The Image on You

Mark   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Good morning everyone, welcome to another day of the Lord at Redeemer Church. There is a question that has been debated by believers for last two thousand years. And to be fair, there has been a lot of questions like that, but the one I have in mind this morning is one that every believer, at some point in their Christian walk must face, “Should I, as a Christian-a devoted follower of Christ the King- obey the government.”
Now this question, as Dr. Dan Akin says, can be much easier to answer when you live in a democratic republic or when the winds of governmental laws and policies are blowing in your favor. But, what if you live in a totalitarian context?
What if you are subjected to a cruel and tyrannical dictatorship? Or, even within a free democracy, when laws are voted in to being that actively force you to violate your Christian convictions? What do you do? What is a Christians responsibility to government?
That question is at the heart of our passage today. If you remember, Jesus is in Jerusalem and only days away from the cross. And He is currently caught up in a mine-field of questions. Mark 11:27-12:37, most bible scholars believe, is one long day, filled with question after question from His enemies and one wrong step, one mis-spoken answer, and His whole ministry could implode. He could lose all credibility and show Himself to not really be who He says He is.
But thankfully, Jesus was no mere human who could succumb to a rash response or a faulty word. He was the God-man who Himself was, as 1 Cor. 1:30 says, is the very wisdom of God who navigated this rhetorical mind-field with ease.
And in His wisdom, the question of whether we should obey the government and pay taxes to governments whose policies we may despise, whose legitimacy we may not recognize, and under whose boot we may be oppressed, is answered.
But before we see the specifics of the question and the masterful and history changing answer He gives, let us first go to the Lord in prayer.

Strange Allies

If you have your Bibles with you, open them to Mark chapter 12 verses 13-17. In the very first sentence of this passage, we see something strange! Something completely out of the ordinary.
Verse 13 says that they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians, to trap Jesus in His words. “They” is referring to the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council. Now it is not strange that the Sanhedrin would be the ones ultimately behind this hit on Jesus, after all Jesus was a threat to their power, as we saw last week.
No, what IS out of the ordinary is that they sent two groups that despised one another. The Pharisees and the Herodians hated each other! Yet we saw these two strange allies teaming up once before in chapter 3.
Now they hated each other because the Pharisees were essentially the right-wing conservatives of the day, they were very concerned with keeping the Jewish law, even creating some of their own laws to stack on top of it! And most importantly, they hated the Roman occupation and they disliked strongly the rule that Caesar gave to Herod and his family over Israel.
The Herodians, on the other hand, were like the left-wing liberals and were all for the big government of Rome and were called the Herodians because of their support of dynasty of Herod.
But despite this, they shared a common enemy. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He was threatening their religious hold over Israel and the Herodians hated Jesus because He was threatening their political hold over Israel.
And so they were came together for something that was altogether malignant; they sought yet again to trap Jesus in His words. Now, the word “trap” doesn’t really do what they were trying to accomplish justice.
The Greek is much more visceral. The word that is translated trap here is a word that is used for fishing and hunting and when used, has a connotation of a hunter violently pursuing his prey.
And if you think about the ministry of Jesus so far, this accurately describes Jesus’ enemies. Like a hunter closely following and watching his prey for the right time to make the killing blow, Luke 20:20 tells us that the enemies of Jesus, “watched closely and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, so they could catch Him in what He said, to hand Him over to the governors rule and authority.”
And here these hunters thought they had another chance to kill the ministry of Jesus. So the Herodians and Pharisees approach Him and begin their attack.

The Flattery

But they begin their attack in an unexpected way! Take a look at the first two sentences of verse 14, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances but truly teach the way of God.”
They start by flattering Him! They start by building Him up and saying that, “Oh Jesus, you don’t care what people think of you and you are not swayed by the appearances of others! All you care about is the truth and teaching God’s word!”
Now, the Bible speaks to flattery, and what it says is not good.
Psalm 5:9, “For their is nothing reliable in what the wicked say; destruction is within them; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongues.”
Proverbs 26:28, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth causes ruin.”
There are more passages, but I think you get the gist. Those who flatter, not compliment but flatter, have a selfish motive that stems from a sinful and hypocritical heart.
It’s ironic that everything they said about Jesus was actually true, far more true than they realized! But they were hypocrites and though He did speak the truth, and though He taught God’s way, they wanted nothing to do with any of that.
And as a quick aside, that is an important point for us to know. Many, like the Pharisees, give good lip service to Jesus and even say He was a good teacher and taught godly things, but when it gets down to the details, when it get’s time to make a decision to follow the actual commands of Jesus and what He actually taught, they want nothing to do with Him.
So these men did not truly believe that Jesus was a good teacher or that He taught the way of God. They were lying hypocrites who would soon crucify Him as a blasphemer.
So what they were actually attempting to do was lift Him as high as they could through their flattery so when their question was asked, He would have farther to fall.

The Question

Now after the flattery, they laid their trap and in the second half of verse 14, they ask their carefully and meticulously crafted question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
You see, the greek word for taxes here is “kenson” and this word typically referred to the Roman tax placed onto the Jews.
Now the Jews hated this tax because it was a constant reminder of their subjugation to Rome, they believed they were essentially funding their own oppression. Not only that, but Rome had their own gods, so the Jews were forced to pay for the Romans paganism, their money from their taxes going to, among other things, the creation of temples to Roman gods.
So this is a question with high stakes! Now we see why it was important for the Pharisees AND the Herodians to team up in the asking of this question.
On one hand, if Jesus answered that they should pay the tax, the people who believed Him to be the Messiah, who would free them from the rule of Rome, would turn on Him as a traitor. And the Pharisees were there to add fuel to that fire, ready to accuse Him of being on the side of Rome.
On the other hand, if He answered that they shouldn’t pay it, then the Herodians would go to the Roman government officials and report that Jesus was promoting a political revolution, that He was an anarchist!
So there it is, they have them. Whether Jesus answers “yes” or “no”, it doesn’t matter. They think they have finally gotten Him to plant His foot firmly on land-mine, and they were just waiting for it to go off!

The Paradigm Shifting Answer

But remember the passage of Scripture I quoted earlier. Jesus is the very wisdom of God. There is no question posed to Him that can cause Him to stumble.
So, let’s take a look at His response. He begins in verse 15, “But knowing their hypocrisy (knowing clearly the evil intentions of their hearts), He said to them. ‘Why put me to the test? (this is the same word for tempt Jesus uses when speaking to the devil in chapter 1. As one commentator notes, there is a demonic and destructive intent to their question. It is even likely that Satan himself was influencing these men, using them in his plot to dethrone the King of Kings).”
And after He asked why are you testing me, why are you trying yet again to tempt me, Jesus then asks for a denarius, which was typical a days wage for the average worker in Israel. Now, a denarius is of course a Roman currency. On one side of the coin was an image of Tiberius, the current Caesar. And written on that side of the coin was the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.”
And on the reverse side of the coin, another inscription read, “pontif maxim”, high priest. So not only was the emperor the supreme political leader, but he was also the supreme religious leader of Rome, seen as a deity.
Now after examining the coin and seeing the apparent idolatry stamped on it, Jesus asked His questioners whose image and inscription was found on the coin. And they answered Him in verse 16, “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus answers the question posed by the hypocrites.
He begins in verse 17 by saying, “Jesus said to them, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” In other, Jesus is saying, pay the tax.

To Be the Best Citizens

Now there is much for us to learn in Jesus’ response here. By beginning His reply this way, Jesus was acknowledging the legitimacy of human government.
Jesus is not an anarchist. You see, God has ordained the family, the church, AND human government. Jesus says as much to Pontius Pilate in John 19:11, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”
So Jesus was saying to these Jewish people that as Roman citizens, though they were under their thumb, they had certain obligations and responsibilities to the Roman Empire. Jesus is acknowledging that Rome had the right to levy taxes and that they had a responsibility to pay. It had the right to make laws, and they had the responsibility to obey.
And brothers and sisters, this has major implications for modern Christians today.
The apostle Paul, who speaks through divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit, expands on Jesus words in Romans 13. Let’s take a second and look at verses 1-7, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
The apostle Paul is explaining here that God has created two institutions (three if you include the family), but He has created the church and He has created the state. And each of these have separate responsibilities, separate roles to perform in society.
The church of course is given the duty to proclaim the gospel, shepherd believers to Christ, and to administer the sacraments (such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper).
But the power of the sword, as Paul says, has been given by God to the state, to human government. The power to wage war and keep the peace is given by God to the state. Therefore human government is legitimate and we should, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, and honor to whom honor is owed.”
Now what is hard for us to wrap our minds around is that Jesus spoke these words and Paul wrote these words at a time when the government, the Roman Empire, was corrupt and godless, far beyond anything we experience in the states (if you do not believe me, do a quick google search on the Emperor Nero who came after Tiberius, when you get home) .
This means, Christian, the moral behavior of the state is to have no bearing on whether Christians pay their taxes and follow their laws. Sproul says that, “Christians are called to a special level of obedience, which includes paying taxes no matter how burdensome or oppressive they may be.”
We as believers have legitimate responsibility to the government and we should seek to honor God by being the best citizens in whatever country and under whatever system of government, we find ourselves in.
Now, this of course does not mean that we do not have the right to speak out against improper taxation or in our particular context, to vote for a change in unfair tax law or the like. But we do not have the right to refuse to pay simply because we do not agree with the current political authority.
We are to render unto Caesar’s that which is his.

Whose Mark Is On You?

But though we honor and obey God by being the best citizens we can be and give the state what it is due, we are not to give the state what it is not due. Jesus concludes His brilliant answer to the Pharisees and Herodians by saying, “‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at Him.”
You see, the denarius belonged to Caesar Tiberius because it had his image stamped on it. But whose image does the entirety of the human race bear? The image of God Himself.
So Jesus, before the Pharisees can do a victory lap because Jesus said to pay your taxes, Jesus tells everyone that though within the context of society, you have a responsiblity to the government, that responsibility is secondary and subservient to the ultimate responsibility you have to God.
The state does not own us; God owns us. He has the supreme right to claim our lives as His own. So since we bear His image, we are to render to God the things that are His. Including our lives, our possessions, our affections, and my American Christian friends, even our liberties.
As believers, our ultimate duty is not to the state, but to the God who created us and redeemed through His blood.
This means, believer, we are to honor the state insofar as it does not call us to go against the written Word of God.
In Acts 4:19-20, Peter and John say to the authorities who were telling them to stop preaching the gospel, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” And again in Acts 5:29, “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than man.’”
So if we are called to choose between the state or following the Word of God, we must render to God what is His. Now this may sound noble, and it is! But you have to realize brothers and sisters, this means we must be willing to be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were demanded by the state to give their worship to an idol, to go against the clear commands of the word of God, and like those three men, we must be ready to go willingly into the fire.
So believer, a question you must ask yourself is, “Are you willing to step into the fiery furnace if you are called upon by any man-made institution to deny your God given directives of following the commands of Jesus and speaking the good news of Christ? Are you ready to render to God’s what is His?”
That is a serious question and one you need to ask yourself sooner rather than later. And brothers and sisters, we must not only be ready to face the consequences of following God rather than man, but we must be willing to accept those consequences with peace and joy.
Paul in Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
You see, obeying God rather than man some times means losing our friends, losing our jobs, and even losing our freedoms, for the sake of offering our lives as living sacrifices to the God of whose image we bare.
We must never give the state give the state, no matter how much it tries to deify itself, what does not belong to it. Specifically, our worship and ultimate allegiance.
But, I want to stress this again, this does not mean we seek opportunities to partake in civil disobedience, which means actively breaking the laws of the land or not paying taxes, simply when we find those laws or taxes to be an inconvenience or even oppressive.
The apostle Peter states in 1 Peter 2:13-15, 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,2 whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
Then in verse 17, 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Remember, he is not talking about Tiberius here. Tiberius was gone by the time Peter wrote this. Peter was speaking of the evil and wicked Nero who used Christians as human torches to light his dinner parties.
In every case, while we may publically speak out against and vote our disagreement, we must seek to follow every law and mandate unless it asks us violate Scripture. Then we must stand unwavering on the word of God.


As I begin to wrap up, bible scholar Kent Hughes says, “The statement by our Lord was not only astounding the instant it was uttered, but is even today universally acclaimed to be the single most influential political statement ever made in the history of the world.”
Theologian Dan Akin says why, “With one simple statement, replying to a question that was meant to destroy Him, Jesus put everything in its proper perspective.” Jesus put Caesar, the state, in his place, and He placed God where He rightfully belongs, sovereignly above all rulers and nations. And all the people could do, verse 17 states, is look on in amazement.
Do you look at Jesus in utter amazement? From time to time I forget to. From time to time I forget when I read the words of Jesus in the gospels I am reading the very wisdom of God Almighty.
One reason for this is because at times my heart is preoccupied. And I am ashamed to admit that at times it is pre-occupied with politics. I can become fascinated with it and very opinionated on economic theories and systems of government and what is happening in our political landscape and the like.
And I have to pray and ask God to re-orient my heart from being caught up in the kingdoms and nations of man to being enraptured by the kingdom of God!
I at times mix up what is secondary (and that is being generous in relation to politics) for what is primary and when that happens I get diverted from evangelism! And I get more emotional and upset about what is happening on the political scene than I do for my neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus.
I get my priorities completely wrong. And maybe you can relate to that.
At times I wonder what could happen if Christians in America spent less time worrying about politics and more time trying to win souls. Less time trying to loosen the political chains they fear are tightening around their ankles and more time praying for God to break the chains of sins around the necks of the unbelievers around them.
That is not saying that we should shirk off our duty to vote our biblical values or that you can’t have opinions about these things. But it does mean that they must come in a far distant second to our submission to Christ the King.
And making disciples of Christ should burden us far, far more than making someone a member of our political party.
If our main concern when speaking with people in our lost culture is that they disagree with our politics or economic preferences, let us repent! Let us fall on our knees before God asking forgiveness for seeing them as political enemies rather than lost sheep without a shepherd who need the same mercy and grace we needed!
Let us repent and ask the Father to help us weep over them, not because of their politics, but because they don’t know Him! And let us ask Him to fill us the boldness to preach Christ crucified to them and to tell them of the greater Kingdom they can be citizens of, an everlasting Kingdom in which, as John in the book of Revelation says, Christ will reign forever and ever!
Let that be our priority.
Lets pray.
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