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“Render to Caesar…” (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 23, 2020 4:00 am

“Render to Caesar…” (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 23, 2020 4:00 am

Does God command believers to pay taxes? When the Pharisees cornered Jesus with this thorny question, did He side with the government? Learn from Christ’s masterful response when you listen to Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Jesus often found himself being interrogated by the Pharisees. The Gospel of Mark describes several occasions, such as the one we'll learn about today, when these notorious hypocrites tried to sabotage Jesus' credibility by posing a politically charged question. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg describes a moment when they wanted Jesus to take sides. Mark chapter 12, and we're going to read from verse 13. And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion, for you're not swayed by appearances but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

Should we pay them, or should we not? But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it. And they brought one. And he said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to him, Caesar's. Jesus said to them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

And they marveled at him. Amen. We pray together. Father, I pray that you will help me to speak clearly, that you will help us to think properly, that you help us to believe with a grace and gentered belief.

For your Son's sake. Amen. I haven't been watching any of the political debates. I know that many of you do, because you mention it to me. I like debates.

Unfortunately, I don't regard these things as debates, and so it infuriates me to try and watch them. But I did, the other day, catch a glimpse of one of them, actually, on the internet, when one of the candidates, in responding to his questioner, said to the questioner, I am not interested in answering your gotcha questions. Your gotcha questions. I'm not sure I'd ever heard the phrase gotcha question before, but I instantaneously knew what he meant, and partly because I was studying this little section of Mark chapter 12, and recognized in that phrase that that is exactly the kind of question that was being posed here by these individuals who came to test Jesus. And this morning, as we look at what is for some a familiar section, I want to trace a line through it by noticing, first of all, the approach of these individuals, then considering the question that they asked, then considering the teacher's reaction, and then finally thinking about their response and ours to this instruction.

First of all, then, Mark tells us of how they set this up. They had been coming to Jesus—we've seen that already—seeking to challenge his authority. At the end of chapter 11, they'd gone away, somewhat dispirited, one would think, at their inability to actually catch Jesus out.

But they had regrouped, and they were back, not in the same configuration, but they were back as representatives of the previous group. And what we're told in verse 13 is that there is an unholy alliance here of both Pharisees and Herodians. You will notice that it says, And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians. The they, presumably, are those mentioned in verse 12, where we're told by Mark that they were annoyed seeking to arrest Jesus because they recognized that he had told the parable against them.

And so they then said, Well, let's send another little group and see if we can do a better job than we've done before. And so this unholy group are then dispatched in the forlorn hope of trapping Jesus, of somehow catching him out. Those of us who are familiar with our Bibles and have been paying attention going through Mark will immediately say to ourselves, Aha, this is not really unusual.

This group have been up to their tricks before. And of course, if you go back to chapter 3 and to verse 6, you will find that on that occasion—the occasion when Jesus had entered the synagogue, and there was a man who was disabled, he had a withered hand, and Jesus had healed him—and on that occasion, verse 6 of Mark chapter 3, it says, the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him how to destroy him. So here we have the resurgence of the commitment on the part of this group to finally silence Jesus. They are actually working out the prophetic statement of Psalm 2—"The rulers take counsel together against the LORD."

And that is exactly what we find happening here. These strange bedfellows are united in their opposition to Jesus. Now, the Herodians, from a kind of political base, and the Pharisees, from an ecclesiastical or a more theological base, are amalgamated in their desire to finally destroy Jesus Christ. And we recognize that that perspective is not unique to the time of the New Testament, and when we read history and as we experience contemporary history, we find that this notion is emerging again and again—a combination of both politics and theology—in order to silence Jesus Christ, in order to make sure that this story of someone dying for the sins of mankind is finally silenced once and for all, this notion that the name of Jesus is the only name under heaven among men by which someone might be saved.

We find ourselves reading our newspapers and watching as the story unfolds as politics and theology combine to say, we want to be done with that story, and we want to be done with that Jesus. That is exactly what is taking place here. And you will notice that Mark tells us that they were very specific insofar as they were hoping to trap him in his talk. They would be so bold as to think that he could catch the teacher out.

Now, that's exactly what they're hoping to do. Incidentally, you will notice that they address him there in verse 14 as teacher or as rabbi, because the one thing that they were unable to again say was the fact that he was a remarkable teacher. In fact, the people kept saying again and again as we've read the Gospel, after he had finished, the sermon was over, they went out saying to one another, This fellow is a remarkable teacher. He teaches with authority.

We can understand what he's saying. And the disparagement that was represented in that, vis-à-vis the Pharisees themselves, was something that they couldn't miss. And so they come, and they refer to him in that way. For those of you who are interested in stuff like this, the verb didasko, which is to teach, comes seventeen times in the Gospel of Mark, and on sixteen occasions it refers to Jesus.

The noun comes eleven times, and on every occasion it refers to Jesus. So they get a designation correct, don't they? Teacher or rabbi? But you will notice that their question wasn't prompted by a desire for instruction. They weren't good pupils. They weren't the kind of pupil that you like to have in your chemistry class who's actually asking a question because they're seeking to come to a sense of understanding.

Unfortunately, many of you have had pupils like me in your class who is asking a question in order to delay the proceedings as long as possible so that we can get out as quickly as possible. That kind of pupil is represented here in these characters who come to him. Now, you will notice that they set him up for an answer in a very obsequious way. Their approach is one of flattery.

We know, teacher, that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion, for you're not swayed by appearances but truly teach the way of God. This is a wonderful example of how to say the best of things from the worst of motives. What they say is true. What they say is accurate. It is well said. But the thing that gives the lie to it is their motivation.

They are saying these things. But if they really believed them, they would have become the follower of Jesus. If he truly was true and taught the way of God, and they were committed to the way of God, then they would have said, You teach the way of God, we want the way of God, therefore we will become your followers.

But no! They knew that he taught the way of God, they paid lip service to the way of God, but when it came to the crunch, they didn't want to do the will of God. That's not an unusual perspective, incidentally. I have people tell me all the time, Oh, I'm very committed to the way of God. And then you point out this specific instance for what it will mean to be obedient to God, and they say, Oh, no, I don't want to do that. I'm just sort of generically interested in the way of God, but not specifically interested in the way of God right now for my marriage or for my morals or for whatever it might be. So the approach is sort of Augustinian.

Lord, make me pure, but not tonight. I'm interested in the way of God, but not as it relates to anything specific in my life. Then you're not interested in the way of God.

Teacher, we know that you're this, we know that you're not that, we know that you're the next thing, and here we are. Well, they were right to point out that he wasn't swayed by appearances, because he certainly wasn't swayed by their appearances, was he? There's an irony in that, for you're not swayed by appearances. Jesus is saying under his breath, You got that one right.

Do you think you're gonna come with all of that kinda flowery language and unsettle me? And they were right to acknowledge that he had told the truth without fear or favor. What they're saying to him when they say, we know you don't care about anyone's opinion, is not, we know that you're dismissive and haven't got any interest in what anyone else has to say.

No. They're saying, we know that you are impartial. That you're not like the politician who licks his finger, holds it up, finds out what way the wind is blowing, and then decides that that's exactly the way in which he is going.

No, Jesus, you're impartial, you're uninfluenced by these things, we know that. That's their approach. Secondly, their question. Get to it, if you like.

Okay, thank you very much. Get to it. Well, the question is there. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or should we not? Well, this was a hot potato. This was a dilemma. The paying of taxes, I think, is historically a dilemma. Controversy regarding the payment of tax is apparently a perennial issue, and some have a great deal to say about it all the time. And so we find here in the first century that the same thing was going on.

Are we supposed to pay the tax, or are we not supposed to pay the tax? Rome had levied a tax on Judea in AD 6, and as a result, it made it clear to the Jews who were part of the Roman Empire by subjugation that they were actually subservient to the Roman Empire. Because every time they had to pay their tax, it revealed the fact of their subjection. In fact, it was one of the ways in which they couldn't fail to realize that they were under the thumb of Rome. Some within the community were known as zealots. Their party was, if you like, the party of turbulence, the party of no compromise, the party of saying, Since the Roman Empire is something with which we disagree, we will therefore not pay taxes to the Roman Empire. They were on the one side. The Herodians, politicos, and the Pharisees, theologs, had determined a way to compromise with this circumstance so as to be able to justify, at least in their own minds, how to pay the taxes to Rome without actually compromising their convictions. Interestingly—and to this we'll return before we finish—at least one of the members of the discipleship band was actually a member of the zealot party.

At least in the past. Now, what happens in this is not dissimilar to what happened before. Except that, on the previous occasion, when they'd sought to challenge the authority of Jesus, he had put them on the horns of a dilemma by asking them, remember, Is the baptism of John from heaven, or is it from earth? And they realized, We're trapped, because there's no way out of this one. And so, remember, they said, We don't know. Pathetic response, and then they all went home. They're determined that they're not going to do that this time, and so they've been far more specific, and they are determined to get from Jesus a yes or a no for an answer.

In other words, they're now going to put him on the horns of a dilemma. And you will notice the way in which the question is asked, and it's well put here in the ESV. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Yes or no? Should we pay them, or should we not? Yes or no? It's a bit like these questions that are flying all around in the political realm at the moment.

And then you've got the dance that starts, because no one's able to come up with a categorical answer. Interestingly—and this is where motivation comes in—by the time these characters were accusing Jesus before Pilate, before his crucifixion, when they go before Pilate to accuse Jesus—and this is recorded in Luke 23 verse 2—this is what they say. We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give taxes to Caesar. That was a flat-out lie.

He never did that at all. But you see, their motive was to destroy him. And as soon as that became foremost in their thinking, then there was no law to which they were unprepared to stoop in order to achieve their objective.

Okay? So their approach is insincere. Their question is a hot potato. Then, thirdly, notice the teacher's response. The teacher's response. Jesus responds with two questions and a statement. First of all, a rhetorical question.

You will notice it there. Why put me to the test? Why put me to the test? Here we go. We're going back down the same old road.

Why do you say that? Turn over one page in your Bible to chapter 10 and verse 2. And Jesus left there.

He went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and the crowds gathered to him again and again, as was his custom. He taught them, and the Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for man to divorce his wife? To test him they asked.

All right? So when Jesus says here in chapter 12, Why do you put me to the test? he's essentially saying, Are you just gonna keep doing this? Don't you realize that I faced, if you like, the ultimate test when, at the very outset of his ministry, he's led into the wilderness, and he is tested, he is tempted by the evil one? And in the course of that dialogue, Jesus says to the devil, You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.

And here they are. And the genesis of this is always with the evil one. Their hypocrisy is an indication of that. Jesus had no time for religious hypocrisy.

He confronted it again and again. Woe to you Pharisees, he says. Hypocrites!

You're hypocrites! He condemned them outright for their insincerity. And the reason he did so was because he recognized that it had its foundation in the antagonism of the evil one, who lies behind the plot to destroy the Lord Jesus Christ. So in this first rhetorical question, Why put me to the test?, I wonder if Jesus isn't actually pointing out the futility of what they're attempting. Then he follows it up with a practical question. The Roman denarius was a small silver coin, similar to a quarter, both in terms of value and size, perhaps a little smaller.

It was accepted as payment of taxes in Judea. Why put me to the test? Has anyone got a coin? Has anyone got a denarius? He says— someone says, Yeah, I got one. They flip it to him, he takes it, he says, Let me look at it. And he looks at it.

They brought one. And he said, Hey, whose likeness is on this? And whose inscription is on this?

Turning it back and forth, presumably. And they said to him, Caesar's. Actually, at this point in history, Tiberius Caesar Augustus. And on the denarius coin was this designation with his face, Son of the Divine Augustus. So in other words, this God with a small G that was represented on the coin was the son of further divinity. And on the back there was a designation of him seated on a throne, wearing a diadem, and clothed as a high priest. And it actually said on the reverse of the coin, The High Priest.

Okay, so far, so good. Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to him, Caesar's. What's Jesus going to say? Picture the scene as he says, Yes, pay the tax. Pay the tax. You say, Well, that's not what he says. It's exactly what he says. It says, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

What have they asked him? Are you supposed to pay the tax or not? Should we pay it or not? Answer, Yes, pay the tax. Don't allow the fact that you know the phrase, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, you know, from watching it on the black-and-white TV.

Don't let it obscure what he's saying. They asked the question, Are we supposed to pay the tax or not? He says, Yeah, pay the tax.

Now, that must have absolutely excited them immediately. Jesus is saying, I'm not going to give any place to the zealots who are going to try and run a country within the country. I'm not going to allow any of you guys to hang me with the notion that because you don't like what's going on in the Roman Empire, you're not going to pay the taxes anymore. There are privileges involved in being part of the Roman Empire. There are responsibilities involved in being part of the Roman Empire. Part of the responsibility is in paying the tax.

Therefore, pay the tax. But before the questioners have the opportunity to run out down the street shouting, He said yes, he said yes, he said yes, he immediately follows up, and, to God, the things that are God's. You're listening to Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is titled this study in Mark chapter 12, Render to Caesar. Each of the stories we read as we work through Mark's Gospel help us grasp better the truth of God's Word, making these principles both engaging and memorable. Storytelling was a method Jesus often used, and the Gospel writers played these stories back to us in order to help us understand what it means to trust and obey God. Well, I'm pleased to tell you about a creative storytelling film that Truth for Life is making available today. This is a documentary that portrays the Puritans, their unparalleled love for God and commitment to His Word. The film is called Puritan All of Life to the Glory of God. This DVD tracks the Puritan movement from its beginning, introducing faithful men and women through the centuries who left their mark on history and who even died in some cases for their faith. With beautiful camera work and insightful input from pastors and scholars, this film will help you come to know who the Puritans were, what they believed, and how their influence continues to this day. We hear from people like Al Mohler, the late J.I. Packer, and other scholars who contribute to this conversation.

They explain, among other things, how the Puritans abandoned their fears and pursued the glory of God with all their hearts. Ask for your copy of this documentary on DVD called Puritan when you give a donation today to support the ministry of Truth for Life. If you'd prefer to stream the documentary, there's a link included with the DVD. Call us at 888-588-7884 or visit

You can also request this resource directly through our mobile app. Over the weekend, remember you're invited to complement the teaching you receive from your local church by watching Alistair teach the Bible online at Parkside Church. To check Alistair's teaching schedule for this Sunday, go to slash live. I'm Bob Lapine for Alistair Begg and all of us at Truth for Life. I hope you have a relaxing and refreshing weekend. I hope you can join us again Monday as we continue our study in the Gospel according to Mark. Today's program was furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-02 07:37:48 / 2024-02-02 07:46:28 / 9

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