Sermon - Is it lawful to pay taxes? Matthew 22:15–22
In our text for Sunday, 10/22/23, some religious leaders tried to trap Jesus with a question they thought would get him in trouble regardless of how he answered. This was the question: “Is it lawful (from the Jewish perspective) to pay taxes to Caesar?”
The Romans basically required two things of every society they conquered: taxes and peace. This is why the question about taxes was a trap. If Jesus said, “No, we should not be paying taxes to the occupying forces,” then he would get in trouble with the Romans. If he said, “Yes, we should pay taxes to the occupying forces,” he would get in trouble with religious fundamentalists and maybe even start a riot, which would also get him in trouble. The Pharisees thought that had him. But Jesus took the conversation in the direction he wanted to rather than answering their question.
As an aside, Jesus never did answer the question about paying taxes. Jesus never really addressed issues of government. What he did make non-negotiable for his followers were societal expressions of love: equal justice under the law, care for the poor, etc. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether to be Republican, Democrat or whatever. It tells us we’d need to care for the poor, seek equal justice, etc. So, whatever your political stripe, you’d better, as a follower of Christ, be able to talk about how you are defending the powerless and caring for the poor.
Back to the main topic. Jesus answered their question with a question. Taking a Roman coin, Jesus asked whose picture was on the coin. The answer is that Caesar’s picture was on the coin. Then Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21 (ESV)]
Jesus’ response points clearly to Genesis 1:26–27 (ESV) “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Give your money to Caesar as it is due but give your life to God.
Jesus reminded everyone that they are created in the image of God. People don’t act like it. They lose their way. Things and power become important but false sources of ultimate identity. But your true identity is that you are an image-bearer. You are created in the image of God.
Here are five things that are true for all humanity because we are all image-bearers:
DIGNITY AND WORTH: All individuals have inherent dignity and worth regardless of social status, race, ability, gender, achievement, or anything else. The dignity and worth of each individual are rooted in every person being created in God’s image.
RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD: I have a special relationship with my son. He is in my image. Being an image-bearer means you have a special relationship with God. You have the capacity to know God… to experience God’s love and grace.
MORAL RESPONSIBILITY: You have a responsibility to consider the morality of your decisions. You are an ethical being. You have a sense of right and wrong (and we have the scriptures to guide us). You have the ability and responsibility to act in a moral and ethical manner.
VOCATION AND SERVICE: As an image-bearer, the work of your life is inherently meaningful. God created the universe. You create your life and the results of your work (service, manufacturing, etc.) go into the lives of other image-bearers. You are therefore called into your work and its meaning is inherent in your identity. As Martin Luther wrote, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
FALLEN AND REDEEMABLE: As image-bearers, you are never irredeemably fallen. Of course, you do not always live up to who you are, one who bears the image of God. But in Christ, all is forgiven, and you are daily called to live up to your true identity, one who bears the image of God.
(There is quite a bit of historical context and a few other lessons that did not fit into this summary. I recommend you give this a listen at https://www.youtube.com/live/9UoDvZOikuA?si=vwCyCi7o1xFihUpi&t=1368)