Summary: A sermon about giving back to God what is God's.
“A Hot Button Issue”
Have you ever been asked a “trick question,” a question which was meant to “trip you up”?
Or how about a question where, no matter how you answer it, you will make someone angry or get yourself into trouble?
Around election time when the politicians are out campaigning, journalists are everywhere, interviewing people, taking photos and setting up debates.
And the politicians, who seem only too eager to be on television better be careful because the broadcasters are out to get them.
If a politician slips up, people are interested and advertising revenue goes up.
It sure is an annoying thing, is it not?
Amazing that anyone would want to run for office.
Trick questions that put people on the spot have been around as long as there have been public issues and leaders offering new programs.
And this one that the Pharisees put to Jesus has an obvious double edge.
The issue of paying tax to the Roman Emperor was one of the “hot button issues” in the Middle East in Jesus’ day.
Imagine how you’d feel if you woke up one morning and discovered that people from the other end of the world had marched into your country and demanded that you pay them tax as a reward for having your land stolen!!!
That sort of thing still causes riots and revolutions, and it had done just that when Jesus was growing up in Galilee.
One of the most famous Jewish leaders when Jesus was just a boy had led a revolt because of this issue.
But the Romans had crushed it without mercy, leaving crosses around the countryside, with dead and dying revolutionaries on them, as a warning that paying the tax was not an option.
So the Pharisees question came, as we might say, with a health warning…kinda like on a pack of cigarettes.
But instead of saying, “Smoking causes cancer,” it said, “Tell people they shouldn’t pay, and you will end up on a cross.”
At the same time, of course, anyone leading a “kingdom-of-God movement” would be expected to oppose the tax, or face the ridicule and resentment of the people.
If Jesus had been a politician on the campaign trail, you can imagine the audience’s excitement and the producer’s glee when someone asked this question.
Notice all the false flattery that is going on here as well.
They come to Jesus with bright smiles on their faces.
Surely they have no bad intentions.
They are trying to look so innocent and pious in front of the crowd.
It’s kind of like the “bubble headed bleach-blond” news reporter who can tell you about the plane crash with “a gleam in her eye,” as Don Henley so aptly describes in his song “Dirty Laundry.”
“Teacher,” they say, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
Tell us then, what is your opinion?
Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
And we are told that Jesus replies, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?”
No, Jesus doesn’t fool around, does He?
The word for “trap” that Jesus uses here is the same word used earlier in Matthew in reference to what Satan is trying to do as well.
So, here, Jesus is saying that Satan and the Pharisees are playing the same role.
They are working together…
…whether the Pharisees know it or not.
Before Jesus answers their question He asks them for a coin…
…or rather, asking them for a coin is really the beginning of the answer Jesus gives.
You see, Jews were forbidden to make carved images.
Exodus 20:4 prohibits “graven images” of any kind.
But whose image was staring coldly out at the world from the small Roman coin?
And what about the inscription on the coin?
Around the edge of the coin, proclaiming to all the world who he was, Caesar had words that would send a shiver through any loyal or devout Jew.
It read, “Son of God…High Priest.”
That was who Caesar claimed to be.
How could any Jew be happy or feel comfortable handling that kind of money?
So Jesus says, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.”
He doesn’t have one Himself, but the Pharisees, in the sacred Temple area reach into their pockets and pull one out--a Roman coin with its idolatrous image and inscription on it.
Did not Jesus just call them “hypocrites”?
It makes sense, does it not?
The Pharisees seem happy to do their business using Caesar’s coins.
Why then, are they trying to “trap” Jesus with this question?
Right off the bat we find out that their question has no integrity nor validity.