[Sept 02]--Paying Taxes (Our Favorite Subject)

Matt. 22:15-22

I know it’s probably going to anger some people, but I do have some sympathy for (some) IRS agents. We all know that we have to pay taxes to pay for government to function, but none of us relish it. I’m sure that a lot of IRS personnel are honest and nice people, but the popularity of their job usually ranks around the bottom, along with politicians and used-car salesmen.

But as unpopular as taxes and the IRS are today, they’re embraced with a hug and kiss compared to how the Jewish people saw them during the time of the Gospels. At least we can say that we’re living under a government that we’ve chosen, and if the taxes are too high or unfair we can work to change that. But Israel was held captive by the hated Roman government, and she had absolutely no choice in how she was governed. Every penny collected in taxes was used to support an oppressive system that held them under its boot. Tax collectors, who were Jews hired by the Romans, were commonly assassinated as collaborators. So do you start to get the idea that the Jewish people hated taxes?

So along came the Pharisees and the Herodians with the specific intention of “trapping [Jesus] in his words.” They asked a simple moral question, and either a “yes” or “no” would get him in trouble. If he said yes, then the people would despise him as a Roman sympathizer. If he said no, then they would accuse him before the Roman officials as promoting sedition (a capital offence). In case you didn’t know, by the way, the Herodians were supporters of King Herod. The Pharisees, ardent nationalists, would normally loathe them, but when it came to Jesus, these sworn enemies were perfectly happy to work together to oppose him.

Also notice how they try to “butter him up” in order to throw him off. Beware of flattery! We make a grave mistake if we think that persecution and trouble are the only weapons in the Enemy’s arsenal. What was it that brought down Samson--the armies of the Philistines? No, the flattery of a woman. What was Hezekiah’s final downfall? Was it due to the Assyrian army who marched against him? No, it was the flattery of the Babylonian ambassadors. As J. C. Ryle put it, Satan is never so dangerous as when he masquerades as an angel of light, and the world is never so dangerous to the Christian as when it smiles.

So what was Jesus’ answer? “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.” What a perfect response, completely confounding them in their efforts! But this raises some questions which we need to examine.

What belongs to Caesar? According to Romans 13:1-7, we should obey all authorities which are over us, whether we agree with them or not. All authority has been put in place by God, and the person in authority is God’s servant. Does this mean that God agrees with everything the authority does? Of course not! Just read the books of 1 and 2 Kings to see plenty of examples of his displeasure at kings. But it does mean we need to change our outlook of government and all other authorities which are over us. And yes, this means paying the taxes we owe.

But what belongs to God? Well, Scripture tells us that he deserves first loyalty. If the state tells us to disobey God, there’s no question as to whom we obey. But today’s passage raises an interesting point. Jesus requested a coin and asked them what image was inscribed on it. So the coin belongs to Caesar because his image is stamped upon it. So what about us? Whose image do we bear? What’s implied here?

Lord Jesus, my first and ultimate loyalty goes to you. I belong to you, twice over. You created me, and you redeemed me. Please help me to live like it.

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