Disciple – Caesar’s Due
Caleb Campbell

“Caesar’s Due” — Sermon by Caleb Campbell, May 1, 2022

Good morning, church. My hope today is to be an encouragement to you, but what I’m about to say may not sound encouraging. My desire for us today would be that this would be a moment of life- giving, not life-taking — although what I’m about to say in a moment to introduce our topic may not seem to fit that objective. My hope for today Is that you would feel the peace of the Lord in a very deep and profound way. And yet when I mention the topic of conversation, I wonder if you’ll believe me.

Today as we continue on in our study called Disciple, looking at what it means to follow Jesus here in the Gospel of Mark Chapter 12, we are going to talk about taxes. Now, in fact that’s a little bit not true. I mean, it’s true we are going to talk about taxes. We’re in a text where Jesus explicitly talks about taxes, but the text itself is not actually about taxes. Are you relieved?

So, when we’re thinking about this piece, this nourishment that’s going to come across our soul, we’re glad to note that it’s not actually about taxes, but it’s about politics. So much better. And really, though, it’s not ultimately about politics. It’s really about power and the power dynamic of the Kingdom of God. And it really is about our allegiances. It’s about where we give our heart and where we give our lives.

I’d like to show you in this text that there really is life here. And just as we think about money, taxes, power, politics, government — we’re in the season — are we not where we need life-giving, not life-taking? We need a Jesus way to think about politics and power. And so, my hope today is that we would see what it means to follow Jesus.

For those of us that are still learning what it means to follow the Jesus way, my hope is that our study today would truly be life-giving in the context of a conversation that – really, in our community right now seems to be anything but life-giving — namely around money, power and politics.

So, I’m going to read the text in Mark chapter 12 verses 13 through 17. I made a mistake this week. I think you’ve got actually got verses one through 17 printed in your handout. We’re on verses 13 through 17 — not that the previous part on the parable the vineyard is bad. I love that one, but we just need to spend a little time in this text today. If you have a Bible available, grab that. If you’re online, just go to bible.com. We’re using the Christian Standard version of the Bible today. I encourage you to hear these words, and then we’ll look at the text. I’ll have it up here on the screen here in just a minute when we look together, but I want to encourage you right now to just hear the word. Allow your imagination to work. Allow the spirit of God to speak to you, even as you hear the word of God spoken.

This is the gospel of Mark Chapter 12, verses 13 and on.

“Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to trap Him in His words. When they came, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, we know you are truthful and do not care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality, but you teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, or shouldn’t we?’

But knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, ‘Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and I want to look at it.’

So, they brought Him a coin. Jesus said, ‘Whose image and inscription is it?’ He asked them. ‘Caesars,’ they replied.

Jesus told them, ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.” This is the word of the Lord.

In this text you have three pieces that I want us to zoom in on again, as we’re thinking about money, politics, power, and government. First, there’s a trap. Second, there’s an image that we need to pay attention to, or likeness, or inscription. And then finally, there’s a call to allegiance. Are you guys thrilled about the topic.? Today, I’m very excited. OK, so here we go.

I’ll say this is a resource, so just lean in and notice this. Then if you go to the previous text, I think it’s the Sanhedrin, so really the religious power brokers. They sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to do what? Trap Him. They’re going to try to trap Jesus, specifically, in His words. Jesus is a threat. The Pharisees and Herodians are a couple of groups of power brokers in the in the religious political sphere. They’re in Jerusalem. They’re not like how we have Democrat and Republican. It’s not like that, but they are definitely not on the same side of the aisle. You guys with me so far?

The Herodians or Pharisees — you don’t have to know much about them right now for the context of this text — although I would strongly encourage you to read through your Bible, read through the Gospel Mark and discuss some of the nuances to the differences between the two groups. But between these two groups, Pharisees and Herodians, these are kind of religious political groups that think about the Roman Empire and how to engage with the Roman Empire differently. So they’re on two different sides of the aisle.

But notice that they’ve become unified. Because they’re trying to do what? OK so I want I just want you know, especially if you read through the Gospel of Mark, you read through all the Gospels. In fact, when you go home later today and read through your whole New Testament, you’ll notice that when you read through the gospels, you’ll notice that Jesus is constantly unifying people. He’s constantly bringing together people who don’t generally belong together. He’s constantly binding together misfits who don’t generally fit together. But it’s in two ways, actually, like here at Desert Springs.

I love this imagery that we’re a bunch of misfits because we don’t naturally fit together. And yet, because of Jesus, He’s bound us together. He’s reshaping us so that we do become one and unified in one. We actually fit together. But to start with, we’re misfits and Jesus binds us together in love and grace and mercy and compassion etc.

But Jesus is also binding together misfits who hate His guts. Jesus is also frequently getting people so stirred up and feeling so threatened by His power, by His teaching, by who He is, that they create very strange alliances. People who don’t naturally work together are working together, and in this case the Pharisees and Herodians, who do not generally want to work together, they’re working together. Because Jesus is a direct assault or threat to their power. They try to trap Him in His words. That’s what they want to do. There’s a trap set.

When they came, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and you do not care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality, but you teach the way of God truthfully.” What do we call this? Brownnosing, that’s right. But it’s not just that they’re trying to butter Him up. Because they’re trying to trap him. Are these people being authentic? No, they’re just trying to say nice things to Jesus in order to again try to endear them to Him and try to trap Him.

OK, here’s another thing. This is so fascinating in the Gospel of Mark especially, but I think throughout Scripture this little literary device will happen. But in Mark, you see it really pronounced, where Mark the author will put into the mouths of people who are antagonistic against Jesus — into those mouths he’ll put truth about Jesus.

Right, so while these homies do not believe what they’re saying, these things are actually true. Notice, is Jesus a teacher? Is He truthful? Does He care what anyone thinks in the sense of showing partiality? Does He show partiality? Does He teach the way of God? Truthfully, yeah. Do you see the irony here? They’re doing it to butter Him up in there. But as the reader, you’re thinking these guys are spot on. And this is really important for us to note that a person can say all the right things about Jesus but not ever behave like Jesus. And the content of their words, if it’s not backed by the content of their character, Hello. Should this at least cause us to wonder, is this person actually representing Jesus?

Let’s keep going. OK so watch this. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? According to Roman law, do you think it’s lawful to pay taxes? To Caesar, yeah, OK, so for those of us that are here in America is it lawful to pay our taxes? Hello, yeah. I hope you guys like April 15th — I guess it was the 18th this year. It’s an important day.

Does our government really like it when we pay taxes? Yeah, loves it, right? No government would not ever make it illegal to give money. So, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? This isn’t necessarily about Roman law, but it’s about these Jewish people who are subjects of the Roman Empire, so they’re in Judea, which has now been taken over and conquered by the Romans.

Jesus was Jewish. The Jewish people have overlords occupying their territory, and so they’re asking this question. Jesus, you as a Jewish rabbi, you as a Jewish teacher, is it right for us, or lawful to us? Maybe even in the law of Moses? Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

And then there’s the next question. It’s not about the letter of the law. What is it? Jesus, should we pay taxes or not? And here’s why they’re asking that question. If you are a U.S. citizen, I just want you to imagine something. OK, I want you to imagine that Canada invades America and is our overlord. OK, and there are maple leaves everywhere. If anyone here is Canadian, I’m not trying to pick on you. I just like the maple leaf.

OK, so, for hundreds of years, the Canadians have been our overlords. But secretly, when they’re not looking, we kind of gather up in a little American cohort. We come together, and we sing American songs, and we do American stuff, and we tell stories about America and American history. And then, somewhere along the way, someone’s going to think it’ll be great when we can get America back. Wouldn’t that be normal? This is how it works in almost every situation where there’s a dominant empire that comes in and takes over. There’s always this remnant hope. And so, let’s imagine, again, the Canadian overlords, and they’re taxing us. How do we feel about the taxes? Not happy. And here’s why.

Let’s zoom back into Jesus’s day. Especially for Caesar, they’re talking about the imperial tax where the money goes to buy the spear that the Romans are pointing at us. Am I happy about this if I’m back in Jesus’s day? No one likes this tax, right? Because the money is going to support and shore up an evil empire. You guys got it? So, this is not about taxes. Do you see? This is about allegiance. This is about how do we deal with Rome. Should we pay, or shouldn’t we?

There are two factions, and they’re trying to make Jesus pick a side. One faction says, let’s do insurrection. Let’s rebel against our overlords. The other side is collaborators. They’re saying let’s collaborate, and in fact there was a lot of money to be made. So, like Levi, the tax collector, there’s a lot of money to be made. In this rule of evil empire and all the systems that they have in place, there’s money to be made. So, there’s a collaborative view. Let’s just collaborate with the Roman Empire. Or there’s the rebellion view.

Jesus is being asked this question, and they’re pushing this question on Him to try to make Him do what? Pick a side. They’re saying Jesus, you come proclaiming the Kingdom of God. So is it an insurrection kingdom or is it a collaborative kingdom? Do you see what they’re trying to do to Jesus? OK, watch this. Is this fun? This is going to be great, OK? Watch this.

“But knowing their hypocrisy He said to him, ‘Why are you testing me?’” Jesus sees right through. They were trying to butter Him up, and He’s saying, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and look.” He does not have one on him. Notice they produced one for him.

This is interesting. It could be that Mark intends us to see that these people were actually participating in the system they were critiquing. As one author says, you cannot flip over tables when you are sitting comfortably at them. And here they are asking Jesus which side He is going to pick, and they produce the coin. That’s interesting.

Let’s keep going. “Bring me a denarius to look at.” OK, so they’re testing Jesus.

They want to know about the Kingdom of God, which side is it going to be on? And then He’s going to say something. OK, watch what He says. They brought a coin whose image and inscription were Caesar’s.

Now we have to press pause here, and we have to do a little time-traveling tourism. OK, so let’s all get into our time machines and go all the way back to the beginning to the beginning of the cosmos — the created order. In the Book of Genesis, in Chapter one of the book of Genesis, there’s this beautiful line where God has been creating, forming, bringing order out of chaos, forming plants, animals and things like this. But then He specifically forms humans, and it says that that human is made in the image and likeness of God, male and female. He created them in the image and likeness of God. So, humans in Genesis one are called out specifically as the image-bearers of God. Whose image do humans bear? God’s image. OK, You guys got me. So far, in fact, as you read through your Bible, you’ll notice that the people of God in the Book of Exodus are called to be people who take on the name or the image of God — like the engraving of a god. Take on the name of God, take on the image and name of God, the image and inscription of God onto them as a people. People would look at them and say, oh, you’re Yahweh’s people.

In fact, there’s this really interesting thing if you want to do like a deep dive, nerdy Bible stuff. In the ancient world view, there were temples to gods anywhere you’d go. You’d go to Babylon. You’d go to Egypt. You’d go to Rome. You’d go to Greece. Wherever you’d go, you’d walk into any city, and you would notice that there are temples to a variety of different gods. There’s the temple to RA. There’s the temple to Aphrodite. There’s a temple of Zeus, and if you walked into that temple, you would inevitably see one or more statues of that god. So, you could say hey, where do I find Zeus? He’s in the temple, so you go into the temple and there’s a statue of Zeus. In the temple are the images of the God that the temple is built to, right?

This is very common, very common. But you know that for the Jewish people, their temple was actually different. In Jerusalem, they had a temple. When you walked into it, you know what? There was no statue. In fact, for some of you, maybe you remember the Ten Commandments stipulation: Don’t have any graven images. And here’s why. OK, you ready for this?

You want to see the image and likeness of the God that we serve? Just take a look around you. And this is actually fascinating, because our God and the Biblical authors tease this out. Our God is a living God, and so we look at living image bearers to know about our living God. This God over here is made of rocks. Here you want to know what the image of God looks like. Look at, look at us, right? And just look at people, including my enemies. Yes, OK, including people who I’m told I should hate. Right, including horrible people, the country music fans. I mean, they’re on the list. Yeah, them, too. Did you just say something bad, you OK? I’m going to see you after church, OK?

So OK, let’s zoom back to Jesus’s day. He’s holding the coin, right? And what does He say? They brought Him a coin. Whose image and inscription is on the coin? Caesar’s. Can you guys see the coin? Right, you see the profile of Caesar. In fact, it called hm the high priest. The coins that we know that would have been around in Jesus’s day would have paid this imperial tax. They treated Caesar like kind of a half-god, a demigod.

Is Jesus talking about taxes anymore? He is subverting the way that they framed the question, because they’re trying to trap Him by framing it as “this way or that way.” Do you want to go the Pharisee way or the Herodian way? Do you want to go left, or do you want to go right? Jesus, are you going to pick my team or the other team? And Jesus is going to obliterate the framework for this question because the Kingdom of God transcends these games.

“Whose image is on it?”

“Well, Caesar’s”, they replied.

And I’m going to do it the old-fashioned way, if you don’t mind: Jesus then said unto them, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” And I could imagine Him just tossing the coin. “Render unto God the things that are God’s.” And so, if that coin belongs to Caesar because the image and likeness and inscription of Caesar was on the coin, therefore it belongs to Caesar.

Whose name and image are imprinted upon me? Therefore, to whom do I belong? And so, render unto Caesar these coins. But render unto God what? Every aspect of my being. This is the Kingdom of God. And too often we try to co-opt Jesus for our own kingdom ends.

They were utterly amazed. Why? Because He completely subverted their framework. He said, listen, you’re asking me, I think Jesus, in so many words — and I think this is proven throughout the Gospel of Mark — He’s saying, listen, you’re coming at me to pick a side in the kingdoms of this world. I come from a different Kingdom — a Kingdom where ultimately every knee will bow, and every king of the kingdoms of this world will bow to me. So don’t ask me these questions, I’m here to tell you that you are mine. This is by the way, is total dominion. If it’s true that I have God’s image on me; therefore, I don’t belong totally to myself. I actually belong to God.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render unto God the things that are God’s. Does that have anything to do with how I think about government, politics, power, and money? Oh man, it shapes everything. I want to zoom in here. If you’re looking for easy answers, you’re not going to find them here.

I’m just going to limit this to how we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Having dual citizenship as citizens requires so much wisdom. And love and graciousness. It requires, frankly, in my opinion, a community of misfits where we’re coming at these things from different angles. We both love Jesus; we’re both citizens of the Kingdom of God. Can we help each other understand?

How are we going to behave when we’re in this next election cycle? How are we going to talk about government? Are we going to do it right? It’s going to take us, church family, I’m here to tell you it’s going to take us 150 years. And then we’ll have it dialed in.

Unfortunately, none of us would be here, and so the next generation is going to have to pick up where we left off, and the world is going to change and it’s going to continue to be confusing. And this is what I mean. Oh, my goodness, I really do believe the Spirit does its work. As we submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, as we give ourselves to Him, His Spirit works.

And so, we’re presented with this question. If I am an image-bearer of God – therefore, render unto God the things that are God’s — it’s a question of allegiance, whereas my allegiance with a party or platform that is simply as a member of the kingdoms of this world. Or is my ultimate allegiance to the Kingship of Jesus? And so, we’re living in this dual reality, where, ultimately, I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God and ambassador of His Kingdom. And yet I’m also trying to live as a good neighbor, as a good citizen here in America.

So, at Desert Springs we say it like this — that we are actively engaged in government and politics, and here’s why. Because it’s people. Government is people. Government is how we manage our common life together. And because I love you and I care about you, I should be involved in how that works. However, we remain untethered to any political party, living instead as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

That’s what we’re doing as a church family. And that means that we’re going to constantly be misunderstood. I’ve been saying this for years. I’m working in such a way that it’s a win for me when the majority of the Republicans at Desert Springs think I’m a Democrat. Let’s think I’m a Republican, and the majority of the libertarians want to invite me over and have lunch in their bunker.

My hope is to be as a good of a representative of the Kingdom of God as I can. That blows all those other categories out of the water. It just breaks the paradigm. And what would it be like if we, as a church community, just did that in our community — which is, frankly, dying in this conversation around politics right now. There’s no life giving, there’s just life taken. And what if we were at people who, because of who we are as image-bearers of God, leaned into this space, serving as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God? And we figured out our differences together, ultimately submitting to Jesus.

By the way, if you want to know more about that and you’re newer to Desert Springs, we’re doing a little meet and greet with some of our ministers. If you’re new to Desert Springs in the last couple years, we would love the opportunity to meet with you. We’re going to be here this Thursday at Desert Springs in this room. That’s this Thursday. It’s a time to just share our mission, vision and values with you and for you to meet some of our ministry leaders. We’d love the opportunity to do that, and you can find more information in your handout, or if you’re joining us online on the events page on our website. Again, it’s that vision night meet and greet. We’d love to have you.

We’re going to talk about all this stuff that makes us weird as a church, including that whole thing about being politically untethered but still engaged. I’m going to tell you that this is really important for our discipleship and for the witness of the church. This is really important; I’m asking you lean in here. There are hundreds of people who have connected to Desert Springs over the last couple years. Many of you actually shared this. You said that you no longer felt welcome in spaces like Desert Springs because of conversations and positions taken around politics, power and government.

I was meeting with a guy last year. He wasn’t a church person. He said he was a spiritual tourist and didn’t really have a faith background. He just had a ton of questions about Jesus and about history. Actually, this person had watched some of the sermons online, including one that we did last year where we talked about the Kingdom of God in politics. I met this guy, who wasn’t a churchgoer, and he said, “You know, the church has a real big branding problem.”

I was like, “What are you talking about?” Branding problem, you know? I thought he meant like Desert Springs. I like our logo. He said, “That’s not what I mean. My friends and I talk about a lot of this stuff all the time. We have no idea that you guys are talking about.” He was referring to the gospel. The Kingdom of God. And Jesus and the Crown of thorns, and the crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection.

He said, “My friends and I just think you guys are just in there talking about a particular angle of politics and trying to get everybody to fall in line. If we knew, this is what you were talking about …” (again, he’s referring to the Kingdom), we’d be there every week. Because this is really attractive. But we think that churches are just up there doing political punditry.”

And he’s getting this perception, by the way, from his only news outlet. The only things he’s seeing are being fed to him through different media. He’s not seeing it incarnate in a people like us. He’s since become part of our church family. He said, “I don’t think that anymore, but I see it in you guys.”

So, he and I just met a couple days ago, and he said, “It’s really refreshing to see.” But I remember on that first time I met him, he said, “Hey, can I come to your church?” Hold on now. “So can I come to your church?” I was like yeah, bro. And he said, “Well, am I going to get lynched?” I said, “What do you mean?” And he said he was inserting his political party, which he felt like he would not be welcome here. Because in his mind, the kingdoms of this world had become merged with the representatives of the Kingdom of God.

It’s so important that we remain active in politics and government without being tethered to any political party, primarily serving the ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Which means it’s going to be really confusing. A lot of times, it’s not going to be simple. The talking heads on your TV or computer, those simple answers they’re giving are likely not the Jesus answer. And we’re going to collectively figure out the Jesus way as a bunch of misfits.

And I’ll tell you, the win. Here’s the win – it’s not that we all vote a certain way. It’s that we can talk about our differences in how we vote while looking like Jesus. All right let’s get after it. Let’s do this. You guys ready for this? We are making a choice to either live as subjects of the King and Creator of the cosmos, or as slaves to the kingdoms of this world. It’s one or the other.

So, if we’re going to live as subjects of the King, Creator of the cosmos, King Jesus, then I’ve got two questions for you. Number one: Does Jesus get to shape your political convictions? Are you inviting Jesus to edit your political preferences? In fact, I want to encourage you to do a little exercise. I don’t like this. I also don’t like exercise.

I want to encourage you to write out your top five political commitments. And then spend the next month inviting Jesus to explore those with you to see if they need to be edited or shifted at all. Just write down your top five political commitments. You don’t have to show anybody. You don’t have to give it to anybody. You don’t have to turn it into me. Let’s write out those top five political commitments and then invite Jesus to explore those with you. Do those need to shift or change in any way? Does Jesus get to edit your political preferences? Most of the time, we’re just asking Jesus to cosign our political convictions, rather than inviting Him to transform us from the inside out and then politicking appropriately.

The second thing I want you to do is harder. Our character. There’s more ink spilt in the New Testament about how we’re to behave with one another than there is on what we’re to believe. There’s less proper doctrine, and there’s a lot more stuff like this: Be patient and kind. Be long suffering with one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It keeps no record of wrongs.

So, here’s the question. Here’s a good test. The people who disagree with you about your firmly held political convictions — when you have those conversations, would they say that you remind them of Jesus? You guys are at different spaces with your political convictions. When you have those conversations — which I think you should — when you have those conversations, would they say, “You know what? Even though we’re disagreeing, your behavior really reminded me of Jesus right now. Because you’re showing the fruit of the spirit — love, joy, peace. Long suffering. Self-control. You’re reminding me of the love of Jesus. Patient, kind. Keeping no record of wrong, not envying or boasting. You, even though we disagree with this issue and how to approach this issue, man, you really you remind me of Jesus.”

I recently joined a conversation with high-school seniors, and it was tons of fun. What was actually interesting was that out of the dozen or so students, not more than two came from the same school, just different like PV and Horizon. Some were home-schooled, some from charter school, so it was just a really eclectic mix.

I was really interested in the conversation around politics. One of the things I asked was, hey, what do you guys think the generations that are older than you like? How are they engaging in the conversation around politics? You know what they said? There’s a lot of fear. And a lot of fury. And a lot of anger. And one person — this was my favorite — she says there’s a lot of madness.

You see how we’re going to do this conversation? How we’re going to live the Jesus way in these hard spaces? Boy, that’s going to shape others. It’s also going to shape us