Summary: The Pharisees try to trap Jesus by questioning his authority, by asking about taxes paid to Caesar, the resurrection and which Law is greatest. Jesus rebuts all their attacks. But the battle isn't over. Satan continues his attacks on us today.
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
During my time at Ridley, one of the highlights was the debates. Sometimes there’d be big debates in class, as we tried to wrap our heads around big theological ideas. But the really great debates were the ones the student body organized. Two small teams of lecturers and students would be pitted against each other. They’d be locking horns over the really important questions, like ‘You can’t teach good theology through fiction,’ or ‘That theological students don’t need to learn Greek or Hebrew anymore!’ These debates were a bit of fun, actually they were lots of fun. But they were also a way for us to unpack ideas and to look at them theologically.
In the section of Mark that we’re looking at today, Jesus is involved in a series of debates. They’re all about important theological issues, but unlike those debates at Ridley, they’re no laughing matter. There’s a long list of opponents queuing up to take Jesus down. It was bad enough when he was causing a stir out in the Judean countryside, but now he’s arrived in Jerusalem! And remember Jesus didn’t come quietly, there were great crowds heralding his arrival in the city. What’s more, Jesus caused quite a commotion in the temple when he overturned the money-lenders tables. From as early as Mark 3:6, Jesus’ opponents began plotting how to destroy him, but now they’re really determined to put a stop to him. Jesus can’t be allowed to go on.
Round 1 – Whose Authority?
First up in verse 27, is a group from the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Jerusalem. Throughout Mark, we’ve seen the crowds recognize that Jesus taught with authority, not like the scribes. And now in Jerusalem he’s been doing things that suggest he’s an authoritative figure. The Sanhedrin want to know who’s given Jesus permission to do all these things. They certainly haven’t. In their minds, Jesus is nothing more than a country rabbi, a rabble-rouser with no official standing whatsoever. As far as they’re concerned he’s got no right to have a say in the affairs of Jerusalem and the Temple. They want to know who does Jesus think he is?
Jesus proves he’s just as good at turning tables in an argument, as he is in real life. He responds to their question with one of his own, ‘First tell me where John’s authority came from – earth or heaven?’ The implication is that Jesus’ authority comes from the same place as John’s. But the Sanhedrin aren’t prepared to accept that John, or Jesus, were divinely authorized figures. If they did, it would mean they’d have to listen to, and obey, Jesus. They’d much rather say that Jesus and John are doing things off their own bat. That neither of them are speaking with God’s authority. That’s the answer they’d like to give. But they can’t. They’re too afraid of the crowds, who regarded John as a true prophet. They’re stuck. They’re not willing to accept Jesus and they’re not willing to say what they really think about him. So they just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘We don’t know.’ As far as the debate goes, they’ve failed.
Round 2 – Who’s owed?
But that doesn’t stop Jesus’ opponents. Next up, in verse 13, they send some of the Pharisees and Herodians to give it their best shot. They begin by buttering Jesus up. They come to him and say, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They’re laying it on thick, flattering Jesus in the hope of catching him out with their question, “Is it permitted for us to pay taxes or not?” They think they’ve laid the perfect trap for Jesus. No one likes paying taxes, but the one they’re referring to was incredibly unpopular in Judea. It was even more unpopular than teh Carbon Tax or the GST. The Roman emperor introduced it around 6AD and it had already been the cause of one failed uprising. If Jesus comes out in support of the tax, they know he’ll become unpopular with the crowds. They can say he’s sold out. But if Jesus comes out and says paying the tax isn’t permitted, they can have him denounced as a zealot and arrested by the Romans. As far as the Pharisees and Herodians are considered it’s a win-win scenario for them. They think there’s no way out for Jesus.
Except, once again Jesus outsmarts them. He’s not about to be trapped by their silly games. ‘Bring me a coin’ he says. Then he asks them, ‘Who’s image is on the coin, who’s name does it bear?’ Just like our coins have a picture of the Queen on them, their coin has a picture of Caesar on it. Jesus’ reply is perhaps best translated, “Well give back to Caesar what’s owed to him.”