Death and Taxes

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series The Gospel of Luke

Death and Taxes. They are unavoidable. How many of you rejoiced when the middle of April came around again and you filed your paperwork with your Uncle Sam? Note too many of us. How deeply we would all love for God to tell us that it was right to not pay these onerous taxes which will invariably be used to pay for abortions, fund planned parenthood, line the pockets of corrupt politicians and their bedfellows, support causes and programs we could never support as Christians, enforce the LGBTQ agenda, and even increase the capacity of government to strip away more God given freedoms and lead our country further into decay. If my taxes will be used to fund such debauchery should we pay them?

What then if we were to discover that our taxes are being used to further the belief that our president is a deity, or to support lavish orgies, and the wrongful enslavement of other cultures? For these were issues added to our own which were faced by the first century Jews as at the point of a sword they were forcibly taxed and made to pay the wicked Roman empire. As a result a great argument raged over whether or not it was right to pay taxes at all to Caesar, such a wicked man as he was ruling over so wicked a nation. Sound familiar?

This is the very issue Jesus’ enemies confront him with in a thinly veiled attempt to trap Him. But Jesus raises the bar of obedience far above their shortsighted vision. Please stand as you are able as we honor the Lord’s word and Listen to Luke 20:19-26.

The Hardening of Sin

You can see in verse 19 that Jesus’ parable Jesus told was meant for Israel’s leaders. They knew it. As a result they desired one thing: Jesus must die. That and their own security. They were afraid of the people when Jesus asked them about John the Baptist, and they’re still afraid of the people. It’s a common characteristic that leads you deeper into sin. If you fear people more than God you’ll have God as your enemy. If you fear God more than people, you’ll have people as your enemy. So who would you rather have against you?

Looking at the parable and their reaction, I can’t help but watch the irony of it. They sought to kill him because they realized he had told the parable against them; a parable in which the wicked vine growers murdered the beloved son thus bringing their own judgement. But even knowing the penalty they still wanted murder.

Take note how sin hardens the heart and fear that hardening, and be repulsed at your sin! At first it seems small and unimportant so that you play with it, but it will destroy you. Keep in mind that your sin already murdered Jesus. Keep it close and you are next.

These men had hardened themselves into sin, and they let sin harden them against any possibility of repentance. As a result they started laying traps for Jesus… or trying to.

They started watching him carefully looking for anything he might say or do they could attack him for. They employed spies as well. These are men hired to stay near to Jesus, perhaps win his trust, and always seek to undo Him. Since Rome was in the habit of killing people that crossed it, let Rome be the one to kill Jesus. So they look for a way to hand him over to the governor.

That sounds familiar as well. Sinners living in open rebellion against God do not seek to win in the marketplace of ideas. Christianity – the faith of scripture is more than able to answer honest questions and objections. It should not shock you when the courts are called in and the laws are being stacked against Christ followers. The Government is being enlisted to attempt to destroy what no man can ever destroy: the Faith in Jesus Christ. But mark my words, just as the crucifixion of Christ was his victory, so too is the persecution of his followers.

The Watchful Eyes of Sinners

We are no better than our master. Our king was chased, harassed, and yes ultimately murdered, yet his murder actually serves as his coronation! We who follow Jesus will suffer the same watch.

People are watching you. Those who know you are Christ followers, and who do not share your faith are watching and waiting to trap you. For this reason we are told to watch how we live. We are told to let our good works shine forth so that on the Day of Judgment those who hate us will be enabled to glorify God. We may in fact win souls when our words of the gospel are matched by the witness of a life well lived.

But be aware, that the enemies of Jesus Christ are after you and will be relentless. If you speak the gospel but live in a way that makes a mockery of your faith – you are setting yourself up to be destroyed by them for your hypocrisy.

Is it any wonder that the gospel is mocked when the call to REPENT is ignored and replaced with a call simply to “believe”? Christian Faith is not head knowledge, it is life transforming. If there is no repentance – no sorrow and no striving to turn away from sin and turn to God – then there is no real faith, and no redemption.

Your sin already murdered Jesus. Keep it close and you are next.

Your sin already murdered Jesus. Keep it close and you are next.

Do not claim to be Christian and steal from your employer.

Do not claim to be a Christian and sleep with girlfriend, boyfriend, or accept pornography as normal.

Do not claim to be a Christian and pursue drunkenness.

Do not claim to be a Christian and live for your flesh.

Do not be deceived into thinking that they are not watching you, or that your pet sin does not matter. It matters. It matters because it crucified the Lord Jesus, and it matters because it mocks his death to those who are watching you.

For this reason the call to repentance is not merely a call to accept Christ the first time. Repentance is your daily call. Turn away from sin. Crucify sin. Kill sin. Slay sin in your life. Identify and destroy it lest you make a mockery of Jesus to those who are watching. For those who reject Christ would love nothing more than to catch you in blatant inconsistency so that they may use you as an excuse to reject the savior we both need. Your sin already murdered Jesus. Keep it close and you are next.

The trap of sinners

So they come flattering Jesus thinking that they can lure Him into a false sense of security. If you’re on the receiving end of flattery, it is always best to be wary. as Proverbs 29:5 says, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.” (Proverbs 29:5, NASB95), or just a few chapters earlier: “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, And a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28, NASB95)

Then they lay out the question: A revolutionary had taught that paying taxes to the wicked Roman government was treason against God. What say you Jesus?

The Jews rightly understood that the law of God superseded any law of man. But they failed to comprehend that government – however wicked it may be – is an extension of God’s hand by which he brings order to humanity. We can look to Romans 13 to see that even during the wicked, cruel, and hostile reign of one of the most audacious and grossly sinful emperors Nero – the apostle would tell us,

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:1–7, NASB95)

They objected to Roman governance, they objected to Roman taxation: after all the funds raised would be used to further cruelty, expand godlessness, and further destabilize righteousness. It was a declaration of Roman subjugation and in their minds was a moral offense to support a godless government. What to do?

If they get Jesus to side with Rome by saying, “just pay your taxes” they could accuse him of collaboration and dispel his popularity with the crowds. If they get him to side with Judaism and declare taxes should not be paid, they would recruit the government to have him slaughtered as an insurrectionist.

But the Lord detected their trick and goes far deeper into the core problem than their ruse was meant to reach. He asks for a dime sized coin called a denarius – a days wage. Something everyone there would have carried. Holding it up he asks them for two things.

1. Identify the image embossed upon it. 2. He asks them to identify whose inscription was on it. Written on the coin were the words, “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of divine Augustus.” On the reverse of the coin was written “Highest priest”.

The answer to both questions is: Caesar’s. It bore Caesar’s image, and Caesars inscription.

So Jesus responds, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, give to God thing things that are God’s.” His answer backs the Jewish leadership into a corner and they are astonished at his wisdom so much that they become silent.

But what is Jesus saying?

One may owe taxes to Caesar, but one owes one’s very being to God. Whatever civil obligations Jesus’ followers might have, they must be understood within the context of their responsibilities to God, for their duty to God claims their whole selves.

Jesus elevates the mandate. Before you consider what you owe Caesar, consider what you owe God. You are stamped with the image of God: give God all that you are. But this does not prescribe lawlessness either.

We know of course from Peter’s response to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) that obedience to God is above obedience to government. God is above government. God is greater than the any nation; God is greater than the USA. In fact you can gather every governmental entity on the planet, add them up, and you will still find that they are owed less than your allegiance to God allows. In fact if your patriotism is more powerful than your faith in Christ – that is idolatry. But if you entirely belong to God than what are you to do with the knowledge that government is God’s servant?

We do in fact operate under the rules and restrictions of wicked human government; this is true no matter which country a person dwells in. We will never find the righteousness of God’s kingdom under any nation, under any political party, nor yet under any candidate. Unless Jesus is running for president (and he is not) your vote will always be a vote for a dyed in the wool sinner. We are under the reign of human government but that human government no less than ourselves is far beneath the authority of God himself. Until that wicked human government we find ourselves under asks us to break God’s law, we comply – the same way a missionary living in a foreign land complies with the laws. Why? Because they are fair and good laws? No, they probably are not. But because our greatest cause is winning souls to Christ!

Give to God what belongs to him: that is everything you are.

It also means that on the day your government tells you that you must deny Christ, you deny the government.

The principle we receive from Peter’s response to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29) and both Paul’s (Romans 13:1-7) and Peter’s (1 Peter 2:13-14) descriptions of government is that we obey all human government unless that obedience would cause us to break God’s word – in which case we must disobey.

We are citizens of heaven, but citizens of heaven also respect the laws of the country in which we reside. If you as a citizen of the USA were to live for a season in France, the laws of the USA will not prohibit you from obeying French law – indeed the only rational thing to do would be to follow French law unless doing so would somehow cause you to renounce your US citizenship.

As one man wrote:

“Yet within the boundaries of the legitimate concerns of the state, the believer is to render to Caesar what is due him. Unfortunately it is not always p 497 clear when the “things of Caesar” encroach upon the “things of God,” but when this resulted, what to do was clear for Luke and the early church. And not only the early church but believers throughout history have repeated on such occasions, “We must obey God rather than men.” But even as the example of Christian martyrs magnificently witnesses to this conviction, so must the church equally witness its love for God by submitting itself in those areas where the state has a legitimate role.”

Citizens of God’s kingdom, ought to be the greatest citizens of this human Kingdom, for in that is embedded a witness to Christ.

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