Give to Caesar, Give to God
December 16, 2012 Series: Gospel of Mark
Topic: Government Passage: Mark 12:13–17
Let’s read Mark 12:13-17. Pray. As Allen mentioned last week, we’re in the middle of a series of confrontational interactions between Jesus and the Jewish religious and political leaders which all take place in and around the temple in Jerusalem. The Pharisees are determined to get rid of Jesus; and they’re looking for any possible way. Last week we saw that they asked Jesus a question with the intention of trapping and discrediting Him. But Jesus turned their question into a question that was really an answer to their question. And then told the parable of the evil tenants which they knew was about them. But once again, instead of repenting, they left more angry and determined than ever to eliminate Jesus-this hindrance to their agenda. So they regroup and came up with a new plan.
Now, this really is a masterful plan; evil but genius. Look at verse 13: “And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.” We think of “trap” as trick or trying to verbally pin Jesus in a corner. But the Greek word translated “trap” mean violent pursuit. This isn’t a battle of wits; these guys are hunting Jesus down. In order to fully realize how serious they’re taking this, we have to understand how unusual and unnatural it would have been for the Pharisees and the Herodians to team up and work together on anything because they hated each other.
The Pharisees are the far right: they’re the epitome of Jewish religious piety and conservatism; zealous for God’s law; pro Israel and resentful of the imposed Roman government. The Herodians, on the other hand, are Jewish but not really religious. They’re more politically minded; they have aligned themselves safely with the Herod and the Roman government and we’re mostly concerned with political advancement. These are not likely partners.
In order to wrap our minds around the (almost) impossibility of these two groups coming together just imagine the Tea party being lead by Rush Limbaugh and the Obama administration both willingly coming together, ignoring any and all differences and uniting whole heartedly to work together for a common goal. If this ever happened you better believe that both parties would have to be convinced that their very survival is at stake. And that’s exactly what’s going on. As proud and hard hearted as these men are they we’re willing to swallow their pride toward each other because they agree on one thing-Jesus was a threat to their agendas. He turned the religious traditions and agenda of the Pharisees inside out and Jesus disrupted the political agenda of the Herodians. So they both wanted Him dead.
So these two unlikely groups come together and try to trap Jesus with flattery. Verse 14: “And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.” This is dripping with hypocrisy. Ironically, it’s true. Jesus is truth and is never swayed by man. But their words were insincere and their hearts were deceptive and corrupt. They hoped to take Him of guard with flattery for what came next, again in the form of a question (crouching, ready to pounce).
Look at the rest of vs. 14: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” This is intended to be a no win questions. This was a very real, politically charged issue and they hoped to bring Him down-on one side of the issue or the other.
They probably thought they had him now and here’s why. The tax that they’re talking about was called a poll tax and it was basically a tax for the privilege of being a Roman citizen. The Jews hated it because they saw it as payment for the oppression under the Roman Empire.
But it wasn’t just that. The tax cost a denarius which was a day’s wage so it wasn’t that it was a financial burden. Their resentment came from what it represented. The coin alone was a reminder of the ungodliness and idolatry of the Romans and many Jews saw paying the tax as compromise and unfaithfulness to God. On the one side of a denarius was the image of Tiberius Caesar with the inscription: Tiberius Caesar son of the divine Augustus. And on the other side was Tiberius’s mother sitting on the throne with the inscription: Pontif Maxim or High Priest.
So here you have the King of Kings; the Son of God; and, in a few days after He would die on a cross and pay for our sins, our High Priest-Jesus holding up this coin that has the image of a king on it who claims to be the son of a god and the high priest of the world. This was a hot, controversial issue. If Jesus says, “yes, pay the tax” he would be seen as a Roman sympathizer and the crowds would turn on Him. That’s why the Pharisees are there. But if Jesus says no, don’t pay the tax He would be seen as a rebel to the Empire and someone who needs to be stamped out. That’s why the Herodians are there.
And they’re thinking they’ve got Him this time. But they fail to add into their strategy that they’re dealing with the wisest man in the universe. Let’s read answer in verses 15-17: “But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.”
The way Jesus answers them is amazing; even they marvel at His answer. With one sentence Jesus not only escapes the trappings of their question but His answer also gives us the foundation of how we as Christians should view politics. He obviously doesn’t address the all the details and aspects of government but He does lay the foundation for a biblical view of God and government. So let’s take a look at both sides of verse 17.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars
It’s Caesars image on the coin, so give him the coin. As Disciples of Christ, we’re called to be good citizens even if the government is bad or we don’t agree. Jesus changes the verb in their question from pay to render. They’re asking about “paying”, Jesus tells them to “render”. This change is important. “Render” means to fulfill an obligation; to pay what’s owed. (not equal value exchange). The implication is that the government has a right to something that we have, like this tax.
Now, our taxes are sometimes used to pay for stupid, silly things; things we don’t agree with; sometimes even sinful things. It’s a fact that some of our tax money goes to pay for abortions. And there are some that see this as justification not to pay taxes. But Jesus answer doesn’t agree with this line of thinking. Every government is run by men who are sinful. Therefore every government is going to have an element of corruption.
Jesus is living under Roman rule. He knows Tiberius Caesar; that he is a corrupt, evil and perverted ruler who would execute his enemies as well as his advisors in the same breath.
Jesus knew that this tax was paying for Roman conquest which meant death, suffering and oppression for many; gladiator style entertainment which would eventually be used to humiliate and kill Christians; and crucifixions of which Jesus would soon experience. No matter how bad, corrupt or inept we might think our government is at any given time, this was worse. Yet Jesus says pay the tax, it belongs to the government. It’s never ok to cheat on our taxes for any reason.
We have an ethical responsibility to pay our taxes and obey the law; not if the government lines up with our values but rather out of obedience to God. We are not responsible for how the government spends our taxes or carries out its power. We are able to participate in the political process and do our part to contribute based on our conscience but in the end, rendering to Caesar doesn’t mean that we agree or participate with Caesar. We are not responsible for the actions of the government but the government does have a legitimate authority even when it’s run poorly or corruptly.
Just so we’re sure that I’m not stretching this too far, turn with me to Romans 13:1. Paul wrote this during the rule of Nero, a man who executed his step-brother, mother and wife, started one of the most violently notorious persecutions of Christian in history and was responsible for the death of Paul and Peter. Let me read to you what Paul wrote about government.
1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. [Why?] For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [We submit to the government authorities not because of them but because of God. Jesus will affirm this to Pilate: Pilate “I have authority to release.” Jesus “You have no authority accept from God.”]
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [To obey the government is to obey God, to resist is to resist God. There is not separation of church and state for the Christian. Our submission to gov’t is another aspect of our lives that is meant to honor God. (Rom.12:1)]
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. [Paul expands this from taxes to respect and honor. As Christians who submit to God and trust His sovereign and wise rule, we should lead the way in showing respect and honor for the government-whether you like them or not, agree or not. There is a call in these passages for us to respect and honor our President-Barak Obama or, if Mit Romney had been elected to respect and honor him-no matter how you feel about them-it’s not about political parties and policies or us; not primarily for their sake; it’s for God’s sake. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything he does but we have an obligation to reflect both the character of God and our trust in God in the way we think and act toward the President; we honor our authorities because God has positioned them. This includes gossip and slander.]
Govt is a gift from God that has its purpose and we are to obey scripture in living under our govt but it’s not the same as the Kingdom of God. God’s rule encompasses all things; all of creation and all govt’s. Listen to what Jesus says in John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
For now we are sojourners and exiles. We are not of this world. Right now we’re a part of two different kingdoms; this kingdom and God’s Kingdom. But Church, our primarily citizenship is not with the United States of America; it’s with the Kingdom of God, which has come but not fully-so we wait here in this kingdom but our allegiance is to a greater Kingdom with a higher standard. The authority and power given to govt’s are from God but their authority over us is not absolute. And this gets to the second part of Jesus answer…
Render to God the things that are God’s
God’s authority over us is absolute. And so our obligation to obey the govt is not absolute. We haven’t experienced this yet but many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are living in nation where the govt strictly forbids what scripture clearly commands. Our ultimate allegiance is to God and so when this happens we obey Him over govt. In some nations, though it’s forbidden, the church still gathers; even though punishable by death, disciples still evangelize, print and give away bibles. In Acts 5 the apostles are arrested for preaching the gospel and are commanded to stop preaching. Here’s Peter’s reply: “29 We must obey God rather than men.”
Jesus says give the coin to Caesar because His image is on it. But what do we give to God? What is His image on? [show coin-made and molded w/image] His image is on us. We give Him us. Caesar gets the coins but God gets all of us. His mark and His claim are on us. He made us in His image for His purposes. And the only way to give to God the things that are God’s is to give Him our all. We give nothing less than all that we are and all that we have to Him. We belong to God because His image is stamped on us.
If it’s a sin to cheat on our taxes and withhold the coin from Caesar, how much greater a sin is it to withhold anything from the God who made us and imprinted His own image on us? So we’re left with this question: Am I living my life fully surrendered to Jesus? Or are there any areas in my life where I am rejecting His authority? Any areas that we’re acting like the owner and not the servant? Time? Talents? Possessions? Where is Jesus pressing on your heart? Listen to Him right now, this is what He says-It is all mine? (Band-if enough time)
Everything we have, all that we are is from Him. God made us, which make us His. But God also redeemed us, so we’re doubly owned by Him. You were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20) so glorify Him with your body. When we try to rule our own lives we really mess things up. Relationships, money, sex, possessions, marriage, parenting; when we try to do these things on our own, under our own authority, we always get it wrong and leave a wake of damage behind. My way, your way is broken and corrupt.
But Jesus came to restore what was broken. He lived a perfect life for us and died a sacrificial death and rose from the grave in order to rescue us from our own way; because our way leads to destruction and death. His way is the way to life and blessing. His rule is just and right. And His is the Kingdom of light and peace and joy. When we give God what belongs to God we will have nothing left and yet we will have more than we could have ever imagined; eternal hope, an imperishable inheritance, fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in the presence of our God and King.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption