Sermon 2018 01 21

21.01.18 AM Sermon Obeying Jesus Commands # 3 "Render unto Caesar" (Matthew 22:15-21)

Over the past weeks we have begun to consider the Lord Jesus' commands. We began with a couple of one word commands: "Repent!" And "Rejoice!". Then last week a two word command "Follow me!" and we thought about the incidences of those who followed, and the implications, the costs, of following Jesus.

This morning we examine a slightly longer command, and in fact, this command is an answer that the Lord gives to a challenge he is given, a response to a trap that is set before him.

Matthew tells us of an encounter between Jesus and two groups of people, the Pharisees and the Herodians.

Before we look at this encounter, I want to give a bit of background to these two groups


"Pharisee" is derived from Ancient Greek Pharisaios (Φαρισαῖος), meaning "set apart, separated".

In Jesus' day, they were mostly middle-class businessmen and held a minority of the 70 seats of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin. The others were the Sadducees, who were wealthy aristocrats, who held powerful positions, including that of chief priests and high priest. But because the Pharisees were held in high esteem by the common man, having regular contact with them, rather than the aloof Sadducees, they seemed to control the decision making of the Sanhedrin because they had the support of the people.

Pharisees religiously accepted the written Word (our OT) as inspired by God, yet they gave equal authority to oral tradition and attempted to defend this position by saying it went all the way back to Moses.

Evolving over the centuries, these traditions added to God's Word, which is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2), and the Pharisees sought to strictly obey these traditions along with the Old Testament.

The Gospels abound with examples of the Pharisees treating these traditions as equal to God's Word (Matthew 9:14; 15:1-9; 23:5; 23:16, 23, Mark 7:1-23; Luke 11:42).


The Herodians held political power. They were a political party that supported King Herod Antipas, the Roman Empire's ruler over much of the land of the Jews from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39.

The Herodians favored submitting to the Herods, and therefore to Rome, for political expediency.

This support of Herod compromised Jewish independence in the minds of the Pharisees, making it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything, One thing did unite them—opposing Jesus.

Herod himself wanted Jesus dead (Luke 13:31), and the Pharisees had already hatched plots against Him (John 11:53), so they joined efforts to achieve their common goal.

Jesus regarded the two groups as in unity against Him and warned His followers against them.

"‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod’" (Mark 8:15).

Yeast in this context is false teaching, the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, and hypocrisy.

Many scholars believe that the Herodians looked to Herod as a messiah, a savior of sorts who would put the Jewish land in favor with the Roman Empire and bring blessings to them. Jesus’ presentation of Himself as the Messiah was a threat to the Herodians' attempt to make Herod the influential political power in the land.


So, with that brief background of the Pharisees and Herodians, we see how together they unite against Jesus

1. Deceptive Accolades

Matthew 22:15-16 "Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are."

We see how the Pharisees took the initiative in their seeking to trap Jesus.

Laying plans

We as human beings make our plans, good and bad. And here is a plan, thought through, in order to come against God. No plan against God will ultimately succeed.

If you are laying plans in order to refuse Jesus' Lordship, then ultimately your plans will fail.

These plans of the Pharisees were deliberate, coordinated, meticulous. They may well have discussed together how they were going to get Jesus! What line of questioning? What dialemma can we put before him that he will squirm to try to do the right thing and give the right answer.

But you see their plans had in mind only the things and ways of man, with the attempt to grab and hold on to power. They thought Jesus was the same as them- wanted power, influence, recognition, elevation!

They loved to be seen, they loved to be listened to, they loved to be fawned over.

Surely Jesus was just the same.

Trapping Jesus

So they lay a trap. They cast a net. They lay before him their words and try to catch him in his own

What arrogance! To think they, mere men, could ever hope to corner God.

What foolishness to imagine that they could get one over on God present amongst them.

God, Jesus, cannot be boxed in. He cannot be trapped. He cannot be contained. Neutralised. Minimised.

We set out to trap one another, we hold power and sway over others. But when it comes to God, he always holds sway over us.

Jesus' words

What is so ridiculous is that they tried to trap Jesus in his own words. How incredible.

He has the words of eternal life.

He has the truth, he is the Truth, and the truth sets free!

Jesus' words bring liberation not condemnation.

And notice how they understand Jesus … and his words.

“Teacher” they said

They call him "teacher", as though they accepted his authority.

Anything but - they were blantly challenging his authority - they regarded themselves the Teachers of Israel.

The ones with the monopoly on God.

Integrity & Truth

“we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are."

They knew Jesus was different. Distinctive.

There was something about his words and his actions that matched up.

He wasn’t like others, he wasn’t like them.

They claimed they knew that he taught the way of God and spoke the truth … though it turns out they cannot handle or accept the truth.

His teaching had a clear and unmistakable ring of authority as the Word of God.

They knew that he would not water down his teaching, his preaching for anyone.

He gave no regard to anyone and how they perceived him or what they thought of him.

They knew that therefore, His words would land him in hot water given the right audience.

Jesus was offensive. He didn’t wrap his teaching up with a ribbon, he told it how it was.

He didn't water down His theology, he didn't play ecclesiastical politics.

He clearly spoke the Word of God without regard to the disagreement of men.

And here we have the Herodians.

He was going to wind them right up.

The One who claimed to be King.

2. Entrapping Question

Matthew 22:17-18 "Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?"

Jesus' Opinion

They came to Jesus and asked his opinion.

An opinion, not a command, this was something they would feel free to disregard or reject.

They wanted to hear from his own lips what he thought or felt about a matter.

They were giving him enough rope to hang himself.

I wonder if we come to Jesus, looking for his opinion.

Perhaps we come to Him in prayer, asking him what he thinks about a matter.

But we reserve the right to act in judgement upon whatever he says, to accept or reject at our whim.

Whether it fits with our opinion our agenda, our plans.

Taxing Problem

The Pharisees and Herodians had wickedly conspired to set Jesus up!

An "either or question" - with no room to manouvere.

They had him in their sights, they had him bang to rights, he was in their grasp. So they thought ….

"Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” - Yes or No? 50/50

If He said yes, it is lawful, then He would come under the rejection of most of the Jewish population which despised the imposed Roman taxation.

If He said "No, its unlawful," then He would come under the concern of the Herodians, who no doubt would quickly inform the Romans.

Jesus was corned!

The "tribute unto Caesar" was a head tax, a poll tax, imposed upon all subjugated people, throughout the Roman Empire.

It was an annual tax of about 1 day's wages for a soldier or common worker.

But it was an especially hated tax by the Jews.

Each year it came due, the Jews were reminded once again that their own money was paying for the stationing of the Roman army in Syria, which policed the area, including Palestine.

The Jews regarded such a tax as an insult. You are under our thumb! Under our rule! Oppression, Injustice.

This had become a very controversial subject, especially around Passover season.

At that time Jews from all over the area and world would come into Jerusalem and be reminded once again of the horrible Roman occupation of their beloved city, as they saw the Roman flags and standards.

They would celebrate Passover, i.e., the exodus of the nation from Egyptian bondage, while under Roman bondage and the "tribute to Caesar" represented for most Jews, this foreign oppressor!

So how would Jesus answer? He was in a no win scenario.

Jesus knows our motives

"But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?"

Before he answers, he unmasks their motives.

He knows their game. Their plans. Their trap. Their evil intent. He knows everything about them.

They are hypocrites - different on the outside than on the inside.

The Hypocrites before The Teacher of Integrity. Such opposites.

He lets them know who they are dealing with.

And he knows everything about you and me. We cant pull the wool over God's eyes.

The deceptive accolades, the false praise; all a ruse. He sees that. He is not a fool.

In fact, as he looks them up and down and he measures them up, he asks them the first of three questions. The first perhaps a rhetorical one, as he shall soon continue with his answer; "Why are you trying to trap me?" When we come to God, in prayer, in worship, are we trying to trap him, get him to do and say what we want? Or are we prepared to surrender to what he wants to say to us and do for and in and through us?

Perhaps God says back to us … "Why are you asking me that?" so that he reveals the motives of our hearts.

3. Perceptive Answer

Jesus then gives a very graphic answer, and involves them in answering their own question …

(Matthew 22:19-21) "Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Whenever a Roman emperor would come to power, he would immediately stamp his own coinage.

It is the same for most societies, for our society.

When our present monarch, the Queen, dies, and Charles succeeds her, within the first week, the coins and notes bearing her image will be taken out of circulation and one bearing his will begin to be produced.

For the Roman Emperor, his profile would be on one side and the coin in essence belonged to him.

Jesus' second question was easy, as everyone knew that the coin contained the Emperor’s image.

His third short question "Whose inscription?" was also obvious. So they answered, "Caesar's."

Jesus had got them to show him the answer to their question. To hold it up for him and them all to see.

And in reply, he issues this command: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus’ answer obviously, was not what they were expecting.

"So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s …"

The Herodians were not needed, as Jesus affirmed the fact that they should pay the Roman head tax.

Jesus was teaching that it is the will of God to support the government, even if the government is objectionable.

Jesus taught the moral responsibility to pay taxes, even to the Roman emperor who enacted humanistic policy.

The Apostle Paul understood the Lord's teaching here, and later reminded the Roman believers of their Christian responsibility: (Romans 13:1,6-8) "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God … This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding …"

But Jesus second part to his command is what will have brought the twist, they were to also "… give back to God what is God’s.”

Jesus is fundamentally rejecting the materialistic mindset which on the one hand holds on tightly to the things of this world, like money; but fails to "render" or "give back to" to God.

The coin bears the image and inscription of Caesar, so must be given over to Him.

And yet the Man or the Woman, bears the image of God and therefore belongs to Him and should be given over to Him rather than be stubbornly withheld.

We are due to God, each one of us is due to God. We belong to him, not to ourselves.

We are to render to God our very lives in committed obedience to Him.

Mentioning the inscription on the Denarius. In regard to the inscription that the Lord places upon those who are his; the scriptures teach  (2 Timothy 2:21) "God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work."

We are to give ourselves in service to God, to whom we belong and have purpose for being.

And we note how (v22) "When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away."

Jesus’ perceptive answer caused the Herodians and Pharisees to retreat.

The Pharisees regrouped and licked their wounds, to come back with another question (v 34-40), and in doing so, show they did not learn their lesson.

Debating with Omniscience, trying to Trap God, is foolish.

God's ownership of all things, and that includes us, demands an obligation of obedience!

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