Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 6, 2013
 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.
-- Mark 12:13-17, ESV
Man encounters God in every word of the Gospels. Often it is a pure face-off, like in this oft-quoted passage in Mark’s Gospel. In most cases, man comes off looking foolish, sinful, small. God, incarnate in Christ, is rightly displayed as wise, perfect, great. Few things are as far apart as the foolishness of man and the wisdom of God, and few stories make us face this fact like the dialogue in Mark 12:13-17.
The Foolishness of Man
“They” keep popping up in the Jerusalem narratives depicting the last days of Jesus’ life. “They” are “the Jews” (a favorite phrase of John’s, which he uses 63 time in his Gospel), the people to whom Jesus came. To again use John’s words to amplify Mark, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (ref. John 1:11). The Jewish people are represented in this story by their socio-economic-religious leaders. More importantly, these men really represent all men, and put forth for all to see the great foolishness that lies within each of our hearts.
Unbelief is utter foolishness. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (ref. Psalm 14:1). I dare say this debate would not have played out if the Pharisees and Herodians had truly believed that Jesus Christ is Lord. They would not have approached Jesus in the manner in which they did. They would not have tried to deceive Him with flattering lips. They would not have tried to trick Him or trap Him with His own words. All wrong attitudes and actions toward God are rooted and grounded in unbelief. And unbelief is utter foolishness before God.
Hypocrisy is hateful foolishness. Tactfully not telling the truth can be a welcomed thing, withholding the truth in surprise can show love, but hard-hearted hypocrisy is the height of man’s folly. It is one thing to not believe. It is quite another to act like you do when you don’t. Unbelief saddens Heaven. Hypocrisy stinks to high Heaven. And after these men feigned respect and honor to Jesus, Jesus smelled it right way, “knowing their hypocrisy” (vs. 15).
Trying to entrap God is too foolish for words. But that’s exactly what these unbelieving, hypocritical men were trying to do. If Jesus supports the tax, they thought, He’ll fall out of whatever favor He has with the common Jews who loath Roman control of their lives. If He denounces the tax, they can turn Him over to Rome as a rebel and a rabble-rouser (which is what they would ultimately do, anyway). Unbelief, hypocrisy, and deceit make strange bedfellows, but these Pharisees (who hated the Roman government) and Herodians (who supported and took advantage of Roman government) made their bed together against the Lord Jesus Christ, until the Lord blew their covers right off.
The Wisdom of God
The fact that they had a denarius in hand showed their hand as being hand in hand with human government. Both the Pharisees and the Herodians used government currency. Both the Pharisees (though they did protest) and the Herodians (supporters of the Herod clan who were supporters of Rome) paid taxes to Caesar. And Jesus famous answer, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (vs. 17) disarmed their plot and made even them, the enemies of God, marvel at the majestic wisdom of God.
In His infinite wisdom, God has a passing interest in government. God ordained government and man maintains government. We should all have an interest in the way government works. We should vote, or conscientiously abstain from voting when one idiot is running against another. We should pay our taxes and strive for a fair tax system. We should pray for our government leaders, regardless of their particular party or politics (ref. 1 Timothy 2:1-6). We should submit to the laws of the land (ref. Romans 13:1ff; 1 Peter 2:13ff) unless they are in absolute and direct opposition to the law of God (ref. Acts 4:18-20, 5:29). We should all have at least this passing interest in government; but, we should all realize that all governments will one day pass away.
In His infinite wisdom, God has an eternal investment in His kingdom. As we regularly read, at least at Christmas, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). There is one government that will never end and it is the kingdom of God. Therefore, while our current government’s control over some things we do should be respected, God’s authority over all of the things we do, say, own, and spend must be ultimately revered, constantly worshiped, steadfastly obeyed, and supremely loved.
The Foolishness of Man and the Wisdom of God
Isaiah had been a foolish man, until he encountered the glorious wisdom of God in Isaiah 6. The prodigal son had been a foolish man, until he encountered the loving wisdom of the Heavenly Father in Luke 15. I was a foolish man, until I encountered the saving wisdom of God in 1982. These Pharisees and Herodians were foolish men, until they encountered the manifold wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, then they remained foolish still. They would continue in unbelief, hypocrisy, and deceit. They would hound His every footstep and harass His every speech until their conspiracy was complete and Jesus was nailed to the old rugged cross.
The cross is where the foolishness and sinfulness of man intersects with the wisdom and salvation of God. The cross is where the wrath of God burned and was poured out upon the Son of God for the sinfulness of certain men. The cross is where the love of God was demonstrated and determined towards those same men. I am one of those sinful, hypocritical, deceitful men for whom Christ died, for whom grace came, bringing repentance and faith in the wisdom and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I am a fool for Christ! Join me in this foolishness and let us live together in the kingdom, and in the wisdom, of God, now and forever. Amen.