Amazed at What Comes Next
“Well then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply completely amazed them. – Mark 12:17
I love reading the Bible, do you? Have you noticed that in New Testament stories of Jesus, it happens frequently that the story ends with amazement? Have you also realized that very often those same stories that end in amazement begin with something almost boringly expected?
Consider this story in Mark 12 – it begins with Jesus’ foe King Herod and his cronies trying to find a reason to arrest him. The plot goes like this: they hem-and-haw around to design a question that they believe has only one right answer and whole lot of “now-we-have-a-reason-to-arrest-him” answers. But instead of playing into this unbudging binary, Jesus speaks the heart of God’s truth. And (spoiler alert) – people often find that God’s truth is amazing.
So in this story, (after buttering him up more than Grandma’s Thanksgiving turkey) Herod’s henchmen try to trap him with this question: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? (Mark 12:14) Herod’s mafia assumed that Jesus – the so-called King of the Jews – would be anti-government like the most zealous of them. They also knew that if he wanted to usurp authority as king (they assumed he did), taxation would be the worst political platform to stand on. They expected him to say something like, “Don’t give anything to Caesar, keep it all to yourself!” and that if he did, that’d be enough to take him to the Romans to be killed for public disturbance.
Jesus of course sees straight through this boring “gotcha” argument, and decides to trap the trappers instead. In Jewish Palestine at the time, they circulated copper coins that were devoid of the impressed god-like image of Caesar because anti-government Jews naturally found such a claim disdainful. So these devout Jews coming to trap Jesus would be good-‘ol-boys who only had these image-free copper coins, right?
Wrong! Jesus asked them for a silver denarius, knowing it would be imprinted with the image of Caesar. And in a brainless moment that would have embarrassed Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe, they actually produced it for him, proving that their self-righteous attitude was nothing more than hypocrisy. I imagine there was a nice awkward silence, then Jesus spoke: “Well then… give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply completely amazed them. (Mark 12:17) The message: the economy of God’s kingdom doesn’t run on copper and silver. It runs on love worked out through selfless sacrifice (Jesus would soon give the Kingdom of God it’s greatest economic development ever).
Jesus’ response took the story from the world’s expectation to God’s truth. From “keep it all yourself” to “I don’t need it anyways.” From boredom to amazement.
There are many “Caesars” in your life. Could be work, family, a hobby, Facebook, and yes paying taxes (it is guaranteed in life, after all). Render to them only what is theirs. But don’t dare render to them what is God’s. No ounce of incense goes to Caesar. No worship. No hope for a savior. No first fruits. What is God’s is God’s and His only. After all, the greatest commandment is to love God first and Jesus teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God. Give God what is God’s, and you’ll find yourself completely amazed at what comes next.