The Servant King Speaks on Politics – Mark 12:13-17
In a 2008 Addeco survey, 1,807 U.S. workers were asked to identify issues they felt were off-limits for discussion at work. Here are the top five responses:
Religion: 29 percent
Office gossip: 27 percent
Personal life: 16 percent
Politics: 14 percent
Money: 14 percent
In our text today, Jesus will actually talk about all of those, well except maybe office gossip. What is the relationship between Christians and politics? On the one hand, we see Christians who say since the world and its systems are corrupt, we should totally disengage from all politics and think about Heaven. Yet on the other hand, we also see well-meaning Christians who boycott and picket at everything, making political statements everywhere. You may have heard that in Houston a couple of weeks ago, city attorneys issued subpoenas to pastors who have been vocal in opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a measure which deals with gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations. How should we approach something like that?
My goal today is not to pick sides or endorse a particular party or make political statements from the pulpit. That’s never going to happen either and I am no expert to do it anyway. We won’t be able to talk about everything either related to this topic either, but hopefully give us a good foundation on how to start processing some of these things. The title of the message today is, “The Servant King Speaks on Politics.” First, let’s go over the story and then we can see if we can find ways to apply it for our lives.
This is the last few days of Jesus’ life. From the end of the cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:27ff) to the end of this chapter, we see that Jesus’ authority is highly opposed, leading to His eventual death and resurrection. The opposition is from what is called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin make up of three predominant groups—the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the scribes. They are 70 people; 71 if you count the high priest.
Beginning with this story, each of these groups will tag team against Jesus—the Pharisees on the question of taxation (12:13–17), the Sadducees on the question of the resurrection (12:18–27), and the scribes on the question of scriptural interpretation (12:28–44). In each story Jesus is addressed as “Teacher” (12:14, 19, 32), and in each Jesus demonstrates his authority.
So in our text today, we see one group of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, probably sent by the Sanhedrin as a whole, even partnering up with the Herodians to “trap” Jesus in his speech. The word, “send,” means to send with a specific purpose. This is premeditated and very calculated.
The Pharisees were the conservatives, the right-wingers of that day. The Herodians were the liberals, the left-wingers, advocates of[Rome].They supported Herod, who was put in charge by the Romans, so they were pro-Rome, the Herodians opposed Jesus because He was threatening their political advantage. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He was messing with their religious agenda. Amazingly, Jesus brought them together!They hated each other…Pharisees hated Rome and Herodianswere loyal to Rome and so hated the Pharisees, but since they both hated Jesus more than they hated each other, they became allies here. The Gospel unites positively and negatively.
Notice to “trap” Jesus. The word “trap” means to capture by hunting or fishing. The idea is violent pursuit of prey. They hope to trap Him in a slip of the tongue, a public gaffe that will take Him down.They have a speech prepared saying the right things, but with wrong motives.
They call him, “Teacher,” appealing to His role, implying respect, but they had no real respect for Him. You are “true,” meaning a “man of integrity” and you are not a people pleaser since “you do not care about anyone’s opinion or swayed by appearances.” You are not influenced by their position, wealth, or power. You are a straight shooter and you don’t sway from difficult questions, though in a few days they will crucify Him as a blasphemer.They knew that He would be impartial in His answer, showing no favoritism.Notice the best flattery of all: You are so godly Jesus, since you “truly teach the way of God.”
They appeal to His position, His reputation and His character. These things are all true, but this is all flattery. Flattery is saying something to a person’s face that you would never say behind his back (Gossip, on the other hand, involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face).The whole thing is shady and insincere. In Mark 3, they were calling him the devil and now they show they are acting like the devil with their treachery and deceit and smooth, buttery words to catch Jesus off guard and push Him into a corner, into a trap. They set the cheese up and made it look delicious for the mousetrap.
Will Jesus bite?Of course not.He sees through hypocrisy as we saw a couple of weeks ago, and calls it what it is: a test. This word “test” is the same word Mark used in 1: 13 when Satan “tempted” our Lord in the wilderness. There is demonic intent in their motivation to destroy Jesus, like the efforts of the Devil to get Him off track from His mission. And as Satan failed in the wilderness, the Pharisees and Herodians will fail in the temple.
Do you really want to keep doing this? He asks them. His ego does not inflate and they ask the million dollar question: “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Yes or no? They got Him! So they think. Whichever way He goes, He loses. The only reason these religious leaders did not arrest Jesus so far was because the people loved Him and they would cause an uproar if they touched Him. So how can they get the people to turn on Him?
They knew that if Jesus said, “Yes, you must pay your taxes to Caesar,” then the people would be upset. They hated taxes, and they hated the Romans. Judea was under the Roman Empire. But if he says they ought to pay taxes to Caesar, then the people will turn against him; then they can arrest him without an uproar.On the other hand, if Jesus told the people not to pay taxes, then the Herodians would notify Herod, who was in cahoots with the Romans.Then the Romans would arrest Jesus.It is a win-win situation for everyone who hated Jesus. What a sneaky trap! But Jesus is the Master of springing traps.
Some more background here. There were lots of taxes, all sort of taxes on goods, but there was also a head tax. The head tax was an annual tax of one denarius. It wasn’t a tax on your goods. It was a tax for the privilege of being a subject of Caesar. Can you believe that? “This tax is just because you get to live here.”
So twenty-five years or so before this time when the tax was instituted, there was an armed revolt. It was led by a Jewishman named Judas the Galilean.When Judas the Galilean led the revolt, here’s what he did. He did three things. First, he called on all Jews to refuse to pay the head tax. Secondly, with an armed band he went and cleansed the temple. He got rid of all the foreigners. He threw out all the Gentiles, all the Romans. He cleansed the temple. The Romans would crush the revolt and kill Judas and all his followers.
So 25 years later, another Galilean named Jesus shows up talking about the kingdom, cleansing the Temple, throwing furniture around, etc. But there is no political revolt with Jesus, so the Pharisees and Herodians want to push Jesus to make some political statement and get crushed like Judas the Galilean.
But Jesus does something that blew them away. He asks for a denarius, the amount you paid for the head tax. A denarius was the equivalent for a day’s wage for a working man. Think of like perhaps a 100-dollar bill. So they dig through their man-purses. Notice that Jesus doesn’t have one, but these trappers do. One commentator observes, “This implies that they had already answered their own question. It was Caesar’s coinage they were using (v. 16); and by using it they were tacitly acknowledging Caesar’s authority and thus their obligation to pay the tax.”
He then asks, “Whose likeness (or image) and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” On one side of the coin was a bust of Tiberius Caesar(who reigned from 14 A.D. to 37 A.D) with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The other side had an image of Tiberius’s mother Livia with the words, “Pontifex Maximus,” meaning “High Priest.” You can see why the Jews hated this. It was idolatrous: a man claiming to be a god and a woman a priest— blasphemy!
Then He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s …” What does that mean? He says, “Whose image is on this?” They say, “Caesar’s.” He says, “Okay.” Then He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
By using the word image (which is the same word used in Gen 1:26 of humanity’s creation in God’s image), he is implying, “Give to Caesar only that has his image on it. Anything with his image on it, give to him. It’s his. They’re his coins. It’s his coinage.” Literally, by the way, it was his money. It literally was minted out of his wealth. “It’s his money. Give it to him because his image is on it.” Ravi Zacharias says, “They should have had a follow up question. He should have said, “What belongs to God?” And Jesus would have said, “Whose image is on you?”Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar; give to God that which belongs to God. God’s image is on you.”
We can takeaway a couple of things here from Jesus’ last statement in v.17. First:
I.We are called to be responsible earthly citizens
Why? Pastor Mark Dever explains in a sermon that human government is deeply biblical.The story of the Bible begins with human history and human government. The government of earth is given to man upon creation (Genesis 1:28). God commanded Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Government provides civil order, peace, and some (imperfect) means of justice. Authority by its very nature reflects God. Romans 13 echoes this foundational biblical theology as Jesus developed it. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1).
Government is not specifically Christian, but it is good. Certainly order is better than organizing society around unfettered self-interest. Paul adds in that chapter, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7).
God has instituted human government, thoughimperfect. Sometimes it is tragically imperfect. However frustrated you may be with government, you must remember God has instituted it and any good that comes from it is a gift of common graceWe can be good citizens of bad governments. The Romans would take part in killing Christ. They had good accomplishments, but they would also persecute and kill Christians later if they refused to obey the Emperor. Yet Jesus was not against people paying taxes to Rome.
So pay your taxes. One spring evening at midnight in 1987, seven million American children suddenly disappeared. The worst kidnapping wave in history? Hardly. It was the night of April 15, and the Internal Revenue Service had just changed a rule. Instead of merely listing the name of each dependent child, tax filers were now required to provide a Social Security number. Suddenly, seven million children—children who had existed only as phantom exemptions on the previous year’s 1040 forms—vanished, representing about one in ten of all dependent children in the United States.
Let’s not try to find ways to be shady with our taxes. Let’s not hire shady CPAs. We are not culpable for how a government uses the tax money. Jesus doesn’t go there. Caesar has a tax, pay the tax. How else can we be good citizens? We should vote. It would also be great if some believers were called into politics and can have a voice in systemic change. If not,Scripture also says, pray for your leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Pray that they maintain order, punish wrongdoing and uphold the law and that the Gospel can continue to go forth unhindered.
As Christians, I hope we are known more for praying for our leaders than bashing them on facebook or mocking them. I pray we are talking more to God about them then talking about them with others or on social media. I was convicted by this as I have often made fun of dumb things our state and national leaders have said and did. Again, I am not saying we have to agree with everything or not voice our disagreements, but we must do so humbly and with respect. It is the Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and our job to love. So instead of picketing at Planned Parenthood, for example, maybe we would do better by loving the broken women there? Secondly:
II.Our ultimate allegiance is God’s Kingdom
Remember the denarius, the coin with Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of Divine Augustus? Jesus says go ahead and pay that coin to Caesar. However, he didn’t say when you give to Caesar you give to God. He said give to Caesar and give to God. Caesar is not God. Augustus is not divine. The state is not God.
As we look at Scripture, we must realize that there are no Christian nations. There are Christians in every nation, but no, don’t call America or some other country, a Christian nation. One day the government will be on His shoulders (Is. 9:6) and He will reign as King over all. Our ultimate citizenship belongs there (Phil 3:20). But Christianity is not Western thing anymore. There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in England. There are more Presbyterians in Korea than in the United States. Huge missionary forces are being sent out not just from the US,but from Brazil and Korea.
This doesn’t mean we should not celebrate Independence Day or sing the National Anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance. Celebrate well and thank God. Thank God for the troops. It is our responsibility to do so, but the point is from this text that our ultimate allegiance belongs to Christ and His Kingdom. America is not God. This means we cannot look down on other cultures or countries and think we are the best. Rome thought that, Greece thought that and now they are no more. Ethnocentrism or xenophobia (dislike people from other countries) or racism has no place because we have family in every country of this world saved by the same grace. That’s our allegiance.
Also, let us avoid political simplicity. Notice Jesus refuses to make a political statement here. Today if He was on earth physically, I can see people going up to Him saying, “Are you Republican or Democrat?” Tim Keller says,“We must not say, ‘That political party, that specific political program, that specific political platform is Jesus’. Jesus is for that party, not for that party. Jesus is for that program, not for that program. Nice and simple. All Christians, real smart Christians, Bible-believing Christians, that’s who they vote for. How in the world could a Christian with a brain in their head have voted for the other guy? How could a Christian have ever voted for him? How could a Christian who has any belief in the Bible ever vote for him?’”
Since our citizenship is ultimately coming and our government is not God and authority can be abused due to sin, we also realize that sometimes there will need to be as a last resort, thoughtful civil disobedience. We should not obey the government is it tells us to do something God has told us not to do. DeYoungadds, “Our allegiance to our country should never be absolute. We should never say we will do what they say no matter what. On the other hand, our allegiance to God is absolute. The Book of Exodus gives us a wonderful example: The midwives refused to kill the boys as Pharaoh said. Acts 4 tells us Peter and John would not stop preaching about Jesus, even though the authorities told them to stop. Daniel was thrown in a lion’s den because he prayed. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego chose to obey God rather than the king of Babylon. Our allegiance to the state is limited; our allegiance to God is not. Giving God his due is always more important than giving Caesar his due.”
Pastor Russell Moore in a blog article responded similarly to the subpoena issued to pastors to hand over their sermons in Houston. He says, “A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights. The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”Lastly and quickly, this text points us to:
III. We have an Upside-Down King
Did you notice something here? Jesus had to ask for a coin. I don’t think He had one himself. We are reminded again that He is a King who has nothing. He looks at the coin that has the image of a man who calls himself the Son of God and high priest. Caesar is a King who has all the quarters. A king without a quarter versus a king with all the quarters. Jesus the Galilean is different from Judas the Galilean and from all Caesars and all other kings of this world that have come on the scene.
The politicians of the world operate on achieving wealth, status, significance, power, people pleasing and wanting supremacy. We can easily become driven the same way. Our political views can be our number one priority of our lives. But Jesus says, “Look at me. I’m a king unlike any other king you’ve ever seen. I’m a king without a quarter because I’ve given my money away. I’m a king without power, and I keep giving it away till the very end. I’m a king without recognition. I’m not recognized as a king. I’m not seen as a king. I’m rejected. I’m rejected till the very end. Even my Father turns his face from me.”
We get our significance from the Gospel. We get recognition from the Gospel. The gospel is, on the cross, he took the poverty you deserve so we could have the incredible wealth of God’s acceptance and welcome and his future. Have you ever seen a king like this? Don’t you realize every other politician can’t do a single good thing unless they get power, unless they get elected? Jesus Christ says, “The climax of my kingship and my career will not be when I get elected, but when I get executed.”  When we allow the Gospel to fall deeper in our heart, politics are just politics. He’s the King, the President, the Governor, the Mayor we really need because though we have many who are elected for us, we have only One who was executed for us.
And now He comes up to us and says, “Who’s image is on you?” You belong to me. What are you holding back? Have you responded to my love for you?If it is an offense to withhold taxes from the United States Treasury, how much more offensive is it to withhold what should be rendered to the one who made you, from the King of the universe who lost everything to bring you into His Kingdom, the one whose image is stamped upon you? You might be able to hide a few things from the IRS, but you cannot hide from God. You belong to him.
Jae Yang and Veronica Salazar, “What Is the Most Taboo Topic to Discuss at Work?” USA Today (6-17-08); submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky submitted to www.preachingtoday.com Retrieved October 23, 2014.
Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (pp. 361–362). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
Edwards, J. R. (p. 362).
Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 274). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hiebert, D. E. (1994).The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (p. 340). Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.
Hughes, R. K. (2001). Disciplines of a Godly Man (10th anniversary ed.; rev. ed., p. 139). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Akin, Daniel L. (p. 276).
DeYoung, K. (2012, June). Making Sense of God and Government. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2012/june/sensegodgovernment.html?paging=o.
Keller, T. J. (2013). From the sermon, “Arguing about Politics” preached July 15, 2001.The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 734). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Akin, Daniel L. (p. 276).
Edwards, J. R. (p. 364).
Keller, T. J. (2013). Ibid.
Zacharias, R. (2014, April 15). Give to Caesar; Give to God. Retrieved October 24, 2014, from http://www.rzim.org/blog/blog/give-to-caesar-give-to-god/.
Dever, M. Sermon, “Jesus Paid Taxes,” preached September 19, 2010 Capitol Hill Baptist Church.Retrieved October 24, 2014 http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/audio/2010/09/jesus-paid-taxes-mark-1213-17/.
DeYoung, K. Ibid.
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J.Dubner (2006).Freakonomics (p.239). New York, NY: William Morrow. Submitted by Kevin Miller, executive vice president of Christianity Today International, to www.preachingtoday.com Retrieved October 23, 2014.
DeYoung, K. Ibid.
Keller, T. J.Ibid.
Dever, M. Ibid.
DeYoung, K. Ibid.
Moore, R. (2014, October 14). Houston, We Have a Constitution. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/10/14/houston-we-have-a-constitution/.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Ibid.
DeYoung, K. Ibid.