Summary: Jesus uses the occasion of the Pharisee’s question about paying taxes to Caesar to important truths concerning a believers obligations to the State and to God.
A Study of the Book of Luke
Sermon # 56
“It’s A Question of Ownership!”
Someone once said, “While there are just two certainties in life: death and taxes, at least death doesn’t get worse every time Congress is in session!”
“A man on vacation was strolling along outside his hotel in Acapulco, enjoying the sunny Mexican weather. Suddenly, he was attracted by the screams of a woman kneeling in front of a child. The man knew enough Spanish to determine that the boy had swallowed a coin. Seizing the child by the heels, the man held him up, gave him a few shakes, and an American quarter dropped to the sidewalk. “Oh, thank you sir!” cried the woman. “You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctor?” “No, ma’am,” replied the man. “I’m with the United States Internal Revenue Service.” [Bits & Pieces, March 31, 1994, p. 5. www.bible.org/illus/t/t ]
Having to pay taxes has never been popular. Taxes are not a voluntary contribution. To fail to pay one’s taxes, or to pay less than one should is a sure way to get the attention of the government, and to discover just how strong they feel about our payment of taxes. The payment of taxes is a very pragmatic matter, for governments do not run without money, tax money. But paying one’s taxes is also a symbolic act, evidencing his or her submission to the one that is paid. Paying taxes is thus a practical acknowledgment of that government’s right to rule over us, and of our submission to its authority.
Remember the old saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows,” well that is certainly the case in Luke 20. Jesus had answered the challenge of the Jewish leadership about his authority to cleanse the temple and teach in the temple (v. 2), first with an embarrassing question concerning where John the Baptist got his authority (v. 3) and then with a parable (vv. 9-16). According to verse nineteen they were so infuriated that they would have arrested Jesus on the spot had; they not been hindered by the crowd in the temple. They decided then and there to trap Jesus somehow into condemning himself with his own words. Verse twenty reveals, “So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.”
The religious leadership of Israel formed a conspiracy against Jesus, according to Mark 12:13 it was the Herodians and the Pharisees who formed a coalition. There could hardly be a more unlikely partnership. “The Pharisees represented cautious resistance to Rome, the Herodians wholesale accommodation. But they were cemented together by their mutual hatred for Jesus. The Pharisees hated him because he was disrupting their religious agenda, the Herodians because he threatened their political arrange-ments” [R. Kent Hughes. Luke: That You Might Know. Vol II. (Wheaton:Illinois, Crossway Books, 1998) pp. 263.]
Today it would be like the ACLU and the
Moral Majority or Rush Limbaugh and Gloria Steinheim getting together to fight a common cause. About the only thing the Pharisees and Herodians did agree on was the Jesus had to go.
In verse twenty-one we read, “Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:”
When they came to Him, they came with a deceitful flattery. What a bunch of hypocrites! They no more believed that Jesus “taught the way of God in truth” than they believed the moon was made of green cheese. Flattery is the reverse mirror-image of gossip. “Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his face. Flattery is saying to a person’s face what you would say behind his back.” [R. Kent Hughes. p. 256]
After these spies thought they had laid the ground work with sufficient flattery, they posed their question in verse twenty-two, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
There were three basic types of taxes in Israel at this time; (1) a land tax (1/10th of all grains or 1/5th of all fruit or wine);(2) a custom tax (collected at ports and city gates – rates were 2 to 5% of the value of the goods) and; (3) a poll or tribute tax - (paid by everyone between the ages of 14-65, when a census was taken – just for the privilege being alive). [Life Application Bible Commentary. Luke. (Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale House, 1997) pp. 456-457] (Don’t tell the U.S. government about that last one – they could get ideas.) Some have speculated that Roman taxes totaled over 1/3 of a person’s income.