Matt.22. 15 "Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. "
This question is a cultural trap. We’re told they came to trap him in his words. The text is explicit so we know it’s a trap question. It’s a trick and they want to hand him over to the authorities. So they come and they ask him this question and they say, "Should we pay our taxes to Caesar or not?" What is the cultural trap? You see, the first thing asking questions does is that it exposes these cultural traps. Let me illustrate it. Why is this a trap? Well, the Jews who were asking the question know that they are God’s chosen people. God’s chosen people is being oppressed by a Roman army. The Roman army is financed through the paying of taxes. If you pay your taxes, you are financing the oppression of God’s people. You are compromising your holiness. But if you don’t pay your taxes, and you refuse to pay your taxes, you will be killed. So they come to Jesus and they say, "Teacher, you’re a man of God. You show no partiality, you aren’t scared or swayed by people. You tell the truth as it is. Should we pay our taxes?" Now can you see the trap? They’re thinking if Jesus says, "Yes, pay your taxes," they’ll say, "Ha! You too then are prepared to morally compromise in order to save your own skin." But if he says, "No, don’t pay your taxes," then he will be arrested, and if he refuses to pay, he will be executed. So it’s a win-win situation, right? It’s a cultural trap. But how does Jesus respond? Don’t look at the text, do you remember? I’m trying to make you use your brains. How does he respond?He asks a question. And what’s the question?"Bring me a denarius. Whose head this? Whose inscription?""Caesar’s," they reply."Then render unto Caesar’s that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s."Do you see how he has answered the question? You give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Pay your taxes. But, you give to God that which is God’s. You pay your taxes, but paying your taxes is not a compromise of holiness. And what is holiness? Jesus has just defined it for us. It’s giving to God that which is God’s.Do you see why Jesus can’t just say yes? To say yes is not to communicate. He has to get them to open up within their cultural assumptions. Let me throw one back to you. Yes or no – is abortion wrong? Imagine that you are in a café. You are with non-Christian friends. If you don’t have any non-Christian friends, just imagine what it would be like if you did have friends. You’re just having coffee, and then someone turns to you and says:"You’re a Christian, aren’t you?""Yes.""Is abortion wrong?"Now, what do you want to say? "Yes." If you say yes, what will that non-Christian probably deduce about you, or what would they think about you?That you hate women. What else? That you’re narrow-minded. If you say, "Actually, it’s God. God says no." What would they think about God?In the world’s eyes, what is the issue of abortion about? Choice. It is a right to choose. What do you call people who eliminate other people’s rights to choose? – Dictators. Terrorists. Murderers. Intolerant. Oppressors.Would you be happy with using most of those words about God? When was the last time you sang a chorus that went, "O most wonderful dictator, we marvel at your totalitarian tyranny, and we prostrate ourselves before your oppression"?You see, the thing with cultural assumption is that it asks the wrong question. Cultural assumptions work like this: On the face of it, there is one question. "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But underneath it, there is an assumed question, which is, is it right to morally compromise in order to save your own skin? Here, is abortion right or wrong? The cultural assumption underneath it is, do you think it’s okay to eliminate other people’s choices by force if necessary? Now let me ask you another question. As Christians, what would we say the real question is in abortion? What’s the real issue? The real issue is, is this a human life?Supposing you were to go into the streets in a city where you live, and you were to stop people at random and say, "I am just doing a one-question survey, could you please answer just one question for me – when is it right to kill an innocent person?" What would most people say? "Never." So now let’s go back to that question. If what is in the womb is a human life, what gives anyone the right to end it? But if what is in the womb is not a human life, then what’s wrong with getting rid of it? There’s no life to protect, is there?Giving the right answer to the wrong question is always wrong. Cultural assumptions turn questions into things which actually they are not, which makes it a wrong question. Are you grasping this? It’s very important. Jesus is not a politician. He is not playing games with people. He’s not playing word games with people. With cultural assumptions, you have to define the issue. And what he’s doing is he’s saying "No, wait a minute. The way you are defining this is wrong. We need to redefine the issue first, then I can answer." Let’s supposing you could get a non-Christian friend to understand. You ask your friend, "Look, supposing I believe that life starts at conception and I thought abortion was OK, what would that make me?" Inconsistent? Or worse – a murderer. Now you may not change them. They may not leave there saying, "Yeah, okay, I now agree with your position on abortion." But what have you done? But you’ve communicated. What you’re telling them now is if you can demonstrate to me that this is not a human life, then I have no problem. This is about human life.
Contributions by Michael Ramsden