Sunday, March 25, 2007



(Luke 20:20-26) Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. 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 image and inscription are on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. He said to them, "Then give back 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.

Remember the immediate context here. Jesus has just ticked off nearly everyone within the priesthood by kicking the money-changers out of the Temple. And, we found that the chief priest’s family receives a little royalty from the commercial activity within the Temple, so there is a lot of anger in the air. And now, in the midst of this tension a few “spies” are sent to speak with Jesus with more of a slippery tongue than should ever be believed.

They are looking to catch Jesus in saying anything that they might be able to use against Him to arrest Him. They needed a reason. But NOTE they are not looking to trick with respect to the Jewish law, but the Roman law. They would love to get something on Him that would trigger the Romans to arrest Him.

So, they throw out a loaded question to Him: “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” In addition to property taxes, the Romans also put on the people an annual tax of one denarius. A denarius amounted to a day’s wages. This was assessed on every adult male. It was Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrrin, that was responsible for collecting this tax.

This was not a popular tax at all. So, if they could get Jesus to agree that Roman taxation is right, then maybe the masses of the people would turn on Jesus and view Him as no greater than the hated tax collectors. On the other hand, if they could get Jesus to agree that this tax is wrong and unjust, then this would put Jesus on the same level of the revolutionary zealots, who were anti-Roman in every way. Then, maybe this would turn the Romans against Jesus as a political revolutionary.

Naturally, Jesus answers their trick question brilliantly and this has been quoted by people throughout the ages. What Jesus says is that as disciples of Jesus we are to give honest honor to government’s authorities. And, “to give to God what is God’s” is how Jesus finishes His answer. Here’s what is going on. Caesar’s image is on the coin, so pay your taxes. However, God’s image is on your soul, so give yourself to God fully.

I think this is another division that Jesus paints clearly between the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. The image of Caesar is on the coin. That coin is the material stuff of this world—the wealth of man or what Matthew quotes Jesus as saying Mammon. In that instance, Jesus makes it clear you can’t serve God and Mammon at the same time. So, with respect to the kingdom of man, you are to respect it, but not worship it and give your all to it.

On the other hand, the image of God is on your soul. You may owe Caesar a few coins, but you owe your Creator who marked His image on your soul your very life. In order for the Kingdom of God to spread in this world, be careful to respect governmental authority.

To me there is a sobering note here. Jesus is not into building up religious power-blocks to control Caesar or to take him over. This will not result in spreading the Kingdom of God and it will most surely hinder its spread. We live in a country where it is fashionable and counted as noble for godly men, even high profile men, to spend their energies bringing all of their power and influence to bear on changing the laws of the land. It’s all under the banner of building a Christian nation.

You see, there is something drastically missing from this approach. JESUS. Jesus didn’t propose overthrowing any government or even spending one ounce of your energy trying to change it. No amount of voting or political power will be able to change this nation or any other. Change only occurs when a person encounters Jesus personally, then there is transformation. It baffles me why great men of God have chosen to enter the political arena and leave their obvious calling behind. Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. There is nothing wrong for godly men to enter into politics to make a difference. But, if that politician for one moment believes that political reform will bring spiritual revolution to our nation, he is greatly mistaken.

You want to change a nation, begin by changing the citizens one by one. If you want to change Congress, then you must find a way to change Congressmen. If you want to change prisons, then you must change the prisoners. And how does this change take place? Only through JESUS PLUS NOTHING. To believe that anything short of Jesus has a chance to change any institution or any person is ridiculous.

So, as Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s.” You know what it all comes back to? The two most revolutionary words in all of history spoken by Jesus: FOLLOW ME!