Sermon title:  A TRICK QUESTION, ANSWERED WITH A COIN

 

Matthew 22:15-22

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, September 1, 2019

 

 

 

During the final days of our Lord Jesus’ ministry,

before they engaged Judas Iscariot to betray him,

Christ’s enemies in Jerusalem

were still looking for other ways

to destroy him.

 

Christ was teaching openly in the Temple courtyards.

 

And his enemies sparred with him verbally,

challenging him and questioning him and accusing him

in front of the crowds.

 

Then they hatched a plan

to trick him into saying something

that could get him into trouble,

either with the Roman authorities

or with the crowds of Jews at the Temple.

 

We read about it in Matthew Chapter 22,

beginning with Verse 15.

 

But, to help us grasp the situation better,

we should first identify

the various groups wielding power

in Jerusalem at that time.

 

The city and the surrounding area

were all occupied

by a hostile foreign power—the Roman Empire.

 

Roman soldiers manned the fortresses,

and Roman soldiers acted as the police force

patrolling the city streets.

 

Jerusalem’s population was made up almost entirely of Jews,

as it had been for more than a thousand years.

 

But the Jews themselves

were divided into various political and religious factions,

very much as they are in modern Israel today.

 

The major factions

were the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians.

 

These were all hostile to each other,

but they were united in their hatred of Jesus.

 

The Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jews.

 

To ensure the enforcement of the Law of Moses—

the laws God gave to Israel through Moses

after leading them out of slavery in Egypt—

the Pharisees added their own

rules and regulations,

which they also treated as the law of God.

 

But they were hypocritical

and failed to keep God’s laws themselves.

 

The Sadducees drew from the wealthy upper class,

and they thought they knew better than the Bible.

 

They rejected belief in spirits

or life after death

or angels

or any hope of future resurrection for the dead.

 

The Sadducees remind us of today’s liberal churches.

 

The Herodians were more political than religious.

 

They were the allies of the powerful Herod family

that produced a series of non-Jewish local rulers:

Herod the Great, Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas.

 

The Herodians adopted Greek culture

and worked closely with the Romans. 

 

All three groups hated Jesus

and cooperated together

to have him arrested and put to death.

 

Beginning at Matthew 22:15,

we read about how the Pharisees and the Herodians

tried to trap him with a trick question—

whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.

 

A “No” answer from Jesus

would make him liable to arrest by the Romans

for inciting tax rebellion.

 

But a “Yes” would turn against him

the Jewish crowds at the Temple

who hated having the Roman invaders run their country

and who hated paying taxes to the Romans.

 

It seemed that Jesus

was put into an impossible situation,

where he would be in trouble,

regardless of whether he answered “YES” or “NO.”

 

But he took the Pharisees and the Herodians

by surprise

when he used a Roman denarius coin

to answer the question.

 

Beginning at Matthew 22:15, we read,

 

15 Then the Pharisees went out

and laid plans to trap him in his words.

 

16 They sent their disciples to him

along with the Herodians.

 

"Teacher," they said,

"we know you are a man of integrity

and that you teach the way of God

in accordance with the truth.

You aren't swayed by men,

because you pay no attention to who they are.

 

17 Tell us then, what is your opinion?

 

Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

 

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said,

 

"You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?

 

19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax."

 

They brought him a denarius,

 

20 and he asked them,

 

"Whose portrait is this?

And whose inscription?"

 

21 "Caesar's," they replied.

 

Then he said to them,

 

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's,

and to God what is God's."

 

22 When they heard this, they were amazed.

 

So they left him and went away.

 

They failed to trap Jesus in his words

because they were trying

to match wits with the Son of God.

 

Sinners today can’t outsmart God, either.

 

But, like the Pharisees and Herodians,

they try it anyway,

because they don’t recognize who they’re dealing with.

----------------------------------------------------

 

Notice, though, the techniques

that these enemies of Christ tried to use

to trap him.

 

They started out by flattering him:

 

"Teacher," they said,

"we know you are a man of integrity

 

and that you teach the way of God

in accordance with the truth.

 

You aren't swayed by men,

because you pay no attention to who they are.

 

They didn’t really look up to Jesus as “a man of integrity.

 

They were just flattering him.

 

They didn’t really believe

that he taughtthe way of God

in accordance with the truth.

 

They were just flattering him.

 

They didn’t really admire Jesus

because he was not “swayed by men

no matter “who they are.

 

They were just flattering him.

 

Flattery is deadly

and is condemned throughout the Bible.

 

Psalm 12:2 condemned wicked Israelites

for their flattery

when it said,

 

“Everyone lies to their neighbor;

they flatter with their lips

but harbor deception in their hearts.”

 

Yes, flattery is a form of lying.

 

And it’s often used the way the Pharisees and Herodians used it

to trap an innocent victim.

 

Proverbs 29:5 says,

 

Those who flatter their neighbors

are spreading nets for their feet.

 

That means trapping people:

spreading nets for their feet.

 

That’s what the Pharisees and Herodians

did when they flattered Jesus

in their effort to trap him.

 

And that’s what people do today

when they use flattery as a tool to manipulate others.

 

The New Testament writer Jude

warned about people in Christian churches

who used flattery.

 

At Jude 1:16, he said

 

These people are grumblers and faultfinders;

they follow their own evil desires;

they boast about themselves

and flatter others for their own advantage.

 

After flattering Jesus like that,

the Pharisees went on to ask him,

 

17 Tell us then, what is your opinion?

 

Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

 

That’s how it reads in the NIV, the New International Version—

 Is it right”?

 

But many other translations say,

Is it lawful

and that may be a more accurate rendering

of the Greek word found in the Gospel manuscripts.

 

These were Jews,

and they wanted Jesus to comment

on whether Jewish law

permitted the payment of tax to Caesar.

 

Was it OK for Jews who owed their allegiance to God

to pay tax to Caesar?

 

Verse 18 tells us,

 

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said,

 

"You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?

 

Christ called them “hypocrites.”

 

The Greek word hypokrites refers to an actor wearing a mask.

 

In the ancient Greek theater,

each actor wore a mask

with the face of the character

they were pretending to be.

 

Hypocrites pretend to be someone

other than who they really are—

just as if they put on a mask.

 

These hypocrites

told Jesus how good and wonderful

they believed him to be,

when, actually, they hated him,

and were trying to get him killed.

 

We read,

 

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said,

 

"You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?

 

Their intent was evil.

 

They were setting a trap,

because they expected to get Jesus into trouble,

regardless of whether he answered their question

“YES” or “NO.”

 

A “No” answer from Jesus

would make him liable to arrest by the Romans

for inciting the crowds

not to pay their taxes.

 

But a “Yes” would turn against him

the Jewish crowds

who hated paying taxes to the Romans.

 

Our Lord surprised them

when, instead of saying “YES” or “NO”

he said to them,

 

19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax."

 

They brought him a denarius.

 

A denarius was a small silver coin,

about the size of a dime—

although it was worth a day’s pay

for an agricultural worker.

 

It was a coin issued by the Romans

and it featured

a portrait of Caesar,

just as we have Lincoln on our penny

and Jefferson’s face on our nickel.

 

Along with the image

the coin had an inscription

identifying the face as the Emperor, Caesar.

 

When they brought Jesus the coin,

 

he asked them,

 

"Whose portrait is this?

And whose inscription?"

 

21 "Caesar's," they replied.

 

Then he said to them,

 

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's,

and to God what is God's."

 

The enemies who were trying to trap him

were astounded with Jesus’ answer.

 

He didn’t fall into their trap.

 

And he gave an answer

that made so much sense,

they couldn’t argue with it.

 

Verse 22 says,

 

22 When they heard this, they were amazed.

 

So they left him and went away.

 

It was obvious that a coin

with Caesar’s portrait on it

and his inscription—

that such a coin, issued by Caesar,

belonged to Caesar.

 

If Caesar demanded it back,

in the form of a tax,

he had a right to it,

because it was his.

 

Even those who hated Caesar

had to admit that.

 

And even those who hated Jesus

had to admit that he was right

in the answer that he gave to their trick question.

----------------------------------------------

 

So, there are several lessons

crammed into those 8 verses we read from Matthew chapter 22.

 

We find there a real-life example

of how evil flattery is—

that those who flatter people to manipulate them

are laying a trap for them,

like spreading a net under their feet.

 

We see how God disapproves of hypocrites

who pretend to be someone they are not,

just like an actor wearing a mask

with a different face on it.

 

We see how futile it would be

to match wits with God,

trying to out-smart him.

 

The Pharisees and Herodians thought they had

a fool-proof way to trap Jesus in his words,

but he blew them away with his answer.

 

And we have a lesson about

our financial obligation to the government,

even if it’s a hostile government we don’t like—

even if we hate the ones in power,

as the Jews in Israel hated the Roman Caesar.

 

Having a bad government

or a bad leader in charge

is not a valid excuse

for Christians to quit paying their taxes.

 

The Apostle Paul makes that clear

in the 13th Chapter of his Letter to the Romans.

 

Paul himself was persecuted by the ruling authorities,

but he still taught

that we have obligations

to pay our taxes and obey the laws.

 

He indicated that this is God’s arrangement—

to have human governments maintain law and order.

 

Beginning at Romans 13:1, Paul wrote,

 

1 Let everyone be subject

to the governing authorities,

for there is no authority

except that which God has established.

 

The authorities that exist

have been established by God.

 

2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority

is rebelling against what God has instituted,

and those who do so

will bring judgment on themselves.

 

3 For rulers hold no terror

for those who do right,

but for those who do wrong.

Do you want to be free

from fear of the one in authority?

 

Then do what is right and you will be commended.

 

4 For the one in authority is God’s servant

for your good.

 

But if you do wrong, be afraid,

for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.

They are God’s servants,

agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

 

5 Therefore, it is necessary

to submit to the authorities,

not only because of possible punishment

but also as a matter of conscience.

 

6 This is also why you pay taxes,

for the authorities are God’s servants,

who give their full time to governing.

 

7 Give to everyone what you owe them:

If you owe taxes, pay taxes;

if revenue, then revenue;

if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

 

So, our Father in heaven expects Christians

to be tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.

 

The government maintains the highways

and protects us from robbers and thieves,

and so, we are obligated to pay for those services.

----------------------------------------------

 

But, the Apostle Paul who wrote this

was himself, arrested and jailed

on more than one occasion.

 

Why was that, if he was behaving

as a tax-paying, law abiding citizen?

 

It was because Paul was living his faith

in obedience to God,

and there are times

when our obedience to God

may put us into conflict with the authorities.

 

Jesus said,

 

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's,

and to God what is God's."

 

Our highest authority is God himself,

and so we need to give “to God what is God's,

even when Caesar wants us to do otherwise.

 

So, when the authorities commanded the early Christians

to stop preaching the Gospel in public places,

 Acts 5:29 says,

 

Peter and the apostles answered,

 

“We must obey God rather than men.”

 

And that’s true of us today, too,

whenever the government requires

to do something contrary to God’s Word in the Bible.

 

As Peter said,

“We must obey God rather than men.”

 

Or, as our Lord Jesus said,

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's,

and to God what is God's."

 

That’s how it reads in the NIV.

 

Other translations put it this way:

 

Give “to Caesar the things that are Caesar's,

and to God the things that are God's."

 

“give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,

and give to God what belongs to God.”

 

We owe the government our taxes

and our obedience to the laws of the land.

 

But, when the government’s laws or court rulings

go contrary to the Word of God,

then we must obey the highest authority—

our Father in heaven.

 

And that is true,

even if we face arrest

as Peter and the apostles did,

when the authorities

told them to stop preaching Christ,

and they replied,

“We must obey God rather than men.”

 

Our highest loyalty and obedience belongs to God.