March 7, 2011

Sovereign God or Cosmic Vending Machine

"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.

These two mortal enemies are joined at the hip to entrap Jesus. For any other reason they probably wouldn't have even looked at one another but in their mutual hatred of Jesus they were practically married to each other. This question from them appears to puts Jesus in a dilemma...or so it seems. It is an either/or question...or so it seems. If Jesus said not to pay the tax He’d be on collision course with Roman authorities. If Jesus said pay the tax he’d have disgusted most of the Jews present. Most Jews resented taxation by Roman and viewed it as financial subjugation or financial slavery of Jews by pagan authorities. This is a poll tax (Gk: κῆνσος / kensos) or tax on properties it is not really a tribute as much as it is a tax based on census.  There had been encouragement from Judas the Galilean not to pay this type of tax 25 years earlier under the rule of Herod Archelaus who, being a tyrant leader, really messed up relations with the Jews due to his cruelty to them. He was soundly hated by the Jews. This hatred and treatment would’ve been fresh on the minds of most in this crowd waiting for Jesus’ reply. Based on land holding and levied on every individual, the tax was oppressive for agricultural society like Israel. Flavius Josephus said this tax could total 1/3 of someone's income. They could’ve easily went in debt and lost everything.

So what is really at stake here?

The obvious implication parallels Romans 13. We are to submit to governing authorities.Why? All Human authorities are allowed by God Himself and under His authority. The real issue is motives of men’s hearts and what drives them. What is their authority of the Pharisees and the Herodians, God or themselves?

Come to think of it...what is often our motive(s) for approaching God the way we do? Do we want what He wants or do we approach Him like He is a Cosmic Vending Machine? Ka-ching!!!

In the case of the human authorities in Jesus' time, the hearts of these “authorities” were seared black as coal in their legalism. By trying to trap Jesus in by His words with an either/or question... they had rejected Jesus’/God’s authority outright…thereby rejecting Him as their Messiah also. Sad.

Jesus Christ on the other hand, instead of getting trapped by their amateur duplicity clearly states that people should pay tax and that people are to obey the authorities because they are all under God’s authority or control

He also qualified His answer….they're to obey authorities...unless they fly in the face of God statutes. Jesus left enough room for people to answer the question for themselves based on their own heart-condition and a given circumstance.

So what is our conclusion from this event in Jesus' life?

In this passage we see how the things of the world relate to the rule and authority of God. Jesus never once says that the spheres of politics and religion are mutually exclusive. Instead He shows that God’s claim to everything is all-encompassing--including Caesar. God is ultimately in control, God has the authority, God is sovereign. Caesar has the right to claim taxes because his authority is given to him by God. In the end God is Sovereign and it is for the end result of redemption for man. In the event of conflict, God trumps man...even a bozo like Caesar and his cronies.

The Herodians and Pharisees assumed they had Jesus hedged into one of two answers or an “either/or” situation: pay the tax and anger the zealots and laity or do not pay the tax and condone civil disobedience which would've had Roman authorities descending on Jerusalem like bees to honey…Jesus had a third answer and it requires the “questioners” to answer a truthful question about their own spiritual condition and understanding of the Bible and obedience to it.

Due to their arrogant actions and shortsighted foolishness these hypocrites were probably condemned to a rather heated eternity.

My question to you the reader of this post will be much more pointed.

Do you do this kind of thing? Do you come to God thinking you already have the answer when you pray or plead with Him to do things for you?

Are you dumping into your self-made Cosmic Vending Machine god and trying to hit the "your choice" button? Do you try to hedge God in? Or do you hit the "His Choice" button in your life and let Him do with you as He pleases and utilize you as He deems fit? If you don't hit the "His Choice" button you're better off just hitting the "change return" level and starting over. Chances are if you hit the "your choice" button, God might just see fit to make your "bag" in life get hung up in the little unforeseeable machinations and no matter how many times you hit the button, the end result is the same. Failure.


Based on a readers reply I will even take this one step further. Sometimes, even when we are is still our lot to suffer. Sometimes, to chastise or build character in us, God will let our bags get hung up on life's machinations anyway. It is part of his purposes that I will not question. I don't like it anymore than anyone else...but perhaps that is the point. Perhaps sometimes, we are called to suffer for the sake or benefit of others? Some are just more aware of the fact that they will need to serve others as a suffering servant. If we look only at the short term it is easy to see things out of perspective. Things look disproportionately painful and unfair. On the scale of a lifetime the intensity of this pain diminishes as time heals even some of the more painful wounds of life. Just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians, on the scale of eternity ...our suffering here in this life becomes infinitesimal. Right now it doesn't feel that way but when we are face to face with the Glory of will be all worth while. This is the Blessed Hope. Christ was a suffering Servant and His sufferings were brutal and inhumane but they were temporary and their purposes were eternal for the sins of all humanity. If He can endure the cross, I will take mine up every day also. Thank you anonymous for your feedback it added a new dimension on this post I hadn't considered. God bless you. Your post reminds us all that we need to be focused more on the "hereafter" than on the "here and now".


Anonymous said...

Sometimes hitting the "Your will be done" button allows suffering into your life. That can seem like the bag is getting caught on the thingy and no matter what you do - failure. I liked your post but at the end you make it seem like choosing His will will make everything go smooth. I try to follow His will in all that I do. I try to make His glory my purpose. I am not saying that I always do for I am still a man but for trying as much as I do, I do it way more often than not. So you would think that my bag would be stuck on the thingy but it is.

Andy Pierson said...

On the eternal scale it will go smooth. I no longer look strictly at the "here and now". God never promised a pleasant journey, only a pleasant destination. After a drug addiction, multiple recessions with job layoffs, death of loved-ones and just overall lousy situations sometimes, I never look at the short term anymore. Like the Apostle Paul I don't like the suffering involved with life but I will be and have been willing to swallow my pride and stick my chin out for another blow from a merciless world system...for I serve the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1) and I realize that this suffering may very well benefit someone else, either now or later. I also know that this suffering builds perseverence and character (granted it is character I feel I could live without sometimes...but I would be pushing the "my choice" button wouldn't I?). I agree that it may seem that our bag may get hung up on the thingies in life even when we servbe God dutifully but I need to ask two questions here. (1) Are we really serving Him as dutifully as we think we are or are we serving Him for our own motivations and (2) Perhaps these "hangups" or inconvieniences that we percieve as annoying or incumberance are actually the vehicle that God will use to save the next soul that will relate to our suffering?

Anonymous said...

I like the thought, "God said, I never said it would be easy, I just said it will be worth it all."


Phil said...

Hi Andy

The difficult question (for me) in this siutation is: Where does righteous suffering end and martydom begin? In other words: it's easy to fall into the trap of suffering needlessly in the belief that you are doing a spiritual good.

I agree with your views on suffering and God, in that what I perceive as my suffering may be either poor perception or a relatively minor inconvenience when viewed in the terms of the rest of my spiritual life - but it seems a fine line to tread and I wonder how does one avoid becoming 'addicted' to suffering?

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