This Sunday we will be looking at Matthew 22:15-22. Up to this point we have seen Jesus, as it were, on the attack. Now we see the Jewish leaders launching their counterattack; and they do so by directing at Jesus carefully formulated questions. The first question was: "Is it, or is it not, lawful to pay tribute to Rome?"
It was a question designed to trap Jesus, offered with all the insincerity of an enemy masquerading as a friend: "Teacher,” asked one of Christ’s opponents, “we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God.” So tell us: “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" The question was like asking—"Have you stopped beating your wife?" Whether you answer “yes” or “no” you’re bound to end up looking pretty bad.
The Jewish people hated the Emperor and his burdensome taxes. If Jesus answered: "Yes, it is right to pay taxes to Caesar," he’d set himself up to being attacked as a collaborator—as little more than a tool of the Roman Government. If, on the other hand, Jesus were to say: "No, it is not part of God's law to pay such homage to Caesar," he would immediately throw himself open to accusations of being an insurrectionist. He would give his enemies the grounds to hand him over to the [Roman] government.
Both Christ’s enemies and friends must have waited breathlessly for his response, wondering how he’d get himself out of this one. And then Jesus spoke: "Show me a denarius," he said. We can picture someone in the crowd fumbling through his money purse and then handing Christ a coin. On one side of the denarius was the image of the emperor, circled by an inscription which read: "Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Perhaps holding up the coin, Jesus said: "Whose portrait and inscription are on it?" Why, “Caesar’s” they replied. Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s." And then, you can imagine, Jesus flipping the coin over, exposing the side which bore an image of the emperor's mother, along with the words "Highest Priest," suggesting that Caesar was worthy of worship. And Jesus went on with steely voice: "And” be sure to give “to God what is God's."
It was a remarkable answer, really, not merely because it displayed the genius of Jesus in getting himself out of a jam, but even more so because of what those words suggest about the relationship between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of man. This Sunday we will dig deeper into these verses and see what they have to say to us today.
And as always there is a group of us that meet at 9:00 to pray for the service and the church, feel free to join us when you can.