By Simon ManchesterSunday 31 Dec 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 15 minutes
We’re following Mark’s gospel, and we’re in chapter 12, and the words which we have are world-famous. I’d be surprised if there are many people around the world who have not heard that famous phrase “render to Caesar.” It’s been quoted for 2,000 years, and I’ve been asking myself the question, why is it that this little section of scripture doesn’t have much impact? If so many people know the phrase, why does it not have much impact? It seems to me that one of the problems is that there’s been some editing in people’s minds. That is, they just don’t know the rest of the quote.
I remember back in the Olympics in 2000 when people were still holding up those yellow boards in strategic positions. Remember with John 3:16? And one of the sports commentators looked up the verse and said, “I’ve looked up the verse. I’m gonna read it to you.” And he said, “It says God so loved the world that He gave His Son.” And I thought, “Finish the text. It’s got some punch. It’s got some important things to say.” And I suspect that for many people today this “render to Caesar” is not being properly put in context. Why is it that Christians are not more grateful for this part of Scripture? You know, do we just read it and think Jesus was a great one-liner? Are we meant to just read this section and say, “Three cheers for Jesus, you know, he came back with a real winner”?
No, we’re meant to think this section through ourselves, and I want to suggest to you this morning that this is a wonderful five-verse section of scripture. Not only is it a brilliant reply and a victorious reply, but it’s also very powerful, and it’s very comforting. And if you forget everything else that I say to you this morning, the point of the passage is this. There is a government down the road, and there is a heavenly government. And they both expect you to acknowledge them. I hope that you will see today that the cosmos is being run by somebody very wonderful. I hope that you will be challenged if you’re not acknowledging him. I hope you’ll be comforted if you are. You may have come to church today feeling as though everything is a bit of a mess, you, life, people. This section has something to say to you. You may have come today feeling that the ground that you’re standing on is very shaky. This passage has something to say to you.
Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. The religious leaders are firing verbal shots at him. And as we saw previously, he’s just told a parable about evil men on a farm who don’t acknowledge their owner. And of course, this parable, was aimed at the religious leaders, and they get it. And they are angry, and they leave.
Now, they come back. They’ve obviously been seething, thinking and plotting. And they come back, and this is their third confrontation. And they’ve got a question, and the question is designed to injure Jesus. It’s designed to bring the maximum trouble to Jesus. And I want to think about this-this morning quite quickly with you under the heading of the trap. They set a trap, and it’s a real trap. He escapes beautifully. And there are consequences for us.
So first of all, the trap, Mark 12:13 we read, “Later they send some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.” I don’t know how long they spent thinking about what to say, but eventually, they come back, and they want to catch him. The word is “to hunt” or “to trap.” And who is it that comes to trap Jesus? Verse 13, it’s the Pharisees. They are very religious. And it’s the Herodians. They are very political. They wouldn’t normally have got on together, they wouldn’t have normally worked together, but they are together against Jesus. And you see in verse 14; they begin with a bit of flattery. They say, “Jesus, you’ve got great integrity. You are very courageous. You always speak the truth. You never dissemble.” It’s a weird way to start, really, isn’t it? They’re saying to him, “You can see right through fake people. We’re gonna try and trick you.” It’s a lose-lose for them, really, isn’t it? And here is the famous question. Is it lawful to give tax to Caesar or not? Should we or shouldn’t we?
I wonder if you can see what an explosive trap this is. If Jesus says, “Yes, give your taxes to Caesar,” well, he will look like a pawn or a puppet kowtowing to Rome. And the Pharisees will be angry, and the crowds will be very disappointed and angry. If he says, “No, don’t pay your taxes to Caesar,” he will be seen as a rebel, somebody who opposes the Romans. The Herodians will be extremely angry, and the Roman government will come down on him. So this is the dilemma for Jesus. Should he annoy the crowds or the Romans? Should he speak up and speed on his death at the hands of the crowds or the Romans? It’s a trap. Not only is it a trap, but the whole conversation about the coin is insulting to the Jews. They looked on the coin as blasphemous. It was bad enough that they lived in their own land under the authority of Rome, which they regarded as kind of like being captives in their own country. You could cooperate with the Romans if you wanted to and become a tax collector like Matthew, but then you were seen as a little bit of a traitor.
And when the annual tax came around, and you had to pay the silver denarius… And I have one of this silver denariuses. You may have seen them before, but I’ve got one in my pocket 2,000 years old. And I’ll show it to you afterwards very carefully, and I’ll watch you very carefully. But when this tax came round, the coin itself was a blasphemy because on the front of the coin was Tiberius Caesar. And we know that it was Tiberius Caesar because every Caesar was so egomaniacal that he would get rid of all the previous coins. So Tiberius Caesar is on the front. “Son of,” this is the inscription, “Augustus, God.” Augustus, God. Blasphemy. On the back of the coin is Tiberius’s mother, and it says, “Priestess.” Again, another blasphemy. So just to handle the coin was tough. One writer has said the whole design of the coin was to show that God had actually settled down in Italy and that his name was Rome.
So it’s a trap. It’s a very clever trap. Jesus knows it’s a trap. Verse 15, he sees through the hypocrisy, and he sees that they are tempting him. That’s the word. “Why are you tempting me?” Now, do you remember that last week when he told the parable about the workers in the vineyard who wanted to kill the son of the owner? Which just seems incredible until you get to this point, and now they’re asking a question which is designed to kill the son of the owner. So they’re doing exactly what Jesus said they would do. Why is it that there is such hostility to Jesus? Well, the answer, in a nutshell, is because he owns the place. And therefore, he is a threat to anybody who plans to run their life exactly as they want. No wonder Jesus is a threat.
Why is Jesus such a threat to religious institutions? Here in the New Testament and around the world today, the answer is because religious institutions often want to run their lives their way, and Jesus is a threat. Now, we need to realise, and I say this again to you that whether it’s a secular person or just a religious person that human nature, deep down, deeply, strongly, wants Jesus out of the way. That’s the way the world is. And if you don’t consider this to be true, just think about how Christmas is coming, and there is a careful removal of Jesus. Think about how then Easter will come, and there’ll be a careful removal of Jesus. On the 31st of this month it would be a great thing if the world said, “You know, it’s 500 years since there was a rediscovery in a republishing of the best news the world has ever heard, the Gospel.”
But what will actually happen on the 31st of October is that there will be a big push for Halloween. Very different and very dark. So that’s the trap, and now we come to the escape. Well, there have been lots of people who’ve escaped tricky situations. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Edward Lear, but Edward Lear was a 19th-century artist, a very brilliant painter and cartoonist and author and poet. He famously wrote the poem “The Owl and the Pussy-cat Went to Sea,” if you remember that. And I was reading that Edward Lear was in a railway carriage once and there were two women there reading his “Book of Nonsense” to some children. And a man spoke up in the carriage and said, “You may be interested to know that there is no such person as Edward Lear.”
So Edward Lear got his sketchbook out of his case, and he drew the people in the carriage, beautiful, simple portraits of himself and the women and the children. And he drew the man who spoke as a cartoon. That is a tremendous establishing of his own authority and a diminishing of the opposition. But that clever response pales into insignificance compared to what we see here in Mark 12 because Jesus does something infinitely more wonderful. He says in verse 15, “Bring me a coin,” and then he says, “Whose image is on the coin? Whose inscription is on the coin?” Does he not know? Well, of course, he knows, but he’s asking them because he wants them to face the facts of the government, and then he’s going to tell them in a minute that there is a higher and a supreme government. It’s a piece of genius.
And they say, probably through gritted teeth, Caesar is on the coin. And Jesus says, remember, “Well, give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” The implication, the coin goes back to him. Then he says, verse 17, and this is the climax. This is the part that’s not to be missed, not to be forgotten, not to be avoided. He says, “Give to God what is God’s.” And he doesn’t say what that is, but he’s looking at the people who should be giving themselves wholeheartedly to their owner. And this is even clearer when you consider that the image on the coin is Caesar and the image on the people is the image of God. The image of Caesar is on the coin, and it belongs to Caesar. The image of God is on the people, and they belong to God.
So you remember in the parable that the owner of the farm went looking for fruit, and of course, he wasn’t just looking for apples and oranges and grapes. He was actually looking for people who would respond to him with themselves. And that’s what Jesus is saying here. God is looking for things to go back to Caesar that belong to Caesar. Yes, little, local, small things, but what belongs to God, that is you, you’re to go to him. And if you wanna know what this means, “to give yourself to God,” I presume what it means is that there should come a day in every single one of your lives, which I presume for most of you has happened in the past, where you either physically or mentally kneel down before Jesus Christ, and you say to him, “You’re the King. You’re the Savior. I’m asking you to forgive me, and I’m handing myself over to you, and I’m asking that you will be my Savior and my Lord from this day on.” That’s called salvation, conversion.
And then every day the believer, as best he or she can, says, “I’m rededicating my day to you. You are the one who governs everything. You are the one who saves. You are the one who rules. I’m giving myself back to you.” So it’s a masterful reply. He hasn’t compromised himself, he hasn’t attacked Rome, he hasn’t denied heaven, and they can’t accuse him of either. He’s not rebellious to Rome. He’s not forgotten heaven. But they are now trapped by Jesus themselves because the question is, are they going to cooperate with Rome? Rome is in power. And are they going to cooperate with God, who is in power? So Jesus shines the spotlight on the local government and says, “Do you remember?” And then he shines the spotlight on the heavenly government, and he says, “Remember and respond.” It’s a great, great reply.
That’s why this response of Jesus challenges you and me and everybody whoever listens to this talk because it’s not good enough to quote “render to Caesar.” Anybody can do that. The question is, have you faced the fact that there is a government in power? Yes. Have you faced the fact that there is a heavenly government in supreme power? That’s the question. If you fight the earthly government, you’ll lose your liberties. If you fight the heavenly government, you’ll lose your eternal soul. So it is a real trap. It is a wonderful escape. Now, I want to just say something to you about consequences in my third and last point this morning.
Notice first of all what Jesus teaches very plainly, I say it again, is there is a human government, and there is a divine government. You may say to yourself, “Well, this is perfectly obvious,” but it’s not too many. You may not realise, says Jesus. You may not like the government that is down the road, but it’s in place, and you are to acknowledge the government. And he says there is a government in heaven, and you may not like the fact that there is a government in heaven, but there is, and you must acknowledge. Somebody said to me after the early service this morning, “There is a lamb on the throne. What could be more wonderful than that?” Second thing, Jesus doesn’t say everything in these verses about how church and state fit together, but church and state have both been put in place by God, and they are famously separated. They are rightly separated. That is, they’re not meant to run each other.
The church is not meant to run the state, and the state is not meant to run the church. But they’re meant to be on speaking terms. We sometimes hear sadly of a couple who separate and they say, “We’re still speaking.” And when we hear people say the church and state are separated, we need to say, “And they should be speaking.” Because the state has things to say to the church about earthly obligations, and the church has things to say to the state about heavenly obligations. This should be communicated very reasonably, and it is extremely important that both sides speak.
Now, I was thinking about this-this week as I went to one of the hospitals nearby, how thankful we are for these wonderful hospitals where everything is done so professionally, sacrificially, and excellently. And I’m walking into the hospital just to pay a brief visit, and I’m thinking to myself, “Here is the local clergyman walking across the campus of the hospital.” And for many people on the staff, that must be a tremendous stretch for them, don’t you think? What could be more impractical than for a clergyman to come into the hospital and go to the side of somebody’s bed and mumble some words as if that’s going to help anybody? And you can imagine many doctors and nurses are thinking, “I just have to be patient with this because this guy might as well be a witch doctor. This is absolute nonsense. It’s impractical. We’re just being patient with this guy.”
And then in walks a doctor who is clear and persuaded that Jesus has risen and sits on the throne of heaven, and there is a nurse who believes in the resurrection and that the universe is run by the King of Kings. That doctor and that nurse, they recognise that as that strange clergyman comes into the hospital and goes to the bedside and prays a prayer, that that prayer is actually going into the ear of the King of Kings and action is being taken which is completely above and beyond what the whole hospital could manage. So that no doctor or nurse can actually get up in the morning and serve at the hospital unless the King of Kings says so. No doctor or nurse keeps breathing unless the King of Kings says so. No patient improves unless the King of Kings says so. And we need to make that clear, don’t we? Respectfully, graciously. There is a communication to be said on both sides. I need to hear how the hospital works. The hospital needs to know that the visiting pastor is not wasting time.
Thirdly, Jesus is not teaching that you can choose your government. You can’t say, “I’ll have the local but not the heavenly.” You can’t say, “I’ll have the heavenly but not the local.” You can’t say, “I’ll have neither.” The human government is real. The divine government is real. The human government expects a response from you. The divine government expects a response from you. Of course, we find this tricky to express. I was at a dinner this week, and Paul Harrington, who’s the senior minister in Adelaide, was speaking to a lot of clergy and laypeople. And he said that he and his wife had gone to a function and they’d been with three other couples who are long-time friends, and they decided to have catch-up and talk about how things had been going.
And he said the first couple just unbelievably successful talking about their success, second couple unbelievably successful, third couple unbelievably successful. And then one of them said, “You still a minister at a church?” And so he said he tried to explain that it was actually a very healthy church, and there were a lot of people who were coming. And they had planted a lot of churches around the city of Adelaide, and he tried to sound as significant as he could. He said in the car going home his wife said, “Why didn’t you tell them about Jesus?” It’s quite a tough question, isn’t it? We find this hard to do. But he is the most impressive person that we could ever speak of.
So, Jesus, you see, responds so brilliantly, so simply, and we read in verse 17 that they were amazed. Now, just stay with me for the last couple of minutes. I want to tell you something very interesting. The last phrase of that section says they were amazed. They marvelled. Where have we heard the word “marvel” before? Well, a few verses earlier Jesus said when the people of the world get rid of the Son of God and crucify him and when they get rid of the stone, the keystone, that God is going to build his temple with, they will marvel. There’ll come a time where they will marvel. And we read that, and we think to ourselves, “My non-Christian friends, they don’t even think about Jesus. They don’t even care about Jesus. They don’t know about Jesus. They don’t want to know about Jesus. They’re not marvelling.” And this passage says that this hostile group began to marvel. And there will come a day where every single person that has ever walked in this world will marvel at the Son of God, his life, his death, and his resurrection. And there are more people who are marvelling at Jesus than we think.
Yesterday I was driving home through Broadway, and I pulled up at the lights. And the windscreen was dirty, and there was a friendly windscreen washer. Quite a rough-looking guy, not too many teeth. He waved his brush, and I called him over. And he cleaned the windscreen. He said, “What are you doing tonight?” I said, “Actually, I’m going home to finish a sermon.” He said, “I was reading Isaiah 43:1-6 this morning, did me a pair of good. Have a good day.” Be nice to the windscreen washers. God’s people are everywhere. Now, I want to say to you by this passage we’ve looked at today; there is a government, there is a heavenly government. The heavenly government runs everything. Therefore, trust him with yourself. Trust him with your cares, your problems, your needs, your loved ones. Trust him with your life. Trust him with your plans.
Let’s pray. We thank you, gracious God, for our Lord Jesus. We thank you for his words. We thank you for his works. We pray that you would help us not only to acknowledge him and serve him but that we might also be a signpost for others. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.