15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[a] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[b] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marvelled. And they left him and went away.
The Pharisees try to entangle Jesus and with a few words Jesus teaches us about true discipleship. Following their final conclusion to try to eliminate Jesus, Matthew states that the Pharisees try a sneaky rhetorical trick to try to catch Jesus, and perhaps give them opportunity to have him arrested. It’s the same kind of trick employed when people ask if you if you have stopped beating your wife. No matter if the response is “yes” or “no” you have found yourself on the conversational hot seat. The Pharisees however are playing a very serious game, the consequences of which are intended to be deadly for Jesus. Notice they begin with flatter hoping to catch Jesus off his guard, in fact trying to trick Jesus with the flattery which they openly admit has no effect on him. Having poorly laid the foundation for their attempt they ask Jesus a seemingly simple question, Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Should Jesus answer yes, the Pharisees can easily charge Jesus with collusion with the Roman oppressors and discredit him in the eyes of their fellow Jesus and possibly motivate them to kill him. Should Jesus answer no, the Pharisees can charge Jesus with sedition against the Roman Empire, a charge that would lead to his arrest and probable execution. Matthew writes that Jesus is aware of their little scheme and responds “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Interestingly Jesus asks them for the coin necessary to pay the tax. Such a coin, holding a person’s image, especially the image of the Emperor, who was considered to be a living god, would have been forbidden to the Pharisees from even possessing because it violated the first commandment. With this Jesus demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Then by pointing out the likeness on the coin Jesus indicates that anything which bears the image of a person, belongs to that person, thus WE ARE TO RENDER UNTO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESARS AND UNTO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S.
But what does it mean to “render unto Caesar” in our context today? Well, though we may not like the government, we are to honour and respect those in government, for government is a gift of God for our good. We are to treat police, emergency personnel, military personnel with respect and honour as those who serve and protect us. We are to obey the speed limits rather than complaining about cameras, and follow copyright laws, even for one little copy. We are to pay taxes, not because the government needs our money, rather so that the collected taxes can be used to care for the well-being of ourselves and fellow citizens, that roads, healthcare, education and the like might be provided for all. Therefore, in all of these things we are to render unto Caesar that things that are Caesar’s.
Yet we often wonder why? We question what should motivate us to do these things, especially when we don’t want to. The easy answer is that as good citizens is it both our duty and privilege to do these things. The more realistic answer is one of self-preservation. Do you want to rebel against the government, do you want to flout the laws of your town, province or nation? Do you think that it is your right to live and act however you desire free of any responsibility or consequences? Well hold on to your hats! Caesar’s response will be swift and sure, 10-20 years may change your attitude, a $1000 fine might give you a new perspective! Don’t like paying your taxes for better roads, then perhaps you would rather pay your mechanic for new suspension. Don’t like the idea that people are living off your taxes, I encourage you to secure a solid retirement plan so that you can pay for your long-term care expenses. You see, while you may not desire to render unto Caesar, you can and will certainly be compelled in a manner even less to your liking!
But what does it mean to render unto God what is God’s? Beloved in Christ, just as the denarius which bore the image of Caesar belonged to Caeser and was owed to him, so also all who bear the image of Christ, belong to him. All who have been marked as ones redeemed and who have been baptized into him, are his and are owed him. This is what it means then to “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” to render unto God yourself, for you are his. Therefore Almighty God is owed your every thought, your every moment, each one should be entirely devoted to him. Your focus should be on serving him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Your every penny is not yours, but his and therefore you are to give him every cent. Your will and your life are his and are to be rendered to him every instant, as the hymn writer says, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee; take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.” This is what it means to render unto God what is God’s!
Again however we would ask why, what is our motivation to do so. The easy answer is to avoid God’s wrath, to avoid “being bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That of course is the easy answer, though not motivation that Almighty God would seek for you. Instead you are reminded that YOU are not your own, you have been bought with a price, your freedom from sin, your possessions, indeed your life itself, are gifts to you given through the blood of Jesus, shed for you on the cross. Having been purchased and having been freed from bondage to the law you are now free in Christ, to render yourself unto the Lord. You are free now to devote your time and energy not to the busyness and distractions of the world, but to gather in God’s house, hearing and meditating on his word, and receiving his blessed gifts. You are free to give unto God the largest portion of your money, time, and talents, in the assurance that he who has given them to you, has far more to pour into your coffers. You are free to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all your days.
Beloved in Christ, by your baptism into Christ’s death you are restored to the likeness of God; you bear his image, therefore you are his. So while you ARE TO RENDER UNTO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESARS remember also that you are God’s possession and are to render yourselves unto him. Amen!