The Time Jesus Refused to Play Politics
He turned the question back to what was truly important.
Jesus had offended the Pharisees for the last time.
Now, they would try to get rid of him, and they sided with the Herodians (Matthew 22:15–16) — politicians who agreed with the Pharisee’s political beliefs. The Herodians and Pharisees both believed in a form of Jewish nationalism rather than submission to the oppressive Roman Empire (NET Bible Footnote).
The Trap for Jesus
They decided they would trap Jesus using His own words. Either they would get Him in trouble with the Romans, or He would say something that would be very unpopular politically, and the crowds would quit listening to Him.
“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:16–17)
The Romans had conquered the Jews. They were an extremely immoral, idol-worshipping nation of people. Surely it wasn’t lawful according to God to pay taxes to such an evil nation?
If Jesus said it was lawful, then the highly independent and politically minded Jewish people would view Jesus as a traitor to the nation.
What would Jesus do?
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:18–21)
Jesus knew they were trying to trick Him, and He wouldn’t be drawn into their trap. He refused to play the political game that the Pharisees and Herodians played.
Jesus simply pointed out that Caesar’s image was on the denarius — a coin they used in their economy. Since Caesar’s image was on the money, he had the right to lay claim to money through taxes.
God’s image is on the human being (Genesis 1:26–27). Therefore, Jesus pointed out that God has the right to lay claim to each person’s life.
They were so concerned about where their money was going — were they as concerned with whether they were giving their life to God?
Jesus’ answer stunned the Pharisees and Herodians. They had been unable to trick the Lord with what they thought was their best trap.
What about us?
Paying a lot of taxes isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world — I get it. Paying a lot at the gas pump doesn’t cause many people to jump for joy.
Have we become so consumed with the political affairs of our nation that we have neglected “the things that are God’s” — specifically, our own life? How sad it would be to have lived this life consumed with “the things that are Caesar’s” and to have neglected “the things that are God’s.”
Jesus refused to play politics. He continued to remind people of what was most important — of what truly mattered.
Oh sure — a preacher could jump into a pulpit on Sunday and get a lot of amens from telling people what they want to hear politically. I’ve heard “sermons” like that with my own ears before.
Jesus did not do that. He taught the things of God. He didn’t play politics — he wasn’t interested in discussing the latest tax increase imposed by Rome. Jesus didn’t badmouth “President Caesar” because he disagreed with his foreign policy.
He wanted you and me to think about our lives — are we giving ourselves to God?
Where is your focus in life? That’s what Jesus wants you to consider.