This lesson takes a look at what it means to live in the world without being of the world. It addresses what it means to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God.
If you are serious about following Jesus and living for God you are going to struggle with the tension between living in the world, but not being of the world (John 17:14-19). You will encounter this tension and conflict within yourself in several arenas:
- The arena of education: evolution vs creation
- The arena of politics that deal with abortion, definition of marriage, etc.
- The arena of entertainment: movies and shows promoting lifestyles that you disagree with or music doing the same.
- The arena of government: supporting a government that supports things you disagree with.
My point is, as a follower of Jesus, you are going to have this tension within you between living for God while living in an ungodly world. This is normal.
Jesus said in John 3:16 that God loved the world so much that He sent His one and only Son so that they could have eternal life. That tells me that God loves this fallen, broken, and sinful world. This fallen world doesn’t bring God joy, but God still loves this world.
In Romans 5:8 we are told that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (NLT). That tells me that God loved me while I was sinning against Him. I hadn’t placed my faith in Him, trusted Him, or believed in Him for anything… but He still loved me then.
My question is this, “Do you love the people of this world even though they sin against God and you? Do you love the people of this world even though they don’t believe what you believe about God and His Word? Do you love the people of this world who live alternative lifestyle that you disagree with? Do you love the people of this world that you would consider are selfish, greedy, and worldly? Or do you come across as someone who hates them? Who wishes they would disappear and go somewhere else?” If you are going to follow Jesus then Jesus is going to make you a friend of sinners.
Introduction #2 (optional)
Your test is your testimony. Your struggle is your story.
James 1:2 says, “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (vs. 2-4, NLT). In life you are going to have troubles. Trouble with your marriage, trouble with your finances, trouble with your health, trouble with your job, trouble with your car, trouble with your in-laws, trouble with your parents, trouble at work, and trouble at school. James says, “When trouble of any kind come your way” that is “when your faith is tested.”
Then a few verses later James goes on to say in 1:12, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing…” (NLT). Many of these trouble are not over quickly. They linger. They last weeks, months, and in some cases years. As you patiently endure these test God blesses you through them. You become stronger. You become wiser. You become more compassionate and loving toward others. You become more understanding. You grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. God blesses you. You begin to see that your test is becoming your testimony. Your mess is developing into your message.
Peter would add some insight into our testing in 1 Peter 1:7 where he says, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold…” (NLT). You don’t know what kind of faith you have until you are tested by troubles and trials. When you go through a trial that is when you get an opportunity to show that your faith is genuine. That your faith is real and authentic.
- When you face a financial disaster, you have an opportunity to display what faith really looks like.
- When your spouse is unfaithful and leaves you, that is an opportunity to reveal your God is worthy to trust.
- When you face a serious illness like cancer, you are given an opportunity to demonstrate to others what authentic faith looks like.
- When you live in a country that continues to move further and further away from God, you are given an opportunity to demonstrate and reveal God is worthy to follow, trust, and depend on.
Your test is your testimony. Your mess is your message. Your struggle is your story.
Today, we are going to see Jesus tested. He is going to use this test to teach a lesson. Jesus is going to be asked a trap question about supporting an ungodly government and living a godly life. Let’s take a look at it and see what we learn.
Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully.
We looked at all that last time. Even though they were using flattery to set the trap, what they said about Jesus was true. Jesus was honest. He was impartial. He didn’t play favorites. He taught the way of God truthfully. Those should be characteristics of us as well. Then Mark goes on to say.
Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?” Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply completely amazed them. (NLT)
The Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus a question beginning in verse 14, Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?” Why would they ask that question? How does that trap Jesus? To understand this question you have to understand the tax they are referring to and the specific coin used to pay this tax.
- The taxes to Caesar is referring to the poll-tax. This tax is based on the head count of the entire Roman Empire. Everyone had to pay it. This tax helped pay for the infrastructure of the empire. It paid for roads and security, paid the salaries of the officials. It would be like the taxes we pay for road improvements, police, schools, and the like. Every government has to have money to run the country, including Rome. The tax helped Rome be mighty Rome with its army, expansion, and their commitment to all the pagan gods and goddesses throughout the empire.
The Israelites struggled with the same thing many Christians struggle with today. When they paid their tax they knew that some of the money went to things they did not approve of morally, politically, ethically, or spiritually. Their tension with this was multiplied because they lived in a country where idol worship and paganism was the driving religion of the day. Paganism was the government approved religion. You didn’t walk down Main Street and see a Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Assembly of God Church, or Church of the Nazarene. You would see massive temples where people gathered to worship this god or goddess. Many of these temples offered sacrifices and had temple prostitutes as part of their various acts of worship.
You were required to pay this poll-tax to demonstrate that you supported the Roman Empire and the current Caesar.
- The Roman coin that Jesus is referring to is the official coin that everyone had to use to pay this tax. This coin was minted under the authority of the emperor and equaled about a days’ salary for a Roman soldier or a common laborer (cf. Matt. 20:2). During Jesus’ day this coin would have had the image of Tiberuius Caesar who was the son of the emperor Augustus who had been officially deified as a god. Ironically, what you have here is a coin with the image of Tiberuius who is believed to be a the son of a god. The inscription on the coin would have read, “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of Divine Augustus.” The true Son of God was about to use this coin to make a major statement.
Because of this image and message on the coin the Israelites and the religious leaders considered the coins to be miniature idols, and (in their view) carrying them was a violation of the second commandment where you are told to have no idols (Ex. 20:4).
- There were a lot of debates and arguments over this poll-tax and the coin used between Rome and the Israelites. Rome believed in many gods and the Israelites believed in one God. The Pharisees represent one side and the Herodians represent the other. These two groups come to Jesus and ask Him, is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”
We are told in verse 15, Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” Jesus knew this was a trap? How is this a trap?
- Since Jesus “understood human nature” (John 2:25), He “saw through their hypocrisy” and “saw through their trickery” (Luke 20:23) and He “knew their evil motives” (Matt. 22:18), so Jesus rhetorically asked, “Why are you trying to trap me?” Jesus knew this was a trap, He knew why they were trying to trap Him, but He was ready.
- How is it a trap? They are expecting Jesus to answer the question in one of two ways.
- If Jesus said “No, you should not pay the tax.” This would be the equivalent of Jesus denying Roman authority and denouncing Augustus as a god. That answer would put Jesus in the category of a traitor and committing treason. The Herodians then could have Jesus arrested, placed in prison, and eventually executed.
- If Jesus said, “Yes, you should pay the tax.” This would make the Israelites angry and disappointed with Him and many people would abandon Him over this. His popularity would decrease overnight. Many of them were expecting Him to be the Messiah who overthrows the Roman government. They were not thinking of Jesus as a Messiah who overthrows sin. At this point, the people were seeing Jesus as a political messiah, not a spiritual messiah.
So, Jesus asked for a Roman coin and this brings us to verse 16, When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply completely amazed them. To understand what Jesus is saying and to understand what it means to us today, let’s take Jesus’ statement, divide it in half and examine each part.
First, Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”
- Jesus begins this statement with the word “give.” This word in the Greek means “to pay back a debt” or to simply “pay something back.” Jesus looked at taxes as the citizen’s debt to the government in return for the services performed. The taxes in Jesus day went to support the army which provided safety and security. The taxes went to build roads and all the other things that taxes go toward.
- Today, for you and me, our taxes support fire and police protection, public education, national defense, special programs for the poor and under priviledged, and helps with salaries of the officials who manage the affairs of the state, and a host of other things. As a Christian citizen you might not agree with the way all of your tax money is used, and you can express yourself with your voice and your vote, but you must accept the fact that God has established human government for our good (Rom. 13; 1 Tim. 2:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
- Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” The word picture is best translated image. Jesus is asking whose image is on the coin? Since the Ceasar’s image is on the coin and the Ceasar represents the government then give to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar. Pay your taxes, live under this authority, live by the laws of the land, pay back to the government what you have been using from the government all year. This is Jesus’ way of saying submit to the government.
Then Jesus says, and give to God what belongs to God.
- Jesus begins this phrase with the same word give. Again, this particular word means to pay back. God has given you air to breathe, a mind to think, a heart to feel, and a life to live. Jesus says, give back to God what belongs to God.
- Jesus is talking about ownership. The Roman coin was Caesar’s because it bore his image so give it back to Caesar. You, however, bear the image of God so give yourself back to God (Gen. 1:27). Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and support your government, but live for God!”
- This statement by Jesus also did something else. By saying, give to God what belongs to God, Jesus was rejecting Augustus as a god as it was stated on the coin. Jesus was saying there is only one God and it’s not Augustus.
Jesus is not stupid. He knows we live in a fallen, broken and sinful world. In this fallen, broken, and sinful world you are going to live under the authority of governments that are fallen, broken, and sinful. Jesus says, “In spite of this, be a good citizen and pay your taxes, but give your life to God.”
Jesus’ answer is so simple and yet so profound that His reply completely amazed them.
Jesus is showing us what it looks like to follow Him by being IN the world without being OF the world. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, give to the world what belongs to the world and give to God what belongs to God. Give yourself to God. Live for Him.