God’s Word for You
Luke 20:23-26 give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 8, 2019
An ancient proverb says, “Do not get up and leave an insolent man, or he may lie in ambush against your words” (Sirach 8:11). Perhaps this was written based on the very scene before us here. Hugo de Groot (also called Grotius, 1583-1645) said here: “When disputes about religion do not suffice to oppress the innocent, matters relating to the state are wont to be taken up.”
The question posed to Jesus was, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Perhaps even the words “for us” (ἡμᾶς) were meant to lure Jesus into answering a question for someone else, thinking he was not part of ἡμᾶς, “us.”
23 But he saw through their cunning, and said to them, “Why do you test me? 24 Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” “Caesar’s,” they said. 25 And he said to them, “For that very reason, then, give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 They could not catch him in his words in front of the people, but they were amazed at his answer and kept silent.
A denarius was the equivalent of a Roman’s soldier’s pay for the day. Minting coins was an important business, especially in the days before the creation of paper bills. Even the Roman Senate could only mint copper coins; the right to mint gold and silver coins was reserved for the Emperor, Caesar, himself. The denarius was a silver coin, usually with his picture and always with his inscription.
I find it interesting that here in the temple courts, where the moneychangers were employed to be sure that only the temple coin would be used, “they” all tell Jesus whose picture is on the Roman coin, as if every one of them checked his coin purse and instantly produced the ‘forbidden’ coin (at least, in their minds, it was forbidden to be used in the temple and should not be carried there).
The questioners were trying to catch Jesus with a single case, and in doing so they were not concerned with the whole matter of church vs. state. Jesus is always looking at the whole picture. The duty owed by everyone is obedience to the Commandments. The Fourth Commandment (obedience to parents and to the government) does not contradict the First (obedience to God). The Christian (or, here, the believing Jew) owes both. There is no government or authority apart from the government established by God (Romans 13:1). So the state, that is, the government, is not a separate domain from that of God’s, but a subordinate domain to God’s. For a Christian child, the hierarchy of this domain looks like this:
Do I owe respect and obedience to my parents? Of course I do. This never changes at any time in my life, except in matters when my parents might ask me to violate my obedience to a superior authority, such as the government, or to God. Peter confessed: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). Also, some of Korah’s family did not side with their father against Moses, and so survived God’s punishment (Numbers 26:11).
God provides for children through the families to which he gives them. In the same way, God provides for citizens through the governments that oversee them. If that government is cruel, this is a special burden and a cross for the citizens to bear. Paul and Peter were executed by a cruel government that persecuted their faith. But neither Peter nor Paul rebelled against their government, and neither should we rebel. If we have the privilege to vote for our government, that does not mean that we can rebel if our candidate does not win. So if my candidate for governor does not sin, the one who wins is still my governor, whether I voted for him or not. Why? Is it because of the votes of my fellow citizens? No. It is because the government is established by God. The votes of the people are simply a bloodless means of changing governments in our time. The government is established by God, either for our good, or to chastise us and to call us and others to repentance. In that case, we can lead others to repentance through our example and through the gospel.
If the government requires taxes, then I owe taxes. “Give everyone what you owe him,” Paul said. “If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding” (Romans 13:7-8). If the government is corrupt and greedy and needs to be changed, then God already knows this. He told the prophet Amos, “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6), and they were sent into exile for their corrupt ways. God’s judgment is to be feared. Another prophet warned: “Because of the violence against your brother… you will be covered with shame, you will be destroyed forever” (Obadiah 10). No government official can hide behind the nameplate on his desk and say, “I was only doing what I was told.” All will be held accountable, just as you and I will be held accountable for our sins. Only the blood of Jesus can cover over the guilt of our sins. But thanks be to God! Through Jesus we have forgiveness for every error, every mistake, and even for the guilt and shame we inherit from Adam and Eve through our parents. Therefore our obedience to God is joyful, and the honor and respect we give to our government and to our parents is a reflection of that same joy we have for God.
Pastor Timothy Smith