“Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Matthew 22:16-17 NLT
Before we begin, bear in mind that you wouldn’t find anything here about whether Jesus endorsed tax paying or not. I meant to talk about something much more interesting, much more important than tax paying so to speak.
“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” That sounds friendly and harmless, right? Some “sincerely clueless” people just want to know whether it’s lawful or not to do something. Well, if you know anything about the Pharisees and the Herodians, you will quickly notice their schematic plans to pit Jesus against Caesar, which apparently fell through in the end. Today, I want to look at Jesus’ counter-question together with its response because it holds very vital information about our very nature. An understanding of who we are and where we come from is of great importance since it spells out our purpose on this Earth. In response to their question, Jesus first requests for a coin. Now listen to the carefully constructed words of Jesus—and please do take note of every italicized word. “Show Me the tax money (or coin)…Whose image and inscription is on this? …Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” then the rather unusual follow-up statement, “and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:19-21 NKJV). Why stop there? They should have gone ahead to ask—I would have been much glad if they had done so—“What belongs to God?” Then Jesus would have posed the obvious question, “Whose image is on you?”
The word image comes from the Latin word “imago” which simply means, “imitate”. There are quite a number of definitions for the word image. An image could be a picture produced by a camera, artist, mirror, etc. It could be a mental picture that is, a thought of how someone/something might look like. Whatever the case, there is a form of semblance (be it physique, behavior, impression, etc.) that links an image to its original source. Let me tell you something brief about the denarius coin you see up there. The Denarius coin, 14-37 AD, also known as the ‘Tribute Penny’ shows a portrait of Tiberius Caesar with the inscription “TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS,” which stands for “Tiberius Caesar Divi August Fili Augustus,” meaning, “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the god, Augustus.” The coin was about 3.9 grams of silver and roughly worth a day’s wages for a common laborer. This was the currency used in paying the government’s officials, suppliers and soldiers. I was so amazed to find out that in ancient history, it was a serious crime to carry a denarius coin to the bathroom. You dare not! You just couldn’t make that mistake because the coin bore the emperor’s royal seal; it represented his power, wealth, “deification”, and subjugation. It tells you an awful lot that the coin was no ordinary piece of silver material that bore some cheap, anonymous image on it. It reflected the authority and worth of the Ruler as well as his influence upon the people under him.
What about us too? The human being itself? The scriptures tell us that we are images of a Greater Image. There is an expensive label on us, and I don’t mean we have some price tags or registered trademarks on our chests or any part of our skin. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that God made man in his image and after His likeness. That is, to be like and to represent Him in this world. The human nature clearly images who God is and this we do in many ways (this is not an exhaustive list though): We are personal beings with unique characteristics, different talents and skills that distinguish us from one another. We have within us the capacity to reason, learn and make sound judgments in our everyday living. We are not individualists; we do relate to people and other things around us. There is also inherent in us some sort of moral code we live by, which presses upon our hearts that we ought and ought not to do certain things even if it is against our personal desires. Even with that, we show some sort of free will that makes us choose to obey or disobey those codes. In other words, we are not hard-wired robotic organisms walking upon the surface of this Earth under some automated processing technology. The laws of nature don’t make decisions for us—we do. Intrinsic in us are these qualities (arising from a deliberate purposeful plan) because God is the source of it all. That sounds too simple, right? Real things are not simple, as C.S Lewis would say: These are real and of course, you don’t expect them to be that simple. Pinch a brother on his cheek and the scientific deduction to the resultant pain would tell you how an impulse travels along nerves of cells and crosses some synaptic junctions to send messages to the brain and back. All we see or probably hear in that short space of time is Ouch! There is a hidden complexity behind that simple pinching exercise—so is the relationship between God and man.
Nevertheless, let’s look at something much more observable. What do you say when you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you marvel at the elaborate design of your entire bodily make-up? Do you even know the intricate steps it takes for certain functional processes to occur within your system? Take blood circulation for instance. You will be greatly amazed if I should take you through this sophisticated process which, according to science, takes place in about one minute. One cycle occurs in a minute! Again, Science would tell you that a resting adult breathes 10 to 15 times per minute, inhaling about 500 milliliters of air during the ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’ process. Both eyes of the human comprises about 130 million photoreceptor cells and each single cell has about a trillion of atoms all coordinating carefully to help us with our vision! Don’t get me wrong. I love Science. I really do love Science. The more science makes discovery in the field of human anatomy, the better we appreciate how uniquely the body is designed to work in such correct, precise, meticulous way. However, I don’t marvel at these stunning workings and attribute them to some random natural occurrence. I don’t look at the latest technology and wonder if an accidental collocation of irrational atoms took place to produce such a complex design. It certainly does not make sense to look at the complexity of our make-up, the careful coordination of every single cell in our bodies, the beautiful working of our consciousness, and then count ourselves as emerging from some dead, purposeless, random, insentient matter. Common sense tells me that things that exhibit complex, functional design demands an intelligent being with a purpose and a plan. It urges me to find out the “WHO” behind it because there’s too much order and beauty for it to have happened by chance. Behind every book there is an author; behind every building there is an architect; behind every gadget there is a designer; behind this wonderful creation there must be an intelligent grand designer.
WHO could it be then? I know! The Psalmist knows too! “I praise You (GOD), for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul KNOWS it well” (Psalm 139:14). Oh my! Look at how our inward parts have been carefully knitted together, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. “You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something (Psalm 139:15).” My Goodness! I will never rob My Maker of His Praise! I join the saints today in reverential worshipful fear with all my heart, my mind, my soul and my strength to proclaim boldly, I’M MADE IN THE IMAGE AND AFTER THE LIKENESS OF THE IMMORTAL, and WISE GOD. This is who we are. We are no fluke of nature. We belong to God. We are the image of God.