Return it to Whom it Belongs
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Return it to Whom it Belongs
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
How many of you enjoy paying your taxes? How many of you question whether it is lawful for you to have to pay your taxes? We work through out our lives and out of the fruit of our labor we are required by law to give a portion of our fruit to the government. In return we expect the government to have our best interests in mind as they use the money that we give them. But where does the money come from that we give to them. Do we produce this money ourselves? Absolutely not. It is printed by federal reserve and then sent out to other banks who loan it out to companies who then use it to pay their employees, who then use it to by consumer items or pay bills which it then eventually comes back to the banks to be sent out again for the cycle to continue. But when you look upon a dollar bill it reads, US Treasury Note. So then, who does this money really belong to then? All of it in reality belongs to the United States Government as they provide it for us as legal tender to exchange for the things that we need in life.
Our Gospel message this morning is found in the book of Matthew chapter 22 starting in verse 15. Jesus is now in Jerusalem and he is teaching in the temple. Previously, he had entered Jerusalem is the same way that Solomon entered the city as king. When he arrives at the temple, he sees all of the money changers and he drives them all out. This is not the first time in which he angers the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin. It is getting to a point in which Jesus is now a nuisance to them and they want to get rid of him. They cannot just go directly to him and take him out of the picture because he has too much popularity and this could cause a riot which would not be good in Roman occupied Jerusalem as they would put a stop to any riot through the spilling of blood. Therefore, they have to be careful and crafty in how they act. Therefore, they devise a plan to put together people whom Jesus has never seen before. Jesus knows the Sanhedrin leaders as he has spoken to them before and he made them out to be fools. So, they send out their disciples and some of the Herodians to trap Jesus in his words. The Herodians and the Pharisees really had nothing in common other than one thing at this time. They both hated Jesus and his teachings.
These strangers come up to Jesus as he is teaching in the temple and they begin to attempt to flatter him. They say that he is a man of integrity and they acknowledge that he teaches the way of God and speak only the truth. He also does not care what anyone else thinks and he does not try to save people face. They are taking this time to build him up and then plan to ask him a question that should have only a yes or no answer. They didn’t care whether he answered yes or answered no. Because either way he answers he is to be condemned. They ask Jesus whether it is right to pay the Imperial tax to Caeser. There were many different taxes that the people would have to pay to cover for many of the services that Rome had offered. Some of those taxes were in the forms of grain, wine, and oil. However, the imperial tax was different. It was a direct tax upon the people themselves as it was used as their Census. Each person would have to pay there tax so that they could be counted. It was the belief for many that these taxes really belonged to God and that if they are paying taxes to Rome then they are taking money away from God. Therefore, there was a great distaste for many of the Jews with their Roman occupation. Therefore, if Jesus says that they should pay the tax then he will cause an uproar among the Jews and it will be like saying that he is approving taking money away from God. This is why the Pharisee disciples are there to pounce on this opportunity and announce it to the whole temple. However, the Herodians are also there for a reason. Remember the Pharisees and the Herodians had nothing in common other than their hatred for Jesus. The Pharisees were anti Rome while the Herodians were not. There reason here is because Rome allowed Herod to still Rule therefore leaving a Jew in power as well. Therefore, if Jesus says that they should not pay the tax then the Herodians are witnesses to this and can right away report him to the Romans. In their minds this question is full proof to trap Jesus in his words and they will use his own integrity against him. What they failed to realize is that Jesus does not play by their rules for he is God and he is all knowing and he knew exactly what they were trying to do. Jesus also understands that this question does not have to have a yes or no answer.
Jesus asks them for the coin that is used to pay the tax. Right away they bring him a denarius. The denarius was coined by the emperor and his face was printed on the coin and the inscription spoke of Caeser being a divine ruler. So, two things about this coin that they did not like. One it has an image of someone on it and second, the coin referenced the image as being divine like God. Therefore, in their minds the denarius was a false idol. Idols were forbidden in the temple and yet here they are now carrying an idol and showing it before Jesus. As long as it can be used to trap Jesus in his words, they believe that this is ok. However, they were not expecting Jesus to give a 3rd answer that was neither yes nor no. Jesus asks for the denarius, they bring it before him, and he asks them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” Caesar’s, they tell him. The next thing that happens was the unthinkable in their eyes. Jesus says, “Then render to Caesar what is Caeser’s and to God what is God’s.
They failed to realize that the coin that they used to pay their tax technically belonged to Caesar as he is the one who coined it and he is the one who distributed it out to be used. Therefore, this coin was not God’s coin though everything belongs to God, however, this was Caesar’s coin therefore this was due to him. Then Jesus points out their hypocrisy in that they were actually not keeping to this and giving to God what was God’s anyway so why should they be complaining about any of this. When they hear this, they are speechless and amazed for no one could come up with an answer other than yes or no. However, Jesus on the other hand is more than just a person. When they hear this, they realize that there is very little that they can do and they just let it all play out until they can possibly find some other way to get rid of him. It turns out in the end that the only way for them to get what they want is to arrest him in the middle of the night meaning doing so illegally.
Now I will ask the question again that I asked in the beginning. Is it right for us as Christians to pay our taxes? The answer is the answer that Jesus gave. We must give back to the government what belongs to the government and is asked of us and we must give back to God what belongs to God. If we believe that we are paying too much in taxes then the only way to change that is the fire those who are in power now and vote in those who we believe will truly represent our best interests and desires. But to God we owe everything we have to him. We can trust that he does have our best interest at heart. And he only asks a small portion from us. Therefore, we are charged to return it to where it belongs. Whether it belongs to the government and when whether it belongs to God, we must return it to them.