Give It Back!
The Gospel of Luke • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 33:32
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Remember Indiana Jones? [pic with theme music] Danger on every side. Escapes trap after trap. Indiana Jones stunt show at Disney. [end music]
Working our way through Luke’s gospel, a book in the bible (which is a library of books) which tells the story of Jesus
We’re going to see Jesus escape a series of traps today - we’ll be wowed by his skills and dexterity
But there’s more we can get out of this than just enjoying watching him manoeuvre like Indie
As Jesus dodges the traps, he teaches his opponents, his disciples, and us, some big lessons. We’re going to focus in on one of them.
Kirsty’s going to read for us. p 1055 blue bibles. Luke chapter 20 - big 20, v 20 small 20. p 1055, luke 20:20
Jesus’ opponents have sent spies to trap [it’s a trap] him. Why? because they want to “hand him over to the governor”
that’s code for they want him dead; see the religious authorities who had set themselves against Jesus were important and powerful, but they didn’t have the right to put people to death - they needed the Romans to do that for them. So they send spies to trick Jesus into saying something that will get him into trouble with the authorities
Passage goes to pains to make sure we see through these spies:
v20 tells us straight-up they are spies, and then reinforces that: they “pretended to be sincere”
v21 gushing flattery worthy of any salesman - like the guy at the garage coming up to me and saying “I can see you are a connoisseur of cars who truly appreciates great automotive engineering”
Luke, our writer, wants us to be sure we see through them - but v23 tells us Jesus “saw through their duplicity” too
Jesus sees the trap, and he dodges it beautifully.
The trap is this question of taxes.
The Romans, who are ruling over Jerusalem back in the first century when this takes place, are pretty relaxed in general. People mostly get to carry on with their own thing so long as it doesn’t cause much trouble. But the Romans are not at all relaxed about people messing with their taxes, taxes that go direct to the Roman ruler Caesar.
If Jesus were even to suggest that perhaps maybe you shouldn’t pay these Roman taxes, that maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do, well, that’d be seriously bad. In fact, in the end, that’s exactly what they will accuse him of doing before the Roman authorities to get him killed in just a few days’ time - Luke 23:2.
But on the other hand, the taxes were super unpopular with the people.
You can understand that - I mean I just paid our taxes - any other last minute self-assessors out there? Deadline was Friday so you missed it! I just paid our taxes and it would be fair to say I didn’t love doing it.
Roman taxes are far more unpalatable than that because the Romans are the global superpower who’s conquered the known world and are now squeezing it for money.
Imagine for a moment the US decides to invade Europe, completely defeats everyone with their overwhelming military power, and then demands every single person everywhere start sending money to Trump every year. That’d be pretty unpopular, right?
And I guess the spies are figuring that Jesus, as a man of the people, a man the crowds loved, wouldn’t want to say anything which went against the people.
But Jesus knows exactly how to dodge this trap: “show me a denarius” he says - an ancient Roman coin. “whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s” they have to answer - that’s undeniable and obvious to everyone. Then Jesus drops one of his famous one liners - one which sidesteps their trap and silences his opponents: v25.
give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s ...
When he starts speaking they must be thinking “got him!” “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s...” - coin’s got Caesar’s head on it, must be Caesar’s coin, give back to Caesar what’s his. Surely that can only mean pay the tax! [then they start rubbing their hands in glee] Jesus is a collaborator, Jesus is on the side of the oppressor - oh the people aren’t going to like this at all. Cue evil cackle.
“give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” says Jesus - but then he continues “ …and to God what is God’s”. Oh. Hang on.
Give back to Caesar what’s Caesar’s and give back to God what’s God’s? what does that mean?...both at the same time?
And just like that, Jesus has dodged the trap! He’s out of there, safe and clear. v26 “astonished by his answer, they became silent.”
He’s out of the trap - his opponent are silenced. Jesus shows himself to be so far beyond his opponents once more. But really that’s just one half of the story. See Jesus has also given us a pretty profound instruction here.
But what exactly does it mean?
As I’ve been researching this passage over the past few weeks, I can tell you a lot of ink has been spilled trying to figure out precisely how the two parts of Jesus’ instruction, giving to Caesar, and giving to God, are meant to work together - I can tell you that because I had to read a bunch of it!
If you want to hear more than I’ll say this morning- because there is a lot more to say - then we publish a short video midweek giving a bit more of a deep dive into the background reading and research which we’ve done in preparation for Sunday's teaching - we call it “T5” - Talking Through The Text In Ten - ten minutes, that is, though it’s often a wee bit more than that because there’s a lot to think about in most bible passages. We publish that in our Facebook group and via our weekly email - just ask if you’d like to get connected into those. If you want more detail, that’s where to look.
But let me share with you two things that are clear:
First, pretty much everyone agrees Jesus is not calling for a revolution. He doesn’t instruct an uprising against the authorities. He could have done but he didn’t. He acknowledges a role for the state. In fact, elsewhere in the Bible, Paul, one of Jesus’ first followers, writes pretty explicitly that we should pay our taxes. Rom 13:6. So I did. And you should too.
But second - and I think this one packs quite a lot more punch - in dodging this trap, Jesus also sets out God’s claim on our lives in a really profound way.
Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s - and to God what is God’s.
That’s what we’re going to spend the rest of our time together on this morning, considering the big questions of why and how. And let’s start with why [give: why].
Now, why do you need to give back to Caesar what’s Caesar’s? Well that’s pretty easy: he’ll kill you if you don’t. Or at least throw you into a nasty prison. Nothing like a good stick to make us do something, right? HMRC are very good at sending threatening letters in those brown envelopes. And they don’t stop at letters if you keep on ignoring them, they’ll lock you up too.
But on the bright side, pay your taxes and nice things happen. Sometimes.
What have the Romans ever done for us? classic Monty Python sketch I would show you but there’s no time! Go home and watch it! What have the Romans ever done for us asks the leader of the Judean people’s front? Well, there are the aqueducts. And Law and order. And Peace and security. And Education. And A brilliant travel network. Rome actually did deliver a bunch of good things to its empire through the taxes raised.
And what happens when you pay your taxes today? You pay for the NHS. You support those who can’t work. You pay for education. Sure I know there are questionable parts - but good things happen.
Why give back to Caesar what’s Caesar’s? Because if you don’t, he’ll whack you, and if you do, nice things happen.
So why give to God? What’s your first thought? Because if I don’t, he’ll whack me, right? prison. death. worse. And if I do, he might smile on me. nice things happen.
If that’s what came into your head, if that’s how you’re thinking, if that’s how you’re living - and I think lots of us are living that way when we dig down and think about what’s really driving us - there’s a big truth we have to get our heads around: that’s not how it works. That’s is the wrong why. That is not why you should give to God.
Did you notice what words Jesus uses here? Precisely what he’s asking us to do? “Give back”. Luke’s gospel is originally written in Greek, and here the word he used, ἀποδίδωμι, is clear and precise. It means repay. Return. Give back. And if you’re going to repay, to return, to give something back, then that has to mean it wasn’t yours to begin with. It belongs to someone else.
Why give to God? Because we belong to him. Because you’re His. Because he’s made you His. Let me walk us through why we should think that way:
The Bible tells us in the beginning God made everything. Made the world. Made life. Made the creatures. Made us. It tells us that God made us special in all of creation - special in that we bear his image - like that Roman coin bore Caesar's image; he made a special impression on us, made his mark on us. Humanity is like nothing else in all creation because humanity is made in his likeness. We’re unique. We’re special.
You might not believe that - if you don’t, I’m glad your here - thanks for hearing me out. But if you don’t believe that, can I invite you to just try that idea on, as a thought experiment with me for a bit? Just imaging, if you were thinking that way, where it would lead you.
First, if we have a creator, we belong to that creator. Like if I were to compose a song, it’d be mine, it’d belong to me. It wouldn’t be good - but it would be mine. That would start to make sense of how we could rightly say we’re giving back to God - because we’d belong to our creator. We have something he’s given us, something which wasn’t ours to begin with, something which we can return.
But more than that, our creator would have rights over us. “I want you to behave this way. I don’t want you to behave that way,” he could say. And that would be his right as our creator. That’s the story the bible tells us. God set out a way for his creatures to live. And they didn’t do it. And we don’t do it.
We acted like we belonged to no-one, that we were our own master and commander, free to do what I want, any old time. We said “talk to the hand” to the God who made us, to the God we belong to.
Here’s the good news of Christianity: That same God, who we tried to disown and leave behind, loved us enough to come after us, to offer us a way back to what we were made for. He did that through Jesus.
When we claimed we didn’t belong to him, and walked away, we walked into a whole world of trouble, trouble it would cost God dear to get us out of. But he loved us enough to do it. The bible speaks about him purchasing us with Jesus’ own blood, picturing how Jesus’ blood would be spilled as he died on the cross - but through that cross, we could come to belong to God again.
So as we think about Jesus’ call to give back to God, it’s not so he doesn’t whack us - he loves us enough to purchase us with his own blood. why would he whack us after doing that? It’s not so nice things happen (though, to be fair, the bible does say they ultimately will). The reason Christians should give back to God is because they belong to Him - because of creation, and because of Jesus’ costly rescue. We belong to him.
That’s why. So what about how?
How can we give back to God? We can give him our wallet. This is not a stretch from what we’ve read. It’s not a sly manipulation of these words. Jesus starts with money, even as he talks about so much more here. He starts with money so we need to talk about money even though it’s awkward.
“Give back” makes total sense when it comes to our money: if you belong to God, lock stock and barrel, how much of your money belongs to God? Well, all of it! Who gave you breath? Talent? Opportunity? So any money you give to God is just giving back. You can’t do more than give back what was his already.
But, I’m afraid, painful as it is to talk about money, your wallet is small fry.
How can we give back to God supersized? Give him your life - that’s what it means to call him Lord, what it really should do when we take that step. “Give him your life” is a bit of a Christian-y phrase. We need to be clear it’s not just inviting him in to your life, it’s giving him control over your life. For most of us this takes time, a lot of time. This is a journey we are still on, one which takes a lifetime.
Here’s a good way of thinking about this. Imagine these chairs here are a car. Nice and shiny. Big engine. Pick your favourite make. Got the picture?
Now imagine that car is your life. And I’m going to need a volunteer. This car is your life and you’re in charge of your life. You’ve got the wheel [hand them the wheel]. You go where you want to. You go as fast as you want to. You turn when you want to. You stop when you want to.
How do we picture becoming a Christian, becoming a follower of Jesus? How about this: opening the door and letting him in. Hey Jesus, pleased to meet you. I welcome you into my life and into my heart. He’s in your life - he’s taken a seat - he’s in the car - he’s part of things now.
But that is NOT what it means, to give him your life. Why? Look who’s got the wheel. You’re still driving. You’ve still got the wheel.
Here’s what it means to give him your life: saying “ok, you drive” and then handing him the wheel. [thanks volunteer]
In our house we have some new drivers and I can tell you first hand that sitting in a car next to a new driver when you’re used to having the wheel can be a pretty terrifying experience. You stamp on the floor but there’s no pedals. You tweak the wheel to avoid the central reservation but there’s no wheel. It can be pretty scary not to have the wheel.
But here’s the thing: Jesus is a driving ace. The super-Stig.
Although it may well be white-knuckle sometimes, although it might be so bumpy and uncomfortable that you’re worried the car’s going to come apart, although you won’t always know where you’re going or how you’re going to get through the next part of the journey, ultimately he will take you on the most glorious adventure that you could ever possibly have with your life. Because he loves you. He died for you. He bought you back. It’s his beloved car, his treasured possession - he’s not going to wreck it.
So how can you give back to God? Give him your life - give him the wheel.
But let’s get really practical this morning. Are you ready?
Say you hear Jesus saying “give back to God what’s God’s” and you want to say “yes” and do something about this today. Maybe you’re ready to give him your wallet. Maybe you’re ready to supersize that and give him your life. What could you do this week? Well let’s talk money first.
I think most of us could give a little more and live on a little less. How could you go about giving God back his money?
Well here’s a crazy story from my week: I was at a conference down in England all about multiplying churches, reproducing churches. It was super-intense and super-practical. Right up my street. Came back buzzing.
One of the things they had us do was to think about what would need to happen for us to be ready to multiply as a church radically faster. I wrote down a list - it was a fairly long list - and one of the things on it was money. I think we’re going to need a lot more money if we’re going to multiply faster because we have to train more people sooner.
One of the guys listening as we presented called me over afterwards. It was a bit weird. but he gave me an envelope and said it was to encourage me. I didn’t open it until the next day. In that envelope? $600 in cash. Apparently he has a friend back in the US who each time he visits give him money in envelopes like that, money to give away randomly to people he runs across to encourage them. And do you know, I was majorly encouraged . I gave the money on to church, just so you know.
Maybe this week you just want to set aside some money in an envelope, carry it with you, and see what opportunities to give it away that God gives you. How about that for a way to make your week more exciting!
Of course you could always give to us as a church too - don’t feel like all your cash has to go in envelopes! As you’ll know if you’ve been around a while, we’re planning to invest more as a church, to take the next steps in preparing for growth, preparing for multiplication. Want to hear more about our plans? Church Hub next week - 30 minutes right after our morning gathering and we’ll bring you up to speed. You don’t have to give money to us - but you certainly can! And you could do that this week.
Maybe you’ve never given anything to God before. Well here’s how easy it is to start. [walk to contactless, bring phone] Just tap here. Give £5 - pay for your coffee - or give more if you choose.
Maybe you’ve given occasionally and today you’re ready to start giving regularly. Regular giving helps us plan as a church, means we can pay the regular bills like heating, helps us feel comfortable asking people to take the risk of coming to work for us - because we’re more confident we can pay them. The easiest way to give regularly is via PayPal on our website. hopecityedinburgh.org/support-us it’s pretty efficient.
Maybe you’re giving regularly but you could give more. This passage doesn’t give us a number, a standard required level to give, but we do read about people being urged to give “in keeping with your income” in the bible (1 Cor 16:2) , that is, giving in proportion to your income, giving a portion of it.
What proportion would be a step up for you this week? A real giving back to God? In the first part of the bible, the Old Testament, there’s a number of times the word “tithe” comes up, and that word just means a tenth, 10%, which was considered God’s share. Probably not a bad number to aim for.
I’m not saying that’s a command for Christians just so we’re super-clear - but many Christians do aim to give away 10% of their income. My family have aimed for that back from when we started earning. God’s been good to us. Of course, 10%’s not where you need to stop. I heard one guy trying to give away one more percent of his income each year.
So you could get practical about giving back money this week. And you could supersize that and get practical about giving him the wheel in your life. Perhaps you’ve never taken that step of giving Jesus the wheel in the first place. It’s scary. It’s a big deal. Perhaps you’re just right on the edge of it. Give him the wheel today. Accept him as your Lord - like he truly is. If you want to do that today, or talk about it, come grab me - right after the gathering. It’s not complex but it’s worth understand what you’re getting into. Let me walk you through that today.
If you’d already call yourself a Christian, let me give you two really practical ways you could give him the wheel even more this week.
Is there somewhere you can specifically decide to go his way this week rather than your own? We all have our favourite routes from A to B, from classroom to lunch, from home to work, routes that are familiar, routes that we default to on autopilot almost without thinking. Is there somewhere in your life where you have a default that just seems to happen, it’s just the route you take each day, but you know God doesn’t love it? Turn up your conscience today and make the decision to turn off autopilot and go his way. Give him one more part of your life.
Or how about committing to not grabbing for the wheel at the last moment and turning away this week, to being ready to gulp, sit tight and let him drive. Perhaps there’s a risk, a challenge, a step that you know lies ahead which you keep pulling back from. Perhaps you get right to the edge of a step that will commit you and then grab the wheel at the last moment and swerve away. Maybe you know that happened this last week. Make this the week where you decide to just let him drive - right off the cliff is probably what it’s going to feel like! But he isn’t going to crash his precious car. Take that risk.
I don’t know what it will be: Speak the words that turn up the temperature of a conversation. Take a step of deeper commitment. Have you been baptised? Maybe it’s time for that. Just speak to me. We’re planning to multiply - we need to multiply every part of church for that. Have you thought about serving here? Joining the core? Working here? Maybe it’s time.
Give back to God what’s God’s. A moment to reflect, and then we’ll pray - what is God putting his finger on right now for you?