WHAT BELONGS TO GOD
Key Verse 12:17a
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’”
These religious people were supposed to be exemplary people— people whom others can see the living God in and through them— whom people can be encouraged by and whom can give glory to God. That is what they should be as God’s people— as we should be too. But somehow these religious people who clashed with Jesus at every corner seem to have been shirking every responsibility they have before God and man alike. That is why Jesus ransacked their temple. That’s why he told them the parable of the tenants. They were avoiding their holy responsibility to God and their fellow man— and Jesus reminded them of it. That was at the heart of the parable of the tenants. He talked about a “Man” who planted a vineyard and rented it out to some “farmers”. According to Jesus, the “Man” was God, and the “Farmers” were God’s people. And the “vineyard” was the whole world. God’s people, the Jews, had been entrusted to take care of it and to produce fruit for God. He had wanted them to work the vineyard of the world with the love and compassion of God until all people understood that they needed to stop wandering around in life and come back to God. That was God’s hope for them when he left them in charge of the vineyard of this world. But as time passed, they had begun to think that what had been entrusted to them had been their own property and not God’s. And they had abused every prophet God sent them who came to call them to account. Finally when God sent his Son to reason with them, rather than honoring Him as the Son of Owner, Jesus told them what they were about to do to him— that they would kill him. And that was exactly what these tenants did to Jesus. They should have weighed what he said and listened to him. But they didn’t. Still, Jesus warned them what would happen.
But of course, the parable of the tenants is not only the story of the Jews. It is the story of all people. The vineyard God made was not only the world. It is also everything else in this world, including every human life. So the parable of the tenant is the story of every human life. When God sent his Son to call human beings to account for their lives, to give God what belongs to him, the world rejected the Owner’s Son. But God did not kill us. He rather loved us enough to sacrifice his Son. He did so that we might come to our senses— that we might see the sin in our lives that has blinded us to the truth of God— that we might understand that we needed a Savior to take upon himself our sins and to wash our hearts of it— that we might finally know how much he loves us— that we might then repent and ask forgiveness and receive mercy. God let his Son be sacrificed so that we might finally be able to do what we could not do on our own— which is to give our hearts and lives back to God— because they belong to him. Through the sacrifice of his Son— and through faith in him— we can now make peace with the Owner of our lives and begin to work the vineyard of our lives to bear fruit for his glory. Because of the Owner’s sacrifice we are now able to give back to God what belongs to God. This is where this second story comes in here!
But before we go there let us think a little more about these Pharisees and religious leaders whom Jesus was talking to. The vineyard was the world. The world was a gift. Second, God had given them life. Life— their lives were a gift. Third, God had given them the Bible— God’s words to show them the way of truth and the way of life in this world of sin and darkness. The Bible was a gift. Fourth, then God had chosen them to be shepherds of all people— not only Jews but of Gentiles as well— that is shepherds who educate people about God and his ways. That was a gift too. Fifth, God had also given them a church— a temple— a house of God— and a tremendous responsibility to care for it, so that God himself might be there in his house to bless his people’s lives. That was a gift too. And God had made it very clear that everything in this world was made by him and was only loaned out to them! How much clearer could God have been when the Bible cried out that the world and everything in it— including their own lives— belonged to him! But somehow they forgot that life and every privilege in life was not theirs to keep, but simply loaned out to them to serve God with in their lives! They neglected their duty to live and act as tenants accountable to the Owner. And they lived as if they had no owner and as if they were accountable to no one. And there are so many people living like this— strangely even among Christian— who live in their own way and do their own thing! Jesus warned these proud and self righteous people, about what they were about to do to the Owner’s Son. The Owner is kind and tolerant. But there are limits to his patience. He would remove them and give everything which was theirs to others more worthy than them. And he did so. In biblical history God eventually transferred the vineyard of world missions from the Jews to those who are of Christ.
The parable of the tenants was a harsh reprimand to these religious leaders who really thought they were the apple of God’s eye, and the model of godliness. But Jesus had to rebuke them because he loved them. The Bible says: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8) They should be wise enough to listen to Jesus’ stern rebuke because in it there is life. They should love him for his unwavering love for them in his countless attempts to help them turn away from their pride and be humble before God. But they were fools. They were fools who were set in their ways— stubborn as ever— arrogant in their own understanding of things— who loved their own lives and their own comforts more than they loved God and his truth. Whenever Jesus spoke to them they were offended and angry at him and plotted against him.
These religious leaders never imagined to be the ones who would cast out the prophets and kill the Son of God. They were given the responsibility to serve God and his people. It was a blessing beyond imagining. So it is baffling how they had become what they had become— enemies of God. How did they become such sinister people? How does anyone go from being a blessing to becoming a terrible person? I think that they knew what they needed to do. But the problem is that they found a way around it. They knew what God expected of them. But they found a way around it. In the end, they became experts in evading the truth of God and in escaping their responsibilities. Most people aren’t dumb. People are intelligent enough to know right from wrong, good from evil. Especially, those who belong to Christ know what Christ wants from them. The trouble is when we find ways around taking care of our responsibilities before God. Then we quickly learn how to cope with the guilt that comes from the convictions the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts when we avoid what God would have us do. The worst thing is when I begin responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit with painful acceptance of his rebuke and end up resisting and finally ignoring him. And it happens when instead of repenting I justify and am clever to find ways around what I know God wants of me. Finally, the Holy Spirit’s conviction in my heart becomes no more than a gentle whisper that cannot ignite my conscience with enough guilt to make me repent. That is what must have happened to the religious leaders who found ways around what they knew God wanted them to do.
When they heard the voice of Jesus’ rebuke, for a moment they were deeply convicted— but only a moment. The Holy Spirit stood at the door of their hearts ready to come in and bring life to what was dead on the inside of them. If only they let that conviction remain in their hearts a little while longer. For a moment they wondered, “what he says sounds so true. I should listen! Oh my God, what have I done!” But they did not let it sink in. Immediately, their pride took over and they thought again, “What am I thinking. This man is a clever speaker. It’s easy to believe him. But I have known and served God all my life, how can he say to me otherwise.” If only they had let the truth remain for a little while longer and had allowed their guilt to mature to repentance. But they burned with anger. And when anger festered in their hearts, hatred also grew and murder, until they couldn’t see straight— until they could no longer see that these thoughts could not possibly come from God. And they wanted to kill him. But they could not do so for fear of the people. So, they devised a clever question in order to trap him.
Read verses 13-17. “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
What an ingenious question! Designed in such a way that whatever answer Jesus were to give, it would condemn him and make him liable for arrest and conviction. If Jesus were to say “Yes” to paying taxes to Caesar, he would be condemned for anti-nationalism, for the Romans were the oppressors of the Jews. The very people Jesus helped day in and day out were crushed by these taxes, and it would not fare well with them to know that he supported Roman taxes. It was tricky because Roman taxes went to supporting the godless Imperial throne. As Christians, should we be paying taxes that support abortion laws! Jesus faced such a difficult question. But if Jesus were to say “No” to paying taxes to Caesar, he would be condemned by the Roman authorities for rebellion against Rome. They really thought that they had Jesus absolutely trapped! They were the ones who were the experts in finding ways around the word of God— and perhaps they weren’t able themselves to find a way around this trap. They were certain that Jesus wouldn’t either. To the worldly mind which operates by principles that govern this world, the answer is clear cut, its either yes or no. But to the spiritual mind, “yes or no”, is not the real issue. To the spiritual mind, there is something a whole lot more significant than the “yes” or the “no”. What is more important is “why” the question was asked, and “what” was the motive behind it, and “how” to solve such a sin problem in devious hearts that harbor many such questions. They had no idea that Jesus, the Owner’s Son looked at the heart and all that’s hidden in it.
When Jesus looked at their hearts, he saw something very disturbing. And it confirmed to him they had been so hostile towards him when he told them the parable of the tenants. Their question showed exactly why they were convicted and angered at his words of truth which reminded them that “You are guilty of seizure of property and owe God 20, 40, 60 years back rent”. According to their question, there was something that troubled them deeply. They needed to give God rent and fruit. They needed to give God something. But they hated to “give”, let alone give him anything. They were clever at “taking” from God and from others. But they were even more clever at finding excuses not to give God nor anyone else anything. Of course they did not think that they didn’t like giving God or others anything. They thought they were generous enough. They gave God money, and they gave others alms. To them it was like a smart business rule: “To keep getting, you must give a little.” But when they didn’t give God their lives and their hearts, even if they gave all their treasure to God, it was nothing. If I think I can buy God’s favor and silence with my money and a few good deeds here and there I am mistaken and crooked at heart. If I think I can buy a clear conscience with a few coins and a kind gesture here and there I would be a foolish person. If I think they I can buy God’s non-interference in my life with trips to church and an occasional act of sacrifice then I am more crooked than a worldly person. What God wants from me is to give my life and my heart to him, and to give others of the overflow of God’s goodness to me which he pours into my life from day to day.
They hated to give. Yet they were satisfied to think that their giving to God and to others was generous and outstanding. But they hated to give. People are not born givers. God made us in his image to be generous and kind and sacrificial and giving and loving and good and quick to serve. But most people do not admire the image of God dormant in their lives. Rather, they shrink back at the thought of giving, and give only enough to quiet down the guilt. Generally, human beings do not like to give anything to anyone, neither to God nor to others. For example husband and wife are one. As one, sharing with each other should be natural. Helping each other should be natural. Forgiving each other should be natural. Carrying one another burdens should be natural. But in our generation this is very rarely witnessed in the world, many times even among the children of God. And there is not much forgiving and giving but more of expectation and contempt. We are not naturally born givers. But Jesus came to teach us to give. Giving is not a blunder and weakness of the human nature as some would like to think. Giving is not a flaw of human character. Giving is not for the weak born to give. Taking is not the glory of the strong who have been gifted to be “go-getters” and not the losers that givers are. Giving is a virtue, a noble intrinsic characteristic— the very image of God— which God has instilled in us human beings which reflects God like nothing else in life does— because he is a giving God.
Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It was Jesus’ beautiful words to restore the basic image of God in fallen human hearts. When people only think about how to save up and how to hoard and how find ways to avoid giving what belongs to God —using pitiful excuses— they really remain poor and wretched. Especially us Christians who have been bought with the blood of Jesus— we cannot keep from God what belongs to him. We cannot keep from others what belongs to them. To love God, is to love God— not after we have become comfortable having paid all our dues, and then to give to God something. To love God, is to love God first with everything. To give to others is our basic duty. It is not a kindness or credit on our part. It is a duty because we ourselves have been given. If we are stingy towards God with life and time and effort and all, and use the excuse that we must give such things to other more urgent affairs, we only end up robbing God. Ultimately we also rob others. There is nothing more beautiful than a giving man or woman. There is nothing more lovely than a heart that is willing to give first to God and to others and then give to itself what’s leftover. God will never abandon that person! The Lord will see that that person is blessed beyond capacity. I have seen it in some of your lives so many times.
We must learn to give, otherwise we become no more than habitual complainers every time we dig deep into our hearts or pockets to give something to God or to others. A Christian, purchased by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, must be beautiful, as beautiful as Jesus who gave his life to ransom ours. May God bless you to give to God what is God’s— what is due him, and to give to others what is also due them— be it love and forgiveness, patience or assistance, kindness and compassion, blessings and most of all— a share of the gospel of glory that has been poured into your own lap. We can best give God and others when we decide to stop acknowledge the truth of God: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”