Having been exposed by Jesus in the Parable of the Tenants, the teachers of the law continue to seek to trap Him. They set two traps, the first about Ceasar and the second about the Ressurection. Jesus, responds to both, by turning them around, so that the challenge rests with the accusers, and in turn with us.
The Scribes and Chief priests begin their trap with flattery:
So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (vv. 21-22)
It is a trick question, he can side with Ceasar, the occupying power, or he can side with the Jews and set himself against the Roman state. Jesus is not fooled, he can see their ‘duplicity’. And so he responds with a question:
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (vv. 23-25)
It is the last phrase that is the killer ‘and to God what is God’s’. It is right to pay taxes, to give to Ceasar that which has his image, but what holds the image of God, to what do we owe him? Well, those who seek to trap Jesus, they bear the image of God, but this rejection of God’s king is clearly not giving to ‘God what is God’s’. The real issue at stake is not paying taxes to Ceasar, but showing honour and worship to God. Will we who bear his image, give to God what is God’s?
The second trap comes from the Sadduccees, a religious sect who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They devise a scenario where a man in the resurrection has seven wives. But again Jesus turns the table.
The resurrection life is not the same as this life. But to deny the resurrection is to deny the very God whom we know:
“…But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (vv. 37-38)
A God who does not raise the dead is really no God at all. The ‘guardians of orthodoxy’, deny the very God that they claim to serve. No wonder they seek to kill his Son and refuse to believe what their own scriptures taught (vv. 41-44). Their outward religious observance mask and evil intent:
“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (vv. 46-47)
So what are we to beware? Outward religion which appears so good, and yet denies God and hides deep evil. Beware of it in others, beware of it in ourselves. Today, it might be a desire to celebrate the cross, but with a hypocritical heart that nails him there. Beware that we do not fall into that trap.
Heavenly Father, In the gospel of grace you show all love, and in your Son, you have provided for our deliverance from sin. Though guilty, we have full access to you, and all that you give to us. Grant us today and always to know that to walk with Jesus makes other interests a shadow and a dream. Keep us in continual attention to eternal things. Save us from the delusion of those who fail to go far in religion, who are concerned but not converted, who have another heart but not a new one, who has light, zeal, confidence, but not Christ. Give us a religion that is both real and progressive, in Jesus Name, Amen