FEBRUARY 28, 2016

MAIN TEXT: MARK 12:13-17

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.




Today’s text appears in the midst of a series of controversies between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. There is a super intense amount of tension. It is Jesus’ last week of His life. He has cleared the temple, and told a parable about them that pronounced judgment. The leaders were plagued with feelings that are common to all of us – jealousy, fear, and insecurity. They are intensely looking to destroy Jesus.

Packed in these five verses, Jesus deals with the role of government, the role of citizens, the authority of God in our lives and calls people to repentance and obedience. This is a deep application and implication for us as modern day Christ followers. 

The trap is set

The trap is coordinated by the Sanhedrin (verse 13) – a Jewish court made up of 70 leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes) and 1 high priest. These groups had differing opinions among themselves – moral and liberal lifestyles, acceptance and rejection of oral law, conservative and liberal views. The Sanhedrin teams with an unlikely group, the Herodians. The Herodians were Jews that supported the Herodian dynasty, which was corrupt. The Pharisees usually hated the Herodians. Their hatred of Jesus was greater than their hatred for each other.  The Pharisees needed the Herodians because they would be concerned about threats to the government. 

The word “trap” that Mark uses suggests a violent pursuit. The trap is in the form of a question (verse 14). It is first shrouded in flattery. Luke 20:20 says that spies were sent “who pretended to be sincere that they might catch him in something he said”. They could not have known Jesus less! Did they think that he was desperate? They hoped to have him let down his guard. The irony of their flattery is that it was true but they didn’t believe a word of it. Earlier in Mark they concluded that Jesus cast out demons in Satan’s name. 

Jesus isn’t swayed by appearances – nor is He afraid of others opinions of Him. He feared God more than man.  

The perfect question

Verse 14 lays out this either/or question. This was one of the most controversial issues among the Jews at the time. No nation enjoys being brought under subjection to a conqueror, but having to pay taxes and other forms of tribute to the occupying country is loathsome to the conquered population. If Jesus says not to pay taxes, Rome will see him as an insurrectionist. If Jesus says that taxes should be paid to Rome, the people will be angry and not follow Him. If Jesus is godly then how could He advocate paying taxes to the ungodly government? 

The divine answer

Verses 15-17 show the divine wisdom of Jesus – His brilliance, His unsurpassed wisdom, His ability to know hearts, and His complete control over His own destiny. Jesus asks for a coin. On one side of it was Caesar Tiberius’ face and the flip side claimed his deity. Many Jews (especially the Pharisees) didn’t want to even handle anything with an image on it – especially one of a guy that thought that he was a god. 

Jesus – as always – deals with the heart of the issue. He lays bare the motives, intentions and idols of the heart. He gives a profound and perfect answer, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Roman law would say that the coins belonged to Caesar since his image and inscription were on it. Jesus is basically saying, “Why are you having a problem giving to Caesar something that has his image on it?” 

Implications to us

Jesus acknowledges the legitimacy of human government

The New Testament expands on his topic of paying taxes and honoring and submitting to authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Jesus could have said wait to pay taxes until you get a better leader – wait for a righteous king, but He didn’t. There is complexity and limits to Christians following authority – primarily when it violates a command of God. The Apostles kept preaching Jesus (Acts 5:29). Daniel 3 shows three men that would not bow and worship King Nebuchadnezzar. Later in that book Daniel would not stop praying to God and was thrown into a lion’s den. There are consequences when you obey God. We should pay taxes, honor authority, participate and serve, and pray for our leaders. Do not panic when you have godless government. 

Worship God as long as you live

Jesus refused to be trapped by the either/or proposition. We are to “Render (give back)…to God the things that are God’s”. The coin had Caesar’s image on it – so give it back to him what he asks. You and I have the image of God on us (Genesis 1:26-27). We must give to God what is rightfully His – our entire life. We have a duty to government, but we have a greater duty to God, who has created us and redeemed us. Do you give your life to God? Is all of your life given back as worship to God? (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Ignoring spiritual things does not change the fact that you are made by God in His image. 

Taxes are a trivial matter compared to what we owe God. The things of God are not limited to coins, they are defined in Mark 12:29-31. We owe God all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we also owe God a loving concern for our fellow human beings. 

With one simple statement, Jesus put everything in proper perspective. He put Caesar in his place, and He placed God where He rightfully belongs in our lives as well. All the people could do was marvel at Him.

Give to God the things that are God’s!

 

 


APPLY TO LIFE

This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.


BLESS RHYTHMS

This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.

Bless
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.

Listen
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.

Eat
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.

Speak
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.

Sabbath
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.

DISCUSS THE MESSAGE

Read: Mark 12: 13-17

On what points do you disgree with the government of your country? How does your situation compare with the Jews under Roman rule?

What was the motive of those who asked Jesus this either/or question? Have you encountered people who have this motive in their questions? How can you deal with them?

What is the legitimate purpose of human government? What are the responsibilities of citizens?

What are the responsibilities of humanity, made in the image of God?

Is there a danger in your country for its citizens to worship the political leaders? to worship the government? to worship the country? How can you balance patriotism with Christianity?