Sunday, September 24, 2023

Jesus questioned about paying Taxes

In the year 2022, according to the CBO, the United States government raised 4.9 trillion dollars in tax income. About half came from individual income taxes. It’s a massive amount of money that we’re talking about, but despite that, the U.S. government is currently 33.1 trillion dollars in debt, due to excessive spending, which has led to inflation, which hurts the poorest income earners the worst.

So knowing that the U.S. government apparently is somewhat reckless in how it spends money, should we still pay our taxes faithfully? Or should we try to get around our taxes? Or maybe we should cheat just a little bit on our taxes? Let’s consider that topic today, as we look at the words of Jesus around this topic of paying taxes to the government authorities.

We’re also going to look at a question raised about marriage, and what life will be like in heaven. So we’re going to look today at human government, and the heavenly government.

Today we’re looking at Mark 12:13-27, and we’re seeing Jesus at the pinnacle of his ministry. He is in Jerusalem, capital of Israel, capital of planet Earth, if you really think about it, and he’s dealing directly with the most powerful groups in the nation, the Pharisees, the chief priests, the elders, the Herodians, the Sadducees, Jesus is dealing directly with the social elites, and at that the same time he’s teaching his disciples, and the crowds. He’s bringing the word of God to every segment of society, from the poorest blue collar workers, to the most powerful elites.

During this time in Jerusalem we keep seeing the elites attempting to ask Jesus questions to cause him to trip himself up. It reminds me of how the news media will often ask questions to politicians in Washington D.C. with the hope of getting them to say something that will harm them. They don’t really want an answer to their question, they are simply trying to trip up the speaker, and get them to say something that will get them cancelled by the public. It’s a nasty game in politics and power, and we see the same happening to Jesus.

In verses 13-14 we see a group of elites approach Jesus hoping to cause him harm. Here is what it says, “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?”

Here is what they are hoping, they are thinking, if Jesus says “yes you should pay taxes” then the people will turn against him because the people hate the oppressive taxes of the Roman empire. And if Jesus says “no you shouldn’t” then they can tell the romans that Jesus is telling people not to pay taxes, so they can have Jesus arrested. They are trying to trap Jesus in his words.

It reminds me of Christian pastors who are interviewed by the news media. The first question the news media always asks is, “Do you support gay marriage?” Why do they ask that? Because, if the pastor says yes, they’ve gotten the pastor to go against the Bible. If they say no, then the pastor can easily be labeled as a bigoted hater, and someone no one should listen to. It’s all about cornering the person in their words.

But Jesus is too smart for this little game they are playing with him.

It says in verses 15-16: But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 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.”

Jesus knew they were trying to trap him in his words. Why are you trying to trap me? He asked them. So he takes a coin, and the coin has a picture of Caesar on it.

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.

Many people even today I think don’t like the answer that Jesus gave. Because it commits us to paying taxes faithfully and being honest citizens of the nation where we live.

But what about the fact that the government often wastes money?

According to the Heritage Foundation, here are some ways tax payer funds are wasted in the U.S. Government:

1. Federal agencies are delinquent on nearly 20 percent of employee travel charge cards, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.[9]

2. The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million rearranging desks and offices at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.[10]

3. The Pentagon recently spent $998,798 shipping two 19-cent washers from South Carolina to Texas and $293,451 sending an 89-cent washer from South Carolina to Florida.[11]

4. Over half of all farm subsidies go to commercial farms, which report average household incomes of $200,000.[12]

5. Health care fraud is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $60 billion annually.[13]

6. A GAO audit found that 95 Pentagon weapons systems suffered from a combined $295 billion in cost overruns.[14]

7. The refusal of many federal employees to fly coach costs taxpayers $146 million annually in flight upgrades.[15]

But, does that matter when we consider if we should pay our taxes? The answer is no. It does not matter. Even if I paid my taxes and the U.S. government took the money, and set it on fire in front of me, it wouldn’t matter, it’s still my job to pay my taxes faithfully.

If I give a homeless person five dollars, does it matter what he or she spends it on? If they spend it on food, great, if they buy a bottle with it, it doesn’t matter. What God looks at is my heart in the matter. I gave with a heart of love and in faith, and what the man does with the money is his responsibility.

It’s the same with government. My job is to pay my taxes faithfully. What the government does with it, that’s between our leaders and God. And rest assured that God will hold our leaders accountable for how they spend our tax money.

But what if I did cheat on my taxes? Lied on the forms? Well, I’ve now sinned by lying and by stealing.

And I’ll tell you in the past, I’ve been tempted to want to cheat on my taxes. To fudge the numbers a little bit. But I don’t do that anymore. I know that it’s my responsibility before God to be honest in how I use my money.

This doesn’t just apply to paying taxes. It applies to how we use our money in general. We should be tithing at least 10% to our local church. Otherwise we’re stealing from God by not giving those tithes and offerings unto the Lord. We should also support other charities as we feel led to by God. We should also help others with money in general, with food, with clothing, with time, and so on and so forth.

A.W. Tozer reminds us: "Money often comes between men and God. Someone has said that you can take two small ten-cent pieces, just two dimes, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape. Go to the mountains and just hold two coins closely in front of your eyes--the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all because there is a dime shutting off the vision in each eye."

It doesn't take large quantities of money to come between us and God; just a little, placed in the wrong position, will effectively obscure our view." -Cedric Gowler.

If you want to make sure that money never has a foothold in your heart, then commit to tithe 10% to your local church, and to give another 5-10% to other charities and those in need. When you give your first fruits to God, you ensure that money will never control you.

So OK, we find that placed properly now. Resist the temptation to cheat. Also understand that if you make some money on the side, it’s probably not a big deal either, but if it’s large amounts of money, well, we should be prayerful. We should seek God. We should also know the law and how it all fits together in the rule books for our country. But simply be honest, and do obey the tax laws.

But there’s a second issue here, and we see that we should pay our taxes to our government, but we should make sure our heart belongs to God.

Jesus said, “Give to God what belongs to God.” What belongs to God? We do. Our heart does. Keep God first in your heart. Have no idols before him. Money can be an idol. But many other things can be as well.

Secondarily today, we see another group of elites approach Jesus to ask him a question. A group called the Sadducees confront Jesus.

And I think the Sadducees are again not genuine in wanting to know the answer. The Sadducees did not believe that humans would live after death. They thought you simply die and then that’s it. No heaven, no hell, just nothing, a blank screen. You no longer exist. I think they're trying to prove a point here with this scenario they bring up to Jesus.

Let’s take a look, verses 18-23: “Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

We see the scenario here, a woman is married to seven different men, in a good way, because the men she was married to kept dying. All seven men die one after another, and then she dies.

And they ask, at the resurrection, (they don’t believe in any resurrection) who will she be married to?

This reminds me of the scenario atheists will bring up to me, “Who made God?” Well, you don’t believe in God at all, so why are you asking me who made God? The Sadducees don’t believe in an afterlife but they’re asking Jesus who this woman would be married to in the afterlife.

I get the feeling they are just trying to make the point that there is no after life. But of course they are wrong.

Then we see Jesus’ reply in verses 24-27: "Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

In verse 24 they’ve made two errors: They don’t understand the scriptures properly, and they don’t understand God’s power.

In verse 25, it says, "when the dead rise", so Jesus affirms that the dead will not stay dead, they will rise to life after death.

And Jesus continues and says that in the after life, men and women will not be married, they will not be making love and having children, they will instead be similar to angels.

Now I think it’s still valid to say that in the after life, people who were married will most likely live in the same mansion in heaven. They are companions I’m sure after death, for all time. Then again, we don’t know exactly what that will look like in paradise.

Then Jesus quotes from the book of Exodus, which he calls the book of Moses, so Jesus affirms that Moses did in fact write the Torah, which is fascinating. But he quotes what God the Father said from the burning bush, that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And I think Jesus was saying, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even at the time of the burning bush, were alive, they were alive with God in heaven. Period. Because God is the God of the living, not the dead. And if we endure to the end, one day we will meet them face to face and talk with them!

So we see today the values of two kingdoms, the kingdom of men, and the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of men charges us taxes of various kinds, and we should pay them without deceit or trickery. We should also pay our tithes and offerings unto the Lord and provide for the needs of his people.

But in the end, our goal is to join the kingdom of God, in heaven, a place of the living, not the dead. Our heart should be first for the kingdom of God, not for the kingdom of men. But we should be faithful examples of God’s truth and honesty and faithfulness in this world. And then people will be drawn to partake of the kingdom of God, and put God first in their lives.

But let me leave you with this: Don’t let money get between you and God.

"Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; food but not appetite; finery but not beauty; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation; a passport to everywhere but heaven." -The Voice In the Wilderness, quoted in Discipleship Journal, Issue 53, 1989, p. 21.

Submit your finances to God, and they will never control you or become your master! That’s not easy. I get that. But pray. Ask God for help. He will help you. And you’ll honor him with your money. Then your heart will be ready for the kingdom of God, with God first in your heart, sovereign and in total control. Praise the Lord!