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Faith Bible Church, NY
October 16, 1994
The Secular and the Sacred
The antagonism between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus is now reaching its peak. It is Wednesday of Passover week. The day before Jesus had cleared out the merchants and money changers from the Temple. As Jesus arrived in the Temple, the Chief Priests and the Elders challenged Him as to the source of His authority to do all the things that He was doing; not just chasing the people who were defiling the Temple out, but teaching and doing miracles as well.
They thought they could in some way discredit Jesus, but instead they were the ones discredited. Jesus has just finished three scathing parables against them. They are the disobedient sons who refused to listen to John’s the Baptist’s call for repentance. They are the wicked vine-growers who have killed the prophets of God throughout Israel’s history and are now preparing to kill Jesus, the Son of God too. They are the rude wedding guests who will suffer destruction for their disregard of the King’s invitation and their treatment of His servants.
We rejoice because the invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb of God has gone out to all, and that means us, yet we are unnerved by the stubbornness of sin seen in this hypocritical religious leaders. As we begin our examination of our text for this morning, we find that Jesus’ parables have only made the Pharisees, Scribes and other religious leaders more determined to find some way to discredit Him so that they can put Him to death.
In Matthew 22 we find that three groups of people come to Jesus asking questions, all the questions are designed to somehow entrap Jesus. First, there are the disciples of the Pharisees who come with the Herodians. Next come the Sadducees and then finally the Pharisees themselves. By the time this will be over, no one from any of these groups will dare ask Him a question, but their resolve to murder Him will still be carried out. If they can not entrap Him, then driven by their hatred they will do whatever they have to do to get rid of Him.
In verse 15 we find that after these piercing parables that have exposed them for what they really are, the Pharisees retreat, but only to huddle and devise a new plan. “Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said.” Their goal has not changed in the least. They still must find someway in which they can discredit Jesus, or perhaps bring the wrath of Rome down upon Him. They have retreated to some corner of the temple were they begin to counsel with one another by exchanging thoughts and ideas to see if there is some way that they can get Jesus to say something that would be either unpopular with the people, or get Him in trouble with the government. Finally, they come up with a plan.
The plan looks perfect for it will put Jesus in a position where He will either have to say something that the people will not like, or He will have to say something the Roman government is not going to like. Either way, Jesus will be caught. However, to carry out this plan, they will have to be careful. Jesus knows them too well and would be too cautious around them. So they will have to get someone else to do their bidding, to ask the question for them. And who better for that than their own disciples, whom Jesus would not know and might be able to present themselves as ones who were sincere in the question they were going to ask.
But there is one complication in their plan. They are going to need another group to be their accomplices in their trap. In verse 16 we find them. “And they sent their disciples to Him along with the Herodians…”. This is an extremely unusual situation, and only in the rare occurrence of them having an common cause would you find them even together, much less cooperating. Most often they were on the opposite side of issues with each other, but in the desire to destroy Jesus they found common cause and became allies.
The Herodians were a political group that was supportive of Herod and Rome. Some may have been Jewish, but many were of the same nationality as Herod, being Idumean, descendants of the ancient enemies of the Jews, the Edomites. The Pharisees considered them to be irreligious traitors and so despised them, but now we find they needed their help. And the Herodians were glad to give it for they too hated Jesus simply because Herod Antipas wanted Him dead. Jesus was even warned about this in Luke 13:31 and that He should leave the region of Perea because Herod Antipas wanted to kill Him. Jesus did leave saying, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” (13:33). Herod was the one that had murdered John the Baptist and though He had been curious about Jesus, he was afraid of Him because He thought Jesus was John raised from the dead.
They were needed by the Pharisees to carry out their plan for their question to Jesus was posed to put Him in the position of either supporting Rome or agreeing common Jewish sentiment against Rome. If Jesus spoke in favor of Rome, then the Pharisees could take care of the matter themselves, but if Jesus spoke in against Rome as they expected, then they would need people who were pro-Roman there to then make charges against Jesus as a subversive to the Roman authorities. The Pharisees could not have done this themselves without becoming suspect themselves because their anti-Roman sentiment was well known. Instead, the Herodians, though detested by the Pharisees, were now useful to them as credible witnesses against Jesus to the Roman government.
Now that the trap has now been planned look at verse 16 to see how it will be set. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.”
In order to try to catch Jesus off-guard so that He might say something without thinking about it carefully enough, they start off with some very thick flattery. All of us like to be flattered, we like to have people say nice things about us because it strokes our ego and builds up our pride. They figured that Jesus was like anyone else and if they flattered Him enough He would fall into their trap.
It should be noted that the true character of these people comes out even here in the set up of their question because not only does the Scripture say much against the use of flattery, the Talmud does as well. Flattery is excessive praise used from motives of self-interest. It is therefore insincere and used by a person only in an effort to get what they want out of the person they are flattering. Lying is usually a part of flattery, but here it is in its worse form, because everything they say about Jesus is absolutely true, but it was not being said as true praise, but as a means to gain a wicked end.
No wonder the Bible speaks so much against flattery! Prov. 20:19 warns us not to get involved with someone who has flattering lips. Prov. 26:28 warns that a flattering tongue works ruin and 29:5 makes the point directly that a man that flatters does so to entrap his neighbor. Psalm 12 tells that the Lord will cut off those who flatter and 1 Thess 2:5 tells us as Christians that we are not to use flattering words at anytime. Why? because it is insincere and really just a cloak for covetousness and a means to selfishly gain from someone else by making them favorable to you.
Jesus was a teacher in the greatest sense of the word and He was also truthful in everything He taught. There was no waywardness in the least in Him. These disciples of the Pharisees were correct. Jesus did teach the way of God in truth unlike their teachers. In addition, Jesus was not dependent for His authority from men because it came from God. For that reason He did not defer to men. He was afraid of no one, He courted no one’s favor, He was impartial.
The question is then posed to Him in verse 17, Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?
They thought they had Him now. They had flattered Him and did their very best to make their question: What do you think? appear sincere, like they really did want to learn from Jesus since He was such a great teacher who was truthful, unafraid, and impartial. But the question was specifically designed to get Jesus in trouble with either the general Jewish population or with the Roman authorities.
The poll-tax was not the most expensive one most people had to pay, but it was certainly the most resented of the many taxes they had to pay. Nation’s occupied by Rome’s forces paid many taxes in order to compensate the Roman soldiers in the occupation Army as well as fund the various public works projects they would undertake such as building roads, aqueducts, and such. There was an annual land tax assessed at 10% of grain produced and 20% of wine and oil. Wage earners paid a 1% income tax, and customs taxes on merchandise were collected at all the ports and major crossroads.
The poll-tax was assessed on every adult male yearly and so was sometimes called a “head tax”. This was the tax that was in mind when Rome would have a census taken, such as when Joseph & Mary had to return to Bethlehem. This was in order to ensure that the proper amount was being collected. In addition, it had to be paid with a Roman denarius, a silver coin minted for the purpose of collecting this tax. A denarius is the amount a Roman soldier would earn per day. It was collected by the Procurator of the province (The Roman Governor, who was Pontius Pilate at this time), and then sent to Caesar.
This is one of the reasons that the Jews resented this tax so much, especially the Zealots. They viewed themselves as belonging to God alone and not to Caesar, and this tax signified Caesar’s personal authority over them. It was this tax that was the cause of an insurrection in A.D. 6 by Judas of Galilee that resulted in the deposing of Herod Archelaus and the appointment of a Roman governor for the area. Judas’ rally cry was that God was their only God and Lord, the census tax would not be paid. Later, in 66 A.D., this tax was one of the factors that led to the national revolt that eventually resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Roman General Titus.
That may seem a little radical to you until you factor in the second reason this tax was hated, which also ties in with the first. The Mosaic Law prohibited making any graven image or worshiping any one other than the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth (1st & 2nd commandments). Starting with Augustus, the Roman Caesars started to attribute to themselves either the position of high priest or of deity itself. In 17 B.C. an unusual star appeared which Augustus took as some sort of sign and he proclaimed a 12 day celebration during which the Roman college of priest, of which he was chief, granted mass absolution from sin for all people of the empire. In the same year coins were minted which proclaimed Augustus as the son of God. This idea was favorable to the pagans, but utterly repulsive to the Jews.
The Roman denarius that had to be used in paying the poll tax ascribed glory to the Emperor that was to be reserved for God alone. In addition, on one side it had an engraving of Caesar, either Augustus or Tiberius depending on when it was minted. The one with Tiberius had his head engraved on one side with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar Augustus: Son of the Divine Augustus”. On the other side it had an image of him with a diadem on his head, sitting on a throne, clothed as a high priest and the inscription read “Pontif Maxim” which means: High Priest. You can began to see why the Jews despised this tax so much. They felt that participating in it was contrary to the first and second commandments. It had a graven image on it, it had blasphemy written on it, and the Caesars used it as a means to attain both political and religious homage.
The trap is set. If Jesus answers against the tax as expected, especially since Jesus has already claimed for Himself the title “Son of God”, then the Herodians are present to be witnesses and charge Him with insurrection against Rome. If Jesus says the tax should be paid then Jesus will lose favor with the people, and the disciples of the Pharisees are present to make sure everyone would know about it. How will Jesus respond?
THE TRAP PERCEIVED
The main failure in all the efforts all these various groups make in trying to deal with Jesus is that they do not believe that He is deity in human flesh. You can not catch God, and they do not catch Jesus. Verse 18, But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?”
They had tried their best to appear sincere and had given Jesus a lot of flattery, but He knew their hearts. You can not pull the wool over the eyes of God, He reads your heart. So it will never do you any good to give lip service to God or give feigned respect and obedience. he knows your thoughts and your motives. Here we find that Jesus knew their evil purpose and He exposed them for what they were and what they were trying to do. “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites.” You tell Me I am the teacher of truth and that I show the way to God, but you are not interested in knowing the truth of God, only in finding a way to cause me trouble. Hypocrites, two faced, covering the real motives, the real intentions with a false mask. These men have now proven themselves to be disciples of the Pharisees, for when a disciple is fully trained, he will be like his teacher, and the Pharisees were hypocrites.
THE TABLES TURNED
Jesus now turns the table on them and sets a trap for them. One in which He will answer their question, but in which He will demonstrate their hypocrisy and how far they have strayed from God’s design.
Verse 19, Jesus continues and says to them, “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Jesus ask for them to show Him the very coin, literally here, “the poll-tax coin,” that was at the center of much of the contention the religious Jews against this tax. Jesus then brings out the two very things about the coin that were the cause of the strife: the engraved image on it and the inscription. The disciples of the Pharisees see their chance. They think Jesus is going side with them, denounce it as blasphemous and thus get into trouble with the Roman government. So they quickly given Him the answer that every child knew: They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
What Jesus said next caught them so off-guard and so astounded them that verse 22 says, “And hearing this, they marveled…” They were amazed and greatly wondered at such a wise and discerning answer. They knew they were no match for Jesus, and they took the better part of valor and left. I like to think, and this is just speculation because we do not know anything else about these men, but I like to think that the repetition in verse 22, and leaving Him, they went away, means that they did not go back to the Pharisees. I would think that the Pharisees would still have been in the Temple area waiting to see how their plan worked. I am hopeful that these disciples of theirs after having their hearts so exposed by Jesus and hearing His wise answer would not go back to them. They left Jesus, and then went away, maybe to contemplate all that they just went through. Again, this is just my speculation based on God’s gracious nature and hope that these men learned from Jesus.
Maybe you are in the same position. You do not yet believe that Jesus is who He says He is, you have come to hear about Him, but with great skepticism, maybe even secretly hoping to find a flaw in what He says. My hope for you is that you leave here this afternoon you will not return to the training you received from your former teachers, but that you will go away thinking deeply about Jesus, His teachings, and His claims.
Jesus gives His answer to their question in verse 21. Should they pay the poll-tax? It is Caesar’s image that is on the coin, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.
The supreme wisdom of this statement is often missed because it is so simple. It is a short statement, a pithy statement, and an answer that could never have been anticipated by them. It’s an answer that is neither rebellious against the government nor God, and an answer that proclaimed clearly and practically God’s principle meeting our obligation to both God and government. Our responsibilities to both God and government must be met. Our duty to the state falls within our duty to God and we always fulfill our duty to state until the state wants something that God has not regulated to it.
Jesus says, “Render to Caesar.” “Render” means to pay or give back and implies a debt, a duty, an obligation. It is a responsibility that must be fulfilled, it is not an option. The disciples of the Pharisees had the posed the question as, “Is it lawful to give?” They did not see themselves as having a God given responsibility to pay the tax. Jesus makes it plain that they did.
People still do not like taxes and today we find that we resent the way some money we pay in taxes is spent. Some have even called for tax boycotts and such because the current government funds things that we know are a reproach to God. Abortion, harvesting the tissue of aborted babies for fetal tissue research, pornographic “art,” public schools that teach our children paganism, amorality and immoral practices could certainly be grouped in this category. Certainly, as citizens of a nation where such things can be fought, we need to fight these things. However, we have a God given obligation to government, and it is more than to just pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-3).
Peter put it this way, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13-15). Paul was even more direct in Romans 13:1ff. Turn there with me.
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God; and those which exist are established by God. And remember that the government he was talking about was a pagan government that was even then beginning its persecutions against Christians. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. A serious warning to those who rebel that it is not just the state they are fighting with, but God’s ordinance. Why, verses 3 & 4 give the purpose of governments, For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. God sets up governments to restrain evil – that is their purpose.
Since God has a purpose for them and we receive the benefit, there is an obligation on our part to suppo
rt it. Paul lived with both the oppression and the benefits of the Roman empire including the “Roman Peace” which restrained theft, murder, and similar crimes, and allowed Paul to travel all over the Empire on Roman roads. Verse 6,7, For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them; tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
If Peter and Paul said that to those living under a pagan, despotic reign which had many excesses and physically persecuted Christians, then how much more does what they say apply to us. We render to Caesar, Governor Coumo, and President Clinton what is due them. We have the privilege and responsibility to peacefully influence government and get it to carry out its affairs in a godly manner, but we may not rebel against it or refuse to pay our taxes. We render to human government what belongs to it for we receive the benefits that come from it. Armed forces, police, fire protection, roads, safety and business laws, and even the weather service are some of these benefits.
At the same time we render to “God the things that are God’s.” Jesus does not make a separation between the secular and the sacred, because all things are under the sphere of God including human government, and that is why we strive to be good citizens. The government is placed by God. What Jesus is giving here is the limit to our submission to government. We pay our taxes, obey the laws, be good citizens until such point that the state commands we disobey God or tries to take for itself what only belongs to God. In this case specifically, worship. Caesar is to be paid his taxes, they belong to Him, but he is not to be worshiped.
We may not like all that the government does with our tax money, and in our system we can peacefully work to change that, but we have no right to rebel against it, refuse to comply, or incite insurrection. However, when government tells us to do something that God commands against or to not do something God commands us to do, we must, like Peter and all godly men and women that have gone before us, “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We render unto God what is God’s.
There is one other aspect to Jesus’ answer that I need to bring out. It was a two edged sword against the Herodians and the Pharisees. The Herodians did not render to God and their pro-Roman stance was self serving, not because it was God’s ordinance. The Pharisees and their disciples did not render properly to Caesar or God because they were in constant rebellion against both.
What about you?. Do you protest or cheat on your taxes maybe even trying to justify yourself thinking the government would use the money for ungodly purposes? You’re in disobedience to God’s ordinance and you dishonor Him. Are you really rendering to God what belongs to Him. The starting point of course is seeking His forgiveness for your sin and beginning to walk with Christ, but remember that as a Christian you “are not your own, you are bought with a price.” Is your life really lived for God or for self? What is your goal in life, where do you spend your time, what do you spend your money on, what do those things say about your heart?
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s: that’s the easy part. Render to God what is God’s – that demands Jesus is your Lord and savior and your life is lived for Him. Is He? Is it? Jesus’ answer is to be more than a pithy saying, it should be life changing.
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