Sovereign God or Cosmic Vending Machine?
by Andy Pierson
"Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him." ~Mark 12:13-17
So what was Mark writing about here?
Mark’s Gospel was about Jesus doing things, it was about His actions. Compared to the other Gospels (except for maybe John) Jesus looks like an action hero here. The Greek word ευθυς / “immediately” or “straightaway” is used 51 times, 11 times in Chapter 1 alone.
Jesus is doing things as a servant but also as the Son of God. In Mark 1:1, Mark leaves no doubt of belief in Jesus’ divinity …and thereby His authority over man…
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…" Mark 1:1
Mark also writes of importance of discipleship. He writes of a person’s willingness to surrender himself to Jesus Christ in discipleship. Surrendering requires a person to submit to Jesus Christ’s authority. Surrendering requires a person to relinquish control to God.
Mark shows the humble servant/servant leader aspects of Christ. Because of Jesus’ behavior and servant’s heart – God allows His fullness to dwell in Him…[ part of that fullness is God the Father’s authority].
So who did Mark write to?:
He is writing to a Roman Christian audience under Roman authority. Specifically, Roman Christians under Roman authority and Roman persecution.
In Mark we also see a characteristic feature of Mark unique to all the Gospels. Jesus (divine authority) comes into conflict with the religious/civil (human authorities).
The “Tribute to Caesar” and the adjoining 4 or 5 other stories including “The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen”, “On the Resurrection”, “On the First Commandment”, “On Authority”, “On David’s Son” all illustrate conflict between Jesus when He was teaching and the Jewish authorities (scribes). To some extent all their core themes revolve around issues of authority. Either the Scribes themselves or God’s.
When we delve directly into the text of this passage and its setting we see the Jewish equal of “The Odd Couple” or "Beavis & Butthead". The pairing of Pharisees and Herodians. They more or less despised and hated each other. The Herodians were a political party and they liked Roman rule. The Pharisees were religious party who pretty much disliked Roman rule except when it benefited them.
So here we have…Herodians, Pharisees, a crowd of Jews and Jesus in the Temple (sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke). Jewish “authorities” asking Jesus “should we pay Caesar taxes?
So what were they looking for, financial advice from Jesus? Of course not…
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