I hate paying taxes. When March rolls around (tax time in Japan), it’s not so bad in that I actually get money back (after the pain of filling out all the tax forms). But when June rolls around, that’s when it really hurts because that’s when I have to pay property taxes as well as city and prefectural taxes.
Nobody likes paying taxes, but the Jews in Jesus’ day especially loathed it because they were paying it to their conquerors.
And so the Pharisees and Herodians thought they had come up with the perfect question to trap Jesus, saying,
Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? (Luke 20:21-22)
If one one hand, Jesus said they shouldn’t pay taxes, the Herodians would have immediately reported Jesus to the Roman government accusing him of being an insurgent.
If on the other hand, Jesus said it was right to pay taxes, he would instantly lose popularity with the people.
Jesus, however, knew what they were trying to do. And once again, he answered a question with a question. After having them pull out a coin that they would use to pay their taxes, he asked,
Whose portrait and inscription are on it? (24)
When they answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replied,
Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. (25)
What was Jesus saying? First, “You are using Casear’s money, aren’t you? If you are using Caesar’s money, then isn’t it really his? Give to him what belongs to him.”
But he didn’t stop there. He said, “But make sure you give to God what belongs to him.”
In one short sentence, he both tactfully attacked what Rome claimed, and taught the people a very important lesson.
The Romans claimed that Caesar was God, and such was written on the inscription of the coin the people showed Jesus. But Jesus clearly draws a distinction between Caesar and God. “Give to Caesar, the man, what is his. But make sure you give the only true God what belongs to him.”
It is the second point Jesus was making, however, that I want to focus on. Just as the Roman coins had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, so we too have God’s image and inscription upon us.
The Bible says we were made in the image of God. And in II Corinthians 3:3, Paul tells us,
You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
God has written his name upon our hearts, showing that we belong to him. And though his image upon us has been marred by our sin, nevertheless, through Christ,
We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18)
What am I saying? That we belong to him. And because we belong to him, we need to give to him what rightfully belongs to him. Not just our money. But our lives.
Are you giving to God what is rightfully his?