I stand before you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Please God fill this sermon and this congregation with your grace. Amen.
Let’s talk taxes. Everyone’s favorite subject, right? I work in the tax industry. Don’t ask me anything about your taxes though because I’m the marketing guy. Just an FYI – if you like a challenge – be the marketing person for a tax company. I like challenges so I’ll also accept the challenge of trying not to let this sermon be too taxing on you.
The first song I thought of about taxes was “Taxman” by the Beatles. Hopefully some of you know it. Here are some of the lyrics:
“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street.
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat.
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.”
George Harrison (the peace-loving quiet one of the band) was so angry about a “supertax” imposed on Britain’s high earners that his passion fueled him to write an anthem against the taxman. Everyone’s favorite super villain.
Yup. Everyone loves taxes.
There’s also a Marx Brothers movie called “Duck Soup.” and in that movie they have this conversation which cracked me up and stuck with me to this day.
Something must be done! War would mean a prohibitive increase in our taxes!
Hey, I got an uncle lives in Texas.
No, I’m talking about taxes – money, dollars!
Dollars! There’s-a where my uncle lives! Dollars, Taxes!
Yup. Still gives me a chuckle.
This was by far the strangest and busiest tax season I’ve ever been a part of.
Extended deadlines, stimulus payments and working remotely, oh my. I’m sure this year has been very strange for you as well. You may be struggling on many levels. BUT our personal God can relate. The life of Jesus was greatly impacted by government, taxes and disease. I’m just going to focus on the government and taxes part.
Before I talk on that, here is a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, he said that “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
The word “certain” makes me think of a couple of Hebrew terms. The words are Emunah (meaning faith) and Amen (the word basically translates to you can be certain of this). Amen uses the same 3 root characters as Emunah. Emunah is a much stronger word than faith as we understand it. Emunah is an innate conviction that transcends reason. The innate part means it’s built-in by the one who created you. It’s His grace. Reason alone cannot grasp the certainty conveyed by this word. Basically, emunah is the original word for beyond belief.
Under Roman rule, tax collectors would also face the death penalty if they did not gather the required quota. This is where death and taxes actually became associated. The Roman emperor literally was the king of death and taxes. Romans circulated their money into conquered lands spreading the image of the Emperor.
The Romans also had an ever-changing tax system that was an important part of their downfall. You’d think we’d have learned something from that, but it doesn’t seem like it. Jesus lived in a region oppressed by Roman authority and Roman taxation.
A census is conducted to determine taxes based on properties and job titles. The Roman’s frequently conducted these. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus there was a census, but it wasn’t for taxation. In 3 BC, it was decreed that Emperor Augustus be named “Father of the Country” a most prestigious title, “Pater Patriae” in Latin. Everyone under the rule of the Roman Empire, including non-citizens had to register and swear an oath of absolute obedience to him.
They even put up his image in every Roman temple. In 3 B.C. Quirinius was the special governor who was responsible for conducting this particular census. All “royal claimants” would have been singled out to take the oath. Mary and Joseph were “royal claimants” since King David was part of both their bloodlines, so they needed to go Bethlehem in person to sign the registration in the House of David.
Jesus was born and lived a little over a year in Bethlehem. King Herod issued an edict to execute all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two. These are the first martyrs of Christianity. This edict caused the family of Jesus to flee to Egypt.
After the death of Herod, the family then moved to Nazareth. Here we have a few of God’s prophecies being fulfilled with governments playing right into God’s hands.
Most Jewish revolts were tax revolts instigated by an unfair tax. One of Pontius Pilates titles was chief tax collector. Prior to Jesus beginning His ministry Pilate put up effigies of the emperor on his fortress which adjoined the Jewish temple. Jewish law forbade graven images in the holy city. Pilate was warned by Rome to stop his constant cruelty and oppression of the Jewish people. When notified by the Herodian princes that the Jews were going to revolt, he took down the effigies. Not to avoid bloodshed but to avoid the emperor finding out.
Roman emperors often swayed the people with bread and circuses. Pandering to their own citizens.
Jesus was tempted with bread, a circus act for the people (to leap down from the temple) and kingship over an earthly kingdom. Jesus resisted these distractions meant to turn Him away from His true identity. He needed to be man BUT remain God. These same distractions try to constantly remove us from the one true God.
During His ministry, Jesus fed the 5,000+ with bread and fish but refused to be crowned the king of bread and circuses as the people wanted. Following that miracle, He walks across the Sea of Galilee which John reminds us was called the Sea of Tiberius at the time. Jesus shows us whose authority we need to follow and understand. Jesus tread above the best Satan and the emperor had to offer.
After that, Jesus and Peter were questioned about paying the temple tax and Peter finds the exact amount of the tax in the mouth of a fish as Jesus said he would. The words of Jesus express that as the son of God He would be exempt from this tax but in order to quell the situation and let Peter be a fisher of tax collectors He arranged for this strange miracle.
In our Gospel, when Jesus is asked about paying taxes He asks for a coin. He is handed a denarius. Denarius circulation in Jerusalem was scarce. Only Roman soldiers and officials, and the Jewish leaders who collaborated with them would have carried these coins. The questioners’ quickness to produce the coin at Jesus’ request implies that they routinely used it, thus exposing their religious hypocrisy. Here we have the coin of a pagan in the sacred space of the Temple.
Roman coins were a form of currency but also served as a way to indoctrinate the people to the deity of the emperor. Jesus points out the image on the coin and this is important (especially relevant to the first and most important commandment). You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…
On this coin, around the profile of Tiberius Caser it read, “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus” and on the back was the Roman goddess of peace, Pax and around her it read, “High Priest.”
Jesus the TRUE Son of God, TRUE High Priest of God’s Perfect Peace and the TRUE King of all, holding the tiny silver coin of the emperor (the king of death and taxes) who claims to be the son of god and the high priest of peace.
Alanis Morrisette would say “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”
When I think of the emperor and this coin it makes me think of a song by Metallica. Here are some of the lyrics:
“Just want one thing, just to play the King
But the castle crumbled, and you’re left with just a name
Where’s your crown, King Nothing?”
Jesus knows your name. He knew it long before you or your parents ever did. He knew your name before language was invented. And you know His name. Praise His name, love His name, honor His name, Hallow His name, call upon Him by name, pray to Him but do not misuse His name or take it in vain.
In the most uncertain world, the certainty of Jesus Christ gives you certainty in eternal life, certainty in His perfect peace, certainty in fate, certainty in His name, certainty in His plan for you and certainty in salvation. Certainty is a grace-filled rest for your mind, body and soul. Certainty by His grace filling you with His perfect peace from now until life everlasting. Jesus says it perfectly (as He says all things) when He says, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE…”
The tax conversation took place in the last week of His life, pre-crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus showed us what God gives us. God gives us everything. We are because He always is. His human image, His human life was an example for us of what we should give to God. We give what is His. We give of ourselves and ourselves. We give Him our whole being. Here I am Lord, take me!
Do we have something of value with His image? Yes, us. We were originally created in His image. We are His. His stamp is on us. IN THE IMAGE OF GOD! BREATHED INTO LIFE BY GOD! FORMED BY GOD! KNITTED TOGETHER BY GOD! FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE BY GOD! PROPERTY OF GOD! CREATED IN CHRIST! He values us so much that He died for us and lives for us. You can be CERTAIN of that!
Amen, the Amen of all Amens.