Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 25, 2015
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
— Matthew 22:15-22, ESV
This is the first of four crucial question and answer sessions between Jesus and the Jewish religious rulers who were trying to do away with Him (ref. Matthew 22:15-22, 23-33, 34-40, and 41-46). The first three were instigated by those rulers, the last by Jesus Himself. Today we will take on the first part which leaves us with important principles to live by.
The principal characters in this passage include the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Lord Jesus Christ. The principles involve a Christian’s duty to the governments of this present world and to the kingdom of God. There is complete contrast between the principals in this case. There is certain conflict between the principles. What can we learn from this clash of principals and principles?
The Pharisees represented the extreme right wing of Judaism in Jesus’ day. And, they were extremely legalistic, judgmental, and hypocritical. They despised and tried to marginalize anyone who disagreed with them. They hated the Herodians, but they hated Jesus more than they hated the Herodians, so the Pharisees teamed up with the Herodians to try to trap and kill the Lord.
The Herodians were named for the half-Jewish ruling family who where wholly on the side of the Roman Empire. They engaged in religious works, even the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, but their main work was political and financial, enriching themselves by endearing themselves to Caesar and Rome. They considered the Pharisees to be narrow-minded zealots, a nuisance that never threatened their hold on power. John the Baptist and Jesus, however, had publicly exposed their sin and shame, at times threatening to turn public opinion against them. The Baptist they executed unilaterally, but they thought they needed the Pharisees help in order to get rid of Jesus.
What forms is an odd mathematical equation. When you add the Pharisees to the Herodians, the sum is the opposite of the Lord Jesus Christ. The principal Pharisees and Herodians were duplicitous, dishonest, and out for someone else’s blood. Jesus, on the other hand, was principally sincere, truthful, and willing to shed His own blood for others. It reminds us of something Jesus said about Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (ref. John 14:6).
One of the reasons that God allows us to see evil in the world is to point us to the good. Look again at the principals in the story. Do you want to follow the Pharisees, all arrogant and judgmental? Do you want to follow the Herodians, selling your soul for money and political power? Or, do you want to follow the Lord Jesus Christ?
What if I were to ask a “yes” or “no” question of one of the married men in the congregation. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Either answer implicates him as an abusive husband.
This is the ploy the Pharisees and Herodians tried to pull on Jesus. “Yes” or “no,” should Israelites pay taxes to Rome or not? Now we learn why they teamed up. A “yes” answer puts Him on the side of the Herodians, and the Pharisees could attack. A “no” answer puts Him on the side of the Pharisees, and the Herodians could attack. Either way, one group gets to pursue Jesus in the court of public opinion in an effort to drag Him before the Roman courts for crucifixion. Nice trick.
But, Jesus did not fall for it. He called for a coin and answered cleverly with one of His most famous quotes from Scripture: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God’s.” In doing so, He gives God’s people and all people great principles to live by.
God’s people must obey government, or suffer the consequences. The early Christians went to great length to render unto Caesar (ref. Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:13-14), even when Caesar rendered ungodliness and persecution. When they did disobey, it was only when the government tried to force them to disobey the clear commandments of God. In the principal case, the powers that be ordered the Christians to stop witnessing and preaching the gospel, but true Christians could not acquiesce (ref. Acts 5:29). Ironically, most Christians in our day don’t witness the gospel very much no matter what God or government says.
Consequences for civil disobedience in Christian history have included death, torture, imprisonment, loss of money or job, and social ostracism. Who wants any of these? So, submit to your government in every possible way, unless those ways try to force you to disobey God. Then, accept the consequences and use them to make the gospel greater for the glory of God.
The first principle Jesus meant principally for believers, even at the cost of earthly punishment. The second principle is primarily for unbelievers, at the cost of eternal punishment. All people must obey God, or suffer the consequences. If Caesar wanted taxes, what does God want? Quite simply, He wants it all.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all.
— Issac Watts
Saving faith is a pledge of total obedience to God. This is what it means to call Jesus “Lord.” The consequence of disobedience to this principle is complete: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (ref. John 3:36).
It is a biblical principle that salvation is by faith. It is also a principle that faith cannot be separated from faithfulness. Furthermore, faithfulness to God does not necessitate absolute perfection, but it does require total dedication. So, totally dedicate your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or prepare to suffer the consequences.
Though the Pharisees and Herodians did not succeed in trapping Jesus with this question, they did succeed in nailing Him to the cross. Jesus disrespected and disobeyed their authority and suffered the consequences of death, and resurrection, and eternal life in Heaven. The Pharisees and Herodians disrespected and disobeyed Jesus, and unless they truly repented and believed, suffered the consequences of living with what they had done, final judgment by the true and living God, and eternal death in Hell. In the end, there is an enormous difference in these principals and their principles.