Whose Image?

Whose Image? | Mark 12:13-17

“Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said. When they came, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know You are truthful and defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality but teach truthfully the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, or should we not pay? ” But knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” So they brought one. “Whose image and inscription is this? ” He asked them. “Caesar’s,” they said. Then Jesus told them, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.” (Mark 12:13-17 HCSB)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I love to fish. I won’t claim to be any good at it, but I love going. I love to stand on the bank of a creek and cast my line as the gurgling sound of the stream melts away my stress and worries. It is calms my soul and relaxes my mind and my troubles fade into the sound of the stream. While I have fished for a variety of species, from bass and crappie to trout and catfish, my absolute favorite is a mountain stream chasing an elusive trout. The cool mountain air, the beauty of the mountain scene and the solitude of the location all contribute to my pleasure.

I know others who hate to fish but love to hunt. They plan all year for their deer hunting trip or elk hunting trip. They buy gear and scout locations as they anticipate the thrill of taking down a large whitetail buck or bull elk with an impressive rack of antlers. I’m sure they revel in the some of the same things during their hunting trip that I enjoy from my fishing trip, the beauty of God’s creation, the solitude afforded by their solitary quest and the thrill of achieving their goal. There’s just something about it.

In many ways, these same feelings are echoed in this week’s focal passage. At first, that may seem a bit troubling to you given the situation as well as the hunters and the prey. But I assure you, it was no less thrilling to them. Mark is in the midst of relating several challenges to Jesus’ authority by the Jewish religious leaders amid Messianic rumblings from the crowd. The term “to trap” or “ensnare” that Mark uses in verse 13 is the same term used by fishermen and hunters alike as they seek their respective prey. These men are hunting and Jesus is their prey. They are laying a trap and hoping He will step into it so they can catch Him in it and remove Him as a threat to their leadership and authority.

We’ve met this group of hunters before back in Mark 3:6 as Jesus challenged them in a synagogue. He confronted their blatantly inaccurate understanding and interpretation of Sabbath law when He healed the man with the paralyzed (withered) hand. They reasoned that a man could care for his son if he fell into a well or his ox if it stumbled into a ditch on the sabbath, but it was unlawful for Jesus to heal a man with a paralyzed hand on the sabbath. In other words, they cared more about a man’s animals and source of income than they did about his physical condition or paralysis. So, they immediately began seeking a way to discredit Him and plotting to destroy Him. Their goal had not changed, just the physical location of their prey. Jesus was no longer in the outlying synagogues teaching the people, He was now in the Temple challenging their very authority. (See also Luke 14:1-6)

However, this is an odd group to pair up in their hunt to destroy Jesus. It is a mixture of very conservative Pharisees and very liberal Herodians. The Pharisees had no political affiliation or agenda, but simply saw the Roman occupation and oppression as unholy and disruptive to Jewish religious life and their authority and aspirations. On the other hand, the Herodians had no religious affiliation or agenda, but feared Jesus’ religious authority and influence over the crowds would put their political aspirations and affiliations at risk. It just goes to show how far they are willing to go in their efforts to remain in power and, thus, discredit and destroy Him and His influence over the common people.

So, these hunters lay a trap for Jesus but choose to do so with words – words that form a question. Not just any question, but a politically, socially and culturally super-charged question. This question is almost crackling with electrical charge as the clouds build and the air begins to smell of a storm brewing. Isn’t it interesting that they choose to try and trap the very Word of God with words?

But before they ask their question though, they have to grease it up so that it will easily slide down and catch in His throat. The begin to pour on the flattery. We would say, they are “buttering Him up.” To do so is to lay on the flattery as a means to win favor with Him. They said, “Teacher, we know You are truthful and defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality but teach truthfully the way of God.” He’s teaches only the truth and is unwilling to defer to any man. He doesn’t show partiality but honestly teaches the way of God. Ironic, isn’t it. Everything they said was absolutely true, but it was all pure nonsense coming out of their mouths. For once, they proclaimed the truth but didn’t believe a word of it. They thought their flattery hid the hook so it wouldn’t be noticed as they slid it in further and further.

“Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my adversaries; make Your way straight before me. For there is nothing reliable in what they say; destruction is within them; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongues. Punish them, God; let them fall by their own schemes. Drive them out because of their many crimes, for they rebel against You.” (Psalms 5:8-10 HCSB)

Flattery may be greased with the truth, but it is still a lie at its heart because it is intended to deceive and entrap the one flattered. Jesus, the Word of God doesn’t fall for the flattery of men and sees right through their deception and recognizes their lies disguised as truth. Maybe you need to hear that again. These men may have spoken the truth but their intent was deception and entrapment. Their words of truth are encased in a lie of intentional deceit and Jesus doesn’t bite down on the hook.

In many ways, we have the same thing happening today. We have men and women who are willing to coat a hook with truthful deceit as a means to get us to bite into it and ensnare us. Just because someone speaks words of truth doesn’t mean they are faithful followers of Jesus and should be trusted. The proverbs say: “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (Proverbs 29:5 HCSB) There are many who attempt ensnare men and sway crowds with similar tactics, today. They load up their political advertisements with Christian phrases, images and scripture quotations as a means of enticing believers to bite. They use any and all means to ensnare us. But words are often just that, words and nothing more. Just like Jesus’ enemies, a leader feigning holiness never ensures godly obedience.

So, just what is holiness? At its root, holiness deals with purpose and ownership. For example, a vessel is not holy because of what it is made of but because of who or what it was made for. A holy vessel is not pure because of the quality of the material but because of its use. Its quality of material is ultimately a reflection of its purpose and its use. A vessel is not holy because it is composed of pure gold but because it belongs to and is used by a pure God. It is made of pure gold as a means of reflecting its purpose and use by a pure, righteous and holy God.

In a similar way, words are not holy simply because they are true. They are holy when they are used in a pure and righteous manner. The words these men spoke may have been true, but the purpose and the manner in which they were spoken and used was entirely unholy and unrighteous. They were true in their utterance but unholy in their intent and purpose. Are we ever guilty of speaking truth with an unholy purpose? Oh, yes. When we take scripture and try to use it to manipulate and coerce or use it for personal gain. We take scripture verses or quote phrases of Jesus out of context in an attempt to get what we want, to manipulate someone into action or to achieve political or financial gain. But catch this, Jesus “knew their hypocrisy (verse 15).”

So, let’s spend a few minutes considering the question they asked. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, or should we not pay?” They try and back the Word of God into a corner with a trick question and give Him just two options, yes or no. Is it lawful, should we pay or not pay? Yes or no? Black or white? Ah, there it is. I told you the truth was being used as a means to achieve their own goals, to destroy Him. It is a question designed for no other purpose. What’s interesting is that not even they could agree on the correct answer. The Pharisees despised the political oppression and onerous taxation of the Romans while the Herodians enjoyed the political benefits of their Roman alliances.

If He answered no, then the Herodians would accuse Him of treason against Caesar and Rome and turn Him over to the procurator, Pilate, for prosecution. If He answered yes, then the Pharisees would declare Him loyal to Rome and discredit Him before the crowds who despised the oppressive and debilitating tax. For just a second, I want you to consider this situation in a personal way. If you had been standing nearby when they asked their question, how would you have wanted and expected Jesus to answer? Come on, be honest. I think most, if not all, of us would have sided with the Pharisees and the crowd. Truthfully, we still do. Come on Jesus, say it with us… “NO, you shouldn’t have to pay taxes to Caesar.”

But God doesn’t answer their question, or our questions, they way we always expect or even want. Sometimes His answers surprise us, don’t they? He doesn’t answer us the way we want or always expect. God still surprises us, too. Doesn’t He?

Why are you testing Me? This is the same word used to describe the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan. He went into the wilderness to be tempted or tested. Is Your faith real? Are Your words truth? How will You respond to this? His response in the wilderness surprised Satan then and His response here surprises him, too. Yes, this was an attempt by Satan to destroy Jesus. These men thought they were acting of their own accord and with their own intentions, but Satan was in it. After all, he is the “father of lies (see John 8:44).”

Listen to Jesus response: “Bring me a denarius to look at.” So they brought one. “Whose image and inscription is this?”, He asked them. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then He told them, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Let me state this very, very clearly: the truth of God, even when it isn’t what we wanted or expected, is far more transformative, empowering and freeing than the lies of Satan.

Whose image is this? Remember my words about holy vessels and holiness, above? A vessel is not holy because of what it is made of but because of why it exists and who made it and owns it. This coin bore an image that identified its purpose and its owner, Caesar. On one side of the coin was not only his image, but also the phrase “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus”. On the other side of the same coin was an image of his mother and the phrase “Pontifex Maximus” or high priest. Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Use the coins for their purpose, give to Caesar what is his. Pay your taxes.

Now, let’s consider this idea a bit deeper. The image on the coin was Caesar’s, so give to him what is his. But whose image do you bear? Give to God the things that are God’s. Caesar may receive a few coins of tribute or tax money, but what belongs to God? You DO! Give to God what is His. Why? Because, ultimately you belong to Him. His image is on you and He longs to inscribe you with His name. Don’t withhold from God those things that belong to Him.

Yes or no. Black or white. Caesar’s or God’s? The truth of God, even when it isn’t what we expected and conflicts with our desires is transformative, empowering and freeing. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 HCSB) Man is not special because he is human, because he is able to think and reason, because he is able to moral choices or immoral choices or because he is creative and self aware. Man is all of these things but he is all of these things because he is the only creature made in God’s image. He bears the mark or image of his Creator, in order to be like Him. Not to be God or a god, but to be like Him. To have God’s character and to act in accordance with His nature.

So, what does it mean to give to God those things that are His? In its simplest form, it means that we ought to give ourselves to God for His purpose and His use in the same way that this coin would be given over to Caesar for his purpose and his use through taxation. We are being called to recognize whose image we bear and to give ourselves completely over to it, to Him. Who are you and whose are you? Remember, your value and your holiness are not found in your purity but in His purpose and His use. Your value and your holiness are not found in you but in Him.

Let me end by asking you, whose image and inscription do you bear? According to scripture, you bear God’s image. You can’t change that fact, you can’t undo what God has done. You are His. But you do decide whether you will wear His inscription, His name, or not. Today, most folks take their image of God, their life, and they inscribe their own name on it. It’s mine and I’ll do what I want with it. But the truth of God is transformative and empowering. When we give ourselves up to Him, He is able to speak the truth into our lives and set us free and He writes His name on us. The image of God we bear is then empowered to to live again, within us, and He inscribes His name upon us (see Rev. 3:12, 14:1, 22:1-5).

Holiness is not based in our own morality, goodness or virtue. It is based in Him. You are only holy because He is holy. You are holy because you belong to Him and because you are being transformed and empowered by Him. You are holy because you are His and are being used to fulfill His purpose. That is, you are if you are giving to God what is God’s. Are you? Whose image and inscription is this?

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