Matthew 22:16-22 – Nothing is Sure But Death & Taxes: Christians and The Governments Under Which They Live

Posted: March 5, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 22:16-22
Religious Leaders Question Jesus About Paying Taxes

There is nothing sure in this life but death and taxes! It is an old saying but it is true. We will all meet death. Death is not prejudiced. It comes for us. The other thing that is sure is that as long we live in organized societies there will be taxes. We all hate paying part of our hard-earned wages to the government. Sometimes, it because we do not support what our money is being used for. But unless you want to live alone on a boat in international waters you are going to have to deal with taxes. Even in the most constitutionally pure form of our nation, we will pay taxes. In a conservatively formed US government, we will need to provide for the common defense of our nation and to have programs that support the TEMPORARY needs of those who are down on their luck and to support public health and public infrastructure such as roads and so on. Government has a role to play in our lives. We must have it in an organized society so that we do not descend into chaos. We wish for less and fewer taxes but we will always have taxes nonetheless. Death and taxes. The two surest things on this side of eternity. In Palestine in the first century, we see the Jews feeling the same way we do about taxes.

But unlike us, they were a conquered and occupied country. You think you hate taxes. They hated Roman taxes worse than anything because it all went to Rome to support the Roman Empire. They hated Roman taxes worse than we hate our own government’s taxes today. So with that idea in mind, let us read today’s Scripture, Matthew 22:16-22:

16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
This was indeed a trap situation for Jesus. Anyone refusing to pay the imperial tax to Rome faced harsh penalties. The Jews hated to pay the imperial tax to Rome because the money was seen as supporting the pagan wealth and lifestyles of Rome’s elite. It also symbolized their loss of their independence as a nation. Much of the taxes went to support the maintenance and construction of Rome’s lust for building magnificent things including pagan temples and the luxurious and sometimes immoral lifestyles of Roman citizens who had spread into Palestine. The Pharisees and the supports of the Herod Antipas hoped to trap Jesus with the tax question. A yes answer would mean that Jesus supported Rome which would turn every Jew against Him, the very people that Jesus was trying to reach. A no answer would bring accusations of treason and rebellion against Rome which would lead to at least prison and even execution. It was seemingly a no win situation.

Jesus brilliantly answers the question. But what did Jesus really say? He avoided a political trap with His answer but there has to be more than that with His answer. Jesus’ public words were always meant to teach. So what is Jesus trying to teach his listeners and us, his readers, 2,000 years later. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. What does that mean? I think that it means that we a duty to both to nation and to God. However, we have to remember the priorities.

First, we must remember that everything begins with God. God owns everything because He created it. God spoke creation into being. He is the intelligent designer of all things. He was the One who instigated the big bang. He created everything, the basis upon which we live life. He created everything and without that creation I could not be writing this blog right now and you could not be reading. Without God’s creation none of our human endeavors would have ever come about. There was no creation until God made it happen out of nothingness. There was nothing. There was absence of anything until He spoke what we know into being. Therefore, because He is God our Creator, we owe first allegiance to Him. Our first duty is to love God. We are to love Him for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ even though we’ve never deserved His grace. We are to love God. This is our first duty of all duties. No other duty is to come before it. Our of our love for God, we obey Him. Out of our love for God, we willingly follow His Word and through our obedience to our Father in Heaven, we find blessing, peace, comfort and provision. Our first allegiance then is to God. It must come before family and everything else. If we do not have a right relationship with God nothing else will work. All of our other relationships will fall apart repetitively if we do not have a right relationship first with God.

Second, Jesus is telling us that we do have duties to the countries in which we find ourselves living. We have a duty to obey the laws of our nations. We have a duty to support the public good through our payment of taxes. We have a duty to serve our nation in the armed forces when called upon. We have a duty to vote. We have a duty to be a part of the civic processes of the societies in which we live. Christians out to be a blessing to any country in which they live. They are to be good citizens that provide sources of revenue to the governments under whose authority they operate. We will be blessing by being respecters of laws and of property, and reverence to those who are in authority. We are to pray for those that are in power so that they will be guided by the Holy Spirit to do the right things for the country not just the things that will keep them in power. We will be blessings to the nations in which we live by contributing to the general welfare of our country through our good deeds and through our care for our fellow man. Because of the failure of Christians to discard the selfishness of the American Dream, we have abdicated a lot of the things that we used to do by nature as Christians to the government. In a nation where we have Christians who care more for their fellow man than for their new car outside, we have need for less government. We should be blessings to our societies and to our governments. That is the goal. That is what Jesus expects of us.

OK, Mark, well, that’s all well and good. What about, though, when these two directives that Jesus gave us come in conflict with one another. What if the government under which we live is corrupt and self-serving? What if our government is oppressors of people just because of the ethnic group they belong to or the color of their skin? What if the government supports that which does not grant the sanctity of life from conception? What if the government uses our tax money to fund things that are fundamentally immoral? What if we are forced to choose between God’s Word and a government position that is in complete opposition to God’s Word. Where does our allegiance lie then? We must remember the priorities. God then government! We must obey God first, government second. We must pray that the second is subject to the first. We must pray for our leaders to subject themselves to the leadership of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

What if that doesn’t work? We still have responsibilities to our country when it is acting in ways that are contrary to God’s Word. We do not give up and walk away. We must get involved to make change happen. We cannot sit in our ivory towers and look down both literally and figuratively and say that the nation is going to hell and then retreat back into our bunkers. We must climb down from our ivory towers. We must come out of our bunkers. We must get out from behind our fences. We must join the fray. We must participate. We must raise our voice. We must lead the way against injustice and poverty. We must lead the way against oppression. We must lead the way against things that are clearly immoral and against God’s Word. We must vote. We must and I cannot stress this enough. We must run for office and make real change. We must infiltrate government through elections and correct the course of our country. We must participate. It is a tough fight, but it is what we are here for. We are to be God’s people and we are to demonstrate our love for Him through participating and moving our country back toward God. It is a tireless fight that we must fight. We must work to end the things that are not reflective of whose image in which we are all made. We must fight for that which gives Him glory. We must fight for that which will draw people closer to their Creator, the One without whom none of this existence would exist! We must take the gospel to the streets and share with our neighbors and create change from the grass roots level. We can change a whole society one person at time until the day that God and His Word are front and center in our society.

OK, Mark, well that’s fine in a republic such as ours where we can run for office and change the course of our city, our county, our state, and/or our nation. Because if we Christians really cared as we say we do, we would be volunteering to run for office. However, what if you live in a country where there is totalitarian government such as in most Muslim countries, such as China, such as North Korea among others. What do we do then? What allegiance do we owe to the government then? I think that looks different in each nation. Sometimes, this will involve risking imprisonment. Sometimes, this will involve death. How committed are you to your love of God or love of self-preservation? How willing are you to hold to your biblical principles in nations that will imprison or kill you? We still share the gospel. We share love for our enemies. We speak of the change that Jesus has wrought in our lives one person at a time. Christian love is uncommon in a selfish, self-preservationist world. Even if we live under the rule of totalitarian governments that are far from God, we continue to stand on God’s Word. We may have to give up our freedom to do it, but we continue to serve God in the prisons of these governments. We may have to give up our lives to do it. But, our reward in heaven is far greater than even the best life in this temporal world. If we know that heaven is far greater than this, we can push the envelope to share the gospel and to fight against those things that are against God’s Word. We continue to share the gospel and spread God’s love and change societies on person at time until the day that God and His Word are front and center in our society.

Father, help us to be good citizens in our countries. May we be blessings to the countries in which we live. Help us to be the defender of that which is of God and the pointers of that which is not. Help us to point people to God’s Word. Help us to point people to Jesus regardless of what society under whatever government we find ourselves. Help us to see our mission field as your representatives regardless of what country we live in. Help us to glorify you by how we act and what we do. Help us to love you first and foremost in whatever we do. God first, always. Amen and Amen.


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