Render to Caesar…

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“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25

Caesar was revered as a god by the Romans. All of the people, including the Jews, were obligated to pay heavy taxes to him. This was a highly controversial topic, and some Jews felt that it was wrong to pay taxes to a pagan ruler who had set himself up as a god. In an attempt to trap him, the Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is lawful for the Jews to pay taxes to Caesar – if he says ‘no’, he will be accused of rebellion against Caesar, which could incur a death penalty; if he says ‘yes’, they know that the people will resent his apparent allegiance with Rome.

Jesus’ response takes them entirely by surprise and stuns them into silence – Caesar can have his taxes, he can be given what he is owed, but give back to God what belongs to him! In one sense, this includes all material ‘stuff’, since God ‘owns’ it all anyway. So in reality, no-one can really claim any permanent ownership of wealth or power. But in a deeper sense, God demands back that which bears his image (like the coin bears Caesar’s image) – i.e. ourselves.

We belong to God – created in his image and likeness. We cannot hold onto any part of our life and try to keep it back from God. In sending Jesus to die for us, in our place, he has paid the highest possible price for us.

God instructs us to submit to human authority (which is bestowed by him), obey the law, pay our taxes, etc, but above all of that, He is our highest authority. All that we have and all that we are is from God and belongs to him. How are we honouring God with our ‘stuff’ and ourselves?

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Rock of refuge

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Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:3

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:2

No matter what is happening in life, God is unchanging. He is a firm foundation, unlike the shifting sands of the world. He is a safe hiding place.

Notice that we can come to him continually. In good times, or bad times; whether full or empty; day or night. No matter what else falls away or lets us down, God will always remain the same and he will always be for you.

In these psalms, David is able to proclaim that he will never be shaken. To be honest, there are times when I feel pretty shaken – when fear, anxiety or doubt threaten my peace. However, when I choose to take refuge in God, I can find that spiritual buoyancy which is joy, even in the midst of trials.

I shall always have hope

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As for me, I shall always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long – though I know not how to relate them all.  Psalm 71:14-15

Psalm 71 is an individual lament, a cry to God for protection and deliverance from enemies. The psalmist has a sure and certain hope in God – He is the rock, the refuge and the one who saves. God’s righteousness and total faithfulness are the grounds for hope. The psalmist leaves to God the timing of the answers to his prayers for deliverance. He is already praising God in anticipation of this deliverance!

What and example to us! How easily we can be distracted and dismayed when things are hard and we feels surrounded or overwhelmed. At times like these we can lift our eyes to God and praise him more and more in the sure hope of his ever-present grace. How much more joyful and fruitful the times of hardship could be…

Lord, thank you that your grace is more than enough for my every need today – please lift up my head if I start to look down. Help me and sustain me today – I will praise you because I know you will deliver me.

Amen

Let the redeemed of the Lord say…

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Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:21

God’s steadfast love, hesed, runs consistently through the history of his people. Unchanging, steady, constant, committed, relentless, pursuing love. Covenant love.

God’s people rebel and wander far from him again and again, and he patiently brings them back.

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.  Psalm 107:9

God delivers his people from trouble, feeds them physically and spiritually and leads them into good places of blessing.

He continues to do the same today. His steadfast love pursues us all the days of our lives. He satisfies our hungry souls. Oh, thank God for his wondrous works for us!

He has overcome the world

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I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what they will face in the days ahead. His arrest, his death, their desertion, the despair and confusion between Friday and Sunday. Jesus has forewarned them that he will leave them, but that he will return again. Even after his glorious resurrection the remaining 11 disciples faced troubles – in fact every single one of the them, apart from John, died a premature death at the hands of persecutors.

We now live in an in-between time. We know that Jesus is alive and that he has conquered death and sin, and yet we still live in the fallen world. We are waiting for the final restoration and renewal of all things. Jesus knew that his disciples would need supernatural encouragement to make it through the days that would follow. He offers the same encouragement to us – no matter what the world throws at us, it will be OK, because he has overcome the world!

Jesus wants us to have peace. This does not mean an absence of trouble, but an ability to remain focussed, grounded and filled with hope and joy even in the midst of trials. Notice that the way we obtain this peace in him. We are wasting our time trying to find it in anything else.

The reason for my hope

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Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.  1 Peter 3:15-16

Before we do anything, we need to remember who is Lord – Jesus. He alone is the one to whom every knee will eventually bow. If we’ve truly grasped this, and allowed him to be the pre-eminent one in our lives, we can be freed from inappropriate fear of other people. We should have a visible hope that prompts others to question ‘why?’. This hope is not false optimism or unrealistic idealism, but a steady, unshakeable certainty that God is in control and nothing that happens in this life is beyond his control or outside his will.

We need to be able to explain this hope clearly, gently and with respect for the other person’s point of view. There is no need to be loud, forceful or defensive – God’s truth is powerful and effective and it will work even when we feel rather inadequate!

We need to be living for an audience of One. The opinions of other should factor pretty low! Too often we are kept silent by fear of what others think. It is also good to study, discuss together and consider how to explain our faith and how to counteract misunderstanding.

I’d recommend Tim Keller’s book, The Reason For God, as a possible starting point if you feel ill-equipped to counter the criticisms that people have of Christianity.

Love each other

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Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathise with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.

1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)

God wants his children to be single-minded in purpose and direction – that does not mean that we will always agree on everything but we cannot let disputes or disagreements disrupt our overall unity. We are commanded to love one another deeply and genuinely. In fact, Jesus said that this should be the way that the watching world recognises us as his disciples…

Love inevitably involves risk. Tender hearts are liable to get bruised. Brothers and sisters can be bluntly honest with each other at times. But we must be humble, not allowing our own egos to trip us up.

The urge to retaliate when insulted is so strong! We need divine help from the Holy Spirit to help us stop before we ‘repay evil with evil’. And we definitely need the Spirit’s help to bless those who insult us! Perhaps take a moment this week to pray for someone who posts anti-Christian messages on Facebook, insults Jesus in a comedy sketch, ridicules Christianity in your home, or belittles the faith of Christians in your workplace. Pray that God would bless them – not what they do or say, but their inner person who is made in His image and likeness.