the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what
He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians,
saying, 'Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of
God in truth, and defer to no one; for you are not partial to any. Tell
us then what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar,
or not?' But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, 'Why are you testing
Me, you hypocrites?' 'Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.' And they
brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription
is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar's.' Then He said to them, 'Then
render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things
that are God's.' And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him,
they went away."
We learned in Sunday School that the Pharisees were a right wing group who were opposed to the Roman occupation of their homeland. However, we may have missed the Herodians who were more of a political faction of Jews, who had gone along with the foreign occupation. Here we see these two opposing groups working together to entrap Jesus. They united against the carpenter prophet who had become a favorite of the people. The bitter enemies must have had several committee meetings and planning sessions in preparation for their united front against this populist who was endangering their political power. Neither group was motivated by the love of God, and were destined to crucify Jesus, even though He bested them in this particular confrontation.
Notice that Jesus called them "hypocrites." Our English word is from the Greek, hupocrites, which refers to an actor, or pretender, who plays a part. It is the most awful word that can be used in reference to any religious person. We are called to be authentic and not fake. If we are to be used by the Spirit of Christ in His ministry, we have to be genuine in all that we do. Yet, the word fit these pretenders to a tee.
Luke's account of this same episode even adds that, " they watched Him, and sent spies, who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule of the authority of the governor." (20:20) Later in verse twenty-three, Luke says, "But He detected their trickery and said to them, 'Show Me a denarius." The Gospel of Mark's words are, "But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, 'Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius." (12:15)
These conspirators intentionally set a trap so that could eventually have Jesus crucified. In the mystery of God's will, these evil pretenders chose to falsely represent themselves to Jesus in a plot to destroy Him. Of course, as do we all, they could have individually decided not to go along with the scheme. Possibly some of the original conspiracy did opt out of the plan when they realized that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. However, once human beings allow themselves to become a part of an evil organization they typically get swept up by the group dynamics of the intentions of the majority. But we still must point out that individuals can always escape from the snare of evil groups.
Late in his life, my dear uncle Winfred, the coal miner from Birmingham, shared with me in hushed tones the critical event from his youth when he was almost swept up into the KKK. He had come to feel that their bitter hatred was wrong and decided to brake away at peril to his life. Fortunately, they must have overlooked the quiet young man and he was able to escape, and I was able to benefit from his moral integrity as I was entering my life's calling.
It is very difficult to break from the power of evil groups, but we remember that Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews and chose to come to Jesus by night and later became a disciple. Perhaps other members of the Herodians and Pharisees also chose to not go along with the evil plot of the crowd; however, most remained and were a part of their temporary celebration at the Cross. Only later, when it was too late, did they realize that they had been terribly wrong. The haunting of old age is regrets for bad choices.
The Good News today is that since we are still alive and able to clean things up from our checkered pasts we can still render unto God the things that are His. It is primarily our hearts and loyalty that He wants: Our time, talent and tithe soon follow in natural order. God never calls anyone to lead a pretentious feigned life of deception. All of that is exchanged for a life that is real and true to Him. Forgiving our past, He launches us into a new orbit of virtue and higher purpose. Our new goal is not secular power, fame or fortune; but serving Him wherever He leads.
Jesus' own path was not smooth. His enemies finally prevailed in putting the sinless Son of God to death. Many missionaries have become martyrs and others have served under trying conditions. They have done so following Jesus in fulfilling God's ultimate plan for their lives. It's not that we all have to suffer unfavorable circumstances for Him, but we must all follow Him into whatever circumstances He leads.
My mother would privately share the difficult physical circumstances of her early life as a preacher's wife during the Great Depression and WW II. My parents were deprived of many of the things that we have come to assume as being the necessities of life. However, she always talked about former hardships with a smile and remembered them as some of their most spiritually productive years. They had been keenly aware that God was sustaining them and empowering them to accomplish great things for Him.
Our higher purpose is to serve Christ and not to join in the ongoing plot against Him. As we all realize, Christ and His Church has enemies in today's world. Secularists, not other religions, are our main problem. But the great success of Christ's mission continues at the fastest pace ever. More people are becoming believers today than ever. He calls each of us to the exciting challenge of winning the world for Him!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor