Do you remember the parable from last week? The Lord told a parable of a man who planted a vineyard; he then rented it out to certain men and went away on a journey. At harvest time, the man sent a servant to collect his share of the crop; but the tenants beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. The man sent another servant; the tenants struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. The man sent another servant; and this time, the tenants killed the servant. And so it went on: the man continued to send servants, and sometimes the tenants beat the servants and sometimes the tenants killed the servants. The man then decided to send his son, his only son, his beloved son. ‘They will respect my son,’ he thought. But when the tenants saw the son, they recognised him as the son, but they did not respect him; instead they killed him too, because he was the son and they did not want him to rule over them.
That was the parable; but do you remember what it meant? By this parable, the Lord was summarising the whole history of the people of Israel from the time of Joshua until the coming of the Lord Jesus, because just as the man planted a vineyard and left it in the hands of the tenants, so the Lord planted his people Israel in the Promised Land of Canaan and he gave them leaders to look after them. But just as the tenants in the parable were wicked, so the leaders in Israel often proved to be wicked. And so, just as the man in the parable sent servants to the tenants, so the Lord sent one prophet after another to appeal to the leaders of Israel to turn from their wickedness and to return to the Lord. But the leaders of Israel and the people themselves persecuted the prophets and they even killed some of them. And so, in the end, the Lord God sent his Son, his only Son, his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. ‘They will respect my son.’ But they didn’t respect him; they hated him and despised him and they plotted together how to kill him.
In today’s passage we see clearly that they did not respect God’s Son, because in today’s passage we read how some of the leaders of the people came to the Lord Jesus in order to catch him in his words. They came to trap him; to get him into trouble; to get him to say something which they could use against him. Instead of coming to worship him, and instead of bowing down before him and submitting to him — which is what they should have done, since they were coming before the Son of God — they came to catch him in his words.
This passage is important, because it provides another example of how an unbelieving world hates the Lord Jesus Christ. But this passage is also important, because the question they asked the Lord gives him the opportunity to make clear what our attitude should be to the civil authorities who rule over us. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to announce and to establish his kingdom on the earth. His message, when he came, was that that kingdom of God was near; and the kingdom of God was near because he’s the King, sent from God, to establish his kingdom on the earth. And he revealed his kingdom by the things he taught and by the things he did, because every time he healed the sick or cast out demons, he was revealing that he is the King, sent by God to destroy the Devil and all his works and to deliver his people from our sin and misery. And after he died to pay for our sins and was raised to life again, he ascended to heaven, where he now rules over all things and from where he’s extending his kingdom throughout the world, calling men and women and boys and girls to leave behind their wickedness and to come into his kingdom through faith. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; and he’s building his kingdom on the earth.
But how should the citizens of his kingdom regard earthly kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers? What should our attitude be to earthly rulers? What should our attitude be to earthly governments? If we’re citizens of Christ’s kingdom — which is a heavenly and spiritual kingdom — if we have yielded our life to Christ the King and promised to obey him, how then should we relate to earthly leaders and to civil governments? Well, the Lord tells us in today’s passage.
And so, let’s look at those two things today: the opposition we see to the Lord Jesus; and what the Lord says to us about the civil authorities.
Look at the opposition to the Lord Jesus. We read in verse 13 that they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Jesus. It’s not entirely clearly who ‘they’ are, but presumably it refers back to the group who challenged the Lord Jesus in verse 27 of chapter 11. In other words, it probably refers to the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders who came to the Lord and asked him by what authority he did what he did. Well, those people now sent some Pharisees and Herodians to question the Lord. The Pharisees were religious people who were careful to follow all of the Old Testament ceremonial laws; the word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated’; and they tried to separate themselves from anything which might make them ceremonially unclean. The Herodians, on the other hand, were a kind of political party, because they were supporters of King Herod, who had been installed as king in Judaea by the Roman Emperor. One was a religious party; the other was a political party. Really, these two groups didn’t have much in common; in fact, the only thing they had in common was their opposition to the Lord Jesus.
And you’ll see from verse 13 that they came to the Lord Jesus to catch him in his words. They wanted to get him to say something incriminating; something that would get him into trouble. So, though they came to him with a question, they didn’t come humbly; they didn’t come as disciples, seeking to learn something from their master; and they didn’t come to learn the truth. No, they came to trap him.
And they came to him with flattery. Do you see that in verse 14? They said:
Teacher, we know that you’re a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
The Lord was a man of integrity, a man of principle and honesty; and he did not show favouritism to anyone. But they didn’t really care about that; they were flattering him. Then they said:
you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
We know they didn’t believe that, because they didn’t accept his word; and we’ve seen before how they and others disputed with him and called into question the things he said. This is all flattery; and they’re trying to butter him up; and they’re only pretending that they admire him. I remember a man in Naas who came to the church one Sunday; and afterwards he was full of praise for me and he even said that my preaching was so good, it reminded him of Billy Graham’s preaching. Well, he was flattering me and buttering me up before he asked me for some money. And these Pharisees and Herodians were flattering the Lord and buttering him up before laying their trap for him.
And so, they asked their question:
Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?
The Caesar at that time was the Roman Emperor Tiberius. And since the Romans ruled over the land of Israel, the people of Israel were required by the Romans to pay taxes to Caesar. The tax referred to here was a probably a kind of poll tax which everyone had to pay regardless of their income.
Now, their question was a trap. You see, if the Lord declared that they shouldn’t pay it, then his answer would get him into trouble with the Romans, who would have to arrest him as a trouble-maker and revolutionary. But if the Lord declared that they should pay it, then that would get him into trouble with the people, who resented having to pay the tax; and some even thought it was against the will of God to pay taxes to a pagan king. So, if the Lord said ‘no’, he would get into trouble with the Romans; if the Lord said ‘yes’, he would get into trouble with the people. It was a trap.
And the Lord was aware of it; and he was aware of their hypocrisy. Do you see that in verse 15? What’s a hypocrite? It’s someone who pretends to be something which they’re not. And these men were pretending to be the Lord’s admirers; and they were pretending to seek his guidance. But they were only pretending. They didn’t admire the Lord Jesus, because really they wanted to kill him. And they weren’t interested in his teaching, because really they were only trying to trap him.
This passage once again reveals and makes clear how a sinful world despises and dishonours the Son of God. The Pharisees and Herodians should have bowed before him in worship, because he is their Creator and their Saviour, the one who made all things in the beginning, and the one who came to save sinners from the coming judgment of God. They should have bowed before him and asked him for mercy, but instead they had come to trap him.
And it’s been the same ever since, because still an unbelieving world hates the Saviour and refuses to submit to him. An unbelieving world does not want him to rule over them; they will not yield their lives to him, and they will not bow before him as their Lord; and they’re always looking for reasons to reject him.
But instead of resisting him and rejecting him, we should bow before him, because he is our Creator, who with the Father and by his Spirit made all things in the beginning; and who has given each of us life and breathe and every good thing we possess. And since he is our Creator, we belong to him and owe him our obedience. And he is our Redeemer, our Saviour, because he came into the world in order to lay down his life for sinners, so that all who believe in him might have everlasting life. And so, since he is our Creator and our Redeemer, we should bow before him and worship him. Instead of rejecting him and despising him, and instead of trying to find reasons to doubt him, we ought to believe in him and ask him for forgiveness and eternal life.
So, that’s the first thing today. An unbelieving world hates the Saviour, but we ought to believe in him and worship him, because he is our Creator and Redeemer.
By asking their question, the Pharisees and Herodians gave the Lord an opportunity to make clear what our attitude should be to the civil authorities who rule over us.
They asked if it was right or lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? And the Lord replied by asking for one of a coin. And when they brought him the coin, he asked them another question:
Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?
If you google it, you’ll discover pictures of what a denarius looked like at that time. The image on it is the image of the Emperor Tiberius. And it was inscribed with his name. And so, the Lord said to them:
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
What the Lord was saying to them is that since Caesar’s image and name are inscribed on the coin, then in a sense it belongs to him and he’s entitled to receive the coin back in taxation. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The Lord was saying that it’s our duty to give to the civil rulers whatever belongs to them and whatever they’re entitled to. Even though we’re members of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, and are citizens of heaven above — which is where we really belong — nevertheless while we go on living on the earth, we’re to be law-abiding citizens of the nation where we live; and as law-abiding citizens, we’re to pay our taxes and give to the civil authorities whatever belongs to them.
In New Testament times, there were a group called the Zealots. One of them — Simon — was one of the Lord’s disciples. And the Zealots recognised no authority apart from God’s; and they refused to pay tribute or taxes to the pagan Emperor of Rome. To do so — they thought — would be to dishonour the Lord their God, who alone was their true King. And so, because of their religious convictions, the Zealots refused to submit to the Emperor and to pay taxes to him. And from time to time, I’ve met Christians who have thought something similar; and they’re reluctant to submit to civil rulers and authorities who do not profess faith in the Lord Jesus.
However, here’s the Lord Jesus Christ saying clearly that we ought to give to the civil authority whatever belongs to them. And so, though we’re members of Christ’s kingdom and citizens of heaven above, we ought to be law-abiding citizens of the nation where we live.
And we find the same thing elsewhere in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 2, God says to us through the Apostle Peter:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good…. Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.
Honour the Emperor, said the Apostle Peter. And, of course, the Emperor was a pagan; an unbeliever; an idolater and a blasphemer. And yet, Peter made clear that believers in his day were to be subject to the Emperor; and believers in every generation are to be subject to every human institution.
The Apostle Paul wrote the same in Romans 13, where he said:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.
There you have it: let every person be subject to the governing authorities. Paul goes on to explain:
For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed….
Why should we be subject to the governing authorities, even those who do not love the Lord or seek to do his will? Why should we submit to them? Because whatever authorities that exist have been instituted by God; they have been appointed by God and have been put in places of authority by God who rules over all. Even though they do not believe in the Lord, nevertheless the Lord has appointed them to rule over us and we’re to submit to them.
And so Paul goes on to say:
he is God’s servant for your good.
Even though they may not believe in God, God has appointed them to be his servants; and they serve the Lord unknowingly whenever they punish those who do wrong and whenever they uphold law and order in society. God has given to them — and to them alone — the right to punish lawbreakers; and when they carry out their duty, we’re able to live in safety and without fear. And that’s a good thing.
And then, in Romans 13, Paul goes on to refer to taxes. And this is what he says:
For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.
Give them whatever they’re owed: including not only taxes but also respect and honour. Even though they do not believe in the Lord, and even though they may pass policies which we believe are wrong, the Lord commands us to respect them and to honour them and to pay taxes to them.
We’re members of Christ’s kingdom; we’re citizens of heaven above; nevertheless Christ our King commands us to respect and honour and to pay taxes to those civil rulers he has placed over us, whether they believe or not. We should be the best citizens we can be, because Christ our King has commanded us to be subject to the governing authorities.
But notice, of course, that there were two parts to the Lord’s answer. Yes, we’re to give to Caesar whatever belongs to him. So, we’re to give to the ruling authority whatever is due to them. However, we’re also to give to God whatever belongs to God. And what do we owe to God? Well, we owe him everything, because everything comes from him. And especially we owe him our obedience and our faithful service. We’re to live our lives, not for ourselves. We’re not to live selfish and self-centred lives, thinking only about ourselves. We’re to live lives of obedient service, seeking to do God’s will and to obey him in everything.
And, of course, that means that if ever the civil ruler requires us to do something which the Lord forbids, or if ever the civil ruler forbids us from doing something which the Lord commands, we must obey the Lord and not the civil ruler.
Now, because we enjoy so many rights in this country, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been commanded to do something the Lord forbids. I can think of policies the government has passed with which I disagree. But that’s different: disagreeing with a policy and even believing a policy is wrong is one thing. But I can’t think of a time when I’ve been commanded to do something which the Lord forbids. Nevertheless, if it ever happens, I’m to obey the Lord and face the consequences. That’s what the midwives did in the days of Moses, who were commanded by the Pharaoh to kill any boys who were born. But they disobeyed the Pharaoh and were prepared to face his wrath as a result. Or think of Daniel, who refused to pray to the king and who continued to pray to the Lord. Daniel disobeyed the king’s command; and he was prepared to be thrown into the den of lions as a result. Think of Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow down and worship the king’s statue. They disobeyed the king, and were prepared to be thrown into the fiery furnace as a result. And think of the apostles in the book of Acts. The Sanhedrin forbade them from preaching the good news of the gospel. But since the Lord had commanded them to preach, Peter told them that they must obey God, rather than men.
And so, we’re to give to Caesar, the civil ruler, whatever belongs to him. So, we’re to give the ruler taxes and respect and honour; we’re to submit to them, because they have been appointed by God to rule over us. Even though we’re members of Christ’s kingdom, we should obey the civil ruler and be the best citizens wherever we live.
However, first and foremost, we’re to obey the Lord and we’re to do his will. Since he alone is God who made us and who redeems us, we owe him our obedience and our faithful service. And so, every day we’re to strive to obey him and to do his will in all we do and say. We’re to be careful that we don’t ever go astray from walking in his ways, but we must do what he says and turn from all evil.
And, of course, we must give thanks to the Lord for Jesus Christ our Saviour. The bread and the cup which we’ll take in a moment, speak to us of his obedience, because he was always perfectly obedient to his Father in heaven; and he always did his Father’s will, no matter what the cost. And out of obedience to his Father’s will, the Lord Jesus went to the cross and laid down his life as a ransom to set us free from condemnation. This was the Father’s will for him; and the Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to his Father, obedient even to point of death on the cross. And because of his perfect obedience — by which he gave up his life for us — all who believe in him are forgiven by God for our disobedience; and we’re accepted as righteous in God’s sight; and we receive the free gift of eternal life. And so, God calls on us to believe in his Son for salvation; and he calls on those who believe in his Son to obey him all the days of our life, because this is how we demonstrate our gratitude and this is how we honour him.