Tyler David speaks on Mark 12:13-17
Series: The Gospel of Mark
Jesus’ words can make plain the secret intentions of our hearts. This scares us, because we all tend to hide from time to time in various forms and fashions. We keep things to ourselves, afraid of being found out, ashamed or rejected.
The best friends in your life are those who force you to go past the surface and talk about what’s actually going on. These are the people who ask you penetrating questions. They love you too much to let whatever is brewing underneath the surface to remain covered up. You don’t always like them in these moments, but you love them for a lifetime, being thankful for them in the long run.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6 (ESV)
I was gracious to have one of these friends when I first came to know Jesus. Before then, I never really talked about what was going on inside me. To talk about feelings, fears and insecurities was just ammunition for people to make fun of me. So I just buried it deep down. Then I was saved and got to know other people and be known by them. Now, there are people who know what’s really going on inside me and they still love me.
Best friends force you to reveal your heart. Jesus is the best friend you could ever have. He knows you like nobody else does. He sees past the smoke screens and defense mechanisms to the heart of the matter. Eventually He’ll press you in places you don’t want to go. He’ll ask you questions you don’t like the answers to. When you think your issue is about other people or circumstances, He’ll show you it is first and foremost about you and God. It is about your heart and Him.
Jesus exposes our hearts, not to shame us, but to save us. He’s honest with us when we’ve made a secondary issue a primary one.
Exposing the Pharisees and Herodians
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 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 (ESV)
The religious leaders were challenging Jesus, trying to discredit His ministry. He was upsetting the status quo and their power. The Pharisees and the Herodians were two groups who could not have more opposing value systems. The Pharisees were opposed to Roman occupation and taxes. While the Herodians wanted Roman occupation and taxes for their political gain. For them to join together in this cause, making Jesus disappear shows us how scared they were. He had to go. They had been scheming about it since chapter 3 of Mark.
6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:6 (ESV)
They must have thought they had the perfect question to trap Him.
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 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?” Mark 12:13-14 (ESV)
They started off falsely flattering Him and then asked Him a question they thought was a dangerous one. No matter how He answered it, it would destroy His ministry.
The tax was an annual poll tax. The Romans made the Jews pay it to Caesar. It went straight to his bank account in Rome. None of the Jews liked it. If Jesus said the tax was lawful, then no one was going to follow Him anymore, since He didn’t stand up to the Romans. They would ostracize Him. If Jesus said the tax was unlawful, Rome would send in their army and kill this Jewish so-called Messiah. Either way, His ministry would be done.
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 12:15-17 (ESV)
Jesus knew their question wasn’t genuine. He saw through them. By asking them whose likeness and description was on the coin, Jesus was saying that person owned it. If Caesar’s image was on the coin, therefore he owned it and they should give it back to him. This was the train of thought Jesus wanted them to have when He made His next statement. “Then give to God the things that are God’s,” meaning, “You are my image bearers, you belong to me, so give yourself back to me.”
St. Augustine said, “Christ’s coin is man.”
Caesar could have what was his. Jesus also wanted what was His, their hearts. Jesus didn’t address the role of government and taxes. He sidestepped those issues to get to their heart. His point simply was that submission to governing authorities was not opposing to submission to God. They had made secondary issues, taxes and government, into primary ones. The primary issue was their resistance to God by trying to usurp Christ.
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 12:17 (ESV)
They were astounded at Jesus’ answer. He had outsmarted them. Jesus’ words exposed them for what they were.
Secondary Issues vs. The Primary One
God’s word will expose the intentions of our hearts, taking the secondary issues we’ve made primary and show us what is actually primary; our resistance to God.
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)
God’s word cuts through our defenses, telling us what is most true. It side steps our excuses, undermines our sensibilities and tells us what we don’t want to hear. It lays us bare, naked and exposed before God as the utterly dependent creatures we are.
Jesus is no longer here to speak audibly to us. But He sent us His Spirit to dwell in us and inspire the writing of His scriptures. He has all authority in heaven and earth and exercises it through His word. If the Holy Spirit of God is working in your life, He’s going to pierce you with His word. He does so, because He loves us.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26 (ESV)
These verses speak of the incomparable value of knowing God and being satisfied by Him. But when we can’t resonate with these words, it shows us how rebellious we’ve become. We’ve bought into the lie that what we really need is a vacation or time off for our hearts to get right with God. God is okay with us as long as our behaviors aren’t that bad even if our affections are stale. We put our hope in circumstances being rearranged instead of God changing our hearts.
Can God use vacation? Absolutely. His word talks about Sabbath. But we mistake its importance, by making a secondary issue a primary one. Vacation can’t bring us the rest we want. God can use vacation, but that rest we need comes from Him, by meditating on, praying to, interacting with, knowing and obeying Him.
It’s only a matter of time before God takes away that secondary issue in your life and brings you face to face with Him.
How often do we blame our inability to trust Jesus on the failures of other people? Or on the failures of this church? How often do we justify bitterness, anger or frustration on the wounds we’ve received? Or excuse our obedience due to someone else’s disobedience? These are all secondary issues. They are important. But first you have to give God the thing that is His.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus and Peter were on the beach. Jesus reinstated Peter into relationship and ministry. He told him he would die for Him one day. Instead of embracing Jesus’ word and restoration, Peter began to think about the other disciples.
21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:21-22 (ESV)
Jesus was saying not to worry about them. His heart was the primary issue he needed to be concerned with.
Your circumstances may be difficult and trying, but don’t worry about that first. You primary issue is your allegiance and following of Jesus. The word of God has so much to say about the issues in our lives. But He wants to get to our heart first.
Give to God that which is rightfully His.
Exposing Our Hearts
Exposing our hearts is a terrifying process. Jesus knows everything; the shameful things you’ve done that no one knows about, every seedy, evil perverse thought you’ve ever had. On top of that, He’s the most offended party and most wronged by it all. If it were anyone else we were exposing our hearts to we’d have no hope. Anyone else would use all of our junk to destroy and shame us.
But not Jesus.
He exposes the intentions of your heart, not to shame you, but to save you. He enables us to be vulnerable before God with no fear of punishment or disapproval. He took all that on the cross. His gospel makes it possible for the word of God to cut to our hearts, but not to crush us.
When we reveal sin in our lives, most of us think we’re the worst. We hate ourselves. We decide we need to work harder, be better and wish we were different. It’s all about us.
The point of God revealing our sin is not to focus on self, but to have a springboard into marveling at Jesus. Seeing your sin should make you think how much better He is than you are.
We cannot shy away from His word and community because we’re scared of being exposed.
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear... 1 John 4:18a (ESV)
There is nothing to be afraid of. When we go before God, we can confess and be honest. You might receive a stern rebuke from Him. At other times, you will receive a tender encouragement. But all of it will be done in love.
This is the power and reality of the gospel. It allows us to be vulnerable with one another. Not only do we get to be deeply known by God, but also by our siblings in Christ. We can be vulnerable without fear, rejection or punishment, because we’ve all tasted how sweet it is to be received by Jesus.
None of us are exempt. You need to be honest with somebody and tell him or her what’s going on in your life. Confessing sin is not to atone for our sin. We confess, because Jesus has already atoned for our sin.
What secondary issue have you made as a stumbling block to trust in God? What issue do you continue to come back to as the reason you don’t have to submit your life to God and give Him everything? What conditions are you holding onto that He has to meet before you can trust and obey Him?
God’s word says that He will get to that. But first, you give to Him what is His. Give Him all of your life.