Yeah, it has been a while since I updated this little blog, but it has been a crazy few weeks, and to be perfectly honest… I’ve been kinda dry in the writing department. However, I have had to write a couple of things for some of my summer classes, so I’m gonna be posting a few things here to give you some mid-week snacks… so here we go…
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12:13-17
Growing up, I had to move… a lot. My dad’s job as an Air Force chaplain and Methodist pastor meant that we moved nearly a dozen times before I graduated high school. I moved all over. From Texas to Italy from the North to the South, and for the most part it was great… You can really see how diverse the world is when you travel at such a young age, but you can also see how it’s the same. For instance, I have a lot of experience being the “new kid” in school and survival rule #1 in a new school is “Learn where you need to sit in the lunch room.” It’s the same everywhere, because kids identify themselves by where they sit in the cafeteria. Jocks sit with jocks. Nerds sit with nerds. Band geeks sit with band geeks. And moving around as much as I did I tried them all… never being quite sure where I fit in or who I wanted to be identified with.
When I have looked at this passage of Scripture in the past, often I got hung up on the politics and governmental aspects of it all. Is Jesus telling us we should pay our taxes? Is He giving us a guide to holding to civil authorities? If it was, it wouldn’t be inconsistent with other places in the Bible. I mean, Peter said in 1 Peter 2 that we should “Submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” and Paul said in Romans 13 that “there is no authority except that which God has established…”
But is that the point Jesus is making here? Maybe on one level, but I think what He is dealing with is a far deeper and far more important point that we all need to learn.
I think, Jesus is asking the Pharisees and Herodians and us the same question, “Whose image and whose likeness is on us?” Where do we gain our deepest identity? To what or to whom do we render our lives?
One of the great truths of the Bible is that we don’t have to wonder where we should gain our identity. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us straight out that God created man in HIS image so my identity is secure in Him. God is our Creator and we our His special creation, unique in that there is something in us that reflects His glory out in the world. His likeness is on us.
Because that is true, we should render every part of ourselves to Him.
But there’s a problem. Sin has infected us so deeply that we get caught up in looking for other things to define us. That old “high school cafeteria syndrome” still gets at us, and we want to know what group are we going to be identified with. For Christians we struggle between reflecting the image of our Creator and worshipping Him with our lives and living for ourselves and just serving our own purposes. Paul calls this sin problem the “two laws” in Romans 7, saying, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” But Praise God because Jesus Christ, through His life, work, and sacrifice on the cross makes it so the divine image the Father placed on us can be redeemed and we can know how to truly render our lives to him. As 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, we were bought at a price, so we have been redeemed, purchased, rescued to live the way we were supposed to live… as God’s children.
But how do we do it? How do we live a life in the identity God created us to? How do we render ourselves to Him?
We if look at this passage of Scripture and pay attention to the contrast between the interrogators and Jesus Himself we gain some key insights into what it means to live a life marked by God.
Rendering our lives to God means we must first render our motivations Him. You see, we can’t live a life that honors and reflects God if we don’t have motivations that conform to His will.
As we look at this Scripture, I think it’s important to know who the major players are. We get two groups mentioned coming at Jesus: the Herodians and the Pharisees.
The Herodians were a particularly interesting group because they were part of the Jewish community that, at least in part, supported the interest of the Roman authorities that occupied Israel. As their name indicates they were friends of the regional king, Herod. The Pharisees on the other hand were more strict teachers of the Jewish law who, on some level, resisted Roman rule.
So it’s interesting and more than a little shady that these two groups are coming together. I mean, when they ask the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” It’s obvious something weird is going on. The Herodians would have been fine if Jesus had said, “yes” while the Pharisees thought it was idolatry to use money with Caesar’s face on it. But if Jesus had said “No,” then He would have been seen as inciting a riot. So, the Herodians and the Pharisees had one motivation here as it says in vs. 13, “to trap Him” or as some translations put it, “to ensnare Him.”
These guys had one motivation: to put the good of their group ahead of everything else. They couldn’t care less about God’s will or purposes, they cared about their place, their position, and trapping Jesus in His words.
But it begs the question: what motivates us?
You know, I’m an avid runner… I love doing it. I love talking about it. And I love reading about it. I was reading a story in Runner’s World magazine about Alicia Shay who is getting ready to run in the US Olympic Trials this next weekend in the 10,000 meters. Like nearly every other runner that steps to the line, she has stories of injuries, over-training, bad races, and good races, but something is different about Alicia’s story and it has to do with her motivation. Some of you may have heard about a runner who died at the men’s Olympic marathon trials this past November. For those of us in the running community it was shocking and more than a little scary. I mean, this was a guy who was incredibly fit, in the prime of his career trying to run for his country on the world’s biggest stage, and then he was gone. When Alicia Shay steps to the line for the Olympic trials she’ll also be running for the memory of that marathoner… her husband of only three months, Ryan Shay. She said in that article that she wanted to give up after Ryan died, but that he always saw so much potential in her that she needs to do this now for him.
Motivation is a powerful thing. And so it’s important for us to remember that if we want to truly render our lives to God, we have to render our motivation first and foremost. It means that when we get out of bed we don’t live for that first cup of coffee (like I often do)… it means we live to make God look good. We work hard, not to earn a good pay check, or climb that corporate ladder, but we work hard because people will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. It means steering clear of things like gossip or lying or being greedy because God has called us to be holy. It means making time for Him, getting in His word, making weekly worship a priority, so those are the things that drive the trains of our lives.
It doesn’t mean trying to be perfect for the sake of looking good. It means relying on the Holy Spirit to give us the strength we need for each new day and living in gratitude for the blessing God has given us.