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Little Caesars and a Big God

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There’s always been a lot of confusion about Jesus and what He came to do. Before He came, they expected him to be born into a royal household as a clear successor to David. He was going to be the King. When He came, they were looking for a political and military revolutionary that would topple the Roman oppressors of Israel and reestablish Israel as the preeminent world power. Since He’s come, Kings have conquered nations in his name and crusades have taken place in his name and Empires have risen and fallen claiming him as their divine establisher.
And, the confusion comes in because Jesus didn’t come to do any of those things in the way He was expected. Jesus didn’t come to build an empire, but a church. He didn’t come to establish a geographical nation, but a holy and spiritual nation, a temple of Living Stones. Jesus came to build a church, and He came to build a church right in the middle of Rome. And, that’s our struggle, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was a nation one earth that you could go and live where Jesus was the physical King and just live under his gracious and benevolent rule? One day.... But for now, we live as people in tension. We are citizens of heaven but residents of earth. And so there are all of these tensions that we face. What do we do when the government of our country supports things that our King condemns? What do we do when residence on earth seems to be in conflict with our citizenship in heaven? Jesus gives us just the beginning of this answer this morning, and it’s actually answer that the NT answer very, very thoroughly as you continue to read. So, let’s go to together.

God’s Word


Pressure Points and Crowd Pleasing

“the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words” Now, remember where we left things. We left things in conflict. It’s still Tuesday of Passion week, as it’s the Tuesday before Jesus is to be crucified on Friday. Jesus has flipped the tables in the Temple, and he’s used three consecutive parables to flip the consciences of the Temple leaders in on themselves. And, they are hot. So now, they are seeking a way to have Jesus arrested. They want him gone. Long gone. But, they have a problem. Jesus is too popular with the crowd. The crowd has liked the miracles too much. They’ve shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” They’ve listened as Jesus has taught with a supernatural authority unlike anything they’ve ever heard before. So, as bad as they’ve wanted him arrested, they’ve been held back because they don’t want the crowds to turn on them, and they know that the crowd thinks too highly of Jesus. So, they set out on a smear campaign against Jesus. And, what we’re going to see over the next few weeks is a series of well thought out questions put together by Jesus’ opponents for the purpose of turning the crowds against Jesus so that they can have Jesus put away and arrested. We see the first one this morning.
“we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, not care about anyone’s opinion” Now, I want you to notice how they approach Jesus. First of all, they sent their students. They didn’t go themselves, but they sent their students. Most likely, they’re thinking that Jesus would be less suspicious of a question coming from a student and that perhaps these students are beginning to be won over to Jesus’ way of thinking and teaching. And so, they send these students under the guise of admirers. Man, they come in, and they’re just gushing with good things to say about Jesus. They say, “Oh Jesus, you are such a man of integrity! You are the man that all the rest of us wish that we were. You just say it like it is, and you don’t even worry about whether or not it causes this person or that person to not like you! We admire you, Jesus, because we know that you will tell the truth even if it means turning the crowd against you!” Now, this is a brilliant move. First of all, it camouflages their attack to the crowd. They don’t look like attackers trying to ensnare Jesus; they look like admirers seeking his transcendent wisdom! It’s a great PR move to keep them from looking petty. Second of all, it creates a pressure point for Jesus. It puts him on the spot. He has to answer. If Jesus goes with a classic, diplomatic, “No comment” here, then he looks like he really does care about the crowds, and he really does care their opinions more than the truth. So, they’re covering themselves on one hand, and pinning him down with the other.

The Dilemma

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Now, when we get to their question, you need to understand that this is a perfectly crafted question asked in a perfectly crafted room. Let me explain. First of all, let’s look at the question. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” Obviously, the Law they are referring to here is the Law of Moses, the Law of God, for it is clearly not against the Law of Rome to pay the Roman tax. And so, we’d have to ask why would it be against the law of God for a Jew to pay the tax. The Jews utterly despised the Roman occupation. Being occupied by Gentiles was almost more than they could bear. And, a zealot from Galilee named Judas had attempted to lead a revolt against Rome just a few years prior to this. His primary reasoning? The poll tax that was in question here. You see, on the denarius used to pay the tax was the picture of Tiberius, and it identified him as both the son of god and as the high priest. And, the Jews viewed the tax as blasphemous and the coins as idols, and in their minds, to pay the tax, it was the equivalent to pagan worship and submission to pagan slavery. So, if Jesus says “Pay the tax,” they will say to the Jewish crowd, “He does not love God’s law and is a willing blasphemer.” If Jesus says “Don’t pay the tax,” they all too happy to run to Rome, and tell them that they have another Galilean revolutionary trying to stir up a revolt over the poll tax. They’re setting perfectly for an arrest.
“along with the Herodians” It’s also a perfectly crafted room. Notice who’s asking this question. It’s the Pharisees and the Herodians together. The Herodians are probably a group that you’re not as familiar with as the Pharisees. They’re only mentioned a few times, but they’re a group of Jews that are very loyal and big time supporters of King Herod. And, they are not friends of the Pharisees. You see, Herod had his power only at the discretion of Rome, and his power and influence was as much or as little as a Rome allowed. So, the Herodians were all about the Roman way, and were big supporters of the Jews paying the Poll Tax, and didn’t want any more revolts that would potentially cause Rome to reign in Herod’s authority. So, what’s strange is that the Pharisees probably hated the Herodians more than they hated the Romans, but they both hated Jesus more than they hated each other, and so regardless of how Jesus answered the question; somebody is going to tattle tail. Either the Herodians are running to Rome, or the Pharisees are running to Jerusalem.

The Rebuke

“Show me the coin for the tax.” Now, what’s fascinating in these situations is how quickly they always turn on Jesus’ interrogators. They think they’ve got him. They’re proud of their question, and they’re expecting Jesus to be taken back. But, Jesus doesn’t stammer, and Jesus doesn’t hesitate. With the precision of a surgeon, He cuts through their empty flattery, and diagnoses the wickedness in their souls. He calls them hypocrites. They are literally saying one thing to his face and meaning something different in their hearts. They are wearing a mask, and He is about to rip the mask from their faces in a way that every person in the crowd can see.
“Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, ‘Caesar’s.” Jesus calls for a denarius, a Roman coin, but, you see, Jesus doesn’t just ask them for the coin to have a cool object lesson. Jesus isn’t just trying to make an awesome illustration. Jesus is ripping the mask off of this hypocritical, religious monster that was the Temple of God. Knowing that they had issues with caesars being gods and the coins being idols, Rome allowed the Jews to make their own coins and to essentially have their own economy. And, you’ll notice that Jesus does not have on him the Roman currency. But, who does? The accusers. The ones not wanting to pay the tax. The hypocrites. You see, they lived in Rome and they condemned Rome and they judged Rome, but they loved Rome. They hated Rome in speech but enjoyed Rome in its riches. Even here, they were enjoying Roman roads and Roman police and Roman protection and Roman courts and Roman affluence and Roman technology, but they wanted to avoid paying their taxes on religious grounds. Jesus is saying, “Look at the money in your pockets. Look at your lives. You hypocrites!”

Do We Look More Like Caesar or Jesus?

APPLICATION: Brothers and sisters, this is the type of hypocrisy that Jesus hates, and this is the type of hypocrisy that will render the witness of our church powerless. And, this is the type of hypocrisy that I find creeping into my own heart and into our church. We live in Rome, and we decry the sins of Rome, but the truth is that we love Rome. We measure our lives by the same status symbols of other Romans. We entertain ourselves with the same debauchery as the rest of Rome. We spend our money just like all of Rome. We even celebrate our Christian holidays like Romans. And, if we’re honest, our children are more Roman than they are Christian. In our homes, it is not uncomfortable to talk about math or science or batting average or to memorize the pledge of allegiance, but it is uncomfortable to talk about faith, Jesus Christ, church attendance, and to memorize a single Bible verse. We are raising Romans. We want to believe that we’re in the world and not of the world, but we’re in the world, and we’re just like the world. And so, the world is tired of hearing from us and about us, as we tell them we have a better way. Because, to them, our way looks just like the Roman way, but with a few more rules and words attached. They’re saying to us, “Look whose on your money! Look at what your life is built around!” Brothers and sisters, we have no authority to call sinners out of Rome and into the Kingdom of God when we look more like Caesar than we do King Jesus.
We want to believe that we’re in the world and not of the world, but we’re in the world, and we like just like the world.

The Principle

Brothers and sisters, we have no authority to call sinners out of Rome and into the Kingdom of God when we look more like Caesar than we do Jesus.
“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” And, it’s in response to this that Jesus gives us this immensely helpful principle that we see worked out again and again in greater detail in the NT for how we live as residents here while we’re citizens there. He uses the word ‘render’, which means ‘give back.’ So, He says, “Give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God all the things that are his.” Oh man, and this is so helpful for us. Here’s what Jesus is telling them and us: Caesar is the owner of some things and is owed some things, and God is the owner of some things and is owed some things. As long as you give each what He is owed as it owed to Him, this question will never be a problem. As emperor, render to Caesar the taxes that he is owed. It is his right, and it is your responsibility. He is over you, and he owed your honor, and your respect, and even your money! Now, that’s a hard pill for us to swallow! Because we have presidents and congresses and governments that we pretty much never trust, right? And, all of the time, we find ourselves wondering, what do I do when my taxes are supporting a government that I don’t support? Even more so in Jesus’ day. And, yet both Peter and Paul write in and respectively to honor the very emperors that would call for their executions!
How can we do that? How can we as citizens of heaven honor an authority and an emperor or a president or a mom or a dad or a husband or a supervisor who is ungodly and even debased and feel justified in doing so? This is where Jesus’ principle is so powerful. Caesar own some things, and Caesar is owed some things, but God owns Caesar. Proverb 8:15 says, “By me kings reign.” And, you can apply this not only to taxes and governments, but to any authority. The coins bear Caesar’s image, but Caesar bears God’s image. Caesar owns the coin, but God owns Caesar and your boss and your husband and your mom and your dad. So, here’s why this is so powerful in the life of the Christian: You don’t want to give your money to Caesar because you don’t trust Caesar and you don’t love Caesar and you may even loathe Caesar, but if you trust God and you know that God is your provider and God is your protector and God is your ultimate judge and authority, then you you can pay you taxes to any ungodly government because you are rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, namely Caesar himself. You are entrusting your well-being, your hope, your future, your provision not in your money, not in your savings, not in your emperor but in God! And so, your submission to wicked, little Caesar is actually worship to the glory of almighty God! Give to Caesar what Caesar what is Caesar’s, and then give Caesar over to God! Now, there may come a time in which Caesar put himself in competition with God and forces you to choose, and that’s no contest and it may bring great suffering in your life as it has many Christians, but that is the exception, not the rule as Jesus shows here.
APPLICATION: Submitting to the authorities in your life, whether they are good or bad, is a radical act of both faith and self-denial because you know that they are sinners, and you know that they are capable of being wrong. And so, in all cases, it comes down to whether or not, you will submit your life to God’s ultimate authority, for He has said that children submit to their parents, citizens to their rulers, churches to their pastors, and subordinates to their supervisors, not because those people are worthy, but because He is trustworthy. This isn’t about taxes; this is about worship. This is about belief or unbelief. This isn’t about whether you have a good president or a bad one, a good congress or a bad one, a good dad or an absent one, a good boss or a bad one, a good teacher or a bad one. This is about whether or not you will offer your life to Jesus Christ as a living sacrifice and render all things to God that are God’s as a citizen of heaven and a mere resident of earth Render your lives to God. Render your children to God. Render your money to God. Render your taxes to God. Render your calendar to God. Render your supervisor to God. You’re only residents here, Church. You’re only residents here. Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t get too invested. Don’t get too worried about this. You’re just passers through. You’re citizens of a greater Kingdom, of a greater Nation. Render yourselves to him. Trust him. Offer it all to him. He is a benevolent and trustworthy and worthy King!
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