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To get a clear sense of what was happening, let’s read Luke 20:20-26, “And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me? Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s. And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.” 

It was the chief priests and scribes, the religious leaders of their day, who sent spies to the Lord to try and trip Him up in His words.  They began by flattering the Lord by saying they knew that what He taught was true, that He was not one to treat people differently, but treated all people the same, and that He taught the way of God honestly.  Of course, they themselves, did not accept the Lord Jesus as the true Messiah, and the Lord certainly knew their hearts and their intents. 

These spies then asked the Lord the question they thought would condemn Him.  They asked in verse 22, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?”  They were asking if the Jews should have to pay taxes to the Romans.  According to Josephus, the historian, this was a hotly debatable subject at this time.  Some had even resorted to violence in their opposition to this law the Jews thought was terribly unfair.  Surely the Lord’s reply would either show loyalty to the Jews, which the Romans would consider treason, or He could agree with the Romans and alienate most of the Jewish people.  What could he possibly say that would not draw criticism from either the Jews or the Romans?

This account is given to us in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Luke 20:23says, “But he perceived their craftiness…”  Matthew 22:18says, “But Jesus perceived their wickedness…”  Mark 12:15 says, “But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.”  It was impossible to catch the Lord Jesus off guard.  He knows men’s hearts, He knows their thoughts, He knows their intentions.  Because Jesus is God, He knows everything.  Even as the Lord faced certain death as He left the Garden of Gethsemane, we read in John 18:4, “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth…”  The cross was not a surprise to the Lord and these men’s questions were no surprise to Him, either. 

The Lord asked for a coin, perhaps because He didn’t even own a coin.  We read in Luke 20:24-25where the Lord said, “Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.”  What a remarkable answer!  The people had no reply to the Lord’s response.  The very fact that the coin had Caesar’s picture on it was testimony to the reality that the Jews were under His rule and should obey his laws.  This could not be argued against.  However, they were ultimately under the Lord’s rule.  Since they had to obey Caesar’s laws, were they also obeying the Lord’s laws?  Did they truly “render unto God the things which be God’s?”  What a searching question for us all.  As believers, what does the Lord require from us?  Let’s consider the words of the Lord in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…”  The Lord’s desire is that we put Him before all other things; that we love Him more than we love all other things; that we desire Him more than we desire all other things. 

My dear fellow believer, may we all seek to honor the Lord in all we do; may we put Him far above all things, may we truly seek Him above all else.  I think I can safely say that we do render unto our government the things that are required of us.  Otherwise, we might be arrested and punished.  But, are we rendering, or giving, unto the Lord the things that are properly His?  Let me encourage you to pray one of David’s prayers that we find in Psalms 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (140.3)