Jesus said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.”
This verse comes at the end of what’s probably the most prominent teaching from Jesus about government in the Gospels. So these religious leaders come to him, they’re trying to trap him, and they say, “We know, teacher, that you are true, you don’t care about anybody’s opinion for you’re not swayed by appearances. You truly teach the way of God,” it’s total flattery. This insincere praise on Jesus for selfish reasons. But Jesus waits for their question and they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or should we not?” And the religious leaders know that if he says not to pay taxes to Caesar that would be an act of rebellion against the government. But if Jesus says, “We should pay taxes to Caesar” then he might appear to be compromising his devotion to God in the eyes of others.
Though Caesar is worthy of a coin in our pockets, only God is worthy of our hearts. We obey the government, but our ultimate allegiance is to God.
So Jesus sees right through their hypocrisy and he says to them, “Why are you putting me to the test?” Then he says, “Bring me a denarius. Let me look at it.” And they bring him this coin that’s worth about a day’s wage. Jesus holds it in his hand, looks them in the eye, and he says, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they say, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus responds with this verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.” And the very next verse says everybody marveled at his answer. So why are those words “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s”, why are they marvel worthy? Well, so much we could say here, and I’m actually writing a short book along these lines that Lord willing will come out in September to help us think through biblical foundations of government as we approach a Presidential election.
So just how does God’s word help us, lead us, guide us, transform the way we think about government, about government leaders, in ways that affect how we steward our voice and our vote in a representative democracy like we live in? So a ton we could talk about here that’ll be in that short book, Lord willing, but what I want us to see now and how I want us to lead into prayer is Jesus saying here that, when it comes to how we relate to government, if Caesar’s image is on a coin then in a sense that coin belongs to Caesar. So Jesus is affirming here what we see all throughout scripture that God ordains government as an institution under his authority for the good of people, which means we honor that institution. We render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. We pay taxes, we steward our vote, we do all kinds of things in subjection to government to use language from Romans 13, 1 Peter 2.
But what does it mean to render to God the things that are God’s? So if Caesar’s image is on a coin then where is God’s image? And the answer to that question is breathtaking, because God’s image, according to Genesis 1, is on every human heart. In other words, though Caesar may be worthy of a coin for our pockets, God is worthy of our very hearts, and that totally transforms the way we think about government. So let’s pray, oh God, we confess today that you alone are worthy of our hearts. No governmental authority, no political candidate, no political party is worthy of our hearts, our trust, our allegiance, our hope. Our hope is in you. Our hearts belong to you. Our trust is in you. We do not trust in any political candidate or party or governmental authority. You are our trust and we worship you as supreme.
So we pray that you would help us, particularly in the United States as we enter into an election season. But for anyone listening to this, everyone listening to this, from any part of the world, we pray that you would help us to honor government around us, to honor government leaders, just as we see you encourage, command us to do in places like Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, and right here, to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Even just think about Caesar setting himself up as Lord and you Lord Jesus telling us to honor him, honor government, in ways that are ordained by the father. At the same time, in no way to give all ultimate allegiance to government or put ultimate trust or hope in government. So help us to keep government in a right perspective, to glorify you with the way we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but ultimately to glorify you by rendering to you that which is yours and our lives are yours. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.