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Render unto Caesar

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 18, 2023 12:01 am

Render unto Caesar

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 18, 2023 12:01 am

In an attempt to trap Jesus, His enemies asked Him whether it was right to pay taxes to the emperor. Continuing his expositional series in the gospel of Luke, today R.C. Sproul explains what Christ's famous response teaches us about our responsibility before God and human government.

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When Jesus walked on this earth and true righteousness and holiness was manifest before the eyes of people, it didn't take brilliance to discern the difference between the real and the counterfeit. And so they were exposed. And because they were exposed by the true and authentic holiness of Christ, they couldn't wait to get rid of Him, and they hated Him. The longer that we're Christians, the longer the list grows of questions that we'd like to ask Jesus if we had the opportunity. Why did this happen? Why didn't that happen?

Why did God save me and not them? Well, of all the questions that you could ask Jesus, would you ever ask Him about taxation? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. Well, the chief priests and the scribes did have an opportunity to ask Jesus a question, and they did ask Him about taxation, but not because they were sincere. They were trying to catch Him in something that He said.

Here's R.C. Sproul as he continues his sermon series through the Gospel of Luke. We're going to continue with our study of the Gospel according to Saint Luke.

We'll be reading from Luke chapter 20, from verses 20 through 26, and ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God. The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on Him at that very hour, for they perceived that He had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched Him and sent spies who pretended to be sincere that they might catch Him in something He said so as to deliver Him up to the authorities and jurisdiction of the governor. And so they asked Him, Teacher, we know that You speak and teach rightly and show no partiality but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar or not? But He perceived their craftiness and said to them, Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have? They said, Caesar's. He said to them, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch Him in what He said, but marveling at His answer, they became silent. Again, this record of one more attempt of the authorities to trap Jesus in a question that they could use against Him is given to us through the superintendence and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and bears the stamp of the authority of God Himself.

Please receive it as such and be seated. Let's pray. Again, our Father, as we consider this text that we have just heard, we pray that You would stoop to our weakness, the frailty of our understanding, and give clarity to the meaning of what was taught by our Lord. And we pray that our hearts, unlike those who were questioning Him, would not be set against Him but would receive Him gladly, for we ask it in His name.

Amen. We notice that this portion of the Gospel of Luke follows immediately after the parable Jesus taught about the wicked tenants, in which He talked about that stone of offense, that stone that would be the chief cornerstone of His church, about which people would stumble, and yet if they continued in their offense against that stone, the stone itself would crush them. And so it was in response to that parable that now the determination of the scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the officers of the Sanhedrin to trap Him in order to be able to get rid of Him altogether. And so we read in chapter 20 that the scribes and priests sought to lay hands on Him in that very hour, for they perceived that He told this parable against them.

This was not a profound perception. How could they miss the implication of the parable that Jesus had just told them and that that parable was aimed at them? And so in their fury and in their indignation, in their rage, they didn't want to wait till Friday.

They wanted to take Him right now. And so we are told that they sent spies to listen to Jesus, and they were armed with questions that they were using to trap Him. But there was a pretense about them. We read that they pretended to be sincere. They pretended to be sincere. This is the very definition of hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy involves wearing a mask, cloaking insincerity, dishonesty, and an internal but invisible hatred. But they carried on their pretense, dripping praise like syrup from their lips as they came to Him in great aplomb. And in their pretense of sincerity, they said, teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly. We know that. We know, as Nicodemus had said before, that you're a teacher sent from God, or you wouldn't be able to do the things that you can do.

So we understand who you are. We know that you wouldn't teach any false doctrine, but that you teach rightly. I mean, that's a pretty good mask of insincerity because if they really knew that Jesus only had the ability and capacity to teach what is right, they wouldn't be asking the question at all. They would be asking some other question. If you had the opportunity to ask Jesus any question at all, one chance, one opportunity, what would you ask Him? I have so many questions up my sleeve that I can't wait to go to heaven and ask the answer to those difficult questions, but I certainly wouldn't ask Him about paying taxes to Caesar.

That's a no-brainer. There's a different, more difficult question to ask, but they chose that one because they were insincere and because they didn't believe that Jesus only told that which is right. And they said, you show no partiality, but you truly teach the way of God.

Let me stop right there. If you find somebody that's behaving poorly in the Bible, let this bell go off in your head because it probably represents you. We don't like to think of ourselves as being among the Pharisees and those who disguise with cleverness their distaste for Jesus, but we're probably more like these people than we are like those who truly believed that Jesus spoke the truth of God.

Let me just stop for a second. If you believe just this much about Jesus that He spoke the truth of God, if you really believe that, how would your life change? But secretly and inwardly we have serious questions about whether Jesus spoke the truth about God.

But before we get to the essence of this test and the question that they raised to Jesus, I'd like to ask a question of my own, and that's this. Why is it that these religious authorities hated Jesus so much? You know, when you talk to people who are unbelievers today, they usually are very complimentary of Jesus. They'll say, well, I don't believe that He was the Messiah or I don't believe that He was the Son of God, but Jesus was certainly a great person.

He was a great teacher. Maybe He was a prophet and so on. But why did these people speak the way they did and feel the way they did with such hostility towards Jesus? Well, I can't give you all the answers why they were motivated in this way, but I'm going to suggest three reasons before I get to the center of the text of why the religious authorities hated Jesus so much. And the first reason I can suggest is this, is they were insanely jealous of Him.

Why would they be jealous of the Son of God? Well, you know the history that everywhere Jesus went, He attracted huge throngs, multitudes, crowds, pressing around to listen to His every word, watching His every move. He was profoundly popular among the people, whereas the rulers of the Jews laid heavy burdens on their people, and they approached the masses, the Amarets, the people of the earth with something like a spirit of contempt. They looked down their noses towards the people.

Well, they wouldn't think of having dinner with a tax collector. But Jesus freely associated what the Pharisees considered to be rabble, and the people loved Him, and they received Him gladly. But what they felt from the Pharisees was judgment, that the only thing that the Pharisees looked at was their sin. And so the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes had a certain contempt for the common people, and now they see Jesus associating with them, cheering Him, loving Him. They couldn't stand it because they were jealous. But the second reason why I think they hated Him was because He exposed them. Before Jesus came, it was the Pharisees particularly as well as the Sadducees and scribes that set the moral standard for the community. They sat in the highest places in the synagogue. They were the ones who were most honored and celebrated for their virtue. But their virtue itself, as Jesus taught repeatedly, was a pretense.

It was external. He said, you're like dead men's tombs. Why did sepulchres that are painted without blemish on the surface but inside filled with dead men's bones?

You clean the outside of the platter, but the other side, the inner side is filthy. And you do everything possible to hide that impurity and that grime and that filthiness from public view. You pretend to be righteous. You don't just pretend to be righteous.

You major in that pretense of being righteous. That's why you're called Pharisees, the set-apart ones. You started as a group in the intertestamental period who were upset because the people were abandoning the purity of the covenant that they had made with God, and they were being lax in their morality and in their obedience to the commandments of God.

And so they said, we're going to draw together and draw apart from the common masses, and we're going to set a moral example. These were the conservatives of the day. They had a high system of honor and virtue and committed themselves to obeying God.

In fact, one sect among the Pharisees believed that if they could keep every law that God gave in the Old Testament just for 24 hours, that that would prompt God to send the Messiah to Israel. But a lot of things had happened between the day of the formation of the Pharisees and the time that they appeared now, where now they had just masqueraded as devotees of righteousness and obedience. In a word, ladies and gentlemen, they were counterfeit. They were fake. They were phony. Nothing ever reveals the distortion of the counterfeit like the presence of the genuine. And you can fool some of the people some of the time, you know, and most of the people all the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. And when Jesus walked on this earth and true righteousness and holiness was manifest before the eyes of people, it didn't take brilliance to discern the difference between the real and the counterfeit.

And so they were exposed, and because they were exposed by the true and authentic holiness of Christ, they couldn't wait to get rid of Him, and they hated Him. Recently at a funeral, I preached of a dear friend of mine who had talked to me about things of God on many occasions and had once asked me this question, R.C., does Jesus grade on a curve? Now after almost 50 years of being in the classroom with students and the university and the seminary, I understand what it means to grade on a curve. When you grade on a curve is when you're a bad teacher and give a bad examination, and everybody flunks the exam. And the old axiom is this, if the students didn't learn, the teacher didn't teach. And so because we have to cover our own failures, we decide to admit that, well, our test wasn't exactly fair, and so I'm going to grade it on a curve. If you made an F that was a high enough F, I may grade it up to a C or up to a B or whatever it is, and there's a formula for doing that.

But to break the curve means this. You have a classroom full of 30 students. You give the test, and 29 of them flunk the test, and there's that one student that makes 98 on the test. Now every time I've seen that happen in the classroom, the student who made the 98 would sit there with a smile, and I might say so-and-so here made a 98 on this test, and then the rest of the students would get to their feet in one and begin to applaud and cheer this person.

No, no, no, never happens. No, they can't stand this person that broke the curve. But I told my friend at the time before he died, I said, no, the bad news is Jesus doesn't grade on a curve. A lot of people think He will, but there is no curve. The good news is He broke the curve, but He broke it for us, and that was that point of Jesus.

He broke the curve. But just like normal students can't stand somebody who breaks the curve, so the Pharisees hated Him because He exposed their failure. The third reason I think that they hated Him among others is because they were afraid, not afraid so much directly about what He would do in His wrath to them, but He was afraid of the consequences of welcoming Him in their midst. Why were they afraid?

Look at the history. On almost every generation of Jewish people going back to Abraham, the people lived under the domination and oppression of a foreign nation. You've heard of the pox Romana. There's also the pox Israel, and the pox of Rosalia or the peace of Israel was always extremely short-lived. Almost always the people were a conquered people living under the oppression and the tyranny of their enemies, like in this case, Rome. And throughout the Jewish history, there had always been those who were committed to revolution, who wanted to throw off the yoke of tyranny of the foreigners who held them captive.

And you'll see one revolt after another in the history of Israel, and one revolt after another being quashed by the power of the enemy. And so, there were people who were numbered among Jesus' disciples who were called zealots. There were at least two of them, probably more in the company of Jesus, and it was the goal of the zealots like jihad today. They wanted to free their people from oppression against Rome. But if you are in a position of authority and power as the Sanhedrin members were, they feared the consequences of a revolt against Rome.

That's on almost every page of the New Testament. They feared the Romans. They feared that Jesus somehow would lead an insurrection, cause another uprising, consequently bring a bloodbath on the people.

And so, rather than shoot him in the front of his chest, they wanted to shoot him in the back. Several years ago, right at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, I was invited to give a series of lectures in Eastern Europe, including in the Czech Republic, in Romania, and also a week of lectures at a Reform seminary in Budapest, Hungary. And I heard a little bit of the background of this seminary. It was called a Reform seminary. But these people during the whole tenure of their occupation by the Soviet powers had no exposure to Reformed theology. This particular Reformed group in Hungary were ruled by bishops, and one of the first things the communists did when they conquered the nation was to undermine the clergy, to get the clergy in their pockets. And so, by way of collaboration, virtually every one of those bishops bowed down before the communist rulers and surrendered their faith. And not only did they surrender their faith, but they also expelled anybody in their midst who was faithful to biblical theology. And one of the professors who defended the authority of the Bible was summarily expelled from the faculty because the communist rulers didn't want to hear that, and the bishops played right into their hands.

And so, in a very short period of time, the whole faculty of the seminary was under the thumb of the communist rulers and of their regime. Oh, they still had a bronze bust of John Calvin on the staircase between the floors of the seminary, and the unusual thing about this bust of Calvin was that its head was inordinately shiny. And the reason why the bronze bust of Calvin was so shiny was because it was a tradition among the students that when they had to go for an examination in their classes, they would pause and stop on the staircase and rub their hand over the head of the bust of John Calvin for luck. Can you imagine the incongruity of that if there's any man's name in the history of the church more disassociated with the concept of luck? It was John Calvin.

But never mind, the students would stoop at nothing in order to gain some advantage in taking their examination. So they rubbed old John Calvin's head on their way. So anyway, there were decades in which not a single word of orthodoxy was ever taught in this institution. And then I was invited to come and lecture for six hours a day for five days on the inspiration, the authority, and the infallibility of the Bible.

There hadn't been anybody remotely close to that position in decades to appear as a professor in this environment. And I came when the faculty was as hostile as they possibly could be as well as the bishops, and there were a couple of hundred pastors who were there. And it was my task to give an apologetic for the defense of sacred Scripture.

It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life because when I would invite questions from the faculty, not a mumbling word was ever asked. They opened not their mouths. But the pastors would come up in tears, say, I knew that the Bible was the Word of God, but I just couldn't defend that, not in this environment. That was in the time, you know, in the Hungarian Revolution where parents were forbidden from praying with their children. And it was the law of the government that if they went to school and they would ask the children, did your parents pray with you, if the children said yes, the parents would be incarcerated because it was so forbidden. How do you understand that is that during the Nazi regime, the vast majority of the pastors in Germany succumbed. Oh, there were those who didn't, those who were martyrs, and those who were heroic in their defiance of the Third Reich. Or in Stalin's Russia, how many of the bishops of the Orthodox Church surrendered their faith because they didn't want to be martyred?

And so here's the thing. You let Jesus running around teaching what He's teaching, we're at risk. Caiaphas would just say a few days later, it is expedient that one man die for the good of the nation.

What was he thinking about? If we don't get rid of Jesus, we're going to have the Roman government down on our back. We'll have another revolution and another bloodbath, and it'll be a holocaust for us. So they didn't want to be associated with the one who was troubling Israel. You know, so many times when Christians stand their ground and receive arrows, they're in the back rather than the front because their brothers and sisters, so to speak, don't want them to rock the boat and bring the wrath of their enemies upon them. Remember that as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.

And so it was that they hated Him and despised Him for those and other reasons perhaps. And so finally they get to their point and they come and they bring the question before them, and listen to what the question is. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar or not? Is it okay for us to pay our taxes? We know that our taxes are used for lots of things that aren't good. We know that our taxes are used to support evildoing. And so is it important for us to refuse to pay our taxes?

What does a godly person do? And that kind of question was wrapped up within the implications, and so they made it simple. Is it lawful for us, that is from God's perspective, to pay our taxes to Caesar? Now, Jesus was never one to give a simple answer of yes or no. He again returns the question with a question. He says, does anybody here have a denarius? A denarius was a coin that was the value of basically one day's labor for a working person in Israel. Somebody there had a denarius and brought it forth before Jesus, and Jesus says to that person, whose image is on that coin? Whose likeness is found on the denarius?

And so they answered by saying, Caesars. Well, if you would look at a denarius at the time when Jesus was doing His ministry publicly at that moment, the emperor in Rome's name was Tiberius, who was the son of Augustus, the emperor Augustus Caesar, who was emperor when Jesus was born. But now the authority had passed to Tiberius, and Jesus said, whose image is on that coin? You look at one side of the coin of the denarius, and the name and picture was that of Tiberius, and it said in Latin, Tiberius Caesar, divine son of Augustus.

Don't miss that. Tiberius Caesar, the divine son of Caesar Augustus. On the other side of the coin were the words simply pontiff maxima.

You know what a pontiff is. He's the pope or a priest. And in this case, the inscription on the coin meant the highest priest, not just a priest, not just a high priest, but the superlative priest, the highest priest. And so Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, like his predecessor, considered himself a god, and it said on the coin, Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus.

He might have said on the coin, son of the deceased Augustus, son of the dead Augustus. You remember when the pastoral prayer was given just a few moments ago by Pastor Strzok, and he started off the prayer by mentioning some of the attributes of God. God, you are eternal. You are infinite. You are immutable.

Remember that? Well, this God Augustus was not eternal. He was not infinite, and he was not immutable.

He suffered the mutation of dying. And later on in the prayer, if you recall your own prayer, he said about Jesus, Thou art our only great high priest. Jesus is in the class by Himself as our supreme high priest. Tiberius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, has no capacity and no power to intercede before God for us. That task of being our great high priest falls to Jesus and to Jesus alone. And so Jesus said, you see the picture.

You can read the words, son of the divine Augustus, supreme high priest, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God. Well, when God established government and held governors responsible for how they administered justice, He gave to government the authority and the right to levy taxes. And governments have always gone nuts with how they levy taxes.

It's their favorite enterprise. And we understand that in history that many programs of taxation have been confiscatory, have been oppressive, have been unjust, creating awesome burdens upon the people. And it was typical of the rulers of antiquity and the rulers today to impose burdens upon the people by their taxation. And so the question was, should we pay our taxes?

But the New Testament is very clear. Even if the taxes are unjust, even if they're confiscatory, even if they're oppressive, it is our obligation to pay them. One word of caution, don't ever help enact an unjust tax. If you're a Christian, don't you ever vote for a tax on your neighbor that's not on yourself. Christians do it every time they go to the polls.

They'll vote for a tax on you that's not on them, and they contribute to the oppression and to the injustice and that sort of thing. God does not give you the right to do that. The government might give you the right to do that. In fact, the government does give you the right to do that, but God doesn't. But in the meantime, even though the tax may be unfair, I have to pay it. We read at the beginning of the Christmas story that in the days of Siva Augustus, a decree went out that all should be enrolled, going to their own city, enrolled for what?

For purposes of taxation. And Siva Augustus said that all the people had to go to their town where they were born in order to register for that tax. And so Joseph and Mary were there with this baby, and Joseph stands up and he says, not me. I'm not going to Bethlehem.

My wife's going to have the Messiah, and my wife might die, and the baby may die on that difficult trek from here to Bethlehem. No. It was unjust. It was oppressive. It was unfair. Joseph said, Mary, we're going to Bethlehem. It doesn't matter if it's unfair.

It doesn't matter if it's inconvenient. The only time we have the right to disobey the authorities is if they command us to do something God forbids or forbids us from doing something God commands. And so Jesus says, pay your taxes, not a popular message. But then He went on to say, and render to God the things that are God's. When Caesar commanded a loyalty oath to the Roman Empire and every person in it, the loyalty oath was simply this, that every person had to stand up in the square and say, Kaiser curios, Caesar is Lord. The first confession of the Christian church in the first century was simply this, Jesu so curios.

We'll pay our taxes. We'll drive our chariots within the speed limit. So we will not say, Kaiser curios, because you are not the Lord. Jesus is Lord.

And it's for that reason that they became human torches, illumining the gardens of Nero and fodder for the lions in the Colosseum and for the gladiators, because they knew who the Lord was. And they say, I render unto God the things that are God. I don't worship the government. I don't worship Caesar, Tiberius, Augustus, Julius, or any of them.

We worship God and God alone. And we understand that our high priest who gave the one perfect sacrifice once for all to redeem our sins was not Tiberius Caesar. It was not Augustus Caesar. It was Jesus who paid the price for your redemption. And so Jesus answered, Give Caesar his due. He's due taxes, but not worship. He doesn't intercede for you. He doesn't make an atone for you.

Those things are to be given to God. And so in the presence of the people, we're told they were not able to catch Him, but they marveled at His answer, and they remained silent. You're listening to the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. That was R.C.

Sproul. He preached that sermon at St. Andrew's Chapel in central Florida where he served as the first minister of preaching and teaching. It was actually one sermon of 113 that he preached through Luke's Gospel, and those sermons formed the foundation for his expositional commentary series on Luke. And today, for your donation of any amount, we'll give you digital access to that commentary, so give your gift at When you do, the e-book edition of this commentary will become available in your learning library in the free Ligonier app or at So give your gift today by visiting We'll continue R.C. Sproul's sermon series through the Gospel of Luke next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-18 03:02:18 / 2023-06-18 03:14:11 / 12

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