Summary: We owe the one who owns us.
Show Me the Coin…Whose Portrait is This? And Whose Inscription?
Rev. Brian Bill
A little boy wanted $100 very badly and prayed to God for a whole week, but nothing happened so he decided to write Him a letter. When the Post Office received the letter addressed to God they forwarded it to the White House. The President was both impressed and amused, so he instructed his aide to send the boy $5, thinking that would be a lot to him. The boy was, indeed, delighted by the money so he sat down and wrote a thank you note: “Dear God, thank you very much for sending the money. However I noticed for some reason you had to send it through Washington and as usual, they kept most of it.” (Quoted by Justin Meek, sermoncentral.com).
This morning we’re going to address one of the most-well known questions of Jesus, one in which He gives perspective on what we owe God and government. It’s the last week of Jesus’ life and He has just finished telling three parables with pointed applications to the religious authorities. Amazingly, He’s now back in the Temple He had cleansed a couple days earlier.
And as you can imagine these guys didn’t appreciate being called out by Christ. Look at Matthew 21:45-46: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” Because they couldn’t arrest Him, they regrouped and come up with another plan in Matthew 22:15: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Him in His words.” The word “trap” means to entangle or ensnare like one would catch a bird or a wild beast with a net. Instead of a frontal attack they resort to a stealthy ambush.
Still reeling from the punch of the parables, in chapter 22 they pose three questions that are designed to trip and to trap Jesus. The first question has to do with paying taxes. The second has to do with marriage and the resurrection (we addressed this the first week of our series) and the final question relates to the greatest commandment. In each instance, Jesus answers with his own question that cuts them to the quick. I love verse 46: “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
With that as background let’s read our passage in Matthew 22:16-22: “They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘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?’ But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”
As the Pharisees counseled together, they came up with a plan in verse 16. They decide to send some of their disciples to Jesus, thinking that they would have a better chance of slipping under the radar. Maybe they thought these students wouldn’t be recognized by the Savior. Luke 20:21 refers to them as “spies.” But instead of going solo, they team up with their arch-enemies, the Herodians. The Pharisees and the Herodians represented the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Just as things are heating up in our country as we get ready for the first political caucuses in less than 50 days, the political climate at that time was potent. Conservatives and liberals today are going at it, so too, these two groups representing the far right and the far left, couldn’t stand each other.
Let’s see if I can explain this by separating the congregation right down the middle. Those of you on my left are the Herodians. Say it with me: “We are…Herodians.” Those of you on my right are the Pharisees. Say it with me: “We are…Pharisees.” Now let’s say it all together. Now remember that you don’t normally like each other. You’ve used attack ads on TV against each other. You’re competing in the polls and you diss each other in the debates.
The chart may help explain the distinctives and differences between these two groups.