From The Christian Church in the Last Days
The entire Bible can be interpreted as God’s attempt to get us to release our faith and elevate our vision up into the realm where God can effectively work with us. This is actually a key aspect of the Bible that confirms its divine origin. The component of God’s active out-reach toward us is something that cannot be fabricated by human invention. The callings of God, and the ingenious and varied narrative stories that follow the enlistment of each person of faith recorded in the Bible, are totally outside the imagination and literary invention of man.
One classic example of God trying to get people’s vision raised above the horizontal, everyday thinking is recorded in Mark 12:13-17. The Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus, and ask Him: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” These opponents of Jesus think they have Him intellectually cornered with this cleverly devised question which appears to offer no positive option within the worldly horizontal realm of practical concerns. Answering yes or no strictly within the bounds of conventional wisdom spells trouble either way.
Telling the Jews not to pay their taxes offends the Roman government. Telling Jews to dutifully pay their taxes to the hated foreign occupiers offends the populace in the very sensitive area of Jewish national pride and in the practical area of their pocketbooks. But Jesus brilliantly lifts this issue up a level into the elevated realm of the Spirit, above our horizontal vision. Jesus asks the Pharisees to show Him a coin, asks whose image is engraved on the coin, and then unexpectedly divides the answer to their question into two distinct vertical zones.
Part one of the fully correct answer is to render faithfully to the demands of the everyday practical world that which belongs to the everyday world…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Part two of the answer is to render to God the living faith and trust that can only occur within the elevated realm of the adventures of faith following God, which up until that time were vividly and clearly portrayed throughout the Hebrew Bible.
This ingenious answer by Jesus to this otherwise difficult question has intrigued skeptics and admirers of Jesus for over 1,900 years. The Pharisees and Herodians shake their heads and walk away in amazement at this answer of Jesus. In its brevity it fully addressed all sides of the issue of practical godliness in this broken world, having the clear bell-ring of truth that left no further opening for a follow-up question.
This succinct answer by Jesus is inarguable and unassailable in its pinpoint accurate truthfulness, because it’s simple depth and scope fully encapsulates God’s program for all humanity in a nutshell. Temporarily improving the political equation in Palestine in the first century was not the solution to Israel’s current problem of Roman occupation. God had already provided the solution to this problem to Israel hundreds of years before in the book of Judges. The solution was to turn to God with all of their hearts. This was the mission of Jesus (Lk. 4:18-19), not to lead a military revolt against the Romans to remove the burden of taxes paid to Caesar.
The Pharisees and Herodians attempted a strategy of verbal entrapment with Jesus, trying to publicly catch Him in misspoken words. What they got instead from Jesus the eternal Word of God was a brilliantly concise response of such universal scope and wisdom that the opponents of Jesus eventually recognized their attempts to outwit Jesus in pubic were embarrassingly counterproductive (Mt. 22:46).
But the splitting up of this question by the Pharisees and Herodians, into two distinct parts by Jesus, goes infinitely deeper than being merely a clever, temporary evasion of this thorny issue. Jesus is not talking out of both sides of His mouth like modern-day professional politicians. Behind the insincerity of the motivation to attempt to trap Jesus lies a profound question that goes to the heart of our faith and relationship with God in this broken and often confusing world. The answer of Jesus to render to God the things that are God’s…soars far above all practical worldly considerations.
In a God-composed and orchestrated adventure of faith, everything in our lives is managed and guided by God’s will and way…even the paying of taxes to support the government of an occupying foreign nation (Mt. 17:27). This attitude of faith and trust in God, within the ups and downs of life in a journey of faith, only successfully works through elevated vision focused on the one true living God.