Luke 20:19-26 “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.”
These religious men were using their God-given intelligence and energy to kill God’s Son. They discussed together ways of arresting him. Their spies watched his every movement and weighed his every word. These spies pretended to be fascinated with Jesus and his teaching – they were simple, honest seekers. But if they could catch him out on anything they’d hand Christ over to the Roman governor to be sentenced to death. They finally devised one last tricky question to ask him publicly. It was about taxation. Should they as Jews pay taxes to Rome their pagan conquerors, those Gentile dogs who set themselves up as divine and despised the Lord God of Israel? If Jesus told them to pay their taxes then he would lose face with his fellow Jews. If he told them to stop paying taxes then they would run to the Roman authorities immediately and they would arrest Jesus for insurrection.
Of course they weren’t particularly interested in the answer. They were interested in silencing Jesus for ever. They weren’t burdened, scrupulous, religious wage earners agonizing with their consciences as to whether they should be paying taxes to Rome or not. They were God-haters full of duplicity. People you’ve met can ask you questions such, “Who made God? Who did Cain marry? How did sin appear in heaven? Where did it come from? Why does God allow suffering?” But they are not particularly interested in the answers to these old questions. It is an attempt to make you embarrassed and tongue-tied so that you appear to be just as ignorant as they are.
One reason for answering them is to show we have thought about these matters – as the church has done for 2000 years. We are not philistines. We have some interest in politics and economics and culture, but another reason for answering is to show the world what are the more important questions they should be asking. We have been given an agenda by Jesus Christ. We have been called to teach men and women everything that Jesus has taught us. He was largely silent about such subjects as aesthetics and architecture and transport and chemistry and sport and music except in the broadest of ways, but he said much about the human condition, and much about God and his grace in saving men and women. He said much about hell and heaven and the bifurcation of the destinies of all mankind. He was outspoken about who he was, and why he had come into the world, and what we must do to be saved, and how we should live. These are fascinating subjects for the oldest and youngest hearers and these are the themes that the pulpit is commissioned to talk about – not the national debt, or the failures of the banks, or government policy concerning unemployment or immigration. There is little that is unique to the Bible on those themes.
WHAT DO WE RENDER TO CAESAR?
Should we Christians pay taxes? Should we pay them when Caesar is incompetent and has taken a country into a vast national debt of a trillion pounds, a billion, billion pounds and it is still increasing? Yes, we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Caesar gets 38% of what he spends from our taxation and the rest of the money that Caesar spends he borrows. Caesar has failed in basic good housekeeping. Do we pay taxes when Caesar demands so much from us, over 40% of what we earn ends up in direct and indirect taxation? Isn’t that too much to pay? It does seem so to us, and yet we are bound to give to Caesar what Caesar demands. God asks for one tenth but Caesar is asking for four tenths and if we fail to pay he will take away our liberty and send in the bailiffs. Do we pay taxes to Caesar when there is vast tax avoidance by Caesar himself and his cohorts, when there are expenses’ scandals, cheating and lying in the corridors of power? Yes, we still give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Do we pay taxes to Caesar when he is anti-Christian, when in many parts of the world Christians are persecuted and imprisoned, their liberty and their lives are taken from them, when Caesar takes from them any right to meet and they have to gather in secret behind locked doors, and they cannot evangelize or publish Christian literature? Do you pay taxes to the Roman empire when it has become Babylon? Yes, you give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Do we pay taxes to Caesar when the money is used to promote anti Christian ideas and anti Christian practices such as abortion or euthanasia or pornography or moral relativism or when he builds a vast military machine with weapons of mass destruction – all paid for in part by taxes which Christians provide? Yes, alas, we still give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
It seems to me that the biblical and the legal and the practical answer first of all is that you have to pay your taxes in all those circumstances and for all these disreputable causes. You don’t have a choice. You don’t have to pay a penny more than the law requires, and you can seek to overthrow unjust governments that take our liberty away from us by wisely protesting (but no protesting in North Korea tyrannies where that is not an option for Christians), and also voting (when you have the opportunity) for more sympathetic people to lead the nations of the world. It is virtually impossible to try to remove a certain percentage of your tax from the demands of Caesar, because that sum of money is the amount you reckon to be promoting death and wickedness. It cannot be done. You must tell yourself that though every government is over-ambitious with what it legislates to do much of your taxation is spent wisely. Most of the money that comes into this town comes from taxation, paying thousands of workers in education and the National Health Service and the National Library and the police. You have to tell yourself that. Preachers should not become obsessed by politics and economics or their ministries will become dry and dead. Help me if I am not seeing things straight; Email me; talk to me.
The Lord Jesus gave this brilliant answer to the men who thought they had him in a Catch 22 situation so that he would be stuck and compromising and confusing whatever his answer. “Should we pay tax to Caesar?” In reply Jesus asked them to show him a coin and to tell him whose image was on the coin. It was the image of Caesar. In the light of that he told them that then they must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Pay your taxes. That was his message. He paid his temple tax telling Peter where he should fish and there he would catch one with a coin in its mouth that would pay the temple tax. It seems to suggest that he despised all that was going on in the Temple but he still paid his tax to maintain it. Paul told Gentile Christians working in Rome itself and seeing how much money from taxation was spent in luxury, grandiose building schemes, the ill treatment of millions of slaves and ugly entertainment activities in the Coliseum that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour. Let no debt remain outstanding” (Roms. 13:5-8). Paul is reminding them, “The powers that be are God’s servants who reward those who do well and punish those who are law breakers. You are living under Roman domination, and you freely use Caesar’s coins – you could not survive by barter. You are acknowledging that Nero is your earthly ruler and so paying taxes is one of the ways that you render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. What other ways do we do that? I suggest three to you:
i] We pray for our leaders. Some of them are foxes like Herod was in Jesus’ estimation, and that is all the more reason for us to pray for them. Freedom has come to much of eastern Europe. How much of that was due to Christians praying in those countries? Would it have come to them without their prayers? How crucial is prayer. How important is the pastoral prayer from the man of God who is given to each congregation. I had this letter on Friday from a friend of mine, a minister in South Wales. “Just to warm your heart: the adult son of a godly couple in our church seriously backslid, got into a terrible state, etc. Then recently he was in Aberystwyth and just ‘turned in’ to Alfred Place. Something in your prayer really went home to him and God dealt with him. His mother was sharing this with my wife last Sunday. As for God, his way is perfect.” Our praying is part of our counseling and pasturing and evangelism. It can touch those who are listening, but it moves God to restore the backslider!
Never underestimate prayer. The wretched attitude in the first century to slavery, and prostitution, and abandoning new born babies, and their abortion would only be overcome by the preaching of the gospel and prayer. Paul in the heat of vital revived Christianity, when the world was being turned upside down by the gospel, exhorted Timothy about public prayer, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour” (I Ti. 2:1-3). Paul says to me, “You give thanks for secular leaders too. Don’t always be grumbling about them.” The purpose of our praying for them is “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” So we are to pray for Caesar.
ii] We practice civil obedience. We submit to the law of the land. Of course we are not obligated to respond to Caesar’s commands when he commands us doing anything immoral, or anything that directly conflicts with the revealed will of God. We can never give up our duty of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others – whatever the rulers of, say, Saudi Arabia or North Korea or India say. I recently read the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was hung by the Nazis for involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler just a few days before the end of the war in 1945. What dilemmas German Christians faced when Nazism came to power. How grieved they were with Hitler and his wicked policies. What tensions between being loyal to their country and yet utterly opposed to Hitler’s evil policies. For many of them it was not enough to hang on to private opinions that they didn’t thoroughly approve of some of the things the state was doing. What about the gas chambers and the systematic murder of millions? Much of the church in Germany betrayed its Saviour by not speaking out with one voice and opposing Nazism. The light of Christ was put under a bushel. The salt of Christ had lost its savour. Modernism had torn the heart out of gospel Christianity and the civil morality that reigned defended the status quo. The unhappy Christians who seemed to have no voice were trapped in a Germany suffering through the cruelest war. They felt that their opposition was a betrayal of the country that they loved at its time of need. They couldn’t flee as Joseph could, taking Mary and the baby Jesus and escaping to Egypt from the murderous Herod. They had no escape. Pray for Christians today facing such problems; pray that we will never have to face them.
iii] We participate in public life. Some of you are magistrates. Some of you are thinking of a career in politics. Some of you will stand for office in local government. Some of you are working in the police station. Some of you are thinking of a career in the army or air force. There were centurions at the time of our Lord who were earnest Christians. Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus told them to leave the forces. They were exhorted to be content with their wages and not abuse the power they had. They were to do their work in a way that brought honour to God’s name. Do you think that it was easy for them? What if they had been delegated by their centurion to whip Jesus or that they’d been chosen for duty on the execution squad to crucify the three young men? No soldiers who were Christians could do such things. God would help them to trust in him and do the right. Ultimately we don’t have to live but we have to glorify God in what we do.
Our fathers in the faith spoke helpfully about ‘the two kingdoms.’ “One kingdom is the secular government that is conducted by the state. The laws of this government, said Martin Luther, rule our bodies: ‘Secular government has laws which extend no further than to life and property and to external things and relations on earth.’ The other kingdom is the spiritual government that is exercised by the church and that rules our souls. ‘For over the soul,’ said Luther, ‘God can and will let no one rule but himself.’ John Calvin said something similar when he spoke about God’s ‘twofold government’ and said that ‘Christ’s spiritual kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct.’ Therefore, Calvin said, ‘we do not (as commonly happens) unwisely mingle these two, which have a completely different nature.’
“What is crucial to understand about this ‘twofold government’ is that both the secular kingdom of the state and the spiritual kingdom of the church are under the rule and authority of God, who thus has two instruments of government in the world. In one kingdom God rules by the sword; in the other he rules by the Spirit. One kingdom is for the restraint of evil and the promotion of social order; the other is for the proclamation of the gospel and the spiritual good of the soul. As Christians we belong to both the church and the state, and in both kingdoms we have unique obligations to honour God. Although we believe in the separation of church and state, we do not believe in the separation of God and state” (Philip Ryken, Luke, Vol.2, p.372, P&R, 2009).
WHAT DO WE RENDER TO GOD?
I heard Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preaching on the last occasion he stood in his old pulpit at Westminster Chapel on the evening of November 7, 1979 and his text was our text today, and this week I have been reading that sermon again in one of his collection of addresses (which book I am told does not sell well, to my disappointment, for it is a fascinating volume). His emphasis in the sermon was on the last part of Jesus’ words, “and give . . . to God what is God’s” (v.25). He asked in the light of the reply of Jesus, “What is the real business of the church? What is the great call to us at the present time? It is to summon men and women’s attention to the only things that are absolutely essential. Shall I put it to you like this? The great task confronting the church at the moment is to shout one little word. What is it? It is the word ‘and’; “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and, to God what is God’s.” This is our calling, my friends. We are not here to discuss art, or literature, or politics, or evolution, or any one of these questions. They have their place, a little apologetic place, but not the central place. No, no! This is where we evangelicals are to come in. This is what we are called to proclaim: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and . . .” that which the world knows nothing about and even the church seems to be forgetting at this time. It is that which is surely at the present time more important perhaps than it has ever been. We are living in a materialistic age. We are living in a sophisticated age. We are living in an age when men and women are experts on all these particular matters. You and I ought to be experts on the things of which they are entirely ignorant. Our supreme calling is to introduce the ‘and’, this vital addition.
“I want now to put what our Lord includes under this ‘and’ in the way in which he put it. “And to God.” The real tragedy of the world today is that it has forgotten the supernatural. It has forgotten God. Man is in the centre—his interests, his questions, his enthusiasms, his obsessions. It is man that is ever before us and so our task is to proclaim the everlasting and eternal God. And we must do this in the way that our Lord himself did on this very interesting occasion. Let me remind you how he brought out this truth. It was by means of a contrast. He said, in reply to their question, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” There’s a contrast here, isn’t there? Let me show you something of its nature . . .” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Unity in Truth, Evangelical Press, 1991, pp.192-193).
i] Give yourselves to God because of who you are. The coin bears Caesar’s image and so it has its own defined use. But men and women are not made in the image of Caesar. Our children are not in Caesar’s image. Caesar has no children. All of us are made in the image of God. That is not something that man possesses; it is something man is. It means that human beings both mirror God and also represent God. If God is God and man is made in his image then one consequence is this, that each person is significant. That was the conviction that lay behind the founding of Plas Lluest home for people with learning difficulties. We treat each other with dignity and respect and love. That image has been tarnished in each one of us by our fallen state, yet the image of God is still there in all mankind. Aberystwyth castle is a castle yet, though it is a castle in ruins. Of no animals, or fish, or reptiles, or birds can you say, “That is the image of God.” Of man alone. Not of a donkey. Not of a worm. Not of an elephant. Not of a whale. Man alone is made in the likeness of God, though we are twisted, broken and abnormal, capable of the most inhuman cruelty still all men and women are the image-bearers of God. That is their shame when they ignore him and worship anything else. We have a unique dignity as creatures which are made in his image, and a unique depravity as sinners under God’s judgment.
We were made to have fellowship with God in words expressing the most profound longings in a way that totally transcends the beauty of the lark ascending and singing into the sky, or the sounds that a whale makes, or the leap of a dolphin, or the flight of a flock of 10,000 starlings. Those things are rich of course because the same living God who made us from the dust made them from the dust too, but we were made with the power to understand and comment on them, and analyze the trajectory of their movement, and record their songs and sounds. We have authority over them. Our father is the one who was Adam, not their father. We alone are his lineage. Our grandfather was dust. Our great-grandfather nothing. When God becomes incarnate it is in a man, the son of Mary. Augustine once made the breath-taking discovery when he became a Christian that he was capable of receiving God into his life. The delights of the whole world had not been able to fill his heart any more than a circle can fill a triangle. God alone can fill your heart. He is a most caring parent; he is the heavenly Father of all who have received his Son. He once brought us into existence. He continues to watch over us. He communicates with us. He is there and he is not silent.
We are not here as a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidental blip in some cosmic drama. Chance did not make us. There is no such being as chance. It is a mere concept. You are not a chance configuration of atoms in the slipstream of meaningless luck. You have a purpose in your life and that is found in relation to the God who made you. We are truly meant to be here. Life has meaning. In fact it is a personal and immediate as this, that you were meant to read these words today. God has been in this encounter. Your life is purposive. There is something you have to give to God, a calling to fulfil whose origin and nature is theocentric; you have a task to care for the created order, to be a steward, and vice-gerent, and caretaker of the world, to be God’s voice crying to a despairing world, “Do yourself no harm!” The morality of our relationship with one another and the humbler creation and the created order all flow from this central declaration of what our vocation is as the image bearers of God. Our chief end as people is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. Immortal souls are not created for merely mortal ends. We are going somewhere. The great Architect of the universe never built a staircase that leads nowhere. You huff and puff, “I am no more than a machine,” but your whole life is denying those words; machine do not humble themselves for others, or lay down their lives that others may live – ah, what infinite capacity for folly and self-delusion we possess. You know that that is so. You cannot forget what speaks in your conscience; you cannot avoid what speaks in the world around. The Creator has shown us himself particularly in the man Christ Jesus, and he speaks in the Bible, “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” I am saying that all your biggest problems are centred on this, your lack of a relationship with God, that you are not giving to him what is his due – recognition, love, worship, service, adoration, sacrifice. Because you are made in God’s image then give to God what is God’s. Then there is a second reason to do this;
ii] Give yourselves to God because of who God is. Caesar can make our lives hard. He can take away our liberty, but he can’t stop us thinking, nor can he stop us loving. He can’t stop us praying. He couldn’t stop Daniel praying, though he could threaten him with being thrown to the lions for doing so. Caesar can’t stop us dreaming the impossible dream of enjoying liberty and revival and the gospel touching the whole nation. Caesar will die and be buried. He will face his Maker. When he has put us to death he can do no more, and we know that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. You remember what our Lord told his timorous disciples as he sent them out to preach. They were young inexperienced men afraid of what men would do to them, and he said to them, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4&5). So you must give to Caesar what is his because of his authority and power, yet do you see the restrictions that there are on his power? But what limitations are there on omnipotence? God is only limited in doing anything by his own will. Then give him what is due. Why? Because God is God.
As Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “This is something that the modern world knows nothing about. They talk about God, but it is a figment of their own own thinking and their own imaginings. They know nothing of the God who has revealed himself uniquely in the person of his only begotten Son. Who is he? He is not a man. He is the great Jehovah – the I AM. He is the one without beginning and without end, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He is the artificer, the sustainer of everything that is. He is the everlasting God. He is the God who has made us all. He is the one who has made even the Caesars. He is the God in whose hand our breath is, and all our ways. He controls everything. Nothing is beyond him. ‘Wide as the world is thy command’ we sing. That cannot be said of any Caesar. ‘Vast as eternity is thy love.’ This is only true of God, the illimitable, the all-powerful, the everlasting and eternal God. And, men and women, we are all in his hands. You have no idea as to whether you are going to be alive tomorrow morning or not. Not one of us knows. ‘Our times are in his hands.’
“And not only that, look at the world we are living in at the present time. Look at its mounting problems; look at the gathering clouds. People are concerned about it, and rightly so. But do they think at all about life in its ultimate sense? We are all getting older . . . We have all got to die and after death, judgment. Now this is what the world knows nothing about. It never thinks about it at all. It knows a great deal about the power of Caesar, but the troubles in our world today are due to the fact that men and women are ignorant of the power of God. The power of God is the power of Omniscience, the power of our Judge eternal and we are all moving, as is the whole cosmos, in the direction of a final assize, a last judgment. As our Lord reminded his disciples on that occasion, our destiny is in the hands of God. He has power, after we have died, not only to judge us, but if we have disobeyed him and refused him, he has power to cast us into everlasting and eternal punishment. I am not the one inventing that; it is the Lord Jesus Christ who talked about the place where ‘The worm dies not and the fire is not quenched.’ Men and women, do you and I, as Christians, do we contemplate as we ought to do the power of the everlasting and eternal God? We should be humbled under his almighty hand and serve him with reverence and godly fear. Why? ‘For our God is a consuming fire!’” (ibid pp.197&198). Give to God what is God’s! But there is one more reason . . .
iii] Give yourselves to God because of all the benefits that will come from it. Eternal life is to know God and his Son whom he sent. “What can God give me?” you ask. You had hope in politics and politician, in the banks and economists, in science and scientists, but now you are cynical about them all. Many of the things that my parents’ and grandparents’ generation had put their hopes in for the future are collapsing all over the world. In one of the local government elections last Thursday less than 10 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote. ‘Right!’ says someone, ‘What can God give me?’ I will tell you. God sent his one and only Son into this world. What for? To rescue us out of our lost condition, out of our failure, out of our misery, out of our unhappiness. That is why Christ came into the world, the very Son of God. This is the solution which God gives in the person of his own Son. Not your human solutions, not politics, not economics, not science, not culture, but God’s own solution, sending his only Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. And this Son of God whose dialogue we’ve been reading today, and of whom you can read much more in four gospels, this Son of God, in order to rescue us and redeem us and to give us glorious benefits, not only lived and endured the opposition of clever pusses like these men who asked him this question, our brave young Saviour even went deliberately to a cruel death upon a cross. What for? To receive from God the punishment of our sins. Why? That we might receive free pardon and forgiveness by God.
Is there anything comparable in the universe to this? Though you may have spent all your life to this moment living for self and for the world, and all that goes with it, and though you may have sinned even to the very jaws of hell, you have only to believe in this person, God’s only begotten Son, this Jesus of Nazareth. You have only to entrust yourself, to give yourself to him as he welcomes you, and that guilt of yours for your falls will be forgiven completely. Jesus Christ not only bore your blame and shame when he died, but he rose again to care for you and keep you and work all things together for your good. His resurrection is the seal that what I have now been saying to you has all been true, that God was satisfied with the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. He has taken away the sin of the world, the penalty had been paid and God is ready to smile upon you, to forgive you freely and eternally and for nothing, without our works but through his Son and his works for us.
Then our life in all its fulness begins. You will have the closeness of a marvelous teacher who will tell you what life is all about and how you should live. You will have the answer to you guilt and shame in the sacrifice of your great Saviour who makes you whiter than snow in the sight of God. You have a sovereign Protector, unseen yet for ever at hand. He is a good Shepherd who doesn’t run off when the going gets rough. He’ll stick by you. Even when you start to die he will be with you and will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. The most powerful Caesar could not do that. Give to God what is God’s, your soul, your life, your all. Follow him from this moment on and for ever.
6th May 2012 GEOFF THOMAS