The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor. They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But He detected their trickery and said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.—Luke 20:19-26This week, I’d like to finish up our two-part eSight with a look at Jesus’s words, “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” If you did not get a chance to read last week’s eSight, I want to encourage you to go back and read it, as it will provide a foundation for what we are going to talk about here.
There is a growing desire among American Christians, especially during political races, to reach out and influence others through gaining political power. Now, I want to be clear from the beginning: I do not believe we should sit back and do nothing. My fear, though, is that many of us have been duped into thinking that by voicing our opinions (i.e. voting) we have somehow advanced the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom Jesus came to establish is very different from any and all kingdoms of this world, even America. The Kingdom of God is also advanced in a very different way than the kingdoms of this world.
This weekend, I made some statements regarding this subject in my final presentation. A fellow minister that was visiting from another affiliation questioned me afterward. The statement in our conversation that sticks with me most was, “I’m just afraid we are telling our people not to vote.” I understand my new friend’s concern. I am not saying we should not seek to influence the society around us. What I am saying is that as a follower of Jesus, following His example, we understand that as members of Jesus’s Kingdom, the weapons of our warfare are not the same as those used by kingdoms of this world. In all honestly, it’s a lot easier to just vote. It’s much more challenging to live lives that manifest radical, self-sacrificial love to others in our society, even those we are different from. God’s Kingdom cannot be advanced through the legislation of a kingdom of this world using its power over its citizens, even if it is America. God’s Kingdom is advanced by coming under our society, by humbly and lovingly serving others in our society, whether they are like us or not. God’s Kingdom is advanced through means that affect our society, not from the outside in, legislating behaviors, but from the inside out in a much more profoundly transformative way.
Let’s be clear: The United States is not the kingdom of God. Our country is, in my opinion, the best kingdom that this world has to offer at present, but even at its best, the United States is not the kingdom Jesus came to establish. It’s still merely a kingdom of this world.
Right now within American Christianity, there are those who are using the above passage this week to try and say that as Christians we have duel citizenship, that we as Christians have a duty to America as well as to God. This kind of rhetoric deeply concerns many, including me.
Notice the mindset and words of first-century Christianity. Followers of Jesus were not “dual citizens.” They saw themselves as aliens living under an earthly kingdom they viewed as foreign rule.
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers . . .” —1Peter 2.11 (emphasis supplied)
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” —Philippians 3.20 (emphasis supplied)
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen.” —1 Peter 1.1 (emphasis supplied)
This does not mean that they didn’t have a right to claim citizenship in these areas in which they lived (Acts 21.39; Acts 22.28). What it means is that they had taken Jesus’s words seriously. “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). They had renounced their citizenship in their respective earthly kingdoms and chose to dwell under the rule of those kingdoms as aliens. They had embraced their new identity as citizens of a very different Kingdom, for which they were now “Ambassadors” living under a foreign rule (Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20).
Let me quickly share what this doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that we are to live rebelliously, irrespective of the laws of this country, indifferent to this world’s leaders, or that we should not pay our taxes. As followers of Jesus and members of His Kingdom, He commands us to submit to the authorities we find ourselves under, to live peaceful lives, and to pray for this world’s leaders, and pay our taxes. Yet notice the reason we pay our taxes, live peaceful lives, and respect law and order is not because we are citizens of the United States. It’s because we are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom and these are the things Jesus commanded us to do (Romans 13:1-10). I pay my taxes not because I’m an American, but because I am a follower of Jesus in America. Jesus told me to pay taxes to whatever kingdom of this world I live in. I pray not only for our leaders, but also for leaders everywhere. Jesus died for Obama, Mitt, and Newt just as much as He did for Bin Laden. In our prayers for America’s troops we, as followers of Jesus, should be praying for Al Qaeda’s troops as well. What we should be praying for is peace and the salvation of everyone, regardless of whether they are America’s enemies or not. As a follower of Jesus, I am to love my enemies, realizing that my enemy isn’t the flesh and blood before me. They have been influenced by the real enemy and I should endeavor to counter influence them through the revelation of nonviolent love and forgiveness (Luke 23:34). This is the whole story of the Cross. This is what it means to take up the Cross, not simply as our message, but as our way of life.
In addition to this, as a side note that is different but related, let me add, that my allegiance to God’s Kingdom also doesn’t mean that I can just trash the earth while I am here. As followers of Jesus, we are called to return to our original stewardship of this earth. Some embrace this truth and feel, “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Yes, Jesus’s Kingdom is not of this world, but this world is the territory Christ came to establish His Reign in through the revelation of radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love. This is the territory that the “meek” will inherit (Matthew 5:5).
Jesus called us, as His followers, to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, to give God the things that are God’s, and to always keep those two separate from each other, the former always held as subservient to the latter.
When I began to see this, I was faced with some deeply profound questions. You see, on one level, I love American history. I love Democracy. I love the Declaration of Independence and what it stands for. I resonate with the philosophies of American forefathers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. But none of this belongs to the Kingdom of Jesus.
Which do I see myself as first and foremost: an American or a follower of Jesus? How does a holiday (July 4th) that celebrates American followers of Jesus killing British followers of Jesus qualify as a great Christian holiday (as claimed by the recent The American Patriot’s Bible from Thomas Nelson Publishers) rather than a holiday that followers of Jesus should mourn? What if I can’t be both an American and a follower of Jesus? Would I be willing to be an “alien” here in my beloved country? Am I more invested in my identity as an American than as a follower of Jesus? And finally, would I give up being an American for Jesus?
When did Jesus ever concern Himself with how Caesar ran Rome? America at its best is not the Kingdom of God. There is no such thing as a nation that wields the power of sword that looks like Jesus. As a follower of Jesus, I have to look at all of this with eyes wide open. “Christian” means “one who looks like Jesus.” Some good may have been done throughout history by the America. Some of our laws may have been originally based on a Judeo-Christian influence. But in our treatment of others, from Native Americans, through African American slaves, all the way down to our foreign policies of today, we have never been a nation that looked like Jesus. We have never been a very “Christian” nation. Manifest destiny more closely resembles a pagan paradigm than the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for a country that asks my opinion. I have to realize at the same time that I may improve, in my opinion, how this earthly kingdom operates when I vote, but I can only participate in advancing the Kingdom of God as I seek to humbly, self sacrificially SERVE the world around me. Caesar and God are not the same.
Whether you see eye to eye with me on any of this or not at all, at the very least it’s something to think about.
Keep loving like the sun shines and like the rain falls. Keep building the Kingdom.
I love you guys,