In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The directive is as simple as it is impossible: “Render unto God what is God’s.” Everything is His so give Him everything.
Compare yourself to this command. Have you given everything to God? Look there and see your reflection. Balance your accounts. It is not pretty. You have looked after yourself. You have taken for your own pleasure what belongs to God. Don’t try to trick Him. Don’t try to trap Him with clever words. Do not think that you will can distract Him with what you think are complicated ethical questions about taxes or birth-control, about divorce or war, about Sunday morning priorities and the place of the Word of God in your life compared to entertainment and family. He sees into your heart. He knows your shameful pride, your reluctant, strings-attached gifts, your self-justifying lies, your vain posturing, your half-truths and deliberate deceptions! He knows your plotting ways and shallow excuses. Who do you think you are? He knows what you are: a sinner. Measured against this good law, this perfect wisdom, “Render unto God what is God’s” who could stand?
Repent. The ways of men are lawyers and loopholes, doublespeak and political strokes, pharisees sent to outsmart God and trap Him with His own Word. But the Way of God is the double-edged sword of Law and Gospel. It cuts clean. It slices open the hearts of men. It exposes them for the weak and dying vessels that they are. This crushing Law, this impossible standard, this “Render unto God what is God’s” is laid up against your throat to kill you. It kills in mercy. It kills so that the other edge of that sword might be laid up against your heart. For the other edge is the free gift of Grace, God’s undeserved, unearned, impossible love, His perfect mercy. He empties you so that He can fill you with what is good, with Himself. What you could and would not render, God has rendered unto Himself on your behalf! The Son of Man, born of woman without a human father, without inherited sin or corruption, with a perfect record, with a selfless and humble history, has rendered it all, even His life, unto the Father – for you. The Innocent has died for the guilty. He has rendered it, His life, as the ransom for your iniquity! Your debt is paid. You are free, forgiven. You owe no one, even God, anything.
The Way of God, the Way of Truth, is the Way of forgiveness. It is reconciliation to the Father through the death and resurrection of the Son by the gift of the Spirit. It is for sinful and selfish men who could not pay their own way. The Way of God is no respecter of persons. It cares not for men’s fleeting honors, titles, and imagined glory. It does not play favorites. He died for all – for the good and the bad, for bankers and farmers, for terrorists and racists, for postal workers and the unemployed, for men, women, children and adults, and, as impossible as it all seems, He even died for Midwest Lutherans.
His love is so great, so embracing, so blind that it even encompasses you. Not in a generic way, the way that some people love cats or chocolate. But in a deliberate, personal, individual way, as though there were only you, bothering to take the time to number every hair on your head! He laid down His life for you. He laid it down even though He knew that the great majority of those for whom He died would reject Him out of hand, afraid of what it might cost them. He died, despite them, for you. He accomplished the Father’s will to save you by dying and rising in your place. Because you, O unlikely man, you are His beloved. You are His chosen Bride. By the Blood you drink, by the Words that enter into your ear, by the watery death you died so long ago, by the power of a Promise from One who cannot lie, you are perfect, innocent, blessed, pure chaste, undefiled, unblemished, debt-free. You are sanctified for you are His. There is no one to accuse you. The Law has been satisfied for you. You owe no one, even God, anything!
“Render unto God what is God’s.” In Christ, who has rendered all for you, that Law, that simple and impossible directive, is now perfect freedom. It is fulfilled. It is finished. The reward is yours. Thanks be to God.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana