Jesus Versus The Den of Robbers, Part Three

Matthew 22:1-22

1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.” ’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.”
So they brought Him a denarius.
20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Introduction


One of the most common things people say is “you cannot mix politics and religion.” “Jesus would never be political” we are told. But in our passage today, the politics of Jesus’ day are something He cannot avoid and something, being a king, He is not interested in avoiding. “Gospel” means “announcement of victory,” and it is an inherently political word. It means a king has won his kingdom. It is an announcement that Israel’s God has returned to her and that He now reigns. It is impossible for Jesus to be an apolitical king. Such a thing is nonsensical. And in our passage here we see precisely why.


The Parable of the Prince’s Wedding (v. 1-14)


Jesus is still in the Temple having smacked around the wicked Chief Priests and Scribes already, He tells them yet another parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a king arranging a marriage for his son. Before we go any further who is the king? God is. Who is the son? Jesus. And he sends out servants to invite the guests. The guests mock them, ignore them, and even kill them. Who are those servants? The prophets. And Israel collectively were the invited guests. Jesus is recounting Israel’s history to the Chief Priests. And the king (God) was indeed furious with these people and He sent His army (Babylon) to destroy the murderers (rebellious Israel) and burned up their city (Jerusalem). Then God tells His servants to invite different guests, everyone they found along the highways (Israel after her return from exile). And the wedding hall was filled. Then we get to a bit that is confusing to us “when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.” We read that and we don’t get what is going on. Why is he angry that the man is not wearing a tuxedo? This is a king whose heir is being married. This is not merely a wedding but an event of great political importance. Everything you say, do, and wear communicates what you think about it. If we had an incredibly powerful king, and you are invited to his son’s wedding, and you show up in sweatpants and a dirty t-shirt, you are communicating to everyone what you think about the king, his son, and the wedding. You are committing sedition, non-verbally. And remember, this parable is an analogy. The new guests are Israel in Jesus’ day. Who is this man telling the king he has nothing but contempt for him and his son? It is the very people Jesus is speaking to, the chief priests. And what does Jesus say is going to happen to them? Take him away, bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And He closes it with the statement He so often repeats in Matthew, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” The leaders of Israel have been called, first by John and now by Jesus, but they are proving themselves to be among the many not chosen.

Jesus Was Not Fomenting Rebellion Against Rome (v. 15-22)


Now that the Chief Priests have been verbally bloodied by Jesus, the Pharisees show up to take a shot at it. They were clever devils and thought they had cooked up a perfect trap for Jesus. They send their disciples to Jesus and bring along Herod’s men. That detail, bringing the Herodians, is not put in there by accident. Herod’s rule was entirely dependent upon Caesar. He was Caesar’s man. They bring them along to witness Jesus starting a tax revolt.
And so they come to Jesus with flattery on their lips, “teacher we know that you are true and teach the way of God in truth, nor do you care about anyone for you do not regard the person of men.” Just disgusting. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They are trying to get Jesus to start a rebellion against Rome. This is a thing that was common in Jesus’s day. Judas the Galilean led a tax revolt that was put down by Rome with extreme prejudice. The Pharisees want to get Jesus to do the same thing (and also get killed for it) and they brought the Herodians along to be witnesses against Him.
They think they have Him trapped. The multitudes are witnessing all of this, and they think He cannot possibly endorse paying taxes to Caesar. The crowds will abandon Him if He does. They don’t want to pay taxes to a foreign ruler. The Pharisees think they have Jesus trapped.
But Jesus is no fool. He knows exactly what they are up to. So He calls them out from the start, “why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” Remember, this is all in public, and the multitudes see all of this. Jesus is not pulling any punches.
So what does He do? He asks them to show Him the tax money. And they bring Him one. And He asks them “Whose image and inscription is this?” They have no choice but to admit that it is “Caesar’s.” And so He tells them to render, or even more accurately to repay or return, those things to Caesar that belong to Caesar. And to repay to God the things that belong to God. Jesus leaves them with their jaws wide open, and all they can do is take their ball and go home.


Conclusion


The Pharisees brought what was probably the most controversial and hot button issue of their day to Jesus to try and trap Him with it. In our day, it would be as if they asked Jesus “Is it lawful to take the covid vaccine or not?” We like to think that Jesus is so above it all, why would He get down into the dirt and muck here with us, and deal with the problems that we face? There are an awful lot of Christian teachers who would have you believe Jesus is too important to care about such trivial matters. But there is a phrase for that “so heavenly minded you are no earthly good.”
Such a view badly misunderstands a lot of things. It badly misunderstands the incarnation most of all. Jesus took on human flesh to enter our world. He had to deal with the same political realities everyone else did. He couldn’t pretend to be above it all or refuse to take a side. He came down from heaven to be in the dirt and muck with us. He cares very much about all the things that you care about and that trouble you.
If you were a First Century Jew, you would have an opinion on paying the Romans. You would have an opinion on paying taxes to Caesar. It would be impossible not to have a very strong opinion. It is something that would affect just about every part of your life. It would be like today saying “I don’t really know what to think about this Donald Trump.” But throughout Jesus’ ministry, He was very clear how His people should regard the Romans. They were not to be rebellious at all. When the Roman soldier forces you to carry his stuff for a mile, you should go two miles. You should give back to Caesar what is his. Throughout Israel’s later history she was ruled by the beasts of Gentile empires. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now Rome. While under the protection of these gentile beasts, Israel was to seek the peace of the city. Rome provided stability and peace. If there is one word to define Israel throughout her history it is “rebellious.” Israel was like a child who would chafe under even the most reasonable rules. But Jesus taught His new Israel to put such rebelliousness to death, as did Jesus’s apostles after Him. But protective beasts can turn into Babels, and there is a time when God’s people have no choice but to obey God and not men. And Rome eventually attacked Christ’s church and poured out the blood of many martyrs. Christ’s command to His people was to uphold order and civil peace as much as you possibly can. Do not be rebellious. Do not be revolutionary. Do not be lawless. But when those in charge of the civil order do become lawless and revolutionary, you have a duty to obey God and not men. Jesus is not above it all. He is right here with us. He cares about us. And wants us to navigate all these things with the same wisdom He used to cut the Pharisees down to size.
The reason God made man was to rule as kings. We were made to have dominion over His world, to be His image, to be His sub-regents over His creation. Man fell into sin, but Christ has restored us and put us back on this path. God has created us to mature into kings. That is what He is doing with you, He is shaping you and growing you to rule over all the things He has given you (and will give you) to rule wisely and well. You are saved to be a king and to be a king like Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!