Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tell, me teacher, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not? This is certainly a loaded question asked of Jesus and a no win one for him. It was designed by the Pharisees with the aid of the Herodians to entrap Jesus. The seriousness of this attack is shown by the fact that the Pharisees and the Herodians combined to make it. Normally these two parties were in bitter opposition.
The Pharisees were the supremely orthodox, who resented the payment of the tax to a foreign king as an infringement of the divine right of God. The Herodians were the party of Herod, king of Galilee, who owed his power to the Romans and who worked hand in glove with them.1
If Jesus answered no, then he would be in trouble with the Romans. If he said yes, he would be in trouble with the Jews who did not want to pay taxes to the government who had conquered them.
Jesus did not respond in the way they had hoped or expected. He simply asked to see a coin used to pay the tax and asked whose image was on the coin. The coin produced had an image of Tiberias Caesar, the Roman emperor at that time and Jesus said, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's.
What things are the emperors?
There is some irony in Jesus saying, "give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's", because many in Jesus' day thought that Caesar was a god. So, if a Roman heard Jesus' response he would have probably thought the two are one in the same. A Jew, on the other hand, knows that all things belong to the one true God and that God raises up ruler. But what Jesus is saying here is that some things belong to the emperor and some things belong to God. He is sort of saying you have two masters.
In tension with this is something that Jesus said earlier in Matthew's gospel. There Jesus taught that no one can serve two masters. He said that anyone who tries will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. He concluded by saying "You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:24).
Nonetheless, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's. What things belong to the emperor? Jesus didn't actually say, but it seems pretty clear that money belongs to the emperor. In the ancient days coinage was the sign of kingship. As soon as a king came to the throne he struck his own coinage; even a pretender would produce a coinage to show the reality of his kingship; and that coinage was held to be the property of the king whose image it bore.
What else belongs to the emperor or the government? The Bible tells us that authority belongs to the government and that we are subject to that authority. In the book of Romans we read, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2).
Our first lesson from Isaiah's writings, speaks of Cyrus the Persian king whom the Lord raised up to restore Israel. It was he who gave orders for the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Ch 36:23; Ezr 1:2; 5:13; 6:3), restored the vessels of the House of the Lord which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away (Ezr 1:7). Nebuchadnezzar was the Babylonian king whom God had raised up to carry Israel into captivity.
It has been said that every Christian has a double citizenship. Christians are citizens of the country in which they happen to live. To it they owe many things. There is the safety against lawlessness which only settled government can give and all public services. Few are wealthy enough to have a electricity, gas, water, or a sewer systems of their own. These are public services. Further, there are services such as education, medical services, provision for unemployment and old age. For these things we are under a debt of obligation. Because Christians are honorable, they must be a responsible citizens. Failure in good citizenship is also a failure in Christian duty. Untold troubles can descend upon a country or an industry when Christians refuse to take their part in the administration and leave it to selfish, self-seeking, partisan, and unchristian men. The Christians have a duty to Caesar in return for the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings to them.
But the Christian is also a citizen of heaven. There are matters of religion and of principle in which the responsibility of the Christian is to God. It may well be that the two citizenships will never clash; they do not need to. But when the Christian is convinced that it is God's will that something should be done, it must be done; or, if he is convinced that something is against the will of God, he must resist it and take no part in it. Where the boundaries between the two duties lie, Jesus does not say. That is for each of us to test. But a real Christian--and this is the permanent truth which Jesus here lays down--is at one and the same time a good citizen of his country and a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. He will fail in his duty neither to God nor to man. He will, as Peter said, "Fear God. Honor the emperor" (1 Pet. 2:17).
What things are God's?
What things are God's? Before you go to bed tonight, I want you to take a close look at yourself in the mirror. Look at the area of your forehead and see in you can see the marking of the cross that was placed there when you were baptized. In baptism we place the sign of the cross and say, "you are marked with the sign of the cross forever." Each of us who have been baptized have received the mark of God, the cross, therefore, render to God what is God's. You have God's mark, and you are God's.
On a coin we see the mark of the emperor, which today we call the president or someone important to American history. The coin belongs to the government so render to the government the things that are the government's. But because all things belong to God, the coins also belong to God. Some coins go to the government to support the work of the government and some coins go to do the work of God.
In the time of Jesus and in our time there were laws and penalties for not paying taxes. When we give to the government we give from the head out of a sense of duty, legal obligation or even fear. When we give to God, we give from the heart out of a sense of love and compassion and trust.
The late Danny Thomas was once on hard times. He was out of work. He and his wife, Rosie, had a baby on the way, and they needed money. Danny worked at part-time jobs so Rosie could buy groceries. He also borrowed money from friends. It was a tough time in his life.
A week before the baby was born, Danny had the grand total of seven dollars and eighty-five cents to his name. What would he do? "My despair led me to my first exposure to the powers of faith," Danny would later recall.
On Sunday morning Danny went to church. When the offering plate was passed he put in his "usual one dollar." But something unexpected happened that day. A special missions offering was taken. The priest explained where the mission offering would go, and Danny felt he had to give something. "I got carried away," Danny said, "and ended up giving my seven dollars."
He had given away all his money that Sunday. What in the world had he done? He walked up to the altar rail, got on his knees and prayed aloud. "Look, I've given my last seven bucks," he prayed. "I need it back tenfold because I've got a kid on the way, and I have to pay the hospital bill." He went home with a mere eighty-five cents in his pocket--all the money he had in the world.
"You won't believe this," Danny Thomas later wrote, "but the next morning the phone rang in the rooming house hall." It was a job offer. He was offered a part in a commercial. The job wasn't much but the pay was good--seventy-five dollars. "I literally dropped the telephone receiver," Danny remembered. "First I whooped with joy; then an eerie feeling came over me." He remembered what he had prayed at church the day before. "The seventy-five dollar fee," he said, "unheard of for me at that time was almost exactly ten times the amount of money I had donated to the church."2
Martin Luther once said, "I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess."
Trapping the Church
The Pharisees and the Herodians were trying to trap Jesus over an issue of money. Do you know that Jesus spoke more about money during his ministry than any other single topic? And yet, when we speak about money in the church, people get upset. They don't want to hear about it, mostly, I think because it makes them nervous about how they are attached to their money.
And so they try to trap the church into not talking about money
With his unique wisdom Jesus never laid down rules and regulations; that is why his teaching is timeless and never goes out of date. He always lays down principles. Here he lays down a very great and very important one.
CHILDREN'S TIME: "Trick Questions" Good morning..... I've got a puzzle question for you this morning: "A Farmer had 20 sick sheep. If one of those sheep wandered off and got lost, how many sheep would be left (most will answer 25 having heard 26 sheep... repeat the question slowly until someone gets it right = 19) I played a bit of a trick on you there didn't I. I hope you didn't mind - it was a bit of a fun trick.
Do you ever play tricks on people? Do they play them on you. Tricks are not always good -- like pulling the chair out from someone when they are about to sit down. Has anyone ever played a mean trick on you?? How does a mean trick feel?? Did you know that some people tried to trick Jesus in very mean ways?? They asked him questions so that he would get into trouble with one group or another no matter how he answered.
One day they came to him and asked him a question that may seem a bit strange to us - they asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to Caesar - who was the king of land. Jesus knew that they where tyring to get him into to trouble - so he asked them to show him the kind of coins that they would use to pay the taxes with.
Have you ever taken a good look at the pictures on a coin? Our coins have the pictures of our queen on them. They also have other pictures and words on them. Do you know how do they get those pictures on the coins? Well, coins are just chunks of soft metal. They are put in a machine and then smashed very hard with a thing called a die. The die has pictures and words on it. When the die smashes into the coin, the picture on the die goes over to the coin. So now the coins have the same picture, the same image, as the die. Ever since coins first started being made, there were pictures of different people on them. In Jesus' day, many of the coins had the picture of the Roman king, Caesar Augustus, on them. Now Caesar was king in those days, but the Jewish people really hated Caesar. He did not treat the Jewish people well. He made them pay all kinds of taxes to him. The Jewish people didn't want to pay taxes to Caesar, so they asked Jesus about it - knowing that if he said they shouldn't pay taxes - that he would get into trouble with the government, and that if he said they should pay taxes - nobody would like him.
Jesus answered them = Give to Caesar what was Caesar's, and give to God what was God's. What did He mean? Well, the money had Caesar's picture or image on it, so the money belonged to Caesar. But you know what? The Bible says we are made in the image of God. Just like money was made with the image of Caesar, we are made in the image of God. That means that we belong to God. And if we belong to God, then everything we have, everything we do, belongs to God. Jesus was reminding the Jewish people that what they did with their money wasn't as important as what they did with their lives.3