Hello everybody and welcome to Mondays podcast. My name is James Brown – I’m part of the team here at STC and I’ll be picking up our journey through Matthew’s gospel from Alan, who did an incredible job. Thank you Alan.
Now, if you were to run a google search this morning about 3 things you should NEVER talk about when making first impressions it would pop up with this answer: politics, religion and money. Well we are 22 chapters in now so we are well acquainted with Matthew, so in 7 verses, he lays out Jesus’ approach to all three. In looking at these words together, my hope is, we will think about how we relate to government whilst remembering God governs all things.
It could be useful to read along if you have a Bible with you but I’ll do my best to explain where we are up to in the story if you are listening on the move.
V15 starts like this.
Then the Pharisees [the devout Jews] went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians [King Herod’s political group – representing Rome] saying … Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
So we have this game of bait and switch happening. They’re attempting to trip Jesus up with a sneaky question.
One the surface it looks innocent. Jesus, should we obey the law? Should we follow the guidelines? Just to name the elephant in the room, I don’t know if you have felt that way with the current advice from the Government about pausing public acts of worship. I know that was painful to hear again for many people listening to this podcast. Speaking personally, it throws some plans in the air and creates some confusion over what exactly this will mean for various aspects of my work. But more than that, I, like you am also concerned for the massive and devastating impact another lockdown will have on many people in our country – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and physically. It was horrible to read last week that the London ambulance service reports that call-outs for attempted suicides are almost double this time last year. With all of these emotions I’m asking, “who knows if we are even doing this right?” A couple of times I’ve just needed to pause and pray.
Back to the story, on the surface this, this seemingly innocent question could look as if they are drawing wisdom down from Jesus. But we’ve been let into the deviousness in the plot. If Jesus says, “yes, of course,” he will be accused of siding with the Romans and betraying the Jews and the Jewish cause. If Jesus says, “no! do not pay your taxes,” he will be accused of being a revolutionary and will come into conflict with Ceasar and the Herodians – ending (most likely) with him being arrested or worse.
So they want to hang him in this dilemma. “Pay” means he is a compromised Jew, because they hate their Roman occupiers. “Don’t pay” – then he is a troublemaker and they’ve got him cornered.
But Jesus, picking up on verse 18 now, see’s right through them – he sees the heart behind their question and calls them out. “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me.” / “Why are you doing this?” He wanted them to see their own malice or evil intent.
This is where the reply gets brilliant. He asks to see a Denarius (a common coin that was typically a day’s wages) and asks about the image on the inscription on the silver coin. Each Denarius has an imprint of Caesar on it and a little inscription. The one in front of Jesus in this story likely said, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus.”
Why is all this interesting? Here is why, verse 21, Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Is Jesus just dodging the question with this reply?
In other words, that which bears the image and carries the words of Caesar, let him have it. And that which bears the image and carries the words of God, let Him have it. Where have we heard those kinds of words before?
Right back at the beginning of the book. In Genesis, in the creation story. You and I are made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27. We, male and female, are made in his image. Like a potter makes a pot he left his thumbprint on his work of art that his likeness be displayed when the world see’s you and I living in our fullness. We are made in his image and the Word is in us.
As much as the pennies belong to Ceasar, simultaneously, all things and all that we are belong to God.
(v22) When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
So we are into our second week of a four week national lockdown. How do we, as Christians, relate to Government? What are we to learn?
Well when it comes to the rules and guidelines – should we obey them, bend them or ever break them? How does giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s relate to giving to God the things that are God’s? Because everything is God’s. Everyone would have known that.
Jesus wants us to realise that the sphere of authority for Caesar is not ultimate ownership. It’s timely. It’s portioned. It’s rented space. Therefore, Caesar’s rights and claims over you are limited. If Caesar calls us to do anything God prohibits, we refuse. That was Peter’s reply in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
Yet giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is what Jesus upheld so it has its right and proper place. It is a small circle within the bigger circle of God’s rule and reign. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s as an act of our worship to God.
We are going to pray now. For those who govern, as the Bible tells us to. But also for ourselves for hope and strength in these times when we need to obey. No one likes paying taxes but it will save a lot of people from a lot of harm.
We remember that you are Lord of all things.
We have heard it said in your Word that The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
In these times we wait for you.
We pray for those making decisions. For those who govern our land. As your word instructs us, we pray for them. We pray for divine wisdom and compassion today.
In Jesus name we pray.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax 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 image is this? And whose inscription?’
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
Then he said to them, ‘So give back 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.