Mark 12:13-17 Paying Taxes to Caesar

As we’ve been doing for 10 months of Sundays, we pick up where we left off last week. Last week we studied Jesus’ parable of the vinedressers who killed the beloved son of the landowner and we talked about this being an allegory of what was and what was to come – that the people had hated and mistreated the prophets of God throughout the Old Testament. I told you how evil is a liar and deceiver, deceiving the very people evil is using when the vinedressers told themselves that they would be the ones to inherit the owner’s vineyards if they killed the heir – that they would become the heirs.  Lies, lies, lies. God is not the author of confusion, the devil is.  Jesus, God’s beloved, would be the heir taken outside of the city and killed just days after this parable. The last words we read last week were, “…so they left Him and went their way”.  I told you they just went away to plot, having lost this battle, but not giving up on the war… the war against Jesus.

This week we read they sent to him some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap Him. RC Sproul says the “They” is obviously the Sanhedrin – the ruling body of the Jews – the Sanhedrin formed from the following 3 groups – the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  This week, the Pharisees. Next week the Sadducees. The next week the Scribes. All trying to trap Jesus – a way to find something to pin on him.

And the word “sent” here is the same word used for the Apostles when they represent Jesus.  Sent as ones with authority of the sender.  And this day the plan is to put Jesus in a position to give a yes or no answer. They are not looking for Jesus’ support either for or against Caesar and the Roman occupation. They do not care if He says yes or no.  They just want Him to say yes or no.  If he said “Yes, pay the tax” that would create problems with His followers who resented Rome making them pay for their own captivity and mistreatment. If he said, “No, do not pay the tax” they would run right to the Romans and tell them Jesus was treasonous telling people not to pay their taxes.  NIBC says, He did not evade the question. He answered it precisely and it was not just the clever footwork of a man stuck in a corner. He clearly said, “Pay the tax”, but with an inescapable logic. He asks for a denarius, a coin that was equivalent to a day’s wage, and points out the coin, with the likeness and inscription that was a reminder that they lived under Roman rule, belonged to Caesar.  So naturally, you should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But that was the less significant part of the answer. Jesus continued by saying “render unto God the things that are God’s.”

This is a timeless instruction. Give things to the government that belong to the government and give things to God that belong to God.  However, this has been twisted and distorted as a divine order to support any government. Hitler knew the Bible. It would have been pretty easy to call for Christians to go along with Hitler’s desire to obliterate of the Jews by twisting Jesus’ intent to mean “support any government orders”.  NIBC says, it has been used to get Christians to support any government, no matter how unjust, vicious, and oppressive. His words have been used to give His blessing to that disastrous separation between political conduct and religious conduct with people expected to and willingly going along with keeping one’s religion (God’s realm) out of politics (Caesar’s realm).

We are to give to God without limit. We are not to oblige Caesar without limit. When Caesar’s demands come into conflict with God’s Word, we know which side we have to side with. In this case, the particular tax was not much, and Jesus points out the coin belongs to Caesar anyway. So it was not a matter of being against Caesar, but being for God. Sometimes the commands of Caesar and God do not stand in opposition. And sometimes they do.

As God so often does, He gave us an example this past week that I am hesitant to bring up but it is so relevant to this week’s Scripture it would be a dereliction of duty to omit it.  President Joe Biden met with the Pope a couple of days ago. They asked the President if he and the Pope talked about abortion. “Did the issue of abortion come up at all?” a reporter asked, “No, it didn’t. It came up — we just talked about the fact that he was happy I was a good Catholic and keep receiving Communion.” The papacy had no comment on what Biden said, neither confirming nor denying it. Many US Catholic Bishops are of the opinion that President Joseph R Biden should not receive Holy Communion becsue of his stance on abortion. For the record, for those of you who do not know, in 1976 the government passed the Hyde Amendment, which restricts government money in many cases from being used to fund abortions.  Biden was a lifelong supporter of the Hyde Amendment, restricting tax dollars from funding abortions. But when released, the president’s 2022 Budget makes no mention of the Hyde Amendment, meaning Pro-life tax dollars could be more readily used to fund the murders of babies in the womb. You may see this as an inflammatory statement. I see it as a too often avoided statement of fact. There is no doubt in my mind that God sees abortion as the taking of the life of a baby in the womb – “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”. God forms life in the womb. Ridding the world of that life, destroying that life… what else would one call it?  Caesar may call it women’s health care. The Bible clearly defines it as the taking of an innocent life.

RC Sproul: God creates two institutions in this world: The church and the state, each with separate responsibilities. It is not the responsibility of the church to wage war, but it is given to the civil authorities. It is the church’s responsibility to administer the sacraments. But both the church and the state are under God. The Bible knows nothing of the separation of state from God. The problem in our society today is that the state declares their independence from God.

The state has no problem intruding into the administration of the church. But it is a one way street. The great danger in life is giving to Caesar the things that belong to God. And it has been a battle that has raged forever. Frederick William I, king of Prussia is quoted as saying, “Salvation is of God. Everything else is my affair.”  NIBC says we have allowed that to go unrebuked for too long. Human life is God’s affair. Caesar says of a man’s conscience, “This is mine. I will make all the decisions for you. You just obey. God says, “It is mine”.  Caesar says all the things that create the conditions for life – industry, commerce, wages, food, and housing, “This is mine”. God says, “It is mine.” Caesar says of the things that cause life and death for people, “It is mine”. God says, “It is mine”.Caesar may own the denarius, but he does not own me.

And the lost world cannot appreciate that thought. They will hate you for it, especially in the times that Caesar’s morals go against the Lord’s. You cannot pacify people who hate God. Jesus taught us that as the attacks against Him will continue until he finally goes to the cross. And thank God He did.