By Rev. Dr. Sergio Arevalo
October 19, 2014 (19th Sunday after Pentecost)
If you will be given an option, which law are you going to follow: law of God or law of man? You might answer me back by asking: in what context and what kind of issue?
Let’s read our passage today: Matthew 22:15-22. Jesus was tested with the same question I gave you. Those who asked him did not actually want to know the truth but they just wanted him to trap, and be punished by the government officials. In the passage, we can see an unusual connivance.
I. The Connivance of the Religious and the Politicians
We already knew that Jesus Christ was a threat to the interest of the Jewish Council, Pharisees, and priests so they were looking for an opportunity to trap and kill Jesus. In our passage, we read an event where the religious connived with the politicians, the Herodians, just to trap Jesus in his mouth, and then the Herodians would accuse and capture him.
That was an unnatural coalition, for the Pharisees represented the patriotic resistance to all foreign power; whereas the Herodians, as their name implies, supported the Herodian dynasty, and they did submit in the Roman rule (Cambridge Bible).
Let’s listen how the Pharisees manipulated religious belief and politics while the Herodians were listening to trap Jesus. Matthew 22:15-17 says, “Then the Pharisees went and planned how to trap Jesus in conversation. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere and that you teach the way of God truthfully. You don’t favor any individual, because you pay no attention to external appearance. So tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
II. The Trap of the Pharisees and the Herodians
The trap that the Pharisees prepare was political, but sugar coated with religious jargon. The Gospel of Luke narrates more detailed the intention of the Pharisees and the Herodians. “So they watched him closely and sent spies who pretended to be honest men in order to trap him in what he would say. They wanted to hand him over to the jurisdiction of the governor” (Lk. 20:20).
The Herodians are not named except in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark; nor does Historian Josephus include them in his account of Jewish sects. They were probably numerically insignificant, and probably a few renegade Jews, who belonged to King Herod’s court. (Mt.11:8, Cambridge Bible).
III. The Obligations of Man to Government and to God
Matthew 22:18-21 says, “Recognizing their wickedness, Jesus asked, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius. Then he asked them, “Whose face and name is this?” They told him, “Caesar’s.” So he told them, “Then give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
John Gill explains the meaning of this, he says “Give Caesar the tribute and custom, and fear, and honor, and obedience, which are due to him; which may be done without interfering with the honor of God, and prejudicing his interest and glory, when care is taken, that all the worship and obedience due to God are given to him: subjection to civil magistrates is not inconsistent with the reverence and fear of God; all are to have their dues rendered unto them, without entrenching upon one another. And the Jews themselves allow, that a king ought to have his dues, whether he be a king of Israel, or of the Gentiles” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible).
There are three things that we can deduce form the words of Jesus Christ. Firstly, Christianity is not against civil government but a friend to it. The Apostle Paul says to the Romans, “Every person must be subject to the governing authorities, for no authority exists except by God’s permission. The existing authorities have been established by God” (13:1). Indeed, the existing authorities have been established by God but authorities must also seek and execute the will of God for their subjects.
The Function of Protection: The government must protect its citizens that’s why we maintain military and other agencies such as health department, education department, etc. An example of this function is seen in Acts 21:27-37 where Roman soldiers step in and save Paul from being murdered by his own enraged countrymen in Jerusalem.
The Function of Punishment: Both Paul and Peter bring this out. Paul writes that duly appointed human officials are to be regarded as God’s servants to “bear the sword,” that is, to impose punishment upon criminals (vv. 3-4). Peter tells us that governors are “sent by him for the punishment of evildoers” (1 Pet. 2:13- 14).
The Function of Promotion: Human government is to promote the general welfare of the community where its laws are in effect. Paul commands us to pray for human leaders “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1-2) (sermonillustrations.com).
Secondly, it is the obligation of the people to render to the government which is due to it. That’s why we vote, we pay our taxes, we cooperate with the government, and we die for our government.
Thirdly, when we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we must remember also to render to God the things that are God’s. If we die for our country, we should also give that kind of love and respect to our God, or do better than that. We pay our taxes so we should also give to the ministries of God.
There are many current issues nowadays that we need to guard and apply what Jesus said, “… give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Due to legalization of same sex marriage in some states in America, some people try to over power or force local or federal laws over the Constitution or the First Amendment.
In the news yesterday, Oct 18, 2014, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, city officials try to punish the two elderly pastors (Donald and Evelyn Knapp) for not performing same sex marriages in their Wedding Center. The city claims its “non-discrimination” ordinance requires the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The headline banners, “Gov’t tells Christian ministers: Perform same-sex weddings or face jail, fines” (www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/9364).
In Texas, the city of Houston is attempting to subpoena sermons (or speeches) and other communications belonging to several area pastors in a lawsuit in which the pastors are not even involved. City officials are upset over a voter lawsuit filed after the city council rejected valid petitions to repeal a law that allows members of the opposite sex into each other’s restrooms.
Fox news reports that Senator Ted Cruz forcefully denounced the city’s actions during a Thursday (Oct 16, 2014) rally in support of the pastors in Houston. “Caesar has no jurisdiction over the pulpit,” Cruz said to a cheering crowd of pastors and supporters. “When you subpoena one pastor, you subpoena every pastor.” (www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/17/houston-to-pastors-forget-your-sermons-now-want-your-speeches).
It seems time has come that Christian pastors will be asked if it is lawful to solemnize same sex marriages or not? Someday more cities might force pastors to solemnize same sex weddings even though that is against their faith. When the time comes I wish pastors can say “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”