‘… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue acknowledge
that Jesus Christ is Lord …’ (Philippians 2:10,11).
Paying the poll-tax to Caesar
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
17 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’
And they were amazed at him.
It is hard for us to imagine the situation the Jewish people lived in when Jesus walked the earth. Though still in their own homeland, they were under Roman rule and had to abide by Roman law rather than their own. It was a struggle to know how to live out God’s law without breaking the law of the land.
This is a daily struggle for many Christians around the world. Following God can bring us into direct conflict with religious or secular rulers. I lived in Romania after the fall of Communism and was privileged to hear the stories of many believers who had wrestled with this issue. Sometimes they had disobeyed quietly, under the radar – they tell many miraculous stories of how God kept them hidden. Sometimes they
were caught and made to suffer.
In this instance, Jesus found a clever way of avoiding a straight answer. He knew that the Pharisees were simply trying to trick him into saying something that could get him arrested.
Those of us living in the West are increasingly finding that secular laws threaten our rights as Christians. Compared to so many in other places, we are not in any real danger yet. Now is the time to learn to be listening to God for wise responses in tricky situations.
Pray for those who have to decide daily whether to obey God’s law or the law of the land.
Deeper Bible study
‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.’1
Attempts to frame Jesus having so far failed, a different set of religious and political leaders are sent in with a new strategy. The Pharisees and Herodians address Jesus with platitudes, hoping to disarm him, before laying their trap: ‘Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?’ If Jesus answers ‘yes’, he will appear to endorse the Roman ruler – the man who through the inscription on his coinage claimed to be the son of a god and the highest priest.2 Such an endorsement would enrage devout Jews. If Jesus answers ‘no’, he risks enraging the Roman authorities. Either way, he stands to lose…
The duplicity of man, however, is met with the wisdom of God. ‘Yes’, Jesus answers, without committing himself to the word: if you are to benefit from the state, pay your dues to the state, the argument goes (v 17).3 He has answered their question, yet has something of greater import to say: give back to God what is God’s. As with the cursing of the fig tree, the cleansing of the Temple and the parable of the tenants, Jesus is yet again passing judgement on Israel for failing to return to God what he is due.4 The Jewish people had too often enjoyed the benefits of being God’s chosen nation, without giving God, their true ruler, his rightful return. This challenges us to assess how we also, as God’s chosen people, have responded to his goodness and grace.
What, then, ought we to give back to God? Turned on its head, is there anything that we ought not to give back to God? It is difficult to imagine even one thing that we should withhold from the God who gave us all things.5
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you anything you may be withholding from God – finances, trust, devotion… Ask for help to give back to our generous and gracious God.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Ezekiel 42,43; 1 John 2
Pray for Scripture Union
Today training takes place for new activity leaders. Pray for these leaders asking that today will be a time of encouragement and that they will have a deeper sense of God’s call and his equipping.