Taxing Nails (Matthew 22:15-22)

Thinking that this text is about taxes is like thinking that the point of building a house is driving nails. The government may spend taxes that way (“Hey we bought an outrageous surplus of nails here… hmmm… what to do? Houses!”), but the Holy Spirit does not inspire texts that way. We can learn about taxes from this text. In fact, everything that the New Testament teaches us about relating to government (i.e. Romans 13:1-7) is contained within Jesus’ response, but taxes are not the point. Taxes are the road, not the destination. What is the aim? What was the Pharisees’ aim? They wanted to entangle Jesus in His words. They do want to drive nails—in Jesus’ coffin. They want to discredit Jesus. Their questions are the hammers.

The Holy Spirit, in contrast, wants to glorify Jesus. He has the easy task. He just has to open blind eyes; “Look, there He is!” When the Pharisees test Jesus, it is like a distance jumper saying he will test the vastness of the Grand Canyon by his jumping skills. You have to foolishly think you are some kind of greatness to test Jesus. When man tests Jesus, man always fails. Jesus’ answer is brilliant and wonderful. They ask about giving taxes, He tells them to render. Don’t just give, give back to Ceasar what is his. Pause. Read slowly. Give Ceasar what is his. Do not render Caesar what is not his. The coin used for the poll tax had an image of Tiberius with the inscription, “Tiberius Ceasar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Divinity is not Caesar’s. He is not due worship. Pay Caesar taxes, not homage.

The Pharisees fail, and yet, Jesus is going to the cross. Nails will be driven into His hands and feet, but He is using them, the rulers of this world, as His hammers. Foolish hammer. He thinks he wields himself. They kill, God raises, Jesus rules. Every time—they look stupid and Jesus looks glorious. We can give Ceasar taxes, because we know the risen King of kings who is Lord over them all. In giving Ceasar his due as an act of obedience to God, we give to God his due as the Sovereign Lord of all.

Jesus does not tax His subjects. He was taxed for them, by God, bearing the wrath they deserve. He payed our debt and rendered our due. True, he demands we die, but so that we might live. We must repent, but in repentance we turn from poison to elixir. We turn from darkness to light. We turn from death to life. Jesus does not tax; His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In Jesus we have been given a ruler none of us deserve; a King who serves, a Ruler who heals, a Conqueror who delivers, a Lord who gives. This frees you to give. Even taxes. Jesus is so great, you can pay taxes to pagan kings as an act of worshipping Him. Render Him His due.

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