Home     Mark       

MARK 12:13-17

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 3, 2005

This being July 4th weekend - today we’re going to take a vacation from our look at Heroes of Faith.  This morning is a good opportunity for us think about government and authority.

Some has said,
“A policeman’s glove has authority.  Just try speeding by it.  He will share a piece of paper with you, with your signature.” (1)

Who gets to have authority over our lives?

A long time ago in a church far far away - someone noticed that up on the platform in the sanctuary - just at there is here - there was a United States flag and a Christian flag.  The United States flag was on one side the platform - the Christian flag was on the other.  Someone said,
“Why do we have only those flags?  Why don’t we have an Armenian flag too?”  Which created a surprisingly “spirited” discussion of the purpose of having a United States flag - a Christian flag - an Armenian flag - a California flag - or any flag for that matter - what the purpose was and what that said about our allegiances as a congregation.

The United States flag we know about.  When that flag is displayed it represents the United States of America.  How many of you have recited the Pledge of Allegiance?  When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America - we pledge our allegiance to the republic for which it stands.  Allegiance - fidelity - loyalty.     

Over here is the Christian flag.  Its kind of hard to see up by the wall there.  It’s a white flag with a blue box in the upper left corner - with a red Latin cross in the box.  The Christian flag was conceived of by Charles Overton in 1897 in - of all places - Coney Island, New York.  The idea was to design a flag that would represent Christianity.  There’s even a pledge of allegiance: 
“I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior, for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”

There’s a danger that we face in this country - as Christian Americans - of equating being Christian with being American - mistaking American culture for a Christian lifestyle.  Thinking that an American Christian lifestyle is really true devotion to God.  The differences between those flags - the kingdoms they represent tends to get blurred.

It is important for us - from time to time - on a morning like this - to be reminded that being a Christian is different than being an American.

In Pakistan its illegal to insult Islam - the prophet Mohammed - or the Koran.  Just saying that Mohammed is not the prophet of God could get someone the death sentence.

Last Tuesday Yousaf Masih - a believer in Jesus Christ - a 60 year old man who has worked for almost 2 decades as a sweeper for the Pakistani military - followed orders while cleaning the home of a military officer.  He took some papers outside to burn.  Yousaf - who cannot read - was told later that the papers had verses from the Koran written on them.  Police came to his home and arrested Yousaf.  For what he did, Yousaf could get the death penalty. (2)

How does a Christian live under the authority of the Pakistani Government?

Last week the California State Supreme Court - seemingly ignoring Prop 22 - remember Prop 22?  Marriage defined as being solely between a man and a woman.  Last week the California State Supreme Court let stand a law granting registered domestic partners the same rights and protections of heterosexual marriage.

On Friday, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement.  Justice O’Connor was one who ruled in favor of abortion rights.  The battle over her replacement is heating up - the defense of our government providing for and protecting those who murder unborn children.

What allegiance - what authority over our lives do we give to a government that endorses what we know to be contrary to what the Bible teaches?  Do we obey the State or our conscience?  Which has higher authority - government or church?  The issues of being a Christian and authority go beyond culture.  What is the ultimate authority in life?

Jesus was asked the same question.  On this July 4th weekend His answer is important for us to be reminded of.

Please turn with to Mark 12 - starting at verse 13.  As you’re turning let me put this passage into where if fits in the Gospel of Mark.

The plaza area of the Temple in Jerusalem was designed by God as a place for His people to prepare their hearts for prayer and worship.  The religious leaders had turned it into something resembling WalMart or Costco.  True devotion to God was missing.  The heart of God’s people had sold out to the system of the world around it.

During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion Jesus enters the Temple and cleanses it.  A familiar scene - right?  Jesus turning over tables - driving out the merchants.  In place of the money changers and dove sellers - Jesus heals the blind and the lame - right there in the Temple.  The people are singing praises to Jesus.

The next day - in response to Jesus’ actions - a delegation comes to Jesus.  Its an impressive group.  The Chief Priests - among them Caiaphas the High Priest.  The Scribes - men who’s job it was to interpret the law of Moses.  The Elders - those who served in the Sanhedrin - the ruling body of the nation.  These are the heavy weights - the top of the Jewish religious and political leadership. 

This delegation comes to Jesus - without beating around the bush - they come right to the core of the issue.  The question is asked - Mark 11:28 -
“By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”  (Mark 11:28)

What takes place then is a discussion focused on the issue of authority.  Jesus defending His authority and sending this august delegation away with their tail between their legs.

In Mark 12 - starting at verse 13 - this impressive delegation has sent a sub–committee.  They’ve been humiliated enough.  So, they send in the second string to carry on the argument.

Mark 12:13: 
Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement.  They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.  Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?  Shall we pay or shall we not pay?”

The Pharisees and the Herodians hated each other.  They’re on opposite sides of the religious and political spectrum.  Strange bedfellows who are only here together because Jesus threatened their authority.  Their platitudes of respect are just dripping with sarcasm. 

The question they ask is the same kind of trap they tried to spring on Pilate later in the week.  Do you remember what they said to Pilate? 
“If you release Jesus then you’re no friend of Caesar.”  Choose your authority.  Shouldn’t it be Caesar?  These are the same religious Jews who adamantly cried out, “We have no king but Caesar.  Crucify Him.”  (John 19:12-15)

The question is a trap laid by hypocrites.  They’re only goal is to maintain their own authority.

It’s a great question.  Isn’t it?  Right in keeping with the discussion on authority.  Relevant even today. 
“Is it right to pay taxes to a government that wastes it and puts it towards purposes that we adamantly oppose?”  Ever ask yourself that? 

The Romans had swept into Jerusalem - surrounded it - conquered it - subjugated her people.  In Rome - Caesar was God.  For a Jew to pay taxes to Rome would be to acknowledge Rome’s right to rule over Jerusalem - not God.  Caesar is god.

If Jesus says no - its not right to pay the tax - He’s in big trouble with Rome.  If Jesus says yes - its right to pay the tax - He’ll alienate Himself from the Jews - religiously - politically.  And, He would be placing Caesar and the Roman government in higher authority than even God.

Verse 15: 
But Jesus knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me?  Bring Me a denarius to look at.” - same coin as on the top of your Sermon Notes.  They brought one.  And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.”  And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  And they were amazed at Him.  

In 1989 when I visited Yerevan - the capital of Armenia - there in Lenin Square was this huge imposing solid steel statute of Lenin mounted on a multilevel reinforced concrete base.  Not even nuclear holocaust could have brought down that statue.  In 1999 - when I visited Yerevan - in what is now called Republic Square - where that statue was - now is a lawn - a park where children play.

In 1991 when Karen and I were in Bulgaria we saw some of what brought that statue down - in Yerevan - and the former Soviet Union.  In Sofia we went to a church - that had a small - out of the way room - to the right of the altar area.  In that room - as small and claustrophobic as our entry area here - large families were crowded.  There was no room to move.  Children - infants - most were older - were being baptized - freely - openly - celebrating an opportunity that had been denied them for over a generation.

Despite the efforts of the government to control and deny the existence and authority of God - in defiance of government authority - Christians chose God.  Just as many of those who were founders of this country had to choose between government and culture and God.  Today Christians are dying - even in defiance of their governments and culture - because they know what fills the void - the void we all have within - what satisfies or deepest need - is Jesus.

Ray Stedman - preaching on this passage - said this. 
“Human government, Jesus says, has only limited control over men.  It has certain powers over the bodies and minds of men.  It can regulate our conduct to some degree, and has the right to influence and regulate our attitudes and actions and what we say, and how we say it.  But there is one area in human life over which secular power has no control, and that is the human spirit.  Secular power cannot legislate as to whom we worship, who governs our conscience, and who constitutes the ultimate authority in life…Certain things do properly belong to Caesar; give them to him.  But other things about you belong only to God, so give those to God.” (3)

The government puts its stamp on what it controls - money - commerce - laws - even taxes.  It has authority over these things.  But God limits the authority of human government.  It can only go so far.   Government isn’t the answer.  God is. 

God has put His stamp on us.  The ultimate issues of life belong to God.  He has authority over us.  We bear His image.

Say that with me,
“We bear His image.”

The ultimate question - regarding authority - that Jesus is getting at is far more personal than images on a coin.  Far more basic than allegiances to a flag or a nation.  The ultimate question is:  Who will we render our hearts to?  Try that with me,
“Who will I render my heart to?”

Please turn forward with me to Mark 12 - starting at verse 41.  The scene starting at verse 41 takes place at the end of the account we’ve been looking at - Jesus defending His authority to cleanse the Temple and to heal.  

Mark 12:41: 
And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.

The treasury was in the part of the temple complex where both men and women could go.  In this courtyard were 13 trumpet shaped boxes that were used to collect contributions.  After the confrontation with the delegates and the sub-committee - Jesus probably went into this court area and sat down on a bench across from where the Temple money is being collected.

Some of the Pharisees - before they made their contribution - they would have a trumpet played in order to get everyone’s attention.  Then the Pharisee would ceremoniously come forward and proudly deposit his noticeably large offering in the box.  It was crucial for people - and the Pharisee’s spiritual authority - to see how large this offering was - how generous was the giver - how worthy of respect and honor.

Verse 42: 
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.  Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

As Jesus is watching the Pharisee’s charade - a widow comes - alone - without fanfare - quietly - perhaps even ashamed at the small amount of the offering.  But, she places it - all that she has - the two coins - in the collection box.

Jesus calls His disciples over.  It’s a teaching moment.  They - we - need to understand the heart of this widow.  This woman is totally sold out to God.  Her life is His.  Nothing is held back.  God has absolute authority over her life.  Not her culture.  Not her nation.  Not the government.  Not the religious leadership.  But God and God alone.

Its not a coincidence that this discussion about who has authority over us - a discussion that includes a denarius - a question of who’s stamp is on our lives - that this discussion concludes with this widow - these two small coins - and Jesus’ comments about her heart.

Paul writes to the Colossian Church - Colossians 1 - starting at verse 13: 
“God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”  (Colossians 1:13-18).

When we come to place our lives in God’s hands and trust Him for salvation freely given through Jesus Christ - God rescues us - those who bear His image - takes us out from under the authority of the darkness of this world and places us into the Kingdom of His Son.  Jesus who is the ultimate authority over all that is.

Later in Colossians Paul writes - Colossians 3:17: 
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

This is the widow with the coins.  Giving everything to God.  First comes the heart given over to God through Jesus Christ.  Then
“in the name of the Lord Jesus” following His authority and direction for our lives - we learn to act in accordance to His will.

When we get the vertical right - our hearts rendered to God - God will guide us to respond with godliness towards human authority - to wisely place ourselves under horizontal authority.

To whom do we render our hearts?  Does Jesus have authority over your life?  Is He the head?  Does He have preeminence - priority - over everything that is your life?

I’d like to suggest a very brief thought of application.  We need to ask God to cleanse us - as He did the Temple - to exercise His authority over our lives.  That He will cleanse our minds so that we will think rightly towards Him.  That He will cleanse our hearts so that we will be totally open to His work and will in us.  That He will cleanse us physically - that our lives - our actions will be pure before Him - to His honor and glory.




1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes, page 42
2. Voice of the Martyrs
3. Ray Stedman, form his sermon By What Authority?  Mark 11:27-12:27

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.