Summary: Jesus wouldn’t be cornered through the tricky tax question; instead, his answers show us how to live in both worlds, not just one -- and which one matters most!
¡§Reach Out Honestly¡¨
How many of you know what this is? (show picture of toll booth on screen) You guessed it ¡V a toll booth! Yes, these dot the interstate landscape of I-80 through IL, IN, MI, and PA! And it is at these kinds of places we pay a tax ¡V an extra tax to apparently keep the roads in better shape. Apparently!!
Perhaps you¡¦re wondering what that picture has to do with today¡¦s message. Well, this is the gist behind the tax referenced in our text today. Would you turn to Luke 20:20? As we¡¦ll see in a minute, the main question was, ¡§Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?¡¨ And that word ¡¥taxes¡¦ in verse 22 is literally ¡§poll tax¡¨ ¡V an extra tax levied on the Jews that went directly to the Roman government. So you can begin to see why this question was ripe with tension. Let¡¦s investigate it a little closer.
The passage begins in Luke 20:20 with a look inside the motives of the chief priests and teachers of the law who asked the question.
¡§Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: ¡¥Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?¡¦¡¨
This closer look reveals they were actually hypocritical in the intent: they really wanted to trap Jesus. Their plan? Corner him with an unanswerable question. If he said, ¡§Don¡¦t pay the tax!¡¨, the Romans would probably move in and nab him for blatant rebellion and disobedience. If he said, ¡§Pay the tax!¡¨, the Jews would probably revolt, which would bring about the same result in another way: the end of Jesus! Either way, this question was posed for the purpose of bringing Jesus into trouble no matter how he answered.
Yet, what was posed as an either-or issue became a both-and issue by the master communicator Jesus. Look what he did:
¡§He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ¡¥Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?¡¦
¡¥Caesar’s,¡¦ they replied.
He said to them, ¡¥Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.¡¦"
WOW! In just a simple few sentences the Master lifted the conversation from a political one to a spiritual one. He took what was meant to be a divisive question and turned it into a moment of truth where they were brought face to face with a principle about their role in man¡¦s kingdom as well as their role in God¡¦s kingdom. Let me share with you this principle:
¡§I can live in this world while I belong to another one.¡¨
You see, when he asked for a denarius, a dime-sized coin worth about a day¡¦s wage, he knew they would produce coinage with Caesar¡¦s image and inscription. It indicated whose earthly authority they were under, regardless of whether they liked it or not: Tiberius Caesar. I imagine this was tense moment, for they probably wished they had other coins in their pockets. And yes, other Jewish, even Greek denominations, were in circulation. But the fact that this was the most readily available coin sent a signal to them that they were under the rule of an earthly government, whether they wanted to admit it or not. They were living in this present world!
So about this present, earthly authority, Jesus had a simple instruction: ¡§Give to Caesar¡¦s what is Caesars.¡¨ In other words, live in this world. Pay your taxes, even the extra ones. You may not like it, and it may not seem fair. But it¡¦s your duty as a citizen of the earthly world in which you live.
In fact, the word ¡§give¡¨ here is better translated ¡§render,¡¨ meaning to give what is due. It is really not a gift, but rather a payment. They owed it to their government to help support its functions.
This same principle is echoed in Paul¡¦s instruction to the Christians in Rome. Look at Romans 13:6¡K
¡§This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.¡¨
The Bible teaches that government has a right to exist, and it has a right to be supported by us. Yes, at times it appears they have gone too far in their authority. By the same token, we, the church, have stopped too short in ours. Still, we need to obey the laws of our land. When those laws conflict with God¡¦s laws, we have a higher authority (see Acts 5:17-42). But most of the time they don¡¦t. So obey the authorities God has allowed to exist!