Conflict in the Courtyard
Conflict in the Courtyard
Words of Faith 1-8-19
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.  So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
 He saw through their duplicity and said to them,  "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?"
 "Caesar's," they replied.
He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
The religious leaders were now quite worried. This Jesus was gaining far too much attention from the people. Teaching publicly in the courts of the Temple was unacceptable. They had to find a way of getting rid of Him without offending or arousing the ire of the people. The next trap that the religious leaders set is in the arena of politics.
If you want to divide religious people, the arena of politics is generally a good place to do it. If you want to get people split on their opinion of a man, ask about his views on tax reform. The text says that the religious leaders sent spies who pretended to be honest. They were hupokrinomai, from the Greek for hypocrite, actors pretending to be interested while looking for something wrong. If they could just catch Jesus in some statement, they could turn this whole thing over to the Roman authorities.
The issue they used was the Temple poll tax which was very unpopular. It was a constant reminder of being controlled by Rome. This was just one of the taxes levied by Rome which totaled about one-third of a person's income. So this was clearly something they thought would catch Jesus.
The spies first ingratiated themselves to Jesus with an ingenious complement. "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." Next, they attempted to pin Jesus in a corner where He would offend either the Roman authorities or the people. "Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
His answer stands as a great benchmark of wisdom that has stood twenty centuries. "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
"Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
There is a great deal that we might read into this statement. But I want to lift for you the plainest and simplest reading. Jesus says to give or render to Caesar that which is Caesar's. The word in Greek word means to pay back or recompense what is owed.
Taxes are to be rendered to Rome. Paul wrote Romans 13:7, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Jesus was not a Roman citizen but Paul was. Both saw the importance of government.”
If we read the Gospels carefully, we learn that Jesus was not terribly political. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was far more important than the kingdom of Rome. The focus of Jesus was not on overthrowing Rome or setting right the political evils of the world. Jesus would not be tempted into attacking Rome. His very entry into Jerusalem made a clear statement to Rome that He came in humility, so far as they were concerned, riding on a donkey. Getting into a dispute over Rome and taxes would not have been very productive. Jesus was about Kingdom issues.
Jesus indicated that governments have the right to exist and people should honor and contribute. Governments, even pagan governments, should expect their citizens to support and participate in government. Clearly, Jesus did not excuse the people of God from taxes. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philip. 3:20-21). Still, we are called to render to the government what is owed to it.
Is there anything else that we should render to the government? Are there other things that we OWE to a government? As a Christian, we render to government some participation. If we are blessed with a democratic government, we are a government by the people. We are duty bound to vote. We are duty bound to serve-- whether in jury duty or military service. We are called to influence the world as best we can for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.
God uses human governments. Governments are allowed by God and set up to give order as part of His sovereign design. Paul writes in Romans 13:1-2 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Christians should call the government to a high moral standard. But there can be a price for doing so. When John the Baptizer rebuked Herod the tetrarch because he was living with his brother's wife as well as other evil things he had done. Herod locked John up in prison and eventually killed him for the criticism. John died not for preaching the Gospel or announcing the Messiah but for criticizing a political leader. Proclaiming morality can be a dangerous proposition (Luke 3:19-21).
Do we submit to everything that government imposes or can we protest unjust laws? Certainly, we can protest but we must be willing to pay the price of protest. In the book of Daniel chapter 6, Daniel faced a decree by his government not to pray. He prayed openly, as was his practice. He did not create a contrived prayer for the purpose of arrest. But he was also willing to pay the price and trust God in the Lion's den.
It may not sound very spiritual, but civic duty and good citizenship are very much a part of our walk with God. Service to country and participation in the democratic process are Christian responsibilities that should not be shirked.
Father God, help me to be a good citizen. Help me to participate. Help me to vote wisely. Help me to influence positively as I render to the government what is due to government. In Jesus' name.