Render unto Caesar – Render unto God
15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him (Jesus) in his words. 16They 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. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
21"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
22When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Todays’s text out of Matthew 22:15-22 invites us to look at a challenging topic: Our text is about taxes…
“Taxes”, you say. “I can tell you a few things about taxes.” Well, maybe some of these things happened to you.
BOTHERED CONSCIENCE: The Internal Revenue Service received the following letter from a taxpayer who bothered by his conscience. It said: "Dear Sir: My conscience bothered me. Here is $175.00, which I owe in back taxes." Then there was a P.S. at the bottom that read: "If my conscience still bothers me, I'll send in the rest of it."
BAD INVESTMENT During an IRS audit, the defendant was asked to explain a $5,000 write-off that was flagged, "Bad investment." It seemed obvious to the man that was being audited. He explained, "That $5,000 bad investment was my last year’s taxes."
INVEST IN TAXES For those of you who invest your money into stocks and bonds, some investors would urge you to “Put all your money in taxes. It's the only sure thing to go up.”
It’s funny, isn’t it… simply talking about taxes, or money in general for that matter, makes us shift nervously in our seats. In fact, when we shift in our seats when someone talks about money, we’re just making sure that we put all our weight on our wallets. Believe it or not, I can actually hear some of you think to yourselves, “Thank goodness I didn’t bring money to church today.”
But, before you get the impression that today you’re in for a “moral-predigt” – moralizing, I have to confess to you that today I put in a big check into the offering… just so that I could actually say the things that I’m saying with a clean conscience. Sounds a bit self-righteous, doesn’t it. What I’m trying to say is that this sermon is for ME as much as it is for YOU. God’s Word is alive like a consuming fire – and it is my burning desire that it will touch your heart and soul today.
I said earlier that today’s text is about taxes. Now that I have your attention I want to tell you that our text is about something much more significant than taxes. It is about our primary loyalties in life, about giving back to God that which we owe him. (Funny, that the first thing we think about again is our money).
A SACRED TRUST TO ADMINISTER Dennis the Menace was walking out of church with his parents one Sunday. As they met the pastor at the door, Dennis asked, "What are you going to do with my dad's quarter?"
Oswald Sanders, in A Spiritual Clinic said, Money is one of the acid tests of character and a surprising amount of space is given to it in Scripture. Whether a man is rich or poor, observe his reaction to his possessions and you have a revealing index to his character.
The New Testament says a lot about money. Jesus didn't avoid the subject of money at all. In fact, he welcomed every opportunity to speak about it. Sixteen of His thirty-eight parables deal with how to handle money and possessions (that’s almost ½ of all the parables of Jesus). In the Gospels, one out of ten verses, 288 in all, focus directly on the subject of money. While the entire Bible offers us about 500 verses on prayer and less than five hundred on faith, it devotes over 2000 verses to money and possessions. The Scriptures have a great deal to say about money.
Let us then turn our attention to the text that I read earlier. In this well known passage about taxes, Jesus says, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (this passage appears also in Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26).
Over the centuries, many Christians have based their attitudes toward government on this passage. Some have thought that Jesus' statement establishes two separate realms, Caesar's and God's, and that people should render to each what they ask for in their respective realms.
Yet in their historical context, these words of Jesus had little to do with taxation or political authority in general. Jews in the first century paid several taxes: tithes to the Temple (averaging about 21% a year), customs taxes, and taxes on land. The people identified as Jesus' opponents were not questioning these taxes in general. Their question was more specific: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?"
They were talking about the annual payment of a tax to Rome, who occupied the Holy Land and worshiped false gods. This tax could only be paid with Roman coins which were not just legal tender but also pieces of propaganda. Most of the coins contained an image of the Caesar with an inscription proclaiming him to be divine. One common phrase during the time of Jesus was: "Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest." For Jews and Christians Graven images were blasphemy.
The tax in question was the annual tribute tax to Rome. Jews were divided about this tax. The Temple authorities had chosen to collaborate with Rome and endorsed the tax. They also enjoyed a pretty good kick-back from the collected funds for their own personal use. But many orthodox Jews resisted this tax and often got themselves into trouble because of that.
And so, the question put to Jesus by the Herodians and the Pharisees was a trap. Either a yes or no answer would have gotten Jesus into trouble. "Yes" would have discredited him with those who found the imperial domination system reprehensible and unacceptable. "No" would have made him subject to arrest for troublemaking.
Jesus avoided the trap with two moves. First, he asked his opponents for a coin. When they produced one, Jesus looked at it and asked, "Whose image and inscription is this?" It was, of course, an image of Caesar.
The coin bearing Caesar's image gave room for the famous saying that followed, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
We can see the testers puzzled over the meaning of Jesus’ words. The word "render" means to "give back." In other words, with a dismissing shrug Jesus said to them, "It's Caesar's coin--go ahead and give it back to him."
But, when the second half is added, the words of Jesus are just dynamite, “give back to God what belongs to God.”
This is a huge question: What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God? One popular way of looking at it is the separation of church and state: "Pay your tribute tax to Caesar - or your tax to the government, and pay your temple tax to God. In other words, be a good church member and pay your church dues – or your “season ticket" as some have called it.
If we look at the text in such a way - and sometimes its tempting to do so – we miss the intent of Jesus’ saying. This text raises the provocative and still relevant question: What belongs to God, and what belongs to Caesar? And what if Caesar is American Imperialism, or Apartheid, or Consumerism? What is to be the attitude of Christians toward domination systems, whether ancient or modern?
The Gospels tell us that the Herodians and Pharisees had every intention to ensnare Jesus. But the answer that Jesus offers leaves us to figure out what we are to give back?
As I mentioned earlier the word "give" in Jesus' answer, means "to give back" ("apodidomi"). The word was used in the sense of "paying back" a debt. The word carries the sense of giving that which already belongs to the other person.
The question we have to figure out is this: How do we know what things belong to Caesar? Well, they have his image ("Head" in NRSV) on them! The things that belong to Caesar have his very identifyiable sign. As an example, in the US you “pledge allegiance to the flag” as a symbol of patriotism and undivided loyalty. We have our own rituals on this side of the border, like paying taxes – symbols of loyalty that say, “We belong to Canada - Caesar.”
And how do we know what things belong to God? They have God's image on them as well! The word for "image" ("eikon") is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament as early as Genesis:
Gen 1:26-27: Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our *image*, according to our likeness; . . . . So God created humankind in his *image*, in the *image* of God he created them; male and female he created them.
And in Gen 5:1: "This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the *likeness* of God."
And in Gen 9:6: ". . . for in his own *image* God made humankind."
We are to give to God the things stamped with God's image -- us! We are to give God ourselves -- our whole selves -- not just some part.
How is it with you? You may be inclined to give God your mind, but your hearts is far from him. Or you may give God your heart, but you are unwilling to learn from God in his Word. You may be willing to give God your muscle, but remain unwilling to bring your body to worship or fellowship or study with other Christians.
Maybe you give God 1 or 2 hours a week, but God wants all 168 hours a week. Maybe you give God 2% of your income, perhaps even a whopping 10% or more but God wants 100%.
We cannot say that "this part belongs to God, so I will give it to God, but this area of my life is non of God’s business.” You and I, we are created in God’s image. We are to give Him our all, because we represent the very nature of God.
Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God. Everything we are and everything we have we are to give (back) to God. We are but mere managers or stewards of these gifts God has given to us.
Let’s imagine for a moment what that would look like if we gave our entire Being to God. Our homes would not merely be a private place for ourselves where we rest from our day’s work, and where we eat and sleep. Our homes would be places of healing that welcome in weary travelers. They would be sanctuaries that offer comfort, peace, encouragement and acceptance to others.
Our families would not be only a bunch of people who share the same bathroom and fight over the remote control. Our families would be centers of worship, where godly values are shaped and molded, and where unconditional love, understanding and forgiveness are lived out.
Our posessions – cars, cottages, businesses, and the countless toys we have would not be the things that give us our value. We would not try to keep up with the Jones’s. But rather we would use all our material assets to glorify God. The use of everything we own comes back the image we have been given by the Creator himself. We give ourselves to God because we are God’s. He has created us to worship him and to reflect the radiance of His love, his compassion, his friendship.
As you go from here today I want to challenge you to think about the things in your life that God wants you to give back to him. Render unto God that which belongs to God! Give Him your life – and let every moment of your life be an act of worship to His glory and honor.