Matthew 22:15-22 (EHV)
15 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted together how to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in accord with the truth. You are not concerned about gaining anyone’s approval because you are not swayed by appearances. 17 So tell us, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus knew their evil purpose and said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.”
They brought him a denarius.
20 He asked them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied to him.
Then he said to them, “Therefore give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. Then they left him and went away.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may give to God what is God’s, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s mine! All mine! It’s my precious, so give it back!
Have you ever considered how much we humans fight for ownership rights and control of our things?
I mean, we compete with each other over inheritances, over access to children or parents, over who knows best, over how we should spend our money, over who controls the remote for the TV, and over who gets the last slice of cake. Even in the church we’re tempted to argue over the colour of carpets, what styles of music is played, where we get to sit, what the pastor does with his time, and how people are supposed to behave.
The more we want to get or keep or control someone or something, then the harder we fight for it. The more important it is, the more we’re willing to hurt those around us just to get what we want. Because we’re blinded by the idols of jealousy or greed or selfishness, we sometimes don’t care who we hurt, including those closest to us!
Today’s gospel reading is also about control.
You see, the religious people of the day didn’t like what Jesus was saying about them, so they tried to set Jesus up.
This time they thought they were being clever by taking some politicians along with them. In this way, when asked a question about taxes, Jesus was either going to get into trouble with the religious leaders (for saying taxes should be paid to a government which shouldn’t be recognised by the holy people of God), or he was going to get in trouble with the politicians (for saying no taxes should be paid).
But Jesus sees past their pleasant platitudes and fake compliments. He sees past their smiling faces to see their evil intentions. So, Jesus asks a question in return. He asks whose image and inscription is on the common currency.
Just like today in our own culture, the currency of his day bore the image and inscription of the country’s highest authority. Their coin had the image and inscription of their Caesar. Our currency likewise often shows the image and inscription of our Queen as our head of government.
Jesus then says, since it bears their image and inscription, it’s theirs, so give it back to them. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Don’t hold back your taxes, but give to your government what’s theirs.
Now, this might challenge some of us because we may not like, or agree with, our government. If we don’t like them, agree with them, or trust them, then why should we let them get any of our hard-earned money? Since we’ve worked so hard to get what we’ve got, surely we get to decide what we do with our own things, including our money, don’t we?!
Now Jesus doesn’t play politics, but he does know by whose authority the government’s been established. God is behind both religious and secular authorities.
This means God works his grace, forgiveness and salvation through the authority of the Christian church, but he also works to establish good order in our society through all rightly established secular governments.
In this way, no matter what you think of our Prime Minister or Premier, they’re acting under God’s authority, whether they like it or not! They’re acting under God’s authority to maintain peace and good order in our land on his behalf.
As Christians who recognise the hand of God working through Christians and non-Christians alike, we give our leaders the honour due to them as God’s servants in this country, which includes paying them taxes. Not only this, but God commands we should pray for them, and God knows our government needs our prayers and support!
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He says we’re to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This is right and good. But we’re also to give to God what is God’s.
Now, this means it’s good to ask ourselves: Who, or what, bears the image and inscription of God?
Well, in Genesis we hear ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27). Therefore, the ones who bear the image of God are human beings like you and me. All human beings, including the unborn, the disabled, the frail and the strong, bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.
Not only this, but when we were baptised, the holy name of God was inscribed on us. In this way, we not only bear the image of God, but as Christians we also bear the inscription of God! And since we bear the image and inscription of God, Jesus says ‘give to God what is God’s’.
It’s almost like God’s saying to you, ‘You’re not yours, but you’re mine. Give yourself back to me! After all, I made you in my image and I gave you everything you need – not for you to possess, but to use and look after. I gave you your body, your soul, your eyes, your ears, your limbs and all your senses. I give you everything you need from day to day. Everything you have I gave you. You’re mine! Give yourself back to me!’
But that’s not all. He also says, ‘I made you to be in relationship with me, but you ran away and rebelled by trying to have things your own way. When you want things your own way, it’s like you want to be your own little god who wants to control everything and everyone around you. This upset your relationship with me, so I sought to restore our relationship by sending my own Son, Jesus, to obey me perfectly and pay the full punishment for your sin because you can’t. He paid the price of punishment for all the times you don’t bear my gracious and loving image, and for all those times you’ve hurt those around you who are made in my image. In this way, you’re doubly mine because I not only made you, but I paid the full price to buy you back. But your purchase price wasn’t cheap. Silver and gold wasn’t enough. The price was the precious blood and innocent suffering of my beloved Son, Jesus. So, you’re not yours, but you’re mine! Don’t deny my Lordship, but live as one of my own.’
But what does this mean for you and me?
Well, there may be times you may not think very highly of yourself. You might meditate on all your failures, faults, flaws, and ugliness. You may start to believe the names people call you such as: stupid, useless, ugly, and ‘good for nothing’.
Yet no matter what you think of yourself (or even what others think of you), you’re made in God’s image and you’re his. No matter what inscriptions you give yourself (or what inscriptions others give you), you’re to remember who you are and whose you are. You’re made in the image of God and bear his inscription.
Also remember the people around you are also made in the image of God, no matter what you think of them. This means when you hurt someone who bears the image of God, you also hurt God. The people around you are worthy of respect and love and honour, including those you might wish to argue with or reject, simply because they’re made in the image of God.
Unfortunately, we don’t always bear the image of God very well. Instead of being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, we tend to be selfish and self-seeking, quick to anger and untrustworthy. Instead of bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, we tend to bear the bitter fruit of jealousy, dissatisfaction, impatience, hostility, division and disunity.
In the end, the image of God is best reflected in the words and actions of Jesus Christ. He is the perfect image bearer of God.
Jesus bore the perfect image of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, righteousness, holiness, and trust to those around him. Instead of thinking highly about himself and hoarding what was his, he gave up his life through his suffering and death on the cross.
He could have kept all of God’s love to himself, but he shares it with you through his forgiveness. He could have kept the glory due to him for his faithfulness, but he graciously shares his victory spoils with you. So in this way, if you want to know what it means to bear the true image of God, then look to Jesus.
In the same sense, when you’re asked to give to God what is God’s, God is asking you to submit to his will so you may bear his image in your life to those around you. Rather than bearing your own image as if you’re the selfish god who should be obeyed, you’re to show the image of our Triune God in your own gracious and loving actions and words. These actions and words include forgiveness and mercy.
Of course, you can’t do this by yourself, but with the Holy Spirit’s help, you may live out the true image of God through your love, patience, kindness, mercy, grace, and your self-control. Through faith, you may enact the image of God through your forgiveness to those around you.
Through the power of the gospel, you may speak the image of God through your words of encouragement, peace and comfort. In faithful trust, you may live out the image of God in your prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God for all he gives and does for you in this life.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I bear the image and inscription of God. He made us and paid the full blood price for us through Jesus’ suffering and death. We’re all doubly his and he’s not going to give us up easily!
So yes, while it’s right and good to give some of our money and possessions to our government, and even give some of it to God through our offerings, we’re also to give ourselves to God in service to our Lord and master Jesus Christ, after all, hasn’t Jesus told us, ‘Give to God what is God’s.’
And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.