“Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” (Matt. 22:15-22)
The plot to find a way to hurt Christ continued ceaselessly during the final week of His life. The Pharisees were determined not to rest until they had destroyed the Lord, or discredited Him before the people. The Pharisees could not find fault in the Lord’s personal life, for He was impeccable. Not only was Christ able not to sin, His holy character was such that He was not able to sin.
The Religious Leaders could not find fault with the Lord’s private life. He was not exposed for secret sins because He was not pretentious. It is possible to live one way in public, and another way in private. When the private life is finally revealed, there is great shame. But Jesus has no secret private life of sin and shame.
Because the Religious Leaders could not find any personal flaws, or private faults, they decided to focus upon His public speech. They would try to entangle Jesus, or trip Him up in His talk. The Pharisees listened carefully, but it was not to learn. Their purpose was to be critical. They would deliberately misunderstand, misconstrue, and misrepresent His positions.
Not only would the Religious Leaders hurt Christ, but they would use others in the process. The Religious Leaders had followers, as all people in places of leadership have. These disciples would be sent out to represent the secret agenda of the Pharisees. It was possible that the disciples did not know that they were being used, though perhaps they suspected something, when they were sent out with the Herodians.
The Herodians refer to the partisans of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Under normal conditions, the Herodians, and the Pharisees had nothing in common. There were great social, political, and religious ideologies that separated these two groups, until the day they found a common hatred for Christ.
As the disciples of the Pharisees, and the Herodians approached Jesus, they could scarcely conceal their secret excitement. They had a clever question they wanted Christ to address. Having thought through the answer carefully, the unholy delegation could afford to be somewhat courteous before the presentation of the verbal trap.
“Master,” they said, “we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.”
With these words, the disciples of the Pharisees, and the Herodians, were not necessarily being sarcastic, or insulting. They were simply stating that they recognized that Jesus played no favorites. He told the truth to all men.
But the Lord did discern that there was no genuine feeling of love for Him in the feigned flattery. The spirit of the moment was all wrong. Jesus perceived wickedness, and the Lord’s perception was correct. He made a righteous judgment, and knew that He was being tempted by a trick question.
The question that the Lord was being asked concerned the payment of per capita tax, which, after the deposition of Archelaus (AD 6), was collected by the procurator from every adult male in Judea. It was paid directly into the imperial treasury. Most of the Jews hated the principle, and practice of this tax. The Jewish Zealots, in particular, were bitterly opposed to this taxation. Jesus was being asked to pass judgment, as to whether or not the tax should be honored. It was not an easy question to answer, because spiritual principles were involved. On the penny, or Roman denarius, were certain images. The silver coin, displayed on the obverse side, the head of the Emperor, with the inscription,
TIBERIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS SON OF THE DIVINE AUGUSTUS
On the reverse side of the coin, the Emperor was seated upon a throne, wearing a diadem on his head, and clothed as a high priest. Because of its symbolism, the coin itself was considered to be the embodiment of blasphemy. The physical coin was despised, and the collection of the coin was resisted by most Jews. Some, like the Herodians, did not mind, but they were considered traitorous to Israel anyway.
The situation that Christ faced was emotionally explosive, and the Pharisees knew it. If Jesus said that the tax of Rome, on the Jews, was lawful, He would immediately be accused of blasphemy, and betrayal, for siding with Rome.
If Jesus declared that the tax was unlawful, then the Pharisees could report to the Roman officials that Christ was an insurrectionist, which was a capital offense. In whatever way the Lord answered, the Religious Leaders believed they could discredit Him.
But the Pharisees had underestimated the Lord. Jesus would not be dismissed easily by a verbal trick. Christ asked for a coin, and when He was given one, He said simply enough, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
With these words, Jesus taught that both Caesar, and God, have their rights. Neither should be robbed. We must pay back something to Caesar, and we must pay back something to God. Jesus distinguished between the two, without dividing them. He honored both the secular, and the sacred. The Lord united everything, without unifying the two spheres in which His disciples must live.
As Christians, we live in two worlds. We are citizens of Earth, and we are citizens of heaven. We must discharge our duties to both. We must give Caesar something, and we must give God something as well.
To the Caesars of this world, good Christians are obligated to give at least three things: patriotism, proper taxes, and prayer.
As Christians in America, we should not find it difficult at all to be patriotic. While our nation has much to repent of, and be ashamed of, it is the Land of the free, and the home of the brave. All over the world, people are lining up to come to America any way they can.
To maintain the nation, and keep an orderly society, Jesus instructs citizens to pay their fair share of the taxes. When just taxes are levied, everyone benefits through such things as a standing army, police protection, highways and bridges, a court system, and much more.
In addition to paying taxes, Christians are instructed to pray for their government, no matter what form it may be. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2)
As Christians are to give to Caesar certain things, also there is an obligation to God. Jesus said, “Give unto God the things that are God’s.” If there is uncertainty as to what God expects us to give to Him, we need look no further than the Bible to help discover the answer. God wants us to give Him at least five things: reverence, respect for Christ, righteousness, resources for the work of the ministry, and a return to worship.
Reverence of God has been taught us by Christ Himself. The Lord has instructed His disciples to pray, and to say, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” A.W. Tozer said that no people have ever risen higher than its thoughts about God. So many of the Psalms set forth the greatness and the majesty of God, such as Psalm 93.
“The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he had girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved. Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting.”
When we have an exalted view of God, we will have a fundamental respect for His Son, Jesus Christ, for it was the Father who said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.”
We show respect for Christ by loving Him, though we have not yet seen Him. But we shall.
We show respect for Christ by studying His Word carefully.
We show respect for Christ by seeking to obey Him in all that we say and do.
Respect for Christ will translate into a holy, or righteous life. We owe God holiness. God has given to us physical life, and we are obligated to give back to Him a righteous life. Of course, the ability to live righteously is something that people can do only through the atoning work of Christ. “Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (Isa. 54:17).
The way the Lord gives righteousness to His people, is by imputing the righteousness of Christ to them. The imputing of the righteousness of Christ is in two distinguishable, but inseparable phases.
First, there is the righteousness of justification by faith, whereby individuals are made right with the demands of the Law. 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains. “For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Today, every person can stand legally in the sight of God, as having never broken any of the Ten Commandments. Individuals stand legally righteous, because of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which is charged to the account of every person that believes in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
As there is a legal righteousness before God, so there is progressive righteousness. It is our responsibility to be made righteous in character, and in conduct. 1 John 1:7-9 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
One expression of a righteous life is manifested in a desire to give of our resources for the work of the ministry. There is a book entitled, God Runs My Business. It is the true life story of Robert Gilmore (R.G.) Letourneau, who promised, and gave to God 90% of his wealth. Not everyone can do that, but we can all help in some way. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).
Those who give generously to God’s work will return often to God’s house. There is a natural love of worship and an instinctive identification with the sacred place of divine fellowship. David wrote, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psa. 122:1).
The Psalmist loved the Lord, and He loved the house of the Lord. He returned often to worship. There is always a special attachment to the physical place where God meets with His people. Jacob called the spot of his spiritual meeting place with God, Bethel, even though it was nothing more than a pile of stones, with oil poured over them (Gen. 28:18). The song writer invites God’s people to return to worship, with a familiar call.
“O come, come, come, come
O come to the church in the wild wood,
Come to the church in the dale,
No spot is so dear to my childhood
as the little brown church in the dale.”
Though we might be forced to give Caesar what is due Him, because of the law of the land, let us determine to give God what is due Him, out of a heart of love. So come, let us give the Lord reverence, respect for Christ, a righteous life, resources for the work of the ministry, as we return to the place of worship.