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Mark 185 - Phonies

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 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? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

Mark 12:13-15a

We’ve all experienced phonies. They say one thing and do another. They talk like they believe one thing, that they are on one side of a discussion. But they’re really on the other side. They pretend to be on the same bank of the river that you are, but really are on the other side.

And their goal is not your well-being. They are not worried that you will feel pain, or even face destruction if you remain where you are. No, they are only interested in catching you like a fish in a net. Like a crab in a trap. Like an animal in a pit.

The end result is always the same – death. There is no middle ground. There’s no escape button. There’s no hidden trap door to get away. Once in the trap, once caught, game over.

It’s not like sports where there is always an opportunity for a comeback. But not when you’re caught in a net. In a trap.

That’s the plan for these Pharisees and Herodians. They had their plan. They had their marching orders. They had their script and they were going to follow it through to the end. The best outcome would be for Jesus to get caught.

This was a lose – lose question. There were dangers on both sides of the problem. Both sides of the argument.

To say not to pay taxes would put Jesus’ face on the wall of every post office this side of Rome. It would bring down the Roman government version of police, the IRS, the FBI and the CIA down on Jesus. All without any civil rights protections of public defender.

On the other hand, to tell people and businesses to pay taxes to Rome would be a wildly unpopular position with the people. How popular is it today to tell people that we need to raise taxes? Does that kind of a political platform, that kind of messaging win you elections? Popularity contests? Do you get more “likes” or social media followers by telling everybody that raising taxes are the solution? Do you get invited to speak on network or cable news with a message like that?

They had only one objective – to trap Jesus with his own words. They weren’t at all interested in the truth, what was right or wrong. They were only interested in ruining a man’s reputation and putting him in the crosshairs of the law.

And the tools that they used to try and trap Jesus were not a persuasive argument, not logic, not even what was right or wrong. They didn’t use social media posts, numbers of Tweets, or even a viral video. No, they used the most slippery substance known to mankind.

Flattery. They opened up with a barrage of praise, telling Jesus how great he was. How smart he was. How wise he was. Then they moved to phase two – they pumped up his integrity. But Jesus didn’t give a darn what other people said, he was only interested in what God said. After God said something, everything and everybody else was ignored.

They tried to butter him up. Jesus, you stand for integrity. You stand for the truth. You stand for God. Now, with all that said, what about this tax thing?

How do we react when people “butter us up” like this? Now don’t be modest or naive, people do it all the time to us. This is the basis of advertising and moving popular opinion.

Join us, come over to the “right” side of the political landscape. Not “right” or conservative, as opposed to “left” or liberal. But “right” as defined as what’s correct. What’s best. What’s morally superior.

There are all sorts of arrogance on both sides of the political landscape today. You’re either with us or you’re against us. There’s no room for discussion or negotiation. Everything is a black and white issue. Yes or no. Zero or one. Right or wrong.

Jesus was asked a similar question for his day. They want to know if he is with them or against them.

But this isn’t a black and white question. This isn’t a yes or no issue. We, like Jesus, will be asked to choose between left and right. Conservative or liberal. Democrat or republican. But life is not always so “black or white.”

Jesus refuses to be pinned down on either side of the political divide. And so should we. It’s not a matter of left or right. Conservative or liberal. Democrat or republican. But what God says is true.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:31

We need to live, choose, speak, and act based on who God is. Not what’s practical. Not what is expedient. Not what’s popular. That’s how you avoid being a phony before God and people.

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