by Frank Luke
FCF: Because God has placed His image on us, we owe Him everything.
Sermon Introduction: I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in tense situations where we are caught between a rock and a hard place as the saying goes. You may also have heard it as “darned if do; danged if I don’t,” “between the Devil and the deep, blue sea,” or “on the horns of a dilemma.” These are times when any move we make that is slightly off path will end badly.
In the Greek stories, they tell of Odysseus who had to sail his ship carefully between a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily and a monster on the Italian side. The ship had to go very carefully. Even so, six of the sailors were killed.
Jesus was forced into such situations several times in His ministry, but “somehow” he figured out how to thread the needles and emerge unscathed. Usually, we think of the Pharisees and Sadducees teaming up against Him, but the time we’ll see it was the Pharisees and Herodians working together against Him.
Scripture Introduction: As you turn to Matthew 22:15, bear in mind that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all three record the story we will be talking about today.
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ statement of “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” We read this as give every man his due. But there is more to the story. Let’s read Matthew 22:15-22 now.
Matthew 22:15-22 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the same event with little difference. Now, let’s see how Jesus sails between the whirlpool and the monster even better than Odysseus.
Their Question (22:15-17)
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”
We might expect the Pharisees to ally with the Sadducees, but here they join forces with the Herodians. The Pharisees were very precise in their ways to uphold the law and making tradition that would fulfill the letter of the law while breaking the spirit. Some of their traditions on top of Scripture include since one may not travel more than a mile from home on the Sabbath, placing a rug on the ground and sitting on it would make it a temporary home which you could then travel one mile from. The writings of their own successors declared that of the six types of Pharisees, God only approved of one type.
Joining with the Sadducees wouldn’t help here. They hoped to trap Jesus in a way that either the people would turn on Jesus or the Romans would. Taxes to Rome will do. Jesus had already paid the temple tax in Matthew 17. Interesting that Matthew, a former tax collector, would take special interest in both situations. The temple tax helped the priests buy animals needed for sacrifice. The tax in Matthew 22 was for Rome.
That’s why the Pharisees joined with the Herodians. The Pharisees were against Roman occupation. They wanted a free Judea. The Herodians, as the name implies, sided with the Herod family that Roman occupation was a good thing for Judea and Galilee. Seeing these two working together shows how they regarded Jesus as a great threat to their power.
As you can imagine, the Herodians were supported by the Romans but loathed by the people. The situation was reversed for the Pharisees. The Pharisees had a crazy amount of political power in the Land, so the Romans let them operate with wide latitude. If the Romans attempted a purge of the Pharisees, the people would revolt. This is the last thing the Romans wanted. Pilate was already on the outs with Tiberius and the senate. He had been sent to Judea as punishment. If an uprising came under Pilate’s administration, the emperor could remove him and execute him. If not, he was so far from any allies that he would gain no power and a province without revolt is still a benefit for Rome. Either way, Tiberius won.
Decades before, the Roman Senate had placed Herod the Great on the throne. The people never liked Herod even though he did good things for the province. He sent soldiers after the highwaymen and made the roads safe to travel on. He sponsored great building projects, some of which you can still see if you go to Jerusalem. But Herod was not of the right blood. He was a foreigner and thus hated by those of Judea. Dead more than thirty years by this time, his family was still hated by the people. The current Herod was Antipas, a figurehead and puppet of Rome. When Rome ordered him to jump, he jumped and then asked if it was high enough.
They ask the question hoping to trap Him. If he said, “yes, pay the tax,” the people would abandon Him. If he said, “No, don’t pay,” the Romans could arrest for sedition.
Revolts in Judea happened most regularly when taxes got too high. There had been one when Jesus was a small child over taxes and would be another in a few decades.
His Question (22:18-20)
18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Admittedly, this tax was low, one denarius per head a year. A denarius was equivalent to one day’s wages for a day laborer. But you know governments—they see your money as their money and fingers just itch to get ahold of it.
Unlike some other Roman taxes, this one was set by head and not by property. The tax collectors couldn’t charge more on this one because the rate was publicized.
Jesus asks for that kind of coin to be brought to Him. He would answer truthfully, because the Son of God cannot sin. Yet He needed to avoid the trap. First off, He lets them know that he sees the trap and will sidestep it. He lets them know that He knows they don’t care about His answer except as to who it will tick off. If they can get the people against Jesus, His ministry is done and the Pharisees can return to business as usual. If they can turn the Romans against Him, He’s in prison and His ministry is done.
What is the question that Jesus threads the needle with? “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Whose likeness? That’s a loaded word in those days. In Jesus’ day, everyone learned Scripture from front to back. Many of the Pharisees were proud that they had memorized the massive portions of the books of Moses. Even if they hadn’t memorized all of it, they had heard many sermons on the image of God. You see, where Matthew records likeness, he uses eikon, the word used in the Greek translation of Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our eikon…‘” Image.
Jesus has upped the game. They thought they could catch Him in a purely political question. He showed how even the purely political intersected with the heart of God. These well-trained religious leaders would make the implied connection. Don’t worry; He’ll make it explicit soon.
What is the image of God? The word is used to forbid graven images that are meant to represent pagan gods or even the God of Heaven. Yes, it refers to the physical likeness of things, but the image of God is not the physical body because that was made from the earth. The image of God comes from the animating breath of God—it is our intellect, our reasoning, and our morality.
Both Answers (22:21-22)
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
They have to answer the question. It’s a rule of etiquette. “Caesar’s,” they say.
Then Jesus sidesteps their clever little trap. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Okay. Jesus neither endorses the tax nor says the state cannot charge the tax. Paul will go on in Romans 13 to describe Christian citizenship and service to government. Government is in place to provide order for all who live under it. That is the job of government, according to Scripture. Governments must do so or they will lose the mandate of Heaven.
But Jesus goes on and springs a trap on them. “Render unto God that which is God’s.”
Whoa. The thinking man’s question at this point is “what belongs to God?”
The answer is obvious from the prior verses. “That which has God’s image upon it.”
That’s us. Mankind. We have the image of God upon us from the very first chapter of Scripture.
What do we render to God? Us. Everything about us belongs to God.
It’s why they left Him, amazed by His answer. His answer cut to the heart. Like His answer to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 about selling all he has. The young man had many possessions and they stood between him and the Kingdom. “Give God everything in your power, because He has made you what you are,” is what He tells them.
What does that mean for them and for us? For the Pharisees, it would mean giving up all of man’s traditions they had put on top of the Law and ruling purely on Scripture. It would mean no longer adding burdens of tradition to those who wanted to serve God by following the Torah. “You see,” they would say to the questioner, “I know Moses gave only this much, but to really serve God, you have to go further.”
The Herodians would need to look at their support of Rome. Can they truly, in good conscience, support a pagan government and war machine just because it provides them a little comfort?
And what of us? What must we render to God? We have the image of God upon us. As sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we bear that image ourselves. Marred by sin, yes, but still there.
Render to God everything about yourself. That means if you are in government, you support laws that come from Christian morality as shown in the Bible. It means you oppose laws that go against morality as God showed it to us.
In your work, it means you give them the full measure of your devotion for the time you are there. Likewise, it cuts off certain jobs and activities within fields. We belong to God from head to toe because of that image upon us.
Render to God that which is God’s. What is that from your life? As long as we are on this earth, we can be used of God to further the Kingdom. This isn’t a trap or a trick question. You have God’s image on you. You belong to God by right and, if you are Christian, by your commitment to Him. Give the Kingdom your all.
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