7714 - To Ceasar and God

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The religious leaders in Jerusalem brought up the subject of paying taxes. Listen as I read Luke 20:20-26:

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Friend, these leaders were continuing to seek a way to trap Jesus. They chose the subject of taxation to test Jesus. They thought they had the perfect question. If Jesus said that people should pay taxes then this would drive a wedge between him and the people. They already felt they paid more to Rome than necessary.

However, if Jesus said they should not pay taxes then the Romans would have arrested Jesus for sedition and would have prosecuted him.

In answering, Jesus described parallel duties for citizens. They have a responsibility to fulfill their legitimate social duties to the human authorities; and at the same time people have a greater, more far reaching responsibility in fulfilling their allegiance to God. These are joint responsibilities and neither should be shirked.

These religious leaders pretended to be truthfully seeking a proper answer, but they hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so they might turn him over to the governor.

Notice they also were treacherous in giving an insincere compliment. They spoke the truth but did not believe what they said: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” What deception! If they had believed these words they would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah and would have been praising and worshipping him instead of trying to trap him.

As in the present day there was more than one tax. The Romans had to support their luxurious lifestyle so there was a tax on the produce of the land. In that day there was a 10% tax on all grain, and 20% of the fruit was collected by the government, mainly to produce wine. When one traveled there was an added tax. Then, from time to time there was a census on everyone above fourteen years of age, and this added a tax. Some say that generally over one-third of a person’s income was consumed by taxes.

True to human nature the citizens hated such exorbitant tax burdens.

In his infinite wisdom Jesus turned this situation into an opportunity to emphasize the dual responsibility to both God and the government.

He asked for a denarius, a common silver coin that was the usual payment for a day’s wages. When the coin was shown, Jesus asked whose portrait and inscription was on it. The answer was, “Caesars.”

Then Jesus gave these words of wisdom: “give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s.” His answer defused the situation.

Caesar had authority to set and collect taxes. All were subject to pay those taxes.

The answer by Jesus also focused attention on every person’s responsibility to yield to and trust the one and only Lord God of heaven and earth. God was in the process at that very time of reconciling sinful mankind to himself through Jesus Christ. Without Jesus we have no access to God.

And if we do not have a loving, obedient relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ; then we are dead in sin and face an eternity of agony apart from him.