increasing polarization of the American body politic has obliged Christians to
look more carefully at their responsibilities and rights as citizens. In this
lesson we shall see that the problem is by no means new – nor is the solution.
Mat 22:15-22 NASB
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He
said. (16) And they *sent their disciples to
Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are
truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are
not partial to any. (17) "Tell us then,
what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" (18) But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? (19) "Show Me the coin used for the
poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. (20) And He *said to them, "Whose
likeness and inscription is this?" (21)
They *said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He *said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and
to God the things that are God's." (22)
And hearing this, they were amazed, and
leaving Him, they went away.
we begin with a personal touch? The teacher would point out to you that the
Pharisees, in their slyness, have actually (in verse 16) produced a good list
of the characteristics of a good teacher:
must be personally truthful – what he says, he means.
must teach the way of God, not his own way.
must show no partiality.
is pretentious flattery in their mouths; it shows us that the lie will wrap
itself in truth to gain acceptance.
problem behind the problem
Pharisees of this time had a theory. It held that if you made all the ritual
sacrifices, followed the law of God (and their traditions, of course) closely,
you were exempt from the law of man. It is an old argument. Diogenes remarked
that he was not a citizen of Athens, but a citizen of the world. The remark is
usually made just before some act of disobedience. The concept is a recurrent
one. A citizen of the world usually considers himself saintly – a saintly
the Roman system such things were nicely tolerated – by Rome. The Roman system
used local royalty (in this case, Herod) to rule the landscape – but doing so
at the pleasure of Rome and full payment of taxes. It was not Rome’s problems to deal with such a rebel; it was the local king. The dealings were
you can see the threat that is made to Jesus. Either give in to Caesar, and
pay the poll tax (and endangering His credibility with the people) or defy
Caesar – in which case the Herodian soldiers would take appropriate action. On
the one hand disobedience; on the other, treason.
calls them “tempters”.
So indeed they are. More than that they are very odd bedfellows. The
Herodians are the left wing party of the day, the liberals who believe that the
king should be out there watching out for those who did not appreciate his
program. The Pharisees are WERFs – Wild Eyed Right wing Fundamentalists – of
their day. If you can imagine the National Organization for Women and Focus on
the Family marching together,
you have an idea what this little band looked like to the people of the time.
You could tell at sight these two were up to no good.
must see the obvious: Christ’s answer is a harsh one. Sometimes tough love is
shows them that He understands their motives; He is not fooled. (A point
which is important to keep in mind when in prayer).
does so in the hope of their salvation. It is His purpose to seek and
save the lost. Even when there is so little hope of it, there is not “no
hope.” So He must try.
answer is a challenge to them. He uses their coin to make His point, and
makes them look foolish in change.
might ask the Pharisees’ question: why should we “render unto Caesar?”
has ordained such governments – even those governments which were to exile
the Israelites to a foreign land were ordained by God to do so.
is a noticeable fact that the Gospel spreads best not when men’s hearts
are hardened in war, but in time of peace. The greatest expansion of
missionary efforts yet made came during the Pax Britannica, the
peace on earth of the later 19th century.
are specifically commanded to pray for those in authority over us.
there is this: you may say you are a citizen of the world, but you ride
American roads, use American currency to buy your meals and pay your rent, and
are protected from gang rule by American policemen. If you lean on Caesar’s
arm for such support, you should expect to support Caesar as well.
what is due God? That you love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and
strength. The coin was the symbol of Caesar’s rule over his kingdom; the
greenback is the symbol of rule over our own country. So you might ask, what’s
the equivalent in the kingdom of God? Caesar’s coinage had his picture stamped
on it. So does God’s coinage. His image is stamped on each of us. like it or
not. And like any other coinage, it is frequently the subject of
is a fact: in first reading the New Testament seems contradictory on the
subject of government. Is it the kingdom of Satan, or is it the legitimate
authority, sanctioned by God?
Romans Paul argues
that the government is indeed a legitimate authority in this world.
in Ephesians he argues
that our struggle is against the powers of this world – a spiritual
then mandates a submission to all authority.
then, the question is: is it right that a Christian submits to authority?
nature of submission and authority
first fact: submission, in and of itself, means nothing. It needs a formula
to be defined. One may submit to a teacher’s instruction, a policeman’s
command to pull over, or a court’s order, Whether or not this is in accord
with God’s will depends entirely upon the nature of the authority. You cannot
buy a pound of submission. You cannot be in submission, you can only be in
on the other hand, is by its nature very specific. Please distinguish this
from power; power says what you can do, authority says what you have the right
to do. How did you acquire this right? If your authority descends from God,
it is righteous authority – because He never gives authority without responsibility.
By your responsibilities you will know your true authority, for in the kingdom of God authority is given so that the responsibilities of power might be carried
out. The tyrant has no true place in the church; only the servant leader.
comes when authority taken does not match responsibility given. When King John
exalts himself his barons force upon him the Magna Charta – and the king is not
above the law. The character of the ruler is supremely important, even in our
republican form of government. In these days when the rule of law is fading
into history while the power of the government grows ever stronger, it is well
to remember King John.
Christian’s duty in democracy
are certain Christian duties which have arisen with the concept of
parliamentary democracy. We may take it as an obligation of good citizenship
that we will vote, and that intelligently. This may cause eyestrain while
reading the propositions on a California election ballot, but it must be done.
It is a way we support the government, whether Republican or Democrat.
I submit there are two things that a Christian in particular must do in these
dark days. Both are commanded, and I fear neglected.
are to pray for them, indeed so much so that their tasks become a joy to
are to overcome evil with good.
The early church sent many martyrs to the grave without a hint of
rebellion. The same weapons are ours.
birth of America was accompanied by predictions of doom. It would not be long,
some said, that the colonists would come back to the king begging to be taken
home. Their system would soon turn into tyranny, they thought.
our founding fathers knew one thing: they led a land of Christians. They knew
that, as De Tocqueville once said, America is great because she is good. When
she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. Democracy depends utterly
upon the character of the men and women who lead, and the citizenry which
supports them. When authority oversteps its responsibilities, tyranny
results. Citizens beware, the times, they are a’changin’. The church has many
martyrs; I fear their numbers will soon increase.