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Sunday October 22, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Spurlock

Matthew 22:15-22

I Have No King but Jesus

So, Pilate, “brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgement seat in a place that is called the pavement… and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your king!…The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.”

In the early days of the church, after the day of Pentecost, the apostles spent most of their time meeting, teaching and preaching about Jesus within the precincts of the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. This drove the Jewish high priest and his associates to distraction and they arrested the apostles and put them in jail intending to keep them overnight until they could try them on the following day. But in that same night an angel of the Lord released the apostles and commanded them to go back to the center of the temple precincts and preach about Jesus.

The next day when the Sanhedrin gathered for the trial, the guards went to bring the prisoners to court but they found an empty jail, and then they found the apostles in the Temple preaching about Jesus. The guards brought the apostles to the Sanhedrin where the high priest reminded them that he had ordered them not to teach in Jesus’ name. But Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Now when the priests heard this, they were furious and wanted to kill the apostles. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel stood up in the midst of the Sanhedrin and reminded them about an event that happened some twenty-five years before. A man named Judas who came from the Galilee appeared in the days of the census and led a revolt against the Roman poll tax. He was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, Gamaliel counseled, leave these men alone—let them go. For if their purpose is of human origin it will fail. But if it’s from God, you will not be able to stop these men. You will only find yourselves fighting against God.

The Judas that Gamaliel mentions is not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, but Judas of Galilee who founded the zealots and who preached that God alone was the ruler of Israel and urged that no taxes should be paid to Rome. In the year 6 AD this Judas led a tax revolt that was quickly put down by the Roman authorities. Judas was executed and his followers dispersed. It’s interesting to note that this revolt took place in the region where Jesus lived when he was about ten or eleven years old—old enough for him to have followed the news. In any event, the Roman poll tax continued throughout Jesus’ lifetime.

As an adult, Jesus is confronted by some strange bedfellows colluding to catch him in a trap. Some Pharisees, faithful and devout Jews serious about following the letter of the Jewish law and looking to throw off the Roman yoke and restore the Kingdom of David, have shown up with some Herodians, Roman toadies who ruled the region of Galilee as puppets of Rome, yet still hoping to throw off the Roman yoke and restore independence to Israel under an heir to Herod the great. It is unlikely, in light of the incident after Jesus’ resurrection with Gamaliel, that nobody had forgotten the violent revolt of Judas of Galilee just twenty-five years earlier. So when Jewish zealots and Roman puppets show up together and ask Jesus Jesus’ if it was lawful to pay the poll tax, heaven knows this is a loaded question.

To support paying the tax is unpatriotic, it is to side with unjust taxation imposed by a foreign and idolatrous power over and against loyal Jews who fought and died opposing its injustice. If Jesus says yes, it’s lawful, he will be at cross purposes with the Pharisees who deeply resent Rome’s presence and power in their land.

But to oppose paying the tax is to get crossways with the law of the land, and to upset the Roman authorities who were understandably sensitive to popular locals speaking out against the tax system. And as the party in charge of keeping order in the Galilee, the Herodians would have been keen to quickly suppress any hint of sedition from any popular rabble rouser.

In response to their clever little question, Jesus asks them to show him the coin you had to use to pay the tax with. It just so happens that one of his inquisitors has one of the coins on him. Hypocrite! Even to possess the coin was compromising for a loyal Jew what with its idolatrous image of Caesar stamped right on the front, and with the inscription declaring Caesar the son of god.

If they were already using Caesar’s money they might as well go on and pay his tax. Jesus catches them in their hypocrisy by trying to trip him up with his fellow Jews, for to pay the tax is unpatriotic, or to prompt Jesus to deny Rome’s authority to collect the tax, thus placing him in the hands of an occupying force. Either way, all of his inquisitors are shown to be collaborators with Caesar. If they’re already using his money, they ought to pay his tax. And if they’re going to pay his tax, they might as well go on and conspire with Rome to kill their messiah.

And when they do that very thing, Jesus will have a conversation with the emperor’s representative about Caesar’s sovereignty and God’s sovereignty. Because that’s what is really at issue here isn’t it. Who is really King, not only in Jerusalem, not only in Rome, but in the whole wide world.

During Jesus’ trial under Pilate, the procurator asked Jesus “Where do you come from? But Jesus would not answer him. So Pilate said to him, “Why won’t you speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

From that moment on Pilate sought to release Jesus, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat and said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

You know, the Jews had another foreign king once besides Caesar. We heard his name in our first reading from Isaiah: Cyrus, king of the Babylonians, who is also shown to be under the control of God’s complete sovereignty just as Jesus told Pilate he was. Cyrus would have no authority over the Jews captive in Babylon unless it had been given to him from above.

Cyrus is appointed by God and equipped for a divine task to which all his victories will diminish and pale. Cyrus may conquer Croesus, he may subdue Babylon, he may acquire incalculable wealth and fame but the supreme act of his reign and rule will be something that may have seemed to Cyrus a small thing, a decree spoken in a moment, and all but forgotten. Cyrus decreed that the Jews could go free, that they could return to their land, to their capital at Jerusalem, and they could rebuild their temple to their God, if it pleased them to do so.

Our judgments are so faulty when it comes to putting value on our actions that Cyrus might have gone to his grave never knowing how God had used him in service to his plans to restore his chosen nation, his chosen people, to rebuild his house and to set the stage for his incarnation, his public ministry, his trifling disputes with his trifling priests, and to suffer at their hands, and to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to die and rise again for the forgiveness of sin, and for the resurrection of the dead. How do we evaluate God’s reign and rule when his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways?

I have here a cross here. My sponsor gave this to me when I was confirmed. Apart from its sentimental value there is nothing special about it. It’s like a lot of crosses that are purchased in church supply stores and hang in the homes of the faithful all over the world. But ever since the day that I received it, it has hung over my front door wherever I have lived. It has watched over my coming in and my going out these many years. But one day, not so many years ago, I was on my way out. As I approached the front door my eyes caught sight of this cross and it stopped me in my tracks, and then it spoke it to me. “You profess that I am Lord, but I am king everywhere except in your own home.”

You see, despite my deep desire to belong to God, to have him rule my thoughts, words, deeds, there are always realms of my life that are unruly. And the great struggle for Christians like me, and I daresay you too, is that we don’t acknowledge that there are entire areas of our lives that we have not submitted to God’s rule, as though they are realms that belong to Caesar alone, or to us alone. These realms of rebellion, treason, and sedition where we claim a sovereignty that tells God, “You may not enter or rule here. Here, I am king.” And yet, Jesus has taught us there is no such place. Is there anything, anywhere under heaven or in the earth or under the earth, or in your own human heart, in your mind, in your soul, that is not God’s creation, possession, and kingdom? Look deep into your life, deep into your mind, deep into your heart and soul. What are you holding back? What are you withholding from God? What will you not render unto him? When you have found it, let it go. And let God begin ruling that unruly bit of your life. Render unto God the things that are God’s.

Let this be true for each and every one of us—that we have rendered unto God everything that is God’s, and that we will have no king but Jesus.