An Answer For The Ages
May 03, 2020 | Randy Smith
An Answer For The Ages
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
I lived in the Chicago area from 1976 until I moved back to the east coast in 2001. So many good memories. And while Chicago had lean sporting success during that time, there were the six world championship titles won by the Bulls in the 90’s. Those were indeed some fun days!
With the present absence of live sports, much of Internet and television buzz now centers on recorded games and sports discussions. One popular discussion, especially in light of their recent documentary, is Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
I enjoyed one debate that listed the top players on opposing teams that received less fame regarding their careers because they happened to play in the same era of Jordan. Patrick Ewing topped the list.
Then there was another documentary that sought to articulate the ways teams, though unsuccessfully, tried to stop Jordan. The famous slogan was “The Jordan Rules.” No matter what they did, Jordan and the Bulls prevailed in the 90’s.
This came to my mind as I have been studying these later chapters in Luke that record the last days of Jesus before He heads to the cross.
Unfortunately, many people, primarily the religious leaders, felt they were in competition with Jesus. And repeatedly they came up with their own rules to try to stop Him. Repeatedly they failed.
Just in chapter 20, Jesus was confronted by them on the issue of authority. They wondered who gave Him authority to cleanse the temple. He trapped them with a question of His own. Verse 4, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” In verse 7 we see they were silenced.
Then, after Jesus cleared the temple, he set up shop in the temple and began to teach the people. He even taught a parable how God’s judgment was on the religious leaders and He will remove the kingdom from Israel. They heard Him loud and clear. Verse 19, “The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them.”
Now in verses 20-26 we see the leaders try to get Him again. And of course, they will fail again, but let’s see what we can learn from the wicked hearts of man and the righteous answer from Jesus. That is where we are going this morning.
The Sinister Scheme (verse 20)
I am calling the first point, “The Sinister Scheme.”
Look with me at verse 20. “So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.”
Their motives and plan couldn’t be any clearer. They wanted Jesus dead and in a matter of two days their desires will be fulfilled. This was also God’s intention as well. He was using wicked men to fulfill His righteous plan to provide salvation for the world.
Their new plan is unfolded in verse 20. Ingenious, but nothing new. It’s the time-tested plan of infiltrating the ranks of the enemy through spies or double agents. When all you need is the smallest accusation to hang a person, being with that person throughout the day will provide ample opportunities. It was around the clock surveillance.
Could you imagine eavesdropping on the private conversations of most politicians? You’d probably catch them in a lot! Yet these religious leaders had one problem. Jesus was perfect. He never sinned. But if you are sinister enough, you might catch Him in something that might just be used against Him.
A little background. We all know they wanted Jesus dead. But the problem was that Rome stripped away all the Jewish privileges of capital punishment. So, if Jesus were to be executed, the Romans would have to do the dirty work. Keep that in mind!
A second problem, Jesus was still very popular in the eyes of the people. 19:48, “For all the people were hanging on to every word He said.” And then 20:19, “They feared the people.” So not only would the Romans have to kill Jesus, but the people would also need to turn on Jesus as well. How would Jesus lose the trust of the people.
So, what would be necessary to overcome both of their problems? How could they get the people to do a 180 on Jesus and how could they get Roman authorities to kill an innocent man? Here’s the plan: Find a way to get the people to believe He is not their Messiah and get the Romans concerned that He is a rebellious troublemaker. Disturbing the peace, insurrection – that was one of the greatest crimes against Rome. Both statements are clearly untrue because Jesus is the Prince of Peace Messiah, but if hearts could be swayed by the lies, they have discovered a sure-fire way to remove Jesus.
So, verse 20, spies infiltrate the ranks of Jesus. Their goal is to catch Jesus in anything that would give them grounds, verse 20, “so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.”
The Insincere Inquiry (verses 21–22)
Let’s move to the second point, the “Insincere Inquiry.”
They are going to try to trap Him in a question, but first look at the snow job. These guys were hypocrites. They were doing wrong to get a chance to do what they believed was right. Total phonies. This is what we call flattery. Selfish pandering to get what they wanted. Elevating someone in their own mind to get them to say what you want to hear.
Verse 21, “They questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.’”
Of course, all of what they said was true. The issue was their insincerity and their motives. And for the question? So strategic. They must have thought it was the perfect trap.
Verse 22, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
What a loaded question demanding only a yes/no answer. And regardless of how you respond, there will be severe consequences. Let’s briefly examine the consequences of either a yes or no answer.
Let’s pretend Jesus were to say “no” we should not pay our taxes to Rome. If that were the case, the Romans would be all over Him.
Not long before this (about 25 years) a Jewish religious leader named Judas of Galilee (different Judas than our Lord’s disciple) led resistance to the census imposed fo Roman tax purposes. He encouraged Jews not to register and those that did had their houses burnt and their cattle stolen by his followers. If the name is familiar, he is mentioned in Acts 5:37 when the enemies of Christ were discussing the reality of the new Christian movement. “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.” This revolt from a religious man was fresh in the minds of the Romans and to some degree was still brewing as Josephus tells us it was Judas’ movement (though some modern historians disagree) some 40 years later that eventually led to Rome destroying Jerusalem.
All that to say, any religious leader with a massive following telling people to reject Roman authority in not paying their taxes would be met with immediate and firm punishment. Probably death. Eliminate him and trust that His following will be scattered.
But what if Jesus were to say “yes” they should pay their taxes to Rome?
More problems. Let’s remember, our Lord’s popularity was due to the fact that people believed He was the Messiah. And in the minds of the people (we’ve been covering this), the Messiah would overthrow the Romans. There was no way in their minds that the Messiah would tell people to submit to the Roman bondage by paying their taxes.
You see, the Romans taxed the Jews at a large and unfair rate. Add in their religious tax and estimates come in at 30-40% of their income.
But probably most troubling was that paying taxes to Rome was considered idolatrous. On the one side of the Roman coin: “Emperor Tiberias, Son of the Divine Augustus” with his face. And on the other side: “High Priest.” The Roman leaders thought they were gods. So to the Jews, paying taxes was acknowledging Caesar’s claim, denying God’s ownership over Israel and giving God’s money to support the pagan Roman cult?
Did they finally trap Jesus? Let me ask you, can God ever be trapped in a corner by His creation?
The Amazing Answer (verses 23–26)
Let’s go to the last point, “The Amazing Answer.”
Beginning in verse 23, “But He detected their trickery.” Remember in verse 20 that they “pretended to be righteous?” He saw right through them.
“And said to them, ‘Show Me a denarius.’” A denarius was about a day’s wage. If Jesus addressed this question to His opponents, it already showed their hypocrisy if they were carrying one. That would have been like carrying an idol in your pocket. It was in a sense a portable graven image.
Jesus said, “‘Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’” In other words, the head of Caesar – the pagan, idolatrous and despised chief leader of Rome was on the face of the coin.
Verse 25 (the main point of the section), “And He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”
What an incredible answer! Yet what does it mean for us? I came up with five truths. We’ll go from the broad to the narrow interpretation.
Number one: Government is a necessary component of any society. The Bible most often speaks of it favorably. Without government there would be anarchy in the streets. They provide protection and roads and other elements for survival. The same was true back then with the Romans as well. And where do they get the money? Our taxes.
Number two: If there was ever a time when Jesus would have forbidden the church form paying taxes, this would have been the prime opportunity – idolatrous money used to support idolatry and the continued propaganda of Roman domination. Paul supported this in Romans 13. “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.”
Number three: We are commanded to submit to government because all governing authority is under God and established by God (read Romans 13:1–7). In Romans 13:4, all government is called “a minister of God.” And if we are called to pay our taxes (in our case some of our money used to fund abortions) we need to be very careful when we feel led to disobey government at lower levels.
Yes, there could come times for civil disobedience (and the Bible supports it), but that is by far the exception rather than the norm. Remember Joseph and Mary (in chapter 2) traveled 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem through the harsh desert when she was pregnant to participate in a ridiculous census for the purpose of taxation. Christians are to be known as the best law-abiding citizens for the sake of our testimony.
Number four: As our founders intended, there is a wall of separation between the church and the state. The wall is not horizontal, separating the state from God as many assume, but rather it is vertical between the two institutions.
So, the church should keep government accountable, especially to the principles of Scripture because they are under God’s authority, but we must let the government do its God-assigned jobs (reward good, punish evil, protect citizens and property). And they should also stay out of our affairs and let us do our God-assigned jobs (preach the Word, practice the ordinances, establish doctrine, ordain leaders). As Jesus said in verse 25, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”
And number five: While we give to government what belongs to government and God what belongs to God, it is not as if there are two separate unrelated authorities in our lives. Government has authority, but they are under God’s authority. Therefore, as Scripture says, when we disrespect or disobey government, we disrespect or disobey God (Romans 13:2). Obeying government is our act of obedience ultimately to God who established those leaders (Romans 13:1). According to Jesus here, Roman authority did not infringe upon God’s authority. Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Government may demand taxes. God demands our lives. God (the Creator) does not share His ultimate lordship with government (the creation). That’s what this is ultimately about – obeying God which includes obeying the government that He ordained.
How did the opponents respond to our Lord’s answer? Verse 26, “And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.”
Did it stop them? No. They lost, but in chapter 23 we will see them use this lie against Jesus at His trial because they knew it was their greatest assault. If Jesus won’t say it, they will fabricate it. “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’ So Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him and said, ‘It is as you say’” (Lk. 23:2-3).
Who is the true King of our lives? It’s Jesus. Caesar is not Lord. Only Jesus is Lord. And though it might not make sense, God has a reason for all the government He ordains. And though it might not had made sense back then, today we know God had a reason for these wicked men to execute Jesus. Today we know that His death provided salvation for His people, for those who will trust Him by faith to have died as the offering for their sin. And as a result of following Jesus as Lord, we obey Him, respecting and submitting to all the levels of authority He places in our lives as an act of respecting and submitting to His authority.
We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.