Title: Go Pay Your Taxes!
Text: Matthew 22:15-22
FCF: We often struggle submitting to God’s authority.
Prop: Because Jesus taught that what image you bear determines who owns you, so we must bear much fruit.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 22. On Sunday He rode into Jerusalem like a prince. The cheers of the misunderstanding Jews served to convince the forces of darkness and the powers in control of the world that God was sending His Commander of Heavenly Armies to free His chosen nation from their grips. What appeared to be a Triumphal Entry, was only a Fake Parade.
On Monday Jesus cursed the barren fig tree and cleansed the temple. It was here, again we find the temple leaders misunderstanding scripture, particularly regarding the Messiah’s identity. On Monday night we find what had befallen the fig tree during their time at the temple. It had died never to produce fruit again. It was here, Monday Night, that Jesus begins His expose on the Jews’ misunderstanding of scripture, and to the point that they had failed to be a productive nation for their God.
This is such a primary theme that as we step into Tuesday we see Jesus in the temple again confronting the Chief Priests and elders of the people, representatives of the Sanhedrin council. His lesson to them is the same. That even though His authority is from God, they will not submit and obey God. Just as they did not submit and obey God through John the Baptist. He tells them that they are sons who say they will obey but don’t. For this the kingdom will be taken from them and given to tax collectors and prostitutes who produce the fruit of the Kingdom of God by repentance and surrender. Then He turns to the crowd and relays the same message. That there are two components necessary to enter the Kingdom. First an invitation, which the Jews have refused. And second appropriate attire, which the Jews have not worn. Only those clothed in righteousness, given by the King Himself will enter.
And now I believe we have the last of this subplot in the narrative as we come to verses 15 through 22. Jesus again will talk about being fruitful, but here, He will focus on the “why” of that expectation. Why does God require genuine heart change and obedience from anyone who would enter His Kingdom? Why does He go to great lengths to make His people Law Keepers? The answer to that and more is in the text today. I’ll start reading in verse 15. I’ll be reading from the NASB but follow along in whatever version you prefer. If you don’t have a bible, don’t leave here without one.
I love having double meanings to my sermon titles. I don’t spend a ton of time coming up with them, because they are like the least important thing on the page, but today’s title I am particularly proud of. A lot of preachers and teachers would use the text before us today to advocate for the payment of taxes to their governments. This isn’t wrong per se, because I believe the bible does teach us to pay our taxes. But no matter how you look at this, whether Jesus to his audience or Matthew to his, one thing we can be completely sure of, is that paying their taxes was not really the primary concern. The taxes Jesus was talking about… were far more important, with far bigger ramifications if not paid. Let me show you what I mean.
I.) Jesus is the final interpretive authority of the scriptures, so we must bear much fruit. (15-17)
a. [Slide 2] 15 – Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said
i. We already know that the desire of the religious elite is to kill Jesus.
ii. [Slide 3] But who are the religious elite? Let’s remind ourselves who the players are.
1. Sanhedrin – This is the political body allowed by Rome to handle the day to day affairs of local rule in Judea, under the Kingship of the Herodian dynasty. They are comprised of several groups of people
a. Sadducees – which would hold the most seats on the council. They are wealthy and connected. Nationally they are less opposed to Roman rule as the others. Religiously they interpret the scriptures quite liberally. They would reject anything but the Pentateuch as scripture, and would interpret that quite loosely. If the Pentateuch did not say it, then we are free of it – they might say. Such a liberal hermeneutic led to the belief that there was no resurrection or life after death, and that the Messiah would not be coming to earth.
b. Pharisees – they would not hold as many seats as the Sadducees, but they were the blue collar religious leaders. You didn’t have to be a Pharisee to be a scribe, but to be a Pharisee you must be a scribe. Scribe, meaning, an expert in the law of Moses. Or as we might put it, a theologian. Politically they opposed Roman rule but would not actively seek to rebel against it – especially not after Mark Antony and Octavian reestablished control of the region. Religiously their lifestyles and hermeneutic would have been quite strict. They lived by and loved the law… but they surrounded the law with great Rabbinical traditions and established those as law too. Ultimately they turned the law into a works based salvation rather than a mercy filled precursor to God’s coming deliverance.
c. The Elders of the people – The elders of the people were laypeople who had been granted power and authority over the city of Jerusalem. The people generally would look to them as learned ones and seek their guidance and even, approval. They did not necessarily have any religious affiliation.
d. Zealots – Holding very few offices on the council, they were actively pursuing rebellion from Rome. Their religious persuasions varied heavily since their primary concern tended to be political.
2. Chief Priest – were the keepers and administrators of temple life.
3. High Priest – The leader of the temple and heavy influencer of the Sanhedrin
iii. And one other group which is mentioned next.
b. [Slide 4] 16 – And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians,
i. Herodians – which are largely absent from scripture. We are unsure on the details but it is thought that they were primarily a political group that wished to see the Herodian line of Kings continue. So they would have been Roman loyalists.
ii. The Pharisees sent their disciples – those who were training under their tutelage to become Pharisees. Interesting that the Pharisees and Herodians are working together here. Normally this would not happen since politically they had opposite goals. However, in regards to Jesus, they were united.
iii. Their purpose is to entrap Jesus in His own words.
iv. We can read between the lines here and assume that their intention was to catch him in a capital crime so they could legally kill Him without the people being able to complain.
v. We are left to wonder why the Pharisees sent their lackeys and a non-religious political group to entrap Jesus. This point will help us interpret their trap, so let’s let it rest for now.
vi. So what is the trap?
vii. Wait… hold on… they have to butter him up first.
c. [Slide 5] Saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth
i. I think they said truth too much… right? We truly know that you are truthfully true and truly you truthfully teach God’s truthful truth.
ii. Honestly it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through their lie here. Maybe if the Pharisees came themselves they could have put on a better show. Make it at least sort of believable.
iii. In any case, the sad thing about what they are saying is that it is 100% truth that they do not believe.
iv. What is interesting here is that we have one of those rare times in scripture where truth is communicated in a way we do not expect. Like Balaam’s donkey, sometimes truth can come from places we do not expect. And here we see the truth about Jesus, spoken through a forked tongue.
v. His words are true and no matter what He will teach the way of GOD.
vi. Not only that, but…
d. [Slide 6] And defer to no one; for You are not partial to any
i. Unlike every single one of the groups we mentioned earlier
ii. Jesus had absolutely no horses in the race of politics. As He told Pilate, His Kingdom was not of this world. Not that He didn’t care, but there were grander things at stake.
iii. He had no incentive to please anyone… WHY? Who holds such a position? Who has the luxury of deferring to no one?
iv. A Sovereign. That is who.
v. Only a Sovereign can truly behave in this way and get away with it. If you have absolute authority and power… you need no one’s favor.
vi. In a very real way, this easily seen through lie, was the closest to the truth that the Pharisees had ever come.
vii. Now for the trap…
e. [Slide 7] 17 – Tell us then, what do you think? Is it lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar, or not?”
i. Notice the words they use to ask this question.
ii. Is it lawful – Obviously not talking about Roman law, but rather law according to Moses. This clearly ties in a spiritual conundrum for the Jews, not just a political one. Meaning that this can’t simply be about the political rule of the Jews by the Romans… it has to be something spiritually pressing too.
iii. To give. Interesting that they use the word give. Not pay. They do not refer to this tax as something that is owed to the Emperor, but rather a gift given. This betrays their feelings on the matter, that they were staunchly opposed to giving away this money to support their Roman oppressors.
iv. But this isn’t just talking about taxes in general. This is talking about a specific tax. A poll-tax. Well what is a poll-tax?
1. A poll-tax is a tax placed on the head of every single person.
2. Taking a poll is getting something from everyone. So a poll tax is a tax put on every person.
3. To the Jews, this would be particularly offensive because it would communicate that each Jew belonged to Rome. And they believed that not only did they belong to God but that their land, city, temple, all belonged to God.
v. Nevertheless this does not quite tell us why this question is particularly entrapping.
vi. For that we must wait just a little while longer, but first a review of what we’ve seen so far.
f. Up to this point, what we have clearly seen is Matthew’s over all thread of this section and even his entire gospel being spoken through the mouths of those who consider it to be a lie. And that truth is that [Slide 8] Jesus is the interpretive authority of the Word of God. He speaks truth and does not need to curry favor with anyone since He is the Sovereign King. And even though they miss this, Matthew doesn’t want his audience to miss it. They were right, even if they didn’t think they were.
g. This truth greatly impacts us. Not only does it add weight to everything Jesus has said and done up to this point, but here and now, it endows Jesus with significant authority to teach us how we then should live.
So like the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians, we must wait for Jesus’ response to know how we should then live. Let’s look at that now.
II.) The image you bear determines who owns you, so we must bear much fruit. (18-22)
a. [Slide 9] 18 – But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
i. As if to prove the points they did not believe, Jesus cuts through all the façade.
ii. He asks them why they are testing Him. Probably meaning “Haven’t I made you look foolish enough? Haven’t I already told you enough that you’d be able to guess the answer?”
iii. And He calls them actors and pretenders.
iv. He goes right in for the truth. They are pretenders. They are actors. Why?
v. Because if they really believed what they said, they wouldn’t be disciples of the Pharisees and they wouldn’t be Herodians. If they really believed what they said, this question would never have come up.
vi. How do I know that? Well I think it is finally time for us to understand exactly what this trap was.
vii. Are you ready?
b. [Slide 10] 19 – Show me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a Denarius.
i. Mark and Luke repeat this exact episode in their accounts, almost word for word.
ii. Except in Mark and Luke when Jesus asks for the coin, He asks for the denarius.
iii. You say, well, what is the big deal? Right here in verse 19 he calls it a denarius. Exactly! But what coin does He ask for first?
iv. He asks for the poll tax coin. This helps us identify with a large degree of precision the exact coin that was required at the time for this tax. A Denarius yes, but the exact kind of denarius, because there were several.
v. A poll tax of 1 silver denarius would be collected from everyone. That silver denarius has some markings on it that are helpful to us.
vi. First of all the Roman Emperor Tiberius would have been on the front of the coin with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, now Augustus”. On the back of the coin the emperor would be seated on his throne wrapped in a robe, The robe he is wearing, and the inscription Pontif Maxim, identifies him as the high priest of the pagan Roman religion. So not only does the coin identify Tiberius as the head of the Roman Pagan religion, but it also identifies him as a god.
vii. This may be why it seems as though they had to go and find the coin Jesus wanted. No Jew would have had this coin on them because of the blasphemy upon it.
viii. So we see now the REAL devious nature of the trap they have laid.
ix. If Jesus says yes, we should pay the tax, the Pharisees’ disciples could accuse Jesus of idolatry because paying the tax would mean he approves of what is written on the coin to pay it.
x. If Jesus says no, we should not pay the tax, the Herodians would accuse Jesus of rebellion against the emperor.
xi. Blasphemy and treason were both grounds for execution under Roman rule. Although treason would be far easier to lead to execution than Blasphemy. More on that as we approach the crucifixion.
xii. So how is Jesus going to get out of this?
xiii. Let’s look…
c. [Slide 11] 20 – And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
i. Jesus draws their attention to the coin itself. The image is well known to them.
ii. I’d like for you to mark the language Jesus used. He asked what likeness the coin bore as well as the inscription.
iii. Mentioning the inscription, perhaps with bated breath the Herodians wait for Jesus to talk about the pagan King with rebellious words.
iv. So with eagerness perhaps they answer.
d. [Slide 12] 21 – They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
i. Well the Herodians have no problem now. Jesus says basically this…
ii. Whose likeness is on this coin and whose inscription, and what is he? He is the emperor and it is His image and inscription on the coin.
iii. Therefore the coin belongs to him. And He uses the word render. Or pay. Not give. It is what is owed to the emperor, not what is gifted. Why? Because it is his. Why? It has his image on it.
iv. With no mention of the idolatry which is obvious on the coin – Jesus masterfully declares that to pay taxes is not rendering worship to an idol, but rather a coin to a King. There is no idolatry inherent in paying taxes with the coin. Why? Because He is the emperor and it is his money.
v. But… that truth has harsh applications for the Pharisees’ disciples too…
e. [Slide 13] and to God the things that are God’s.”
i. The truth is that whatever likeness and inscription something bears, is to whom that something belongs.
ii. The coin bears the likeness and inscription of the emperor, therefore it belongs to him.
iii. But we are made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore we belong to Him.
iv. Jesus reveals the Pharisees and their disciples are actually the ones living in idolatry, in that they only give to God some of what He is due. Like all of the coin belongs to Tiberius, so all of us belong to God.
v. You Pharisees want to talk about idolatry – let’s talk about what you are keeping from God.
vi. After saying this, He had expertly put down both outcomes they anticipated. And their response is classic.
f. [Slide 14] 22 – And hearing this, they were amazed and leaving Him, they went away.
i. The NET says they were stunned.
ii. You get the impression that they were absolutely dumbstruck.
iii. They had nothing to say.
g. [Slide 15] So from the previous section we saw that Jesus is the final interpretive authority of the truth of God. Something spoken by the Pharisee’s disciples through lying lips, but was ultimately true. In this last section we see another truth spring from the text. It is that an image borne is a mark of ownership. And inscription is a sign of possession. Whether that image be on coin or person, whatever image and inscription is on something, is who owns that thing.
h. Of course, as humans created in the image of God, that means that we belong to God.
So this brings us full circle back to the question we started with.
[Slide 16] What right does God have to set the expectation that His children will be fruit bearers? What gives God the right to expect Law abiding citizens?
Jesus, God the Son, is the Final interpretive authority of God the Father’s Word, which was given by God the Spirit. And God made us in His image, so He. Owns. Us.
What gives God the right to expect law abiding citizens? Seriously? Because He said so. And that is enough. Because He created us. And that is enough.
For the past few episodes Jesus reveals to the Jews that God’s plan for them was to be obedient children. They failed. Jesus also reveals to us that He did not die on a cross to produce a bunch MORE disobedient children. He had those already. He died to free us from sin. To secure a reward for His suffering. To gather for Himself a bride with a pure white robe.
And now He reveals why. Because we belong to Him anyway. He is simply requiring what is expected. He is collecting taxes. When we are who He wants us to be, we are paying our dues.
This is not a concept foreign to the remainder of the New Testament. In Paul’s most theological work on Soteriology, the book of Romans, he makes this abundantly clear.
Paul says that according to all the mercies of God that he wrote about up to this point, that believers should present their bodies as a sacrifice to God. But he clarifies exactly what that would look like. Not suicide. But living. Not legally holy but actually holy. Not eventually pleasing but perpetually pleasing to God. And then, depending on your translation you have various options. Largely this centers around the wide range of meanings for the word logicos. Some say spiritual service of worship, others reasonable service, Reasonable worship or rational service. Robert Mounce breaks all this down very well I think.
[Slide 18] “Perhaps the best paraphrase is that of Knox, ‘This is the worship due from you as rational creatures.’ In view of God’s acts of mercy it is entirely fitting that we commit ourselves without reservation to Him. To teach that accepting the free gift of God’s grace does not necessarily involve a moral obligation on our part is a heresy of gigantic proportions. The popular cliché “He is Lord of all or not Lord at all” is absolutely right.”
Mounce, Robert H.. Romans. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, B&H Publishing Group, 1995. The New American Commentary Series on the New Testament.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, a letter that may as well have been titled, the theology of the New Covenant, Paul reveals that the purpose of God’s saving work was to make ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
[Slide 19-21] 5:17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away32 – look, what is new33 has come!34 5:18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 5:19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us35 the message of reconciliation. 5:20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea36 through us. We plead with you37 on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” 5:21 God38 made the one who did not know sin39 to be sin for us, so that in him40 we would become the righteousness of God.
We are to become the righteousness of God.
[Slide 22 (end)] God expects something of His creation, and He always has. And paying it to Him, is not act of worth or greatness. It is reasonable. It is logical. It is expected – ESPECIALLY for those who have been remade. Especially for those who are new creatures. Remember the inscription? Not only are we created in God’s image, but we who are slaves of Christ are said to have His name written on our foreheads in Rev 22. We are doubly in His image, not only created, but recreated with His Spirit inside us.
Jesus’ point here lends itself for us to leave the theological battle ground of easy believeism to reorient ourselves in reference to the good works He has predestined us to do. To understand the nature of the fruit we are to produce.
They are reasonable. Rational. They are nothing special! His Image has been stamped on us and we wear HIS NAME.
Yet when we sit down and read the bible and pray for 20 minutes in our day we call those “devotions”
Tell me friend, what exactly are we devoting? If God owns every second of our lives, what exactly are we devoting? The truth of it is, that time we spend knowing Him and furthering His Kingdom is what is reasonably expected as worshippers of His name. So time that we spend not knowing Him or furthering His Kingdom is what?
Time stolen. Time Wasted. Time Squandered.
You might say, Well I don’t have a lot of time because I work a lot?
You are deceived. Can you not serve the Lord at your work? Are you a sex worker? Is your job as a pagan priest? Are you a hitman? What do you mean you don’t have time to further the kingdom at your work? Remember my friend, whatever career you are, that is your disguise. For you are first and primarily an ambassador for the Kingdom of the Most High God.
You might say, well I am always busy with the kids.
You are deceived. Can you not make disciples of your children? Are you the parent of demons? Don’t answer that! Remember you are not a mother or father. You are an ambassador of Christ FIRST and whatever else second.
No matter how you spin it, everything you have, everything you are, all of it belongs to God. First because you are His creation, and second because if you are in Christ, you are His RE-creation.
The days are evil my friends. Stop stealing from God. It all belongs to Him. May we be ambassadors of Jesus Christ until it kills us. And then we will go into that glorious rest where we will love and worship Him forever… and we’ll never have to face another wasted moment. The Kingdom of God is both now and coming. Live like it is now, so that when it is finally here you can rejoice that it has come.