Entrapment of the King: Jesus & Politics | Matthew 22:15-22
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 22:15–22:22
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 21-25 has been titled the Rejection of the King. We saw Jesus triumphant entry into the city with crowds cheering with great expectations for radical transformation and restoration in the holy city of Jerusalem. Jesus then made his first order of business aggressively coming into the temple cleaning out the temple of corrupt dealers and restoring it to a house of prayer and healing. Jesus returned to the temple to teach and is confronted by the Chief Priest and elders of the temple about the nature of the authority. Jesus responds with robust teaching and parables on the nature of God’s kingdom, his authority, and his people’s response to it. As he is clearer he is the Son of God, opposition to Jesus grows from those in power and they respond. In the next three weeks we will see three different ways Jesus opponents attempt to entrap him.
Matthew 22:15-22 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. 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. 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 marveled. And they left him and went away.
Verse 15-16 | Political Opponents
Jesus has entered the city, he has made his claim as the Son of God, he has come into the temple claimed it as his father’s house began an urban renew program of expelling bad businessmen and re-education. His popularity is growing and the established powerful cannot stand it. If there was an election being held they know Jesus would win. Jesus is popular so violence is not on the table (yet). So they get to work on their smear campaign. “How can we derail this freight train of Jesus’ momentum?” The plot to get Jesus entrapped with his own words and teachings hope to reduce Jesus credibility and influence. This isn’t just a passing idea, there is great intentionally in their opposition to Jesus. They have a bipartisan plan.
Pharisees are incredibly socially and religiously conservative, they have been consistent opponents of Jesus as he has engaged with “unclean/unworthy” people. They are nationalistic, red-blooded patriots of the nation of Israel. They cannot stand the Roman occupation of their land and they long for a return to prominence and self-rule they experienced back in the golden age of King David and Solomon. They are not alone. As they come to challenge and entrap Jesus they bring with them some of the Herodians. The Herodians are not particularly religious unless it suits them politically. They are actively integrated with the Roman government. They are violent to their political opponents, morally reprehensible specifically when it comes to sexuality and family relationships. Herod has recently killed John the Baptist at the request of his second wife who was his brother’s wife/cousin. They’re a bunch of inbred disloyal corrupt gangsters. Together they come to oppose Jesus. Never underestimate the unifying power of the opposition of Jesus.
There are four things they say about Jesus in the run up to their big “Gotcha” question. You are true – You are man of sincerity and integrity. You teach the way of God truthfully – Jesus is both reliably and faithful to the truth about God in his teaching. You don’t care about anyone’s opinion – Jesus you are bold and consistent regardless of if what you say will upset people. You are not swayed by appearances (lit. Don’t look at people’s faces) – You do not change or compromise the message based on who is present. Can we say all or any of these characteristic apply to any politicians we know? Jesus is the anti-politician. He is not running for office or seeking votes or approval from people. He knows he’s the king.
Verse 17 | Tax Question
As they try to drag Jesus into a political controversy ask “is it lawful” to pay a tax to Caesar. Theirs is not question about legal legitimacy of taxes in general; they are asking if it is morally right or proper for Jews to pay a specific “Poll Tax” to Caesar. It is believed that people in first century Palestine were some of the most taxed people in the history of the world. 20 years earlier there was a tax revolt in Jesus home region of Galilee where Rome came in and wiped the biggest city in the region off the map. The army that actively oppresses Israel is funded by their direct taxes. They are forcibly paying for their own oppression. This Poll Tax to Caesar didn’t go to fund roads or schools. It was not a tax on goods and services where people actually got something out of (or in spite of) the tax. It was a direct wealth transfer from 99% of Israel’s people to the 1% of Caesar. No one likes to pay taxes (no one) this one is especially unpopular.
So to pay, or not to pay, that is the question. Even the way it’s asked the word “pay” is actually translates to “give” implying Caesar doesn’t deserve it. “It’s my money, why would I give it government.” Jesus is stuck, they’ve got him. He’s got the Pharisees, and crowds of his own followers who personally pay and hate the tax, present. If he says simply “Pay the tax.” He could alienate huge portions of his people while seeming to align himself with the despised pagan Roman Empire. So he could simply say “The tax is exorbitant and it funds an immoral godless government, don’t pay as an act of civil disobedience, in fact I just cleaned out the money changers let’s abolish the Roman IRS next.” There’s a problem, the Herodians are also present, “loyal” to Rome. If Jesus starts calling for rebellion and he’s charged with treason.
Verse 18 | Hypocrites
Despite all the kind, and true, words towards Jesus, Jesus knows neither group is actually seeking His wisdom in this political mater. He knows they only care about their own agenda even in acting kindly toward him at first. Their entire hope in this conversation is to use a divisive political issue to weaken Jesus standing with his people and in the culture. There are always people willing to use Jesus to score political points and there are always those who hope to delegitimize Jesus by tying him negatively to their political opponents. There are rarely those actually seeking to learn follow and submit to Jesus in every aspect of their lives. Jesus calls these men out as the hypocrites they are for speaking well of him when they at their core opposed to him and seek to trap him in a debate. It’s one thing to know you’re trying to be trapped in debate; it’s another thing to be able to get out of it. Don’t argue with Jesus, you’re going to lose.
Verse 19-21 | Render Rightly
Jesus response is “show me the coin for the tax.” The tax was paid with a certain coin, a denarius. Jesus see the coin and asks who’s “likeness/image” and inscription is on the coin. This coin didn’t just have the image of Caesar on it (no big deal to us we put presidents on ours.) The confession of any Roman Citizen is “Caesar is Lord” The coins inscription says “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” The back of many says “High Priest” The people of Israel were required to pay their taxes, with a coin whose image and inscriptions has an exclusive truth claim that Caesar is the son of God and worthy of worship. Jesus affirms Caesar’s claim to this tax. “Render to Caesar what is Caesars AND to God what is God’s.” To “Render” is significant, it is different than the “pay/give” word used by the Pharisees. Render means “to pay what is owed” What Jesus is teach in this moment is a concept that transcends a tax controversy. He is making a massive shift in the nature of God’s people’s relationship with the civil governments of this world. Israel as a nation created by God had their government and worship of God inseparably connected in one sphere, but now they are under Rome. Jesus says we have a responsibility to our civil governments AND to God. This creates two distinct spheres. Two spheres but they are not equal and they are not entirely separate. There is earthly government whose sphere exists inside the sphere of what is God’s domain. We serve Caesar in a way that honors God. There is not a part of Government that God doesn’t care about or lay claim to; from national defense to parks and rec. What is your engagement with it? These categories are taken from Wayne Grudem’s Voting as a Christian 5 wrong views and a better way:
Government should compel religion: Caesar has his sphere but how/who/why we worship should not be in it.
Government should exclude religion: Freedom of religion is turned into freedom from religion. Religion should have no influence. Our faith is intended to be personal but it is never expected to remain private.
All Government is evil and demonic: This has recently become more popular by pastors like Greg Boyd who in Myth of a Christian Nation says “Functionally, satan is the CEO of all earthly governments.” This idea uses satan’s own words in Luke 4 and ignores piles of biblical teaching on God’s role in earthly government.
Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
Do Evangelism, Not Politics: We are called as Christians to good works and love our neighbors, that includes politics. Jesus didn’t shy away from this controversy and say “Hey my mission is to save soul from the wrath of God in Hell by dying on the cross, I can’t be distracted or involved in political matters.” John came preaching the gospel of the kingdom AND spoke out against “all the evil things Herod had done”
Do Politics, Not Evangelism: There is a heart of idolatry that assumes morality can be legislated and right political outcomes can save a people. If you are more concerned with people converting politically or elections victories/defeats then the condition of people’s souls you’ve missed the mark.
Where do you need to repent of having politics as an idol? Or being apathetic to the political process?
Better way |Significant Christian Influence on Government: As Christians we have a unique role in the communities and countries we live in and are called too. We are both ambassadors and citizens, our primary and ultimate citizenship is in heaven. Yet we are also citizens of nations here on earth; that means we have both a call and duty to actively engage in the welfare of the people and places God has called us too. Politics leads to policies, and policies affect people’s lives either positively or negatively. If we are to love our neighbors then we need to be involved at various levels of the political process. We fulfill our duties as citizens (pay taxes, respect laws, etc), we pray for our leaders and communities. In our county, as a representative republic with democratically elected officials and ballot initiatives we have an additional responsibility to vote and be engaged. What has God called you too as an ambassador and as a steward?
Recently there has been a growing trend to call Christians to political disengagement some saying “take a year off of politics.” KUOW Article on church shopping a person frustrated by hearing politics from the pulpit said. “You talk about spiritual matters in church,” she said. “Who you vote for is not a spiritual matter.” Wrong! Who or what you vote for or against is a spiritual as how you vote with your dollars, how you vote with your body. If you are a Christian you are not your own you are God’s. If your God can’t come with you into the voting booth, or the town square, then you won’t let him into the bedroom, or your wallet, or your family, or anything of any import or value. We don’t sit elections out and we don’t disengage from our cities AND we don’t forget His mission. William Wilberforce didn’t take a year off of seeking to abolish slavery in Britain, and we don’t year off of fighting against human trafficking. What would our cities look like if all Christians completely disengaged from government and all decisions of import are made by men and women who only seek to honor themselves? So what does being ambassadors who participate look like? Bible believing, Jesus loving, Gospel-centered Christians can debate and disagree about what is Caesar’s and what is God’s but we do have some clarity and some absolutes. Governments may be inside the sphere of what is God’s but that doesn’t always mean they operate in a godly manner. They are all run by men and women who are infected with sin. The first vote we ever made as humanity was to declare our independence from God. The issue on the table was will we, or will we not, submit to God’s wisdom, provision, and rule for our lives. “We the people of the Garden in an effort to form a more perfect union declare our independence from our Creator and do so though casting off the totalitarian restrains of His one oppressive law of refraining eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Since that time each government since has tried to speak into and shape policy where God has already clearly spoken. As ambassadors we need to be discerning to see where our governments and cultures seek to assert authority beyond what should be with in their auspices. Specifically at Damascus Road we believe God has already spoken in creating men and women, absolutely equal in value and absolutely distinct in gender design. Reflecting that design, and His character, we believe God instituted marriage to be a complementary relationship between one man and one women. Furthermore, we believe God is the author of life, He decides when life begins, and His word (and science) is clear distinct human life begins at conception, is valuable, and worthy of care and protection. Regardless of any efforts, past or present, by the courts of Caesar in our country to redefine any of these things we will not cease graciously speaking and acting in a ways that reflect the unchanging truths of God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We will be bold and respect the role of government, even when it is decidedly non-Christian.
1Peter 2:13-17 13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Here is Peter who saw his king, The King, Jesus, beaten by Roman soldiers, mocked as “king of the Jews”, hung up on a Roman Cross, his heart pierced by a Roman spear, and execute, and he is saying Christians should, “Honor the Emperor.” He can say that because he knows who ultimately everything is God’s and nothing is truly Caesar’s alone. The coin may have Caesar’s image and inscription but God made the metal it’s fashioned from and the land Caesar claims as his. We are made in God’s image. Because of our sin we owe God. Jesus renders “pays what is owed” by us on the cross and they by grace we are given a direct righteousness transfer from Jesus to us. We have an inscription on our hearts and our souls that says we are God’s children. Because of the resurrection we live lives following our King and serving His world.
Verse 22 | Marvel and Follow Jesus
Jesus’ opponents marveled. They are impressed with Jesus yet they still leave him and go their own way. They did not follow him! Do not make the same mistake! Following anyone but Jesus is eternally foolish. Tiberius is dead, Rome is in ruins, at some point we will be dead, and the US will be no more; but the Kingdom of God is forever and pledging allegiance to Jesus as Lord will never be in vain. Trust Jesus!
More in Rejection of the King | Matthew Part IV
June 14, 2015The Woes from the King Part 3: Forsaken City | Empty Temple - Matthew 23:37 - 24:2
June 7, 2015The Woes from the King Part 2: Seven Charges - One Verdict | Matthew 23:13-36
May 31, 2015The Woes from the King Part 1: Unbearable Preachers | Matthew 23:1-12