"The Things That Are God's"
(Delivered Sunday, May 18, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
It's providential that we come to this passage this morning; just a few days before we are called upon to perform an important civic duty and vote.
We talk much about the duties that we are obligated to perform to our government. And it seems to me that, even if we don't enjoy those duties, most of us recognize their importance and are very careful to keep them. We are careful to vote; and we are careful to respond when called upon to perform jury duty; and we're careful to pay our taxes. And of course, we're always grateful for those who rise up for our nation's defense through the service of the military. We consider these to be among the most important obligations we can fulfill.
But what about our even greater obligations to God? Are we as careful to render to Him the things that we owe to Him as we are to render our obligations to our government? How careful are we to even know what it is that God says we owe Him? And what does it say about us when we are so concerned to carefully perform the duties that a temporal, human government obligates us to, while almost completely ignoring the even greater duties and obligations that the almighty God demands of us?
I believe that this morning's passage touches on this whole matter. We should, of course, be very careful to perform our duties as citizens of the earthly government in which God has placed. But we should be even more careful to perform the greater duties and obligations we owe to the God of the universe—the God who made us for Himself, and who has absolute and complete Creatorship-rights over us.
To put it another way—a way that I'm sure you'll recognize—we shouldn't fail to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; but we should make even more certain that we render to God the things that are God's.
That, I believe, is the main point of this morning's passage. It's a passage that teaches us many important things; but the main thing I believe it seeks to teach us is that above all other obligations we have in life, we are obliged first to render to God His rights over us.
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Our passage is found in the section of the Gospel of Matthew that we've been studying over the past few weeks. This section tells the story of Jesus' confrontation with the rulers and religious leaders of Jerusalem in the temple—just a few days before He went to the cross.
Over our past several times together in Matthew's Gospel, we had seen how our Lord rebuked these leaders for their unbelief through a series of three parables. And Matthew 21:45-46 tells us their attitude throughout the hearing of these parables:
And it's in this frame of mind that we find them taking action against our Lord in our passage this morning. They plot together to hatch tricky questions to confront our Lord—all with the intention of trapping Him in His words. They challenge Him in this way three times in the 22nd chapter of Matthew; and in all three attempts, Jesus answers them in such a way as to make them marvel, and to leave them with nothing more they can say.
And this morning, we look at the first of these questions. Matthew tells us;
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Now I have to tell you; I've always loved this passage. I can still remember when I was a very young believer, and I first read it. I have loved it ever since. Perhaps, in a way, I love it for the less-than-noble reason: I love it whenever someone who is arrogant, and malicious, and crafty, gets knocked off their pedestal. But then, I hope I also love this passage for a good reason: it reveals the wisdom and authority of our wonderful Lord Jesus. No one ever made a fool of Him!
But this story isn't given to us without a very good purpose. If the only lesson that there was to be learned from it was that no one should ever try to trap Jesus, that would certainly be profitable. But I believe there's more for us to learn than just that.
So; let's look first at . . .
1. THE QUESTION JESUS WAS ASKED (vv. 15-17).
The first thing we see in this question is that it was motivated by a desire to trap the Lord in His words. Matthew tells us, "Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk". But that puts the matter rather mildly. When Luke tells this same story in his Gospel, he gives us more details about their evil intent; "So they watched Him and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor" (Luke 20:20). Their intention was to "catch Him in His words in the presence of the people" (Luke 20:26).
The word that Matthew uses—to "entangle"—is one that was used of the way a hunter trapped and ensnared an animal in order to take it captive. The means by which they intended to trap Him was through His own words; and the bate they proposed to use was this question. They had huddled together in order to craft the perfect question that would make it possible for them to bring Him before the authorities and discredit Him before the people—thus getting rid of Him without having to lay a hand on Him themselves.
Given that this was their motive, notice also the ones whom they sent to ask the question. Matthew tells us that the Pharisees "sent to Him their disciples". In other words, in order to catch Him off guard—or so they thought—the Pharisees didn't go themselves. They sent their 'students'; whom, as Luke tells us, they had put to work as "spies". And Matthew also tells us that, along with them, they sent some of "the Herodians".
It's hard to imagine two political groups more opposed to one another. The Pharisees, as you know, were devoted students of the laws and instructions of Judaism. They were proud of their Jewish heritage; and they deeply resented the fact that they were under the rule of the Roman Empire. They looked to the Messiah to come and rid them of their Roman oppressors. The Herodians, on the other hand, were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum politically.
They drew their name from the family of the Herods. King Herod the Great was not a pure Jew. He was a foreigner, whom the Romans had installed as king because they knew he would be cooperative with the Roman government. The Herodians, then, were those Jews who were sympathetic with Roman occupancy through the rule of the successors of Herod. The Herodians sought to fit in with Roman government; and encouraged the people to pay taxes to the Romans, go with the flow, and get in on a good thing. Only their opposition to a common enemy—the Lord Jesus Christ—could have brought these two, politically opposite groups together for a common cause!
They came to the Lord—these students of the Pharisees, and these Herodians, together—under the pretense of seeking His wisdom and advice concerning a matter of debate between them. And so, notice the flattery. They say things to Him that are accurate in and of themselves, but that they didn't really believe: "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men."
This reminds me of Psalm 55:21; where King David writes of an enemy, "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." If they had really believed that Jesus was "true", and that He taught "the way of God in truth", and that He didn't regard the persons of men, then they would have bowed down to Him and received Him as Lord—because that's who He taught that He was. But they had no intention of bowing to Him. They were seeking to destroy Him!
By the way; dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let's learn to be on our guard against flattery. It's one of the devil's greatest tools against us. The Bible tells us, in Proverbs 27:6, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend . . ."; and we should always be grateful when a good, godly brother or sister in Christ loves us enough to tell us the things we don't want to hear—so that we can change and become better. "But", as the proverb goes on to say, "the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Beware when evil people speak good things of you, and who build up your pride; because you know what the Bible says comes before pride (Proverbs 16:18)! Don't be a sucker! If anyone praises you, let it be God—because then you know it'll be the truth!
Well; the words of flattery and praise that were spoken to Jesus were just a set-up. These phonies hoped that they could lull the Lord into a place where He'd relax His guard, so that they could trap Him with His own words. And so, notice the trap they set for Him. They said, "Tell us, therefore, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
Now; you can be sure that this was a question that they had already been wrestling with between themselves. Obviously, the Pharisees would have answered “no”. They had to pay the taxes, of course; otherwise they'd have the Roman soldiers down on their necks. But they deeply resented doing so. It bucked against them; because every time they paid the required tax to the Roman government, it was a vivid reminder that they were not a free people. Here they were—God's special people; but they were under the thumb of a pagan nation. The Roman tax was a real thorn in their sandals! And yet, the Herodians would have answered “yes” to the same question. It wasn't much, after all—only a denarius, which was the rough equivalent of a normal, working man's day's wage. Wouldn't you be happy with a tax bill like that? And to pay the tax to the Romans was to meet their demands so as to enjoy the benefits of their rule.
But this question was specially crafted to discredit our Lord before all the people. Think of it; if He said yes—that it was legal to pay taxes to Caesar—then the Pharisees could accused Him before the people, and say that He was not conquering Messiah that they had expected. And if He said no—that it was not legal to pay taxes to Caesar—then the Herodians could immediately reported Him to the Roman governor.
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What a clever question! What a great trap! If He simply said "yes", He would lose. And if He simply said "no", He would still lose!
But as I've read about our Savior in the Scriptures, one of the things I have learned about the Lord Jesus is that He rarely gave "yes" and "no" answers. And so, look next at . . .
2. THE ANSWER JESUS GAVE (vv. 18-22).
I love it how the Lord pulls the cover off of their plot. Matthew tells us that "Jesus perceived their wickedness . . ." Flattery and traps work with mere, fallen men. But they don't work with the One who "knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of men, for He knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25). And then, right in front of everyone—and I suspect in such a way as to surprise those who heard the supposedly innocent question that He was asked—He said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?"
And again; it would be a very bad move to miss the lesson here. We can very easily fool other people about what's really in our hearts. I dare to say that that's what most of outward religion is all about—a cover-up for what's really in our hearts. Sometimes, the more wicked the heart, the more lavish the 'religiosity'. But none of this fools our Lord. There is "no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). Far better to fess-up before Him about the things that are not right in our lives, so He can change us, and we can hear Him one day say "Well done, good and faithful servant"—than to pretend to be something before Him that we're not, and hear Him say, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?"
Notice how Jesus puts the question back to them. He says, "Show Me the tax money"; and someone brought Him a denarius. The denarius of that day would have borne the graven image of Emperor Tiberius; and would have been engraved with the words divus et pontifex maximus—"god and highest priest". No wonder the Pharisees hated paying it! And Jesus held it up and asked, "Whose image and inscription is this?"
If I may say so, the answer to their question was given to them then and there. When they said the obvious—that it had Caesar's image and inscription, then Jesus simply said, "Render, therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's . . ." It's his coin. Give it back to him.
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Now here's where most people place the emphasis on this passage—in the first half of the Lord's answer. I believe it's absolutely legitimate to see in this the Christian's duty to fulfill his or her proper obligations to the government under which God has called them to live. The Bible itself clearly teaches us this.
Romans 13:1-7, for example, says;
Or, as1 Peter 2:13-17 says,
Fulfilling our God-appointed obligations to the government, as good citizens, is a matter of bearing a good witness to our Lord before the world—to say nothing of it being a matter of obedience to our Lord Himself. I am, first, a citizen of My Father's kingdom; but because I am a citizen of His eternal kingdom first, I am therefore obligated to be a good and faithful citizen of the temporal kingdom in which He has placed me—just as He has commanded me.
But it seems to me that we often put the greatest emphasis on that first part of our Lord's answer; and fail to give proper attention to the greater issue expressed in the second part of His answer. In fact, the first part of His answer is there in order to serve as the object lesson of the second part of His answer—that we are to render "to God the things that are God's".
That second obligation, it seems to me, is what really brought the conviction down on those who were seeking to trap Him with their question. Matthew tells us that, when they heard His answer, "they marveled, and left Him and went their way." Luke tells us, that "they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people" (Luke 20:26). If they had given to God what first belonged to God, they would not only render to Caesar what was Caesar's, but they would have also bowed down before the Lord Jesus Christ and pledged their first allegiance to Him.
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So; back to my original question: How careful are we to render to God the things that we owe to Him? This is a greater obligation than all others. How are we doing in terms of keeping it?
Let me suggest a few passages to you that, I believe, state those obligations to us. This list is far from exhaustive; but it may be enough to get you thinking. Ask yourself, as I read these passages to you, how you are doing in rendering to God what belongs to God:
For one thing, you owe God honor. In Malachi 1:6, He says,
Or how about outside of the church building—and in the everyday business of life? You owe God a godly daily life. Micah 6:8 says,
What about your wealth. Everything that you have is a gift from Him; and you owe Him the rights to the first and best share. In Malachi 3:8-10, He tells the people of Israel;
You owe Him your service to His kingdom agenda. When it comes to all of the other concerns of life, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33;
You owe Him your personal holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says;
He has a right to have you glorify Him with your whole being. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says;
He has a right to your body. In Romans 12:1—after Paul's long description of God's work in saving us through faith in Christ—it says;
He has a right to your first love. In Matthew 22:37-40; Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment. And He said;
He even has the right to expect you to believe on His Son. In John 6:29, Jesus said,
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Dear brothers and sisters, it's our duty to render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But let's be even more sure that we do the greater duty—to faithfully render to God what is God's.
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