DUNCAN/Render to Caesar
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 22:15-22. The passage divides fairly simply into three parts, if you’d look at verses 15-17, you’ll see the plot which has been hatched by the Pharisees. And then if you look at verses 18-21, you’ll see Jesus’ reply to that particular plot and question. And then, if you look at verse 22, you see the aftermath. So, I’d like to look at this passage with you and look at these three sections. First, the unregenerate heart standing before truth flatters for advantage and schemes to destroy. Second, Jesus reveals His glory in His wisdom in His answer. Third, that despite the divine wisdom of Jesus’ answer, hearts are unchanged.
I. The Unregenerate Heart Standing before Truth Flatters for Advantage and Schemes to Destroy
Let’s begin with verses 15-17 where we see the Pharisees setting a trap for Jesus. They want to ask a question to Jesus that if He answers publicly, no matter how He answers it, it is going to get Him in trouble, either with the government, or with the people. And they particularly don’t care which, as long as He gets Himself one way or the other. The Pharisees are doing the plotting, this time they themselves do not carry out the plot; they call on their disciples to go carry out the plot. They send their disciples to ask this question, and to add even more potential danger to Jesus. Now, they pose a question to Jesus that would have presented a dilemma for Him. They ask Him, “Should the people pay the poll tax?” Apparently, the Pharisees asked it, because of the way that the question is put. Look at verse 17, “Is it lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar or not?” Your see the question. They are basically asking, is it moral, according to God’s law, is it moral to pay this poll tax?
Now this question posed Jesus a real problem. If Jesus responded by saying, no, it is immoral to pay the poll tax, immediately, the Herodians and the Pharisees along with them, would say, He is speaking treason. He is speaking sedition against the Roman powers, and we must turn Him over to the government so that He can be dealt with. Those who committed treason could face the death penalty.
Right here in this passage, we have an ugly picture of an unchanged, unrenewed heart standing before Jesus Christ. It doesn’t worship Him, it doesn’t care about what He thinks, it simply schemes in order to try to destroy Him. In this whole ugly scene we learn this: that the unregenerate heart, even when it is standing before truth, doesn’t accept it.
II. Jesus Reveals His Glory in His Wisdom in His Answer
And so, we turn to Jesus’ response in verses 18 through 21. Now, I want you to see that Jesus does four things simultaneously in His response. First of all, He sees their hearts. He knows what they are up to! Secondly, He rebukes the Pharisees for their error; thirdly He rebukes the Herodians for their error, and fourthly He sets down a principle which is going to be obeyed by His people until He returns again. All four of those things He does simultaneously in a split-second response to an unexpected question. So, in this passage we see Jesus revealing His glory through His wisdom in answer to these wicked men. Jesus’ answer is nothing short of brilliant. Even the scheming traps of evil men are used to glorify God.
He says, bring me the coin which you use to pay the poll tax. And so, they bring Him the denarius. And then He holds it and He says, look, whose inscription is this? Whose image is this? And Jesus turns the question on them, and having asked Him that question, they have only one choice to answer, Caesar’s. In verse 21, He says this, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to God the things that are God’s.” They put the question this way: is it lawful for us to give the poll tax to Caesar? And Jesus says, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. He uses a different verb. Why does He do this? Because He is saying, when you pay that poll tax, you aren’t ‘giving a gift to Caesar.’ Caesar has already built you roads, Caesar has already given you justice courts, he has set up military protection for you, police and various other civil benefits. Therefore, if you have a problem with Caesar’s provisions, you shouldn’t be protesting the poll tax, you should have protested in the first place when he did the other things! You accept the roads, you accept the protection, and then you pretend to have religious scruples over paying him for it! So, you give back to Caesar what already belongs to him! But you give to God what belongs to Him. And Jesus is saying, you know that only God is to be worshipped, only God is God, only God provides the high priest. So, you don’t worship Caesar as a high priest, you don’t acknowledge him as a high priest, you pay him his money for his roads and for his protection, but you don’t worship him as high priest. That belongs to God.
III. Despite the Divine Wisdom of Jesus’ Answer, Hearts are Unchanged
Jesus’ words pierce, and they amaze, and we look at verse 22, once again, we learn that despite the divine wisdom of Jesus’ answer, their unbelieving hearts are unchanged. The tempters were filled with awe, wonder with amazement at how Jesus had responded to their question, but they were not converted. Look at the words of verse 22: “Hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.”
Jesus doesn’t just want amazement, He wants worship. These men were amazed, but they wouldn’t worship. They couldn’t see the kingdom. They couldn’t see His kingdom; they couldn’t see His glory. And so, they couldn’t love Him. And the only reason that we love Him is that He opened our hearts to believe His word. He wants your acknowledgment that His way of salvation is the only way of salvation, and that His finished work on the cross is the only way that you’ll have fellowship with God. Now there is a warning in that, isn’t there. There is a warning for everyone who is obstinate before the presentation of the gospel, and whose hearts are hard until the spirit makes them soft. And we must humble ourselves before the Lord and beg that He would soften our hearts to respond to the truth. See, the problem was not that they had not seen enough truth, the problem was that their hearts were hard to the truth. May God grant us soft hearts to see the king and see His kingdom, and love Him.