13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 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? 15 Should we pay or shouldn't we?" 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. 17 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. (Mark 12:13-17)
John Calvin abridged: Jesus lays down a clear distinction between spiritual and civil government, in order to teach us that outward subjection does not prevent us from having a free conscience in the sight of God. Christ refutes those who thought they would not be the people of God unless they were free from every yoke of human authority (cf. Rom. 13:7). Christ indicated that there was no violation of God's authority for the Jews to obey the Romans.
He also appears to be concerned about their hypocrisy that they carelessly permitted the service of God to become corrupt and took away God's authority but were overly worried about a trivial matter. Christ draws a distinction between the political (rendering to Caesar) and the spiritual (rendering to God). The Lord wishes to be the only Lawgiver for the governing of souls, but the power of the sword, legislation, and the courts do not hinder the worship of God from remaining among us.
We might also say that this teaching implies that every person, according to their calling, ought to perform the duty they owe others. So children should submit willingly to their parents; employees to their employers; that they ought to be courteous adn obliging toward each other. Those who destroy political order are rebelling against God; so obedience to the government is always joined to the worship and fear of God; but if on the other hand the government claim any authority of God, we ought not to obey them any further than can be done without offending God.
Thoughts: Memorial Day is a great day to think about the role of God and country. They should normally compliment and not contradict each other- though they do not necessarily have to merge together. For most Christians, the goal is not a theocracy (as many suppose- overreacting), but a role in which the state allows freedom for other religions but recognizes the virtue and that the majority of the population practices the Christian faith. We do not want an anti-Christian stance, but neither do we necessarily want a theocracy (the idea of a state sponosred religion has deteriorated to almost meaninglessness in most of Europe). Christians would love to be able to pray freely, speak freely, share their faith freely without feeling persecuted by others. On the other hand, the great majority of Christians would condemn those who would threaten radical arms against our country (like the Hutaree group in Michigan who were arrested March 30 for a plot against police). Most Christians believe that if we allow Christianity to have equal footing it will shine forth as the most meaningful, thoughtful, caring way of life. Calvin rightly said there is a role for governement and we ought not rebel against it unless it is telling us to not worship God. We should respect those in authority over us and not be so rebellious. For, in most cases, to rebel against those over us means rebelling against God- just as those who do not honor their father and mother are breaking God's commandment.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the freedom we have- and for those who sacrificed that we might have it. Bless the men and women in the armed forces in Afghanistan who would help us preserve our freedom.