It is what we call Holy Week and it is a reminder of Jesus facing his last week before his death on the cross. (While it is important to note that Jesus death wasn't the end of the story it was in essence the end of his earthly ministry. When I refer to Jesus' last week I am not implying that it was his last week but simply it was the last week leading up to the cross.) I know that facing certain death would cause me to focus on those things that were truly important. So what did Jesus focus on in his last week?
On Monday Jesus cleared all of the money-changers and merchants out of the temple in order to make the point that business as usual shouldn't be the usual business for the temple. To say that he upset the status quo would be an understatement. He infuriated all of those that were in power within the temple so much so that it created some very strange bedfellows.
So now its Tuesday and Jesus returns to the temple to face the very people that he has infuriated. One after another they come at Jesus and challenge his authority and understanding of the Scriptures. It is a series of clashes between Jesus and the powers that be. You can almost think of it as a religious version of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The aim of the powers that be is to destroy Jesus' credibility by issuing a bunch of challenges that are designed to trap him. What I find interesting is that in one of these clashes there are two groups that form an alliance in one of those attacks.
The Pharisees and the Herodians get together to try and trap Jesus. The Pharisees were a religious group of very pious separatists. They had their roots in the Maccabean Revolt and despised any foreign influences on the Jewish faith. The Herodians on the other hand were primarily a political group and they supported of King Herod. King Herod derived all of his authority from Rome and the Herodians held that it was the duty of the Jews to be faithful to Rome. These two groups make the challenge presented to Jesus in Mark 12:13-17 all the more interesting.
"And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, 'Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?' But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, 'Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.' And they brought one. And he said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said to him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' And they marveled at him."
They thought they had him. If Jesus simply said that the Jews should pay their taxes then the Pharisees would have jumped on him for his supporting Rome over God. They would have made the claim that he did not truly believe that God was the only true Lord. Jesus would have likely been discredited by the Jewish people. But if Jesus had said that the Jews should not pay their taxes then the Herodians would have jumped on him for inciting a revolt. Jesus would have likely been immediately arrested and executed. Instead Jesus gives an answer that cuts right through the intentions to trap him.
In that last week Jesus focuses on teaching that while we may have many obligations in the world, we are still responsible to give to God that which belongs to God. Jesus uses the image of Caesar on the coin to make his point. Jesus real point is something that he does not explicitly state. While we can make a long list of things that we can say belong to God like our time, money, worship and so forth; nothing belongs more to God than that which bears his likeness. We all have been created in the image of God and Jesus real point is that we are supposed to give ourselves to God.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.