2021-03-07 “Render to Caesar What Is Caesar’s”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          March 7, 2021

“Render to Caesar What Is Caesar’s”
Mark 12:13-17

We inch closer and closer to Resurrection Sunday this Christian year.  We find ourselves this Lord’s Day just three weeks from Palm Sunday, which starts Holy Week.  That week, of course, culminates in that glad cry concerning Jesus, “He is risen.  He is risen indeed.”  We also inch closer and closer to the empty tomb this year by considering Scripture texts that fall between Jesus’ triumphal entry and the Passover meal in the upper room.  We see Jesus, in today’s text, caught—apparently—on the horns of a dilemma proposed by certain of His opponents.  Let’s see what happens, and let’s hear what the Spirit says to our souls, in this portion of God’s Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Jesus here converses with His opponents—as he has since Mark 11:27.  As today’s text opens, His opponents are vexed sore, even desiring to arrest Him, due to Him speaking the parable of the tenants against them (12:1-12).  Hence, they seek to trap Him in something He may say.  Today’s passage begins as some Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus—sent by the chief priests, elders, and scribes (or experts in the Law of Moses) of the people.  The Pharisees and the Herodians normally find themselves at odds with each other, for the Herodians collaborate closely with Roman authority, while the Pharisees have considerable disdain for it.  Yet, though generally divided, these two groups unite in common cause to destroy Jesus if at all possible.

They attempt to destroy Jesus by means of a trap.  Moreover, they aim to entice Jesus into the trap with flattery.  They declare that they know He is true and He teaches truly.  We, reading two millennia after the fact, know that the Pharisees and Herodians do not believe what they affirm, else they would believe Him and obey Him.  They further profess that He neither cares about anyone’s opinion nor is swayed by appearances.  The last just drips with irony, for the Pharisees and Herodians here do their level best to appear as something other than the Holy Spirit reveals them to be through Mark’s pen—conniving souls.

These representatives from the Jewish religious and political elite present Jesus an apparently impossible dilemma—and that cloaked in feigned piety.  Shall taxes be paid to Caesar, or no?  Note the horns of the dilemma.  If He says, “No,” to their question, then He appears seditious, subversive, and traitorous toward Rome—qualities that will hasten His one-way trip to a Roman jail.  If He says, “Yes,” to their question, then He is no friend of the people.  Moreover, He will appear to be unduly sympathetic to the hated Roman Empire—and such sympathy might get Him stoned to death.  Either way, the Jewish ruling elite destroy Jesus—and they wait maliciously for His self-incriminating answer.

The self-incriminating answer never comes.  Jesus evades the trap and, in the evasion, teaches us something important.  He, after knowing His opponents’ hypocrisy and asking, “Why put Me to the test?” commands a denarius, a coin worth a day’s wages for a common laborer, be brought for his inspection.[1]  Then Jesus asks, of the coin, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They answer, “Caesar’s.”  Jesus replies with His coup de grace, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  He renders His opponents very amazed (Greek ekthaumadzo [ekqaumazw])—and they fall silent.  Other opponents take up the challenge of trapping Jesus (and that until Mark 12:40), but these in today’s passage slink from view.  We hear no more from them.

Our text today forces us to grapple with two questions.  First, what is right to render to governmental authority—to Caesar?  It is right for us to render tax, for such—at least at some basic level—is required to govern (cf. Romans 13:1-7, esp. 6-7).  We may debate the level of taxation required or desired—but evasion is no option for the Christian.  It is right for us to render obedience to lawful authority, and not to withhold such obedience, when such laws and lawful authority conflict not with the Word of God.  In case of conflict, of course, God’s Word must be upheld at all cost (cf. Acts 4:18-20, 5:28-32 [esp. 28-29]), but in ordinary cases our duty as Christians is to obey the law.  It is also right for us to render honor, when possible, to those who govern use—at least in view of their offices, if we find ourselves unable to honor their persons.  It is also right for us to offer prayers to God on their behalf (1 Timothy 2:1), in order that they may be saved persons through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, that they may govern according to the Word of God as quickened by the Holy Spirit, and they may discharge their duty free from harm.  Let us rendered to our Caesars, then, what properly belongs to them—and that by the powerful grace of God in Christ.

Second, what is right to render to our triune God, Who has absolute authority?  It is right for us to offer worship unto Him—and this worship may encompass all that follows.  We offer our praise and thanks to God, both for Who He is and for what He does in creation and providence.  We offer our prayers to Him, acknowledging both our abject dependence upon Him and His infinite power over all things.  We also offer ourselves, as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2), and we offer also everything that concerns us—our bodies, our wealth, our abilities, and everything else.  Let us render unto God all that is due Him, for He is infinitely worthy of the same.

Once again, may we render all we ought unto those who govern us—and, above even this, may we render our highest and best unto Almighty God.

AMEN.

[1] It is hard, in our time, to imagine a coin worth as much as a day laborer’s full-day pay (about $87.00 in this case, at our minimum wage of $7.25/hr. for a twelve-hour day, with no overtime pay).  It was worth much less in Jesus’ day, well under one dollar for a full day’s work.