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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Using Caesar as a Trap for Jesus
Text:Matthew 22:15-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:12/29/2013
Added:2014-01-29
Updated:2014-01-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


12/29/2013

Pastor Ted Gray

“Using Caesar as a Trap for Jesus”

Matthew 22:15-22

As we resume our study of Matthew’s gospel we come face to face with efforts of the Pharisees to trap Jesus.  But it is not just the Pharisees of the first century who wanted to trap Jesus, who wanted to find fault with His teaching, who wanted to discredit Him.  The same thing goes on today, and has gone on throughout the history of the world. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin there has been a concerted effort by fallen humanity to oppose God and to oppose and persecute His people.  

In this passage we see, first, that much thought was put into trapping Jesus Christ. Verse 15 describes how the Pharisees plotted to entangle Him in His words. The question of verse 17, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  wasn’t a quickly thought out spur of the moment “Let’s ask Jesus a question” type of scenario.  Not at all.

It was as detailed and well planned as any military maneuver. Before a general engages his troops in battle he carefully considers the best tactic to use. He lays out strategic plans all the while thinking of how his opponent, the opposing army, might react. Only after those plans, carefully thought through with everything in place, is the first move is made. The same thing is going on here. Before the  question of verse 17 there is the systematic plotting of verse 15.

The question they put before Jesus was designed to cause Him to be trapped no matter how He answered it.  If he said, “No, you don’t need to pay tax to Caesar,” He would immediately be in trouble with the Roman government and perhaps arrested. But if He said, “Yes, you must pay tax to Caesar,” then the Jewish people, who despised the Romans authorities to whom they had to pay tax, would be furious with Him.

Furthermore, the coin had an image of the emperor with the words Tiberius Caesar Augustus, which means “Son of the divine Augustus.”  The coin was making a case for the deity of the Roman Emperor.  On the flip side it said Pontifect Maximus, which was a reference to a high priest. The coin was not only saying that Caesar was ruler of the civil government, but also that he was divine; God Himself.

Consequently, the Pharisees figured this was the perfect question to trap Jesus. They figured this question would be a “lose lose” situation for Jesus.  No matter how He answered, He would endanger Himself and lose the respect, admiration and following of  a large segment of society.

Not only was the question designed to trap Jesus, but so was the method by which the question would be presented. Part of the entrapment that the Pharisees used is in the opening words of vs 16, which says, “They sent their disciples to Him.” 

Why would they send their disciples? These were young men, students of the Pharisees. It would be like sending a first year seminarian to question the most astute theologian that could be found. Why would they do that?

One possible reason is that they knew if they went themselves Jesus would know immediately their intent. After all, He had already put them in their place and condemned their teaching with the previous three parables: The parable of the two sons, the tenants, and the wedding banquet, all of which immediately precede this passage, exposed the Pharisees false teaching and ungodly conduct.

But by sending a disciple it might not seem threatening to Jesus. “He might let down His guard,” they may have reasoned. Their reasoning probably was: “If sincere young seminarian types go to Him, maybe He will respond to their question in such a way that He will be trapped.”

We can see that a lot of thought, - a lot of scheming, - went into the efforts of the Pharisees to trap Jesus, to entangle Him in His words.

Opponents Unite to Oppose Christ

However, not only do we see the concerted effort to trap Jesus, but in this passage we also see that opponents unite to oppose Christ.  Verse 16 says, They sent their disciples to Him along with the Herodians.

Who were the Herodians?  As their name implies, they were avid followers of Herod. Herod was under the authority of Roman rulers but his followers hoped that one day he would have power over the Romans and that he would be the ruler over Judea.

The Pharisees had no love for the Herodians because they worked with the Roman government which the Pharisees disdained. Yet now, in opposition against our Lord, they join forces. And that is a principle that we see throughout history:  Opponents,  people and nations who don’t care much for each other at all, unite forces and work together as friends in opposition to Christ and His followers. Psalm 2 describes that opposition graphically, The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His Anointed One (v. 2).

We also read how former enemies, Pilate and Herod, united together against the Lord. Luke 23:11-12 says: Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked (Jesus). Dressing Him in an elegant robe, they sent Him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends, before this they had been enemies.

And at the close of history we will again see that united opposition against Christ and those who follow Him. Revelation 13 describes the unique vision John had of a beast coming out of the earth and a beast coming out of the sea. While there are different views on what those beasts represent, most Reformed theologians see the beast out of the sea as representing a cruel, persecuting government, while the beast which comes out of the earth represents the false church.  The false church then joins with the government in its persecution of those who follow Christ, just as the Belgic Confession teaches in Article 29.

We already see the coalition of anti-Christian governments and a false church clearly in our world and in our nation. As an example, many churches now publicly support homosexual marriage, and several large denominations ordain homosexuals to the office of deacon, elder and pastor.

At the same time our federal government has struck down the law enacted in 1996 known as  DOMA, The Defense of Marriage Act.  That law protected states from having to recognize same sex marriages conducted in other states.  It understood  marriage as being between one man and one woman, and, as the name implies, sought to defend marriage from being redefined as a homosexual union.

Just as the Pharisees and the Herodians joined forces against Christ, so also we see where a large portion of the church, along with the government, join forces against the biblical truths concerning marriage.

Beware of Flattery

A third warning in this passage: Flattery is a deceitful tool of the evil one. Did you notice in verse 16 how the disciples of the Pharisees, along with the Herodians, “buttered up” Jesus?  They were well coached by their leaders.  They used flattery and charm to get on “the good side,” so to speak, of Jesus. They said: “Teacher, we know You are a man of integrity and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because You pay no attention to who they are...” ­ They flatter Him before trying to entangle Him in His words.

The devil, and those who oppose Christ, have often used flattery as a tool of evil. It worked wonders in the Garden of Eden, and the devil still uses flattery today as a deceitful tool against the followers of Jesus Christ.

JC Ryle, in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, gives several examples of people who fell, not because of the strength of their opponents, but because of flattery.  Samson and Solomon fell because of flattery from women who led them astray. Hezekiah fell from the flattery of the Babylonian envoys, when he foolishly showed them all the treasures of the temple and his palace.  And then Ryle warns:

 ...Let us beware of the flatterer. Satan is never so dangerous as when he appears as an angel of light. The world is never so dangerous to the Christian as when it smiles. When Judas betrayed his Lord, it was with a kiss.... Sweet things occasion far more sicknesses than bitter. The sun makes the traveler cast off his protective garments far sooner than the north wind.  (V. 1, pg. 285)

Jesus realized that the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians were using flattery because they were out to trap Him and wanted to entangle Him in His own words.  He realized that He is the central figure in the war of the ages – the battle between the serpent and the seed of the woman.  And just as our Savior and Lord was on guard, so we also need to be on guard against the flattery of the evil one as well.  “Beware,” Jesus said, when all men speak well of you.”

As the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians pitched their question to Jesus, their flattery got them nowhere.  Verse 18 tells us how Jesus knew their evil intent.  He said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap Me?”

The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek theater. In Greek theater one actor often played many parts. He would put on a mask for each separate part. And that is exactly what these disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians were doing.  With their flattery they were attempting to put a mask on their plot to trap Jesus with His own words.

Jesus had them show Him a denarius. He asked, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”   When they replied “Caesar’s”  Jesus gave the reply that is one of the best known phrases in Scripture; “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Obedience to Government

In that reply Jesus taught that Caesar - for us today the civil government - is to be paid what is due.  Jesus taught that there is a need for civil government and taxes to support it, but God is the ruler above every authority. All of Scripture teaches that God is the Authority above every human authority:

Proverbs 21:1 - The Lord holds the heart of the king in His hand.

Daniel 4:17 - The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.

Romans 13:1 - Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have established by God. 

Therefore, by way of application we see that obedience to civil authorities is required. Both the Apostle Paul, in Romans 13, and Peter in, in 1 Peter 2, teach that we are to pay tax and submit to the government, recognizing that it is established by God.

Peter teaches that we are to honor the king because of the position that God has allowed him to have, and Paul teaches us to pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2). As Christians we are to be law abiding citizens of our nation, even though our true citizenship is in heaven.

Obedience to God

But we also see that there is a time for civil disobedience. There is a time when Christians must say, as the Apostles did, “We must obey God  rather than men.” For the Apostles that time came when they were commanded not to preach the gospel. In Acts 4 we read how the leaders of the Sanhedrin called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20).

That scenario is repeated in Acts 5:29. But it wasn’t just the Apostles of the first century who were called to obey the Authority above every authority – to render to God above and beyond what is rendered to Caesar.  That is also true for us.  That is part of “standing up for Jesus.”   It is part of acknowledging that we live by His standards, by His Word, and not the standards – or lack of them – in our world.

Whenever a Christian makes that statement, incidentally, sacrifice is involved. Whenever a Christian is moved to make that statement that they will serve God rather than men, the principle behind the words of Jesus, “If they persecute Me, they will persecute you,” comes into play.

That happens despite the flattery.  Despite the “first amendment rights.”  Despite the claim that every view is allowed in a free society. Nowhere do we see that more clearly than in the Christian response to homosexuality.  The claim is made by the states that have legislated “gay” marriage that Christians and churches won’t be affected by “marriage equality laws.”

As an example, when Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed the law that legalizes “gay marriage” do you know what the official title of the law was?  The law that legislates gay marriage in Illinois was given this title: The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  That is part of the flattery that we looked at earlier.  It’s saying, “We are legislating gay marriage, but don’t be concerned, Christians. This is also The Religious Freedom Act.  It won’t affect you and your beliefs in any way whatsoever.”

But before you get swept away by the flattery and the terminology of “religious freedom” consider this:

A florist by the name of Barronelle Stutzman is one of many florists across the country who is being sued by ACLU.  Why? She refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding because she “maintained that her Christian beliefs prevented her from doing so.”  But a consumer protection lawsuit filed against her by the state of Washington’s Attorney General says that she must provide flowers for same-sex weddings or face a $2000 fine. (Reuters 4.19.13).

Along the same line, how many bakeries have been sued because they have refused to offer wedding cakes with figurines of two men or two women getting married?  Bakeries in as areas as diverse as Vermont, Oregon, Iowa, Washington and other states are being sued, and many are going out of business because of their biblical belief that marriage, as ordained by God, is between one man and one woman.  Because of that biblical belief they refuse to make wedding cakes which portray marriage as being between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

Likewise, many Christians who have offered Bed and Breakfast in their homes have also been sued. Many have gone out of business because they refused to host acts of sodomy and other perversions in their homes.

The day could come when as part of our prison ministry, you will go to the Danville  Prison, or other such prison, to see your pastor.  Because the day could come when the government, which has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and the false church which applauds homosexual marriage  join forces together, just as did the Herodians and the Pharisees, to bring legal charges and imprisonment against any minister who doesn’t conduct same-sex marriages.

I pray that day doesn’t come. I pray that God in mercy would bring spiritual revival to our culture. I pray that the eyes of our political leaders would be open. I pray that leaders will see their need for the wisdom of God’s Word.  I pray that people like you and me will be effective in opposing the evil around us. That we would be the light of this dark world and the salt of the earth, that preserving element in society.

In the rapid decline of our culture we hear that there is freedom for all. We are reminded that “marriage equality” in our state is under the heading of The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Yet we also see where Christians are silenced as the animosity of our culture against the teaching of Christ reaches a crescendo.

What has been one of the main social media talking points the last two weeks?  It’s over Duck Dynasty. Many in our culture echo the words of GLAAD spokesman, Wilson Cruz, who said:

 “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.” (latimes.com 12.18.13)

What was the “vile and extreme view” that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty spoke about?  It was a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  

Those are words of grace. Those are words that show the power of the gospel and the shed blood of Christ to transform sinners.  Those words describe the redeeming work of God in His people as we are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. There is nothing hateful about the statement.  Rather it extends a loving gospel to a perishing people, whether idolaters, adulterers, homosexual offenders, thieves, drunkards and every other type of sinner just like you and me.

Fortunately we see a backlash. Just as there was a backlash last year when Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil –A was ridiculed for his Christianity.  He had said:

“I think we’re inviting God’s judgment when we shake our fist at Him, you know, [saying], ‘We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage.’ And I pray for God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try and redefine what marriage is all about.”

And each one of us should be a part of that back lash, speaking up and standing up for the truths of God’s Word in every area of life. That’s part of what we know as Apologetics – the defense of the gospel. We often speak about evangelism, the spread – the offense – of the gospel, but both go hand in hand. Just as every good sports team works on defense and offense, to too as Christians we need to both defend the faith and spread the gospel. There is indeed a time when we must say, “We must obey God rather than men.”     

Sovereign Grace

A third application from this passage is there in verse 22. It says: When they, (the people), heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away. The people who heard Jesus were amazed by His teaching, but left without expressing faith, without worshiping Him.  Matthew Henry writes:

One would think they should have (been amazed) and followed Him... No, they (were amazed) and left Him. Note, There are many in whose eyes Christ is marvelous, and yet not precious. They admire His wisdom, but will not be guided by it, His power, but will not submit to it.

It is a sober reminder that our salvation is all by sovereign grace. Had God not worked His Holy Spirit in your life and mine we would be no different than the people who were amazed at the teaching of Jesus but left Him and went their own way.

In fact, if it were not for God’s sovereign grace we would have the same animosity toward Jesus as the Pharisees and the Herodians did. We would seek to discredit Him and His Word. As Romans 8:7 says, The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

1 Corinthians 2:14 adds: The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

But if by God’s grace He has worked in your heart and mine, may we respond to our Lord, not just with amazement at His teaching, His wisdom in escaping the trap of those who hate Him,  but may we also worship Him, live for Him and stand up for the truths of His Word in every area of life, regardless of the consequences, now and always. Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 12/2, Rev. Ted Gray

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