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GIVE TO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESAR’S, AND TO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S

Matthew 22:15-22:22
Key Verse: 22:21

Thank God for his wonderful invitation to the kingdom of heaven, where there will be the wedding of the Lamb, God’s Son, to his bride, the church. Our God the Father will be full of joy over this wedding, and will be ever-present in the kingdom of heaven, our original home. This will be the consummation of our salvation in the Lord Christ Jesus. Our God wants us to prepare the wedding clothes of our personal faith in Jesus, who is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30; Rev 19:8). He also wants us to invite the people of the world to this kingdom of heaven.

In today’s passage the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked about paying taxes to Caesar. Their motive was to trap him. Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This is more than the matter of paying taxes. This event is written in all synoptic gospels and it is interesting that in Matthew’s gospel it is written after Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet, which is about what the kingdom of heaven is like. The words of Jesus in this passage teach us how we should live in the world as the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, who has the glorious hope of the kingdom of heaven. May we prove into the words of Jesus, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Look at verse 15. “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.” So far in Jesus’ life on earth the Pharisees confronted him many times (9:11,34; 12:2,13-14, 24, 38-40; 15:1-2; 16:1; 19:3). In one most recent case some Pharisees came to him to test him, and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Mt 19:3). When Jesus told the parables of the two sons and of the tenants, the chief priests and the Pharisees knew that he was talking about them and looked for a way to arrest him (21:45-46). Now it was the 10th time in Matthew’s gospel the Pharisees challenged Jesus to defeat him. They wanted to trap Jesus in his words. This time they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians. The Pharisees were a religious party, and in some way they were loyal to his own people Israel. They rejected Roman rule. However, the Herodians, a political party, supported Roman policy. So the Pharisees had no relation with the Herodians. Yet, in order to trap Jesus, the Pharisees did not mind to collaborate with the Herodians. They would break any of their rules and principles to accomplish their evil purpose. Those who were sent to Jesus said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” What flattery! They seemed to use all these fabulous words to illustrate Jesus. The Pharisees sent their disciples along with the Herodians, and their strategy was a flattery strategy. Most probably it was to disarm Jesus. In short they made every effort to defeat Jesus.

Then they asked, “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’” At first they seemed to offer him an open question, saying, “What is your opinion?” Then right away they gave him a closed question, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This was a really tricky question. If Jesus said, “Right,” then they could catch him as one who betrayed God and his own people. If he said, “Not right,” they could catch him as one who rebelled against Rome. In either way Jesus would be caught. To them it was a perfect trap they put before Jesus. It seemed that Jesus was completely cornered with no way to turn. Let’s see how Jesus dealt with this situation.

Look at verse 18. “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” Here we see that Jesus wanted to help them before trying to escape the trapped situation. Jesus knew their evil intent coated with sweet flattery and exposed their hypocrisy. Jesus said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” They were sent to Jesus to trap him. And Jesus said, “Why are you trying to trap me?” We can see that their lives were trapped in hypocrisy with no consistent truth in their hearts, for the truth sets people free (Jn 8:32). And their trapped life they wanted to make others trapped, who seemed to appear as their opponents. Jesus wanted them to find themselves. He really wanted to help them to know the truth and be set free.

Then Jesus said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” Jesus was wise. He did not say, “Show me any coin.” He said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” Since it was related to paying the tax, they had to bring the coin, if they wanted to hear Jesus’ answer. They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” At these double questions they replied confidently, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar to what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Jesus did not say, “Pay taxes to Caesar and also to God.” Jesus wanted to teach them more than paying the tax. He wanted to teach their attitude toward Caesar and God. Verse 22 says, “When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” They never expected such an answer from Jesus. Jesus was not bound and trapped by the category of their question of “right or not.” Jesus’ answer was beyond their trap. Their lives were confined in the world of Caesar and tax, but Jesus was not. He transcended that confinement. Let’s think about Jesus’ answer which amazed them.

First, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” People may wonder how Jesus could say, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” For fundamentally all things are God’s; nothing is Caesar’s. It is true that all things are from God and belong to him. However, the sovereign God establishes each nation and thrones a ruler to rule the people. Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” At that time God allowed Roman Empire to be established and entrusted Rome to Caesar. And through Rome the world order could be maintained. As for the Israelites they were a colony of Rome and suffered a lot under the Roman rule. But Jesus wanted them to submit to the Roman authority, not to mention paying the tax. When Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he acknowledged all this: the Roman world, the Emperor Caesar Tiberius, and paying taxes to him. Anarchy or anarchism is not what God wants. Apostle Paul said in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Whether a government is evil, God will judge it. However, all those who are under the government must submit themselves to the governing authorities unless the government takes away their faith in God. Apostle Peter said the same thing in 1 Peter 1:13,14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” So basically people should be thankful for the nation they live in. A government does many things for its people’s basic living; security or protection is a particularly important part. Sometime we wish there would be no police to give us parking or speed ticket. But suppose there is no police at all. People would live in disorder and fear. It is unthinkable. People should pay taxes for the maintenance of their nation. Moreover, if the government calls them to fight and defend for the country, they should respond to it. God wants us to do these things not reluctantly but willingly. Many people think about what kind of benefit they can get from their country. But God wants us rather to think about what contributions we can make willingly and positively to our nation, city, school or company. This is the reason Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Second, “Give to God what is God’s.” “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (NIV), “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (ESV; NASB; NKJV), and "Give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God" (NLT). People of this world cannot think of giving t God what is God’s. Yet, it is a right thing to do. Mentioned above, all things came from God and belong to him. So even Caesar had to give to God what was God’s, recognizing that his authority came from God. Let’s think more about what it means to give to God what is God’s. Bible teaches us to offer a tenth of our income to God (HST 13%). It is the acknowledgement that all we have are God’s. And God promised that he would open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing upon us (Mal 3:10). What God wants is not our materials but our right heart to him. As for the Pharisees, their hearts were not right with God, although they brought a tithe to God. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Next, as the expression of our heart devotion to God we worship God setting a specific day in a week, as for us, Sunday. It is one of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…” So giving to God what is God’s definitely includes our weekly worship. Moreover, the Lord Jesus said, “…Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). It is a beautiful thing to give our time for Bible study or early morning time or other quiet time for personal devotion to God with priority, however busy we are.

“To give to God what is God’s” also contains giving him honour and glory due to him. When we think about God’s creation, all the creation gives glory to God revealing their inherent beauty. Beautiful flowers display God’s glory. Birds of the air show the glory of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” They are giving to God what is God’s. We human beings are to do so more. Even seeing a man born blind, Jesus said, “…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn 9:3). To display the glory of God does not necessarily mean that we should be successful in whatever we do. One cannot reveal God’s glory in the time of success or abundance, and another can even in the time of seeming failure or adversities. Saul was the first king of Israel. But he could not reveal God’s glory in his life, because of his self-glorying seeking and jealousy. Despite his position and human success, his life was a miserable one when he could not give to God what was God’s. On the contrary Joseph’s life situation was a terrible one because of his brothers’ hatred and people’s false accusation. Yet, he confronted each adverse situation with faith in God and overcame it. When God raised him as the prime minister of Egypt, he also bore the success with faith, deeply recognizing God’s sovereign leading upon his life. He could please God and so reveal his glory, giving to God what was God’s both at the time of adversity and of great success. We can reveal God’s glory and give to him what is his, when we live a life of faith at any situation. This is the reason God trains us in faith. In his unbearable suffering Job said in Job 23:10, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” And Proverbs 3:5,6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Last week Sara received the final rejection letter from Harvard University, after also receiving rejections from U of Chicago and U of Pennsylvania. It was not easy for to receive consecutive rejections. What made her most sorrowful was not just the rejection but she felt that she could not reveal God’s glory to the people who know her, although she wrote application essays that expressed God’s grace upon her life. But I thank God that she accepted the adverse situation with faith and trusted in the Lord, who is leading her in his best way. May God continually refine her faith so that her life may display the glory of God at any circumstances, giving to God what is God’s!

We can think more about giving to God what is God’s. In Matthew chapter 2 there is a story about the Magi. At the time of Jesus’ birth they came from the east to worship the baby Jesus. When they saw the child with his mother Mary, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Their worship included giving the most precious thing to the most precious one. When they did so, their souls were truly satisfied and set free. We remember the story of Mary. When she was engaged to a man named Joseph, an angel visited her and delivered God’s message that God wanted to use her to send his Son into this world, humanly she could not understand it. But he said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Lk 1:38). She knew that her life was God’s and gave it to God when God needed it, entrusting her marriage to God. When she did so, she realized that her life was a truly blessed one throughout generations. Before meeting Jesus Matthew thought his life was his own. So he used his life only for himself to make money. He could make some money cheating his conscience and breaking relationships with others. However, he was not happy at all. His soul groaned in loneliness with no one to turn. Even spirits tormented him. But when he heard Jesus’ calling, “Follow me,” he could not withhold his life anymore. He gave his life to Jesus, who then moulded him into a wonderful disciple of Jesus. In Jesus’ loving training he became a sacrificial servant of God. As for Jesus, he gave his life as a ransom for you and me and for many.

May we practice Jesus’ word, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” into practice so that our life be truly blessed and free, and be a blessing to others.

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