Summary: We owe our nation our support, but we owe God our wholehearted devotion.
As you all know, our nation is at war. We’ve been expecting it to come for several weeks, but this week it finally came. And whenever war comes, it comes as a tragedy for all involved.
And the dilemma for me as a pastor is what to preach about today. I’m sure many pastors will be interrupting their preaching schedules to give their own opinions about the war with Iraq. I’m sure some will be using the pulpit as an opportunity to speak out against the war. And I’m sure some will also be using the pulpit to speak out in support of the war.
And I could do that. I could use this opportunity to share my own convictions. I could use our 35 minutes together to talk about the fact that I used to be a Christian pacifist, but after having children I rethought my views. I could talk about my commitment to the "just war" position.
But then again some of you could stand up here and tell a different story. My views on this conflict are nothing more than that: my personal views. And we’re a diverse enough congregation that I’d be naïve if I thought that everyone in the church shared my own views on this issue. Our "Issues and Christianity" group that meets during the 11 AM service on Sundays has been talking about Christians and war for the last few weeks. And they’ve identified at least four different positions on war that have been held by Christians down through the ages. And I suspect we have people in our congregation who embrace all four of these positions. At times I fear that our convictions about these things are more of a reflection of our zip code and our social and economic standing than they are of our commitment to Jesus Christ.
So I realize that I have a higher calling than to simply talk about my opinions today. God as not called me to simply talk about my opinions. He’s called me to teach God’s Word.
Fortunately I also have a strong belief in God’s working in circumstances. So as I came to the text in the book of Mark that I was scheduled to preach on all the way back in August, I find that this text is especially relevant for us as Christians living in a nation at war. Now we’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Mark called Following Jesus in the Real World. In this series we’ve been looking at Mark’s biography of Jesus Christ, and how we can live as followers of Jesus in our world today. How can we live as followers of Jesus in a time of war? That’s what we’re going to look at today.
Originally I was scheduled to speak on vv. 13-44 of Mark chapter 12, which is a very long section. Found within these verses are four controversies Jesus has with the religious leaders and then the a teaching about giving when a poor woman gives all she has to the temple treasury. But in light of the events of this week, I’m going to only focus on two of the four controversies.
1. Rendering to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17)
The first controversy in vv. 12-17 is a debate about Roman taxation of the Jewish people. Jesus is in the temple courts the day after he makes a scene by clearing out the money changers. I suggested that Jesus’ scene was a symbolic statement of judgment against the Jewish temple, that Jesus’ action was intended to tell people that the temple’s days were numbered. Last week we saw that the religious leaders sent a delegation to Jesus, demanding to know on what authority he made the scene. Jesus answered their question with his own question, and then with the parable of the wicked tenants.
Continuing the narrative here we see several sub groups of religious leaders try to trip Jesus up. Now the Pharisees and the Herodians were very strange bedfellows. In fact, about the only thing Pharisees and Herodians could agree about was that Jesus was a threat to them both. The Pharisees were totally against Roman taxation. They believed that it was unjust for the Romans to extort taxation from the Jewish people. They viewed Roman taxation much the same way we might view an organized crime gang that forces business owners to pay a fee for protection. They paid it, but they paid it grudgingly, and believing that it was unjust and immoral.
But the Herodians were all for Roman taxation. You see, the Herodians were supporters of the Roman king Herod. So they were all for it. For Jesus to speak out against taxation, the Herodians would report him to the Romans as a troublemaker. But for him to speak out for taxation, the Pharisees would discredit him as being disloyal to the nation of Israel.