Entangled (Matthew 22)
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in His words. (Matthew 22:15)
If you don't want to get entangled in an argument, there are two topics you don't discuss: politics and religion. But the Pharisees don't want just an argument. They want a fight. They want proof positive that Jesus needs to be gotten rid of. So they get themselves entangled. Entangled their religious views with their political enemies. Everything entangled to entangle Jesus in the midst of their problems.
We're well aware of who the Pharisees were. The religious elite. They taught the Law. They made everyone else feel inferior to them. They wanted to entangle Jesus in His words. To do this, they had to get some help. After striking out by siding with the Sadducees, they banded together with the Herodians. These guys were the exact opposite of the Pharisees. To use a modern comparison, this would be an alliance between the extreme right-wing conservatives and extreme left-wing liberals. The Herodians sought rebellion against Rome during Herod the Great's reign. They wanted their own kingdom back. Herod and his descendants would be the royal line. These two groups were typically opposed to one another, but they came together this time because of the old saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." They were united because they both hated Jesus. With hollow platitudes and a seemingly impossible question, they try to entangle Him. If they could trap Jesus, one of their greatest enemies would be done away with.
"Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (vv16-17). Does Jesus support the Roman Empire or the Jewish nation? Does He want to stick with the status quo? Does He want to bring back the Jews' autonomy? They pose the question to make Rome and the Jewish nation mutually exclusive. No doubt they had heard Him say, "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24). Either way Jesus answers, one group or the other would take His answer back to their supporters to cause more trouble. Hopefully get everything set in line so that they can get Him put to death. How would Jesus answer? The Pharisees wanted to know. The Herodians wanted to know. Everyone listening wanted to know. Don't you want to know?
Jesus answers with the help of a visual aid. He asks for the coin used to pay the tax. "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" (v20). They are forced to answer, "Caesar's" (v21). They have to admit that the authority lying behind the coin is the Emperor. The Emperor's power is in that small silver coin. Only the Emperor could mint silver coins. The coin doomed them by its very existence. By their very use of it. So Jesus began to entangle His listeners.
Jesus doesn't entangle with words. He entangles with Himself. He calls on the fact that God has established every government on earth (Romans 13:1). God set Tiberius Caesar up as the Emperor of Rome reigning at that time. To his inscription Jesus pointed.
Jesus entangles them with the Gospel message that they stand with one foot in the temporal realm and one foot in the spiritual realm. The two are NOT mutually exclusive. The Pharisees and Herodians thought so. They were both operating solely from the Law. Under the Law, the State and the Church MUST BE exclusive of each other. But Jesus entangles them not with the Law but with the Gospel. This is true even with the prophet Isaiah. Seven hundred years before, Isaiah had called Cyrus God's anointed minister for His exiled people (45:1). Cyrus was the Persian king who would allow Ezra and Nehemiah to come and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Cyrus. A Gentile king. But also God's anointed, or Messiah.
Not the ultimate Messiah. But he is the Lord's minister in his personal station. Just like many other messiahs before him. But the true and final Messiah was entangling His audience with His Gospel of supporting both the Church and the State. That He rules over both the Church and the State. Jesus rules over the State through His Law for the benefit of the Church. Jesus rules over the Church for its own benefit and welfare through His Gospel. Jesus rules both and expects both to be obeyed. "Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed" (Romans 13:2). God rules over everything by His Law and His Gospel for the benefit and sake of His Church. This is how He has always worked throughout history. This is how He will continue to work until He sends Jesus back to earth to bring us into Heaven to live with Him forever.
The impossible question of the Pharisees and Herodians gets turned around to show Jesus' impossible Gospel. The Gospel that entangles everyone in Jesus' love. Love for His enemies that brings the impossible salvation of your soul. It doesn't entangle you in an argument. Not in politics or religion. But entangled in eternal bliss. Amen.