In Whose Likeness?

Topics : The Sovereignty of God Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22

Transcript | Audio


Good morning to you all. Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 22. I know you just sat down, but as is our custom, I invite you to stand with me in honor of the reading of God’s Word. We’ll be reading verses 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.” Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, we confess this morning that everything we are is wrapped up in our identity in you, that we bear your likeness, your image, that you have created us. Lord, forgive us where we have found our identity in what we do. Lord, forgive us where we have found our identity in social status, in money, in all sorts of different things.

Lord, forgive us where we have not simply placed our hope in the fact that we are a created being, created for your glory. Lord, I pray that you would refocus us this morning, that you would teach us to see your image and see it clearly for all its implications, for all its weight, and for all of its glory. Lord, we love you. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray, amen.

Usually I like to start my sermons out with some type of cute introduction or some way of drawing everybody in, but instead of doing that this morning, I figure I’m just going to make everybody mad. I’m going to talk about money in the form of taxes, parenting, race, and abortion. I’m going to throw it all out there and get everybody upset with me, get everybody mad. That way you’ll pay attention.

Here are the only ground rules. You stay out there, and I’ll stay up here. If you come up here, there’s going to be a misunderstanding. I’m just telling you. No, I’m just playing. But if you come up here, there’s going to be some furniture moving.

I’m serious. I want to talk about all of those categories, and I want to do it on Family Weekend, on a weekend where I’m supposed to have a condensed message. Good job, rookie preacher. I want to take all of those subjects, and I want to consider them in light of the image of God. The first one I want to start with is this question of paying taxes. Here’s the question I want to pose for us that I think is a question that is going to be at our doorsteps in the near future.

The question is…In light of our culture getting worse and worse, in light of the culture having more hostility toward Christianity, in light of our government, therefore, getting worse and worse in terms of its disposition, its hostility toward Christianity, will there ever be a time where we, as Christians, rise up and say, “You know what? You’re so evil. Everything you have done has become so bad we’re going to refuse to give you our money because of what you’re doing with it. It’s just pure evil”?


That question is coming sooner than you might think. Is there ever a time, specifically with regard to taxes…? Can the Christian rise up? Can we together rise up and say, “We’re done; we’re not paying taxes anymore”? That question brings us to our text this morning. That is, the Pharisees go, and they’re trying to entangle Jesus 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?’”

Here’s the trap. If Jesus says, “Yes,” the Pharisees who are in his company will then look and say, “He can’t possibly be the Messiah. Look, he’s conversant. Look, he’s being kind to a tyrant like Caesar. He can’t possibly be the Messiah if he tells us to pay a tax to this man.” Yet on the other side of that, the Herodians… You should hear the word Herod. These people who are religious and yet sympathetic with Herod.

If Jesus says, “No, you don’t pay tax,” the Herodians will come and say, “Look, you’re guilty of rebellion. You’re guilty of rejecting Herod’s authority, Caesar’s authority over you.” Hence the trap. You’ll notice Jesus’ response to the trap in verse 18. “But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ’Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’”

Just for a second I want to take a sidebar and consider the fact that Jesus calls them hypocrites. Notice what is the hypocrisy about what they’re doing. Usually when we think of things that are hypocritical, we think of someone who says something with their mouth yet does something else with their actions. Here what Jesus finds hypocritical is not their actions; it’s their flattery. They’re saying something with their mouth they clearly don’t believe in their hearts.

For the life of me, I don’t know why these two things, flattery and hypocrisy, are so accompanied with religion. Why is it that religion produces flattery and hypocrisy? It’s like we’ve bought into the notion that somehow Christian kindness means we say things about people we simply don’t believe in our hearts. It’s hypocrisy.

The danger of hypocrisy… I’ve heard one theologian say it something like this: “Multitudes of hypocrites, like flies in a hot summer, are generated by the church’s prosperity, but when winter weather hits, it kills them.” The reason flattery is so dangerous is it can’t help us. It cannot sustain our souls in times of affliction and suffering.

Hear me, Christian. What the gospel does is to free us to be about godly criticism, saying hard things, and godly encouragement. The fact that Jesus dies on the cross means all of us are freed up not to wear masks, but to admit that we’re sinners. Therefore, we can have hard things said to us and we can say hard things, because Christ has paid the price.

The cross frees us up to say hard things, yet the resurrection frees us up to see the goodness in all of our sisters and brothers. I don’t care how bad you are. The resurrection is good reason for us to encourage one another. “I see the work of the Spirit in your heart, brother. I see it in you, sister. Even though so faintly, I see the smoke of what will be fire in heaven.” The gospel frees us up not to do flattery, but to say hard things and to also come with godly encouragement.

So Jesus calls them hypocrites, but the way he’s going to cut through the hypocrisy is by asking them a primary question. “Whose image do you see?” Verse 19: “’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.’”

He comes to them and asks the question, “In what likeness is this coin made?” They say, “Caesar.” He says, “Okay, well, it belongs to Caesar, then. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” So to our question of whether there is ever a time where our culture or our government could become so evil that we stop paying taxes, the answer is no. There should be never a time where the Christian stops paying his or her taxes to the government.

Romans 13 is where I would also make this argument. Romans 13, verse 1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and instituted by God.” Then verse 7: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

I even think about 1 Peter 2:13-14, where he talks about submitting to authority as from God, who has given this authority, this government, as a means for putting off evil and upholding good. You say, “Now wait a minute. What about if they’re doing bad things?” Well, here in this time, when Jesus says this, you realize the Christians are suffering underneath a tyrant and a murderous and abusive oppression that is Rome, worse than that we are, yet Jesus still says, “Pay the taxes to them.” How could he do that?

Al Mohler says, “The New Testament clearly affirms that the presence of a functioning government is one of God’s gifts to his human creatures, leading to peacefulness, rightful order, and human flourishing. The absence of a functioning civil government is a disaster and a curse to humanity.” So God actually puts government in place for the purpose of human flourishing.

What if they do something evil with our money? What if they start to do something evil with our money like kill us? Then what we will do is lie down and hand our money to them with one hand as we receive their spears in our hearts with the other. What’s the backdrop to all of this? The backdrop to us paying taxes is God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is not something we fight over in debates of salvation. God’s sovereignty, his rule over all time, over all things, really matters.

What we’re saying is no matter what they do to us, even if they kill us, they can’t trump God’s kindness to us. For what man meant for evil, God meant for good. God’s sovereignty is like a pillow, where we lay our heads and trust that it doesn’t matter what happens to me; God is protecting and reigning over me and meaning it all for my good. No matter what evil happens, God is still sitting on his throne. He hasn’t gotten up off his chair and walked out. So we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Not only that. The other backdrop to this is they can’t get around God’s justice. We believe in a real physical place and a real judgment called hell and a day of judgment where all will stand before the King and be judged. There’s no amount of power or influence you can have, no position or earthly fame or anything that can avoid that day.

It’s what Jesus has just finished talking about in chapter 22, verse 13, in the parable of the wedding feast. Listen to him. He says in verse 13, “The king said to the attendants, ’Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness, into the place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” All of us will stand before the judgment of God.

I think that’s important for us to remember as Texans. Where the rest of the world is trying to figure out how to limit guns, we Texans are trying to figure out how to wear them in open carry, just so you can see I have one. I think it’s important for us to remember that, ultimately, God will be the one who levels all things and brings judgment, and there is not one who can hide. Let’s flip to Revelation, chapter 20. As I read a very lengthy passage, I want you to ask yourself, “Is there any place to hide?” Beginning in verse 11:

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ’Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ’Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ’Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

And he said to me, ’It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’”

Listen to me now. We render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s not because of our confidence in Caesar, but because of our confidence in that great day and the Son who rules over it. So we willingly give up our taxes. You say, “Why does all of that matter, and how in the world are you going to transition to parenting?”

If image is the thing that conveys ownership, then what I want to do is take a moment and consider what are the things that belong to God. On the one hand, we could say everything belongs to God. There’s not one thing in this world, on this planet, the planet itself, that Almighty Jesus doesn’t rise up and say, “Mine.” Yet there’s something uniquely distinct about those things that have God’s image put on them, imprinted on them.

The first thing we want to say is mankind, humanity. We know this because we read in the book of Genesis the creation of Adam and Eve. We are told they are created in God’s image. These are our ancestors. This is how all the rest of the people on the earth are birthed out. It is from Adam and Eve. I want you to notice the human race is not made up of some special class of people. We’re simply told they’re made in the image of God.

Adam and Eve are not Canaanites. They’re not Hebrews. They’re not Egyptians. They’re not black. They’re not white. There’s no special race of people who inherently have the image of God more than other people. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have the categories of people, the different ethnicities, ethnos, until Genesis 10 in the table of nations.

I continue to say this over and over again as I listen to Christians have conversations in the public sphere about race. It’s an evolutionary way of thinking. If you define people by ethnicity, you’re defining people based on culture and social experiences. Defining people by race, what you’re trying to do is define people by a certain genetic lineage with the ultimate aim to say there are multiple lineages, i.e., races.

You can’t do that, because the Bible says we were all created from Adam and Eve. There is not one group of people who has ownership or ties or claims over the image of God more than another. So do I believe in interracial dating? No. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t want her to marry a dog, literally a dog. Because I believe there’s only one race. It’s going to cost us, church, to believe this. We can turn our eyes to this and act like it’s not before us.

This neighborhood, the opportunity here… We’ve been given a gift to declare this truth. All men, all women bear the image of God. I think about historic Christian schools. Do you want to know when most of them were started? They were started between 1964 and 1975. Around that time, at least half a million white students were withdrawn from public schools.

“Why then?” you ask. It happened right around Brown v. Board of Education. Remember what that was? It was the desegregation of schools. What most white Christians did then was to say, “If you’re going to tell me I can’t not have my kid be raised up around blacks, I’m going to move them to a Christian school, a private school, where you can’t tell me what to do and they can’t afford to come.” What a shame that we would embrace this reality.

I want to open up my heart and tell you my neighbor right next to me is selling their house. As I watch different people come to look at the house… Here’s me telling you what I deal with. I’m outside mowing the grass, and the first thing that pops into my head is, “Are they going to be afraid to buy this house because I’m black?” It makes me want to mow in such a fashion, to dress, talk, walk in such a fashion, just so they would honor the image of God in me.

What we have to do is battle our culture’s tendency to tell us we are categorically different when we’re not. We bear likeness in the image of God. Not only that. There’s something else we can say God owns: children, youth. God owns you. The image of God has been put on you. Hear me, youth girls, or any women in here. Your self-worth is not wrapped up in the shape of your body. Your self-worth is wrapped up in the fact that you are the crowning glory of God’s creation.

Even if you grow up and end up not having a job that makes much money, you still have inherent worth, because you were created by God, the crowning glory of God’s creation. God creates you in the book of Genesis, and he stops and says what is to the Hebrew tongue, “Man, I did good. Look at what I did.” You have worth because of that.

Or in terms of abortion, I think about how even the conservative, so-called Republican party at one point in time was having conversations about whether or not there were certain abortions that were permissible, even in the horrific case of a baby or conception because of rape. What I want to say is I understand that child was conceived under horrific and sinful circumstances, but that child bears the image of God on him and, therefore, has inherent value and worth.

Even if the child is born with abnormalities or some type of defect, praise God, all of his glory being put right there onto that child. Not only that. Parents, you have to acknowledge that the image of God has been put onto your child. How does that make a difference in your parenting? Well, the difference is between renting a car and buying a car. That is, while you ultimately have possession of the rental car, you don’t own it. This is true of your children.

What that means is we want to make sure you make your kids more ready for them understanding and bearing the weight of being a child of God than you do for making them ready to be a consumer. Help them understand what it means to be a created being by their God. If you spend time thinking about the school they go to (and I do), worried about, “Are they getting all the right education?” how much more so should we put into discipling and teaching our children to love Jesus, to know him?

Not only that. You can’t demand something over them ethically that trumps God’s authority. I’m dancing on some sensitive ground here, I know. Parent, you can’t look at your child and say something like, “You’re not allowed to date a black man. You’re not allowed to date a white woman.” God’s authority trumps your authority over your child. The fact that you are not celebrating that means you’re not rendering unto God what is God’s.

Your authority can’t trump that. He has given you authority. Children, for you to make much of your parents’ authority, but the parents’ authority only goes so far insomuch as you obey God’s authority over them. Also we want to consider the enormous implications of our church and families and understand that God intends to project his image, in part, through parent/child relationships. God wants to tell us something about what it’s like for us to be adopted, to be sons and daughters of the Most High, by giving us children.

I sit down with my kids, and I want to know what’s going on with their hearts. I want to know what they’re afraid of. I want to know what they’re thinking. I want to spend time with them. I’m protective of them, all of those different things. God means to tell us with that relationship, “That’s what I’m like for you. I love you, and I care for you.”

That also, then, keeps us from viewing children as obstacles. That is, some of us may be tempted to think having children is not important and even a barrier to godly ambition and valuable Christian service, but if the parent/child relationships are commanded and bear witness to God’s very nature, then nothing could be further from the truth. Children are not obstacles to ministry; their very presence is a kind of ministry.

It keeps us from viewing children as idols. God did not give us children with divine image so we could worship them, but so we could worship him. We want to look past them to Christ. As I finish here, everything I’ve just given you, in one sense, is just moralism if I don’t interpret this text and tell us in what way this text points to Christ. Here’s what’s crazy about this particular test. This is one of three tests whereby the Pharisees and the different religious leaders attempt to trap Jesus.

This one, the first one, is civil authorities. The second one, they bring up the question of the Mosaic law. The third one, they bring up the question of the greatest commandment, all in attempt to trap Jesus. Each time they bring a false case against Jesus, the verdict is innocent. “Not guilty.” What Jesus does is unlike any innocent man. Even though the case is false, even though the verdict is not guilty, Jesus willingly accepts and is going to embrace their sentencing and their ultimate judgment of him. Who does that? What innocent man does that?

It’s funny. We have an upstairs living room, and the TV upstairs got broken. When it got broken, I brought my boys together. I set them down, and I looked at each one of them, and I said, “Who broke the TV?” I have all three boys sitting in front of me. I present the case. “Which one of you did it?” Marcus and Titus are looking around. They’re like, “I don’t know, Dad. Did you break the TV, Dad?”

“No, son. I didn’t break the TV. Which one of you broke the TV?” As a parent, you know sometimes if you just jump past the verdict and jump straight to the judgment… “Everybody is getting spankings until somebody tells me the truth.” At that point, they just start giving… “Dad, it was him. He threw the ball, and then I jumped to get the ball, and it hit the TV.” Little Malachi, 2 years old, is sitting there going, “They did it, Daddy.” Jump to the judgment, and right away all of it starts coming out.

Innocent men will plead on their behalf, but Jesus doesn’t. He’s not guilty. The case is false, yet he willingly accepts their judgment and their sentencing of him. It then is his fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed, he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb to the slaughter and like a sheep that is silent before the shearers, so did he not open his mouth.”

He is allowing them to lead him along, and he’s willingly accepting their sentence and their judgment of him. He ultimately will stand before them, and without a word he will enter unto death, judgment. He’s innocent, and he doesn’t plead. He doesn’t waste one word. He saves all of his words to plead on our behalf, even here as they try to trick him.

I want you to notice the sad, sad reality of how they respond. Verse 22: “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” What a sad reality. When I hear those words, I think of the words of the disciples when they cry out, “Jesus, where are we going to go? For you have the words of eternal life.” Could it be that we have many in here in this room today who are marveling at Jesus but going away without accepting his authority and his rule over their life? Where are you going to go, unbeliever? For it’s Jesus who has the words of eternal life.

Lord, we thank you for your kindness to us. We thank you that ultimately your image was marred in sin but, Christ, you have redeemed us and purchased us; that in you, Christ, we are the exact imprint of God; that in you, Christ, we are the righteousness of God; that in you, Christ, we are holy, redeemed. We thank you for restoring in us what it means to really be a child of God. We love you, and it’s in your name we pray, amen.