Summary: The faithful disciple of Jesus Christ has certain biblical obligations and responsibilities. This message addresses those obligations.
A government surveyor brought his surveying equipment to a farm to do some work for the state by which he was employed. He knocked on the farmhouse door and asked the farmer for permission to go into one of his fields and take some readings. The farmer had no hospitality for any state officials so he refused to give the man permission to work in any of his fields. He thought maybe the government was going to take some of his land for a public project.
“I will not give you permission to go onto my land!” said the farmer.
The surveyor then produced an official government document that authorized him to do the survey. “I have the authority,” he said, “to enter any field in the entire country to do my work.”
Faced with the authority of the government the farmer quite begrudgingly opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter one of his fields. The farmer then went to the far end of the field and opened another gate, through which one of his fiercest bulls came charging. Seeing the bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and began to run for his life. The farmer shouted after him, “Show him that paper, show him that paper!”
I think we all have a little bit of the farmer in us. In everything from driving the speed limit to paying our taxes, our sinful nature resists the government’s control and claim on us. You may recall last week as we began this series on Faith & Politics as we explored the role of government, that the Apostle Paul gave the Roman Christians the directive to submit to, or obey the government. Instead of rebelling and resisting he says that we will obey and submit to the government. Then, he goes on to give some very specific ways in which that submission, or obedience, is to be lived out—through the payment of taxes and honor those in authority. As Paul gave those instructions, he was simply echoing the philosophy of Jesus himself as he was challenged by some Pharisees and others before his arrest. That’s the passage in Mark’s Gospel we read a few moments ago.
Jesus words to his questioners reveal that we are citizens of two kingdoms. That’s what I told the bible study group last Wednesday evening as we began our study on faith and politics in the life of Moses. We are ultimately citizens of the Kingdom of God, but in the meantime, we live as citizens of the good old U. S. of A. How do we conduct ourselves as those who are first of all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and yet have citizenship in one of the earthly Kingdoms?
It’s an important question, because we as disciples don’t always agree with what our government is doing, and it’s becoming a more important question these days, because we often find ourselves living in places which are becoming increasingly hostile to Christians and to Christian values. So how do we live as citizens of two kingdoms?
Jesus addresses that in this trick question the Pharisees and supporters of Herod ask of him. It’s a trick question because these “leaders” were hostile towards Jesus and were trying to trap him with his own words. Jesus gives a profound answer that gives us real guidance today.
Understand, the Pharisees and the Herodians were not teammates. The only thing they agreed on was that they didn’t like Jesus. The Herodians were pro-Rome and accepted Herod, a Roman appointee, as their rightful ruler. The Pharisees barely tolerated Herod, whom they considered a usurper, because they had no other choice. So when these two groups come together, you know something is up.
They ask Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. The tax they are asking about is what was called a poll tax which the Roman emperor had imposed on all the Jews since A.D. 6. That was the year Judea became a Roman province. The poll tax was levied on all men from fourteen to sixty-five and on all women from twelve to sixty-five, and was one denarius, roughly a day’s wage per head. If you were breathing, you had to pay the tax. It was particularly galling to the Jews because it made them feel like slaves to Rome. They didn’t mind paying the Temple tax, because that represented their submission to God as their heavenly King. But to pay taxes to Rome meant that they were also in submission to an evil earthly king, and that grated against their conscience. Messiah was supposed to deliver them against such tyranny.
Their trap was this: For Jesus to say, “Yes, pay taxes to Caesar,” that would make Him unpopular with the people. But, if he says, “No, don’t pay taxes to Caesar,” then he would be in trouble with the Roman authorities. No matter how Jesus answers, He is in trouble! Mark tell us Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a coin and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And, Mark says, they were amazed.