Matt 22:17 Paying Tribute Unto Caesar 4/13/2008 ßà
#1. A Devilish Plot (Matt 22:15, Deut 17:14-15, Psalm 2:2, 56:5-7, 57:6, 59:3)
#2. Is It Lawful to Give Tribute Unto Caesar? (Matt 22:17, Luke 2:1, Rom 13:1-7)
#3. We Must Pay What We Owe (Matt 22:19-21, 1Tim 5:8)
Please open your Bibles to the Gospel According to Matthew, Matt 22:15 (2X). We are continuing our travels through the Gospel of Matthew, and today we are in the 2nd sermon of Matt 22. The Lord Jesus is still dealing with the Pharisees in this part of the chapter. Here they are confronting the Lord with a question about “Paying Tribute unto Caesar”. And so, the title of this sermon is, “Paying Tribute Unto Caesar”. We also need to keep in mind that this dialog occurred on Tuesday morning, three days before the Lord Jesus was nailed to the cross, and we need to ask why God arranged the events so that this dialog was recorded so close to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Let us now read about:
You all know what pests are? Pests are any animals that cause us a great deal of irritation. Termites are pests. Cockroaches are pests. Rats and mice are pests. Poisonous snakes are deadly pests. Bad guys are often referred to as pests. Their crimes are causing a great deal of irritation and annoyance. The Pharisees were swarming around Jesus like deadly pests. They were as dangerous as poisonous snakes. They were always testing Jesus to the uttermost. They were always trying to catch Him in His words so that they could neutralize His teachings. We read in Matt 22:15-22,
Mt 22:15 ¶ Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
Mt 22:16-21 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
Mt 22:22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
When we read in verse 15 that “the Pharisees took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk”, we must understand that this was the best trap that they in their human wisdom could come up with. This was not an innocent question. They did not desire to be educated in this matter. They had already made up their mind. But with this question they intended to catch the Lord Jesus in His words. We read in Mark 12:13, “And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words”. They intended to set a trap which could have made an end to the life of Jesus. For we read in the Gospel of Luke in the passage that runs parallel to Matt 22, in Luke 20:20, “And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor”. You see, the answer that Jesus gives would have caused Him to be delivered “unto the power and authority of the governor”. And so, this was not an innocent question. This was a devilish plot. They wanted to get Him killed.
#1. A Devilish Plot (Matt 22:15, Deut 17:14-15, Psalm 2:2, 56:5-7, 57:6, 59:3)
As you know, the Romans occupied the land. Almost all the Jews hated the Roman rulers and their soldiers. The Roman Emperor imposed taxes, and all the Jews hated those taxes. And so, when the Pharisees together with the Herodians plotted to set a trap for Jesus, they that knew whichever way Jesus answered this question it would be to His downfall. If Jesus would object to paying taxes, then the Pharisees were ready to deliver Him to the Governor with the accusation that He was inciting rebellion against the government, and they could bring the Herodians as witness that this was so. If Jesus would approve of paying taxes, then the Pharisees were ready to accuse Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before all the people that He was on the side of the Romans, and that He was opposing the Law of Moses. And for this they could have Him stoned to death. Put a sticker here in Matt 22 for we will be returning to this spot many times, and please turn in your Bibles to the Prophecy of Deuteronomy, Deut 17:14 (2X). In this chapter God imposed laws against idolatry and God gave authority to priests and appointed judges to enforce these laws even unto the penalty of death. Within this context God gave laws concerning kings that were ruling over the children of Israel. Let me show you here that if Jesus approved of paying taxes to the Romans, then Jesus would be opposing the Law of Moses. We read in:
De 17:14-15 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
In other words, the only king over Israel whom God would approve of would be a descendant of Jacob, a fellow Israelite, but not a descendant of Isaac. The family of Herods appointed by Rome were Edomites, descendants of Esau, and this was not approved by the Law of Moses. Any taxes paid to Rome were used to support the Roman Empire and to support the family of Herods as they ruled on behalf of Rome. The Herodians were servants of Herod, and were on the hand of the Roman rulers. The circle of enemies around the Lord Jesus consisted of Pharisees, who were witnesses of the Law of Moses, and Herodians, who were spies and witnesses of any infraction that might endanger the Roman rulership. These two groups were setting up a question to Jesus on which they almost certainly expected the wrong answer for one of the two groups. It reminds us of the words in Psalm 2:2, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed”. All the rulers of the land were teaming up together “against the Lord, and against His anointed”, where the Lord’s anointed refers to His Christ. These treacherous enemies of the Lord are abundantly referenced in the Psalms. For example, we read in Psalm 56:5-7, “
Ps 56:5-6 Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul.
Ps 56:7 Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God.
We also read in Psalm 57:6, “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. Selah”. And we also read in Psalm 59:3, “For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O LORD”. These words are not there only for the Lord Jesus. These words were also recorded for us. We are in this world as sheep among wolves. We are in this world surrounded by enemies of God and enemies of Christ, who are watching every move we make, and are listening to every word we speak, so that they can catch us by surprise. And since we are fallible human beings, it is only a matter of time when we, in an unguarded moment, make a misstep, or speak a wrong word, and then they pounce on us and try to make financial hay out of our mistakes. This goes on all the time, everywhere in the world. It is called “White collar crime”. This world is filled with people who are out to defraud their fellow man, or who intend to do us harm. That is why we need a government to protect us. But even the government is laced with corrupt people who try to make financial hay out of the people they rule. And so, what went on in the time when Jesus walked the earth is still going on today. Do not deceive yourselves that we are living is a time of peace and quietness. Watch and pray, for wicked forces and evil powers gather in unseen array, are watching our every moves, and are waiting for our unguarded hours. The messengers of Satan are present in greater numbers than the messengers of Christ, and this has always been the case throughout history. Please return now to the Gospel of Matthew, Matt 22:16 (2X). Let us look now at the circle of enemies around the Lord Jesus.
Mt 22:16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
The Herodians were not friends of the Pharisees. To the Pharisees the Herodians were messengers of Satan, for they were ignoring the Law of Moses. But for the sake of destroying Jesus they were willing to ally themselves with whatever powers there were at hand, even if it means to strike a deal with the Devil. And is this not what we also see today? Our enemies, which are also the enemies of Christ, are willing to ally themselves with other branches of society in an effort to liberate the Christian religion from the constraints of the Word of God. That is what we see for example in the organization that is called the World Council of Churches, which is an agglomeration of all kinds of other gospels that are not the Gospel of the Bible. In Jesus’ days the Pharisees were teaming up with the Herodians for the sake of destroying the true Gospel preached by Jesus. This was not something new. They planned this already from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, for we read in Mark 3:6, “And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him”. Please turn in your Bibles to the Prophecy of Micah, Mic 3:9 (2X). You find the Prophecy of Micah right after Obadiah and Jonah, on page 1426 in my Bible. In this chapter of Micah the message sounds almost the same as that in Hos 4 where the Lord says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”. It is not only a message to the pre-Babylonian captivity of the OT congregation, but it is also a message to the NT church. God is not pleased with the lack of interest in the words of the Bible, as it is displayed by most church people today. When churches strike alliances with other churches, claiming that their doctrinal differences are not salvation issues, it is as if one church says to another, “You worship your god the way you like, and we will worship our god the way we like, and together we will be able to do great things, and we shall all go to heaven, for God is love”. This ecumenical attitude is great for the New Age Movement, but it is bad for the Gospel, for there is only one way to heaven, and that way is through the Christ of the Bible, and through Christ crucified for His elect. There is no other way. We read in Mic 3:9,
Mic 3:9-10 Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.
Mic 3:11-12 The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.
The message is clear: When the heads of the nation judge for a bribe, and when the priests serve for wages, and when the prophets prophesy for money, and yet everyone says, “Is not the Lord among us?” then watch out, for they are trying to build up the church with iniquity. They have struck a deal with people who have money, and they believe the Lord has blessed them, for they are able to build million dollar auditoriums and cathedrals. But the Lord is not pleased with this, and therefore the church shall be plowed as a field, and the house of the Lord shall be a high place of idolatry. It tells us that the present day church is on the way to become like the harlot Babylon of Rev 17. Let us now return to Matt 22:16. They approach the Lord Jesus with honeyed words. They say that Jesus teaches the way of God in truth, and that in His righteous judgments He is not a respecter of persons. “Jesus, you are an independent thinker, and you do not worry what men may say about you. There is no man you bow down to, not even Caesar”. They pretended that they were on Jesus’ side. Then we read in Matt 22:17,
#2. Is It Lawful to Give Tribute Unto Caesar? (Matt 22:17, Luke 2:1, Rom 13:1-7)
Mt 22:17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
To understand this question we need to know what the meaning is of the word “tribute” in this verse. The word “tribute” here does not mean something given as a gift showing respect or honor or affection. We should not read this question as, “Is it lawful to give honor unto Caesar, or not?” But rather the word “tribute” here means “tribute money”, or “a poll tax” that was imposed by the Romans on the population of Palestine. “A poll tax” was a personal tax of one denarius that every citizen of the Roman Empire had to pay every year. For example, when we read in Luke 2:1, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed”, the last word does not mean “taxed”, but “enrolled”, or registered. This decree from Caesar Augustus was that everyone in the Roman Empire had to be registered, so that from that day on every person had to pay every year this tribute money of one denarius to the Roman ruler. That is a “poll tax”. It had nothing to do with honoring Caesar, for it was a tax law that was forcibly imposed on every citizen.
But let us now consider the denarius. It was a coin the size of a dime that had on one side a picture of the emperor with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus”. On the other side was a picture of Caesar with an inscription that contained many abbreviations, but one of these abbreviations was PON, which meant “Pontifex Maximus”, which meant “Highest Priest”. And so, the question that was put to the Lord Jesus was this: “Is it lawful according to Moses, and according to God, to give to the Roman rulers a coin which obviously glorifies the emperor as divine, and honors him as the Highest Priest? Is it lawful to glorify the emperor in this way?” Please turn in your Bibles to the Epistle to the Romans, Rom 13:1 (2X). When we choose to live in a country such as this country, and when the government imposes taxes, for they say these taxes are for our own good, and they serve to protect us from external and internal enemies, then we have no choice but to pay what the government requires from us, for we must be subject to the government. That is what God teaches in Rom 13:1-7,
Ro 13:1-Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
And so, it is our God-given duty to honor the government and pay our taxes cheerfully. Whoever in our country was elected to be president, God tells us here in Rom 13:1-7 that it was God who put this man into that place. We also need to remember that God gave the apostle Paul these instructions when Nero was emperor in Rome. There was no emperor as wicked as Nero. Therefore, not only the emperor, but all the little rulers under him were also put there by God. We need to honor them also as ministers of God. Let us now turn again to the Gospel of Matthew, Matt 22:18 (2X). And there we read:
Mt 22:18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
The Lord perceived their devilish plot. He knew that they did not ask this question because they were eager for the answer. He knew that they had murder on their mind. But let us now ask the question: Did the Lord Jesus pay His tribute money? Please turn a few pages back in this Gospel of Matthew to Matt 17, Matt 17:24 (2X). We skipped this part when we were in Matt 17 three months ago. We read here the account of the Lord Jesus paying His tribute money. Jesus could not have called the Pharisees hypocrites unless He Himself has paid the tribute money. We read in Matt 17:24-27,
Mt 17:24-25 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Mt 17:26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Mt 17:27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Even though the Lord said that the children of the King of heaven are free from paying taxes, yet for the sake of not giving the appearance of evil the Lord instructed Peter to pay the tribute money for Him and for Peter. The Lord said to Peter, “Thou shalt find a piece of money”. It was only one coin, but this coin must have been worth more than two denarii, for Jesus says to use it to pay for the denarius He owed and the denarius Peter owed. Now we can also see why the Lord placed this event so close to His crucifixion. After His trial before the Sanhedrin they brought many false witnesses to Pilate. We read in:
Lu 23:2 And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
They perverted the truth willingly, and knowingly that the Lord Jesus never forbade giving tribute to Caesar. He said just the opposite. But is this not also what we see in the churches today? People twist the words of the Bible at their own convenience. Some say that the Bible consists of 66 books, and thus the commands of Rev 22:18-19 not to add and not to take away apply only to the book of Revelation. Then they take the next step and declare that God is still bringing divine messages today. Some say that God is not willing that any should perish, for God is love. Then they take the next step and declare that the word “destruction” means annihilation, which means there is no Hell. Some say that whosoever believes in Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life. Then they take the next step and declare that whosoever takes the initiative to believe in Christ shall have eternal life. I could make this a very long list but you can see from these examples that people today are twisting the Word of God to their own liking. They do not read the whole Bible; they only pick and choose here and there of their own liking. God warns them in Isa 28:13 where God says, “The word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken”. Yes, this is what “precept upon precept” means, “that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken”, which means “broken and snared and taken by Satan”. It is not without reason that the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” And it is for the same reasons that the Lord says to many churches today, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” Let us now turn again to Matt 22:19 (2X).
#3. We Must Pay What We Owe (Matt 22:19-21, 1Tim 5:8)
This is what the Lord Jesus said to them. We read in Matt 22:19-21,
Mt 22:19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny (a denarius).
Mt 22:20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
Mt 22:21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
In other words, “Pay the tribute money, for the money was made by Caesar’s servants, and thus it always was Caesar’s money. Give him the tribute money, for that is what the ruler of this country has required of you”. And thus, we must pay our taxes for we are the servants of this earthly king. And we must bring to God those things that belong to Him. What are examples of some things that belong to God? Let us begin with ourselves. If we consider that we are saved, it means that on the cross we were purchased by Christ with His own blood, and thus we belong to Him, body and soul. We are servants of the Most High. If we give our earthly king only a fraction of our money, then most certainly we shall give the King of kings much more of our money and all our time, for all that is rightfully His. Is that not so?
If we must pay our taxes, because the Lord demands from us that we pay our taxes, then we should pay it cheerfully. If the Lord has placed us in this country, then God also demands of us that we fulfill the obligations that come with living in this country. But what are our obligations to God? People like to think that our obligations to God are only prayer and Bible study. But if He bought us body and soul, we can readily see that He also wants us to support the church with our substance, and He also wants us to serve in the church as much as we can. For all that we have and are belongs to Him. Is that not so?
Now, the Lord knows that we have family members who also need to be supported. That is why the Lord does not demand 100% of our income. The Lord commanded in 1Tim 5:8, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel”. We are obligated to care for our family members. And now we are touching on a number of obligations that are just as pressing and just as important as paying taxes. The first obligation that we must continually pay is our obligation to our spouse. O Yes! When we made our marriage vows we made them in the presence of God. God was our witness when we vowed that we would love one another, and care for one another, to have and to hold, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. Do we realize what this means? This is an obligation just like paying taxes. It means that we have the obligation to stick together, even if one of us becomes insane. There are many types of insanity. For example, there is the insanity that comes with Alzheimer’s disease. Then there is the partial insanity that comes after a stroke, where the stroke victim often reacts in anger. Then there is the bipolar disease and other kinds of psychotic diseases, which are often self inflicted. We must not leave our spouse when this comes to pass, for this is like paying our taxes. We are given a God-given task. Most of us will be going through these kinds of problems, sooner or later. For some they come sooner than later. But all this is part of giving to God the things that belong to Him. We must pay what we owe. Let us then focus on our obligations, to God, and to our spouse, and to our church, and to the state, in this order of priority; first God, then spouse, then church, then the state. And since Matt 22 speaks about our obligation to the state, let us focus on what the Bible says about our obligations to the state. Please turn in your Bibles to the First Epistle of Peter, 1Pet 2:13 (2X).
In this passage of First Peter God reminds us that we are as strangers and pilgrims in this world, and that we are beset with all kinds of problems, but that we may abstain from fleshly lusts which are waging war against our soul. And then God says in 1Pet 2:13-17,
1Pe 2:13-17 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
We must submit ourselves “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake”. For it is the will of God that we walk in this world as servants of God, as children of the King, and as witnesses of His grace. This also means that we submit to the ordinances that are imposed upon us in the workplace. We do not do this for the employer’s sake, but for the Lord’s sake. Whom are we serving? We are not serving our employer, but we are serving the Lord. And so, we are carrying out our task as best as we can, for we are working for the Lord. And He is a terrific employer. All we do in His name bears His approval, including our failings. Remember that the Lord Jesus warned us for these things when He said in Matt 10:16, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”. This is not easy to do. We are commanded to be wise as serpents, but yet not as destructive as serpents, but harmless as doves. Only if the Spirit of God rests upon us can we be this way. That is because our obligations to the state and to the workplace are not independent of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. He bought us, and thus we are His servants and His witnesses wherever we find ourselves in. We are always examples of servants of Christ. And being His servants the Lord reminds us of the words of Col 4:6, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man”. This too is an integral part of paying tribute to our King, our Caesar whom we serve. AMEN. Let us turn to the Lord in prayer.