[Matthew 22:15-22] Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Whose Image and Inscription?
“Hey! That’s mine!”
“I don’t see your name on it.”
Kid justice. Whether it’s the best seat at the table, or a piece of Halloween candy – if it doesn’t have your name on it, it’s not yours. Though it may be mine.
However, in our adult world, there are some things that do get our name on it, very importantly so. Your marriage license, for example. You even share a name, belonging to each other. The deed to your house has your name on it. Your checking account. Your car title. It is yours and not another’s. An online account has your name and your image, your profile picture – and so does your ID.
Name and image, showing that this one is mine.
The Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus – not sincerely, but to trap Him by His words – “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” A “yes” will get Him in trouble with Israelite zealots. A “no” will get Him in trouble with Roman authorities. “So, tell us, Yes or No!”
Jesus answers with God’s Word truly, which is not caught up in the politics of the day but is something entirely different. “Show me the coin for the tax”, He says. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” — “Whose image and name is engraved into it?”
“Caesar’s”, they respond. “Then give it to him!”, Jesus says. “And give to God what is God’s” — “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
The sin of the Pharisees and Herodians and zealots and Romans — and of followers professing the name of Jesus one their lips – isn’t that they were or weren’t paying taxes to Caesar. (That does matter.) But their sin – the whole lot of them – is that they aren’t giving to God what is His with their lives.
What is His? What is God’s? The coin has Caesar’s image and name inscribed on it, so it belongs to Caesar, right? So, what has God’s image and name on it?
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, said God, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” [Genesis 1:26-28]. Man and woman, made in God’s image.
And you are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19]. What has God’s name and image on it? You do. You do. Give to God the things that are His. You are His. And the most essential things about you are His.
“In the image of God He created him” — “male and female He created them” — “be fruitful and multiply”, He said to them. “Let not man separate them”, Jesus said [Matthew 19:3-9].
Your self – and your male or female nature – your body – and your offspring in the womb and after – and your marriage, man and woman made one flesh – these all have God’s image on them. These are God’s things — they belong to God and are not to be changed or destroyed by Caesar or by you.
What bears God’s image is His. Your self. Your body. New life. All things. And you are made especially His because you bear His name — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — inscribed upon you in baptism as His coin in heaven’s treasure box. What is His – your whole life and self – give to Him.
“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” [Romans 6:13]
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” [Romans 12:1-2].
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:18-20]. You are God’s coin. Give to God what is God’s in obedience to His commands for your body, soul, and life.
And your neighbor is God’s coin. Your brothers and sisters around you right now – and those not here – have God’s image and name in baptism. They are His precious coins, as marred as they may be, like you – and you are called to care for them and love them as God’s possessions.
Give to God what is His. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength – because those are His. Love each other as your own self – because you are each His. God looks at the person across from you and says, “That’s mine! It has My name on it!” – “Take care of them as mine.”
But what a poor and sorry image of God we really make. And how often do we sully His good name with our poor behavior. Maybe we’re God’s belongings like the trash I take to the road is my belongings. What makes us glisten? What makes us gold coins? Who we’ve been? What we’ve done? Or Jesus alone?
Image and name. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” [Colossians 1:15]. “Christ, who is the image of God” [2 Corinthians 4:4]. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” [Hebrews 1:13]. Jesus alone.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”[Philippians 2:9] — “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” [Ephesians 1:21].
Also, “your sins are forgiven for His name's sake” [1 John 2:12]; and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9]. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” [Acts 4:12].
In Jesus alone you glitter and glisten as gold because He is the perfect image and name of God which surrounds and covers your sins. Jesus crucified for you, who forgives you in full right now, and who will change you forever when He returns.
Caesar and this world leave you as you are. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” [Philippians 3:20-21] – made perfect in His image and name when He returns.
You are His now – His name is on you. May His image and name be engraved all the more deeply within us as we wait. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.