  That is what giving themselves back to God looks like for them.

            Where is your place? What is your task?

            Give yourself back to God.

            Make the things of God important to you.

            Listen to where God might want you to get involved in His work in the world.

            You don’t have to be a missionary — unless that is what God calls you to do. 

            I know a woman who gave herself back to God.  She devotes herself to helping others – feeding people who are hungry – feeding children who come by her house because they know they can get something to eat there – finding food and shelter for adults who are in need.  That is her place in the work of God in the world – that is her task.  That is what giving herself back to God looks like for her.

 

            Where is your place?

            What is your task? 

            Make the things of God important to you.

            Listen to where God might want you to get involved in His work in the world.

            An old Gospel song says, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.  I’ll be what you want me to be.”  That is what it looks like to give yourself back to God.  It means letting God set the agenda for your life. 

      Think about this question: What would my life look like if I were to give myself back to God? What would I do differently? How can I put the things of God in their proper place of importance in my life? What can I do to make the God’s work in and through this Church the best it can be? What can I give – financially and in terms of time and abilities — to make the God’s work in and through this Church the best it can be? What ministry is it that God would have me to do – and where would God have me to be doing it? What would my life look life if I were to give it back to God?

      Many of you have already given yourselves back to God, but there is a sense in which we need to do that daily. 

      The world is a big magnet that tries to pull us away from God.  We need to start each morning by giving ourselves back to God.

      Think about this question this week: 

      What would it look like if I were to give myself back to God?  

      What would I do differently? 

      What would I have to change?

      What things of God do I need to make more important in my life?

      What is it that God would have me to do – and where would God have to do it?

      Think about what it would mean if you were to:

      Give yourself back to God.

      Amen.