Last Sunday Pastor Douthwaite preached on Matthew 22:15-22, about the coin with Jesus asking whose likeness and inscription is on it. But then Pastor Douthwaite took the text in a direction I had never thought of before. What is God’s likeness and inscription, and how do we render to God?
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, okay, got that. But what are the things of God? What are we to render to Him? What does He expect from us?
Perhaps you’re thinking obedience. Good works, the Ten Commandments, and all that. Or, since we’re on the topic of money here, maybe you’re thinking about tithing and giving to God the share of your income that is His. Those aren’t bad answers . . . but perhaps it would be better to stick with Jesus’ words and ask ourselves, whose likeness and inscription is this? Or, where is God’s likeness and inscription in this world, to give Him what is His?
The answer to that lies in the question. For the word translated there are likeness is the word icon, or image. So if it is a coin that bears Caesar’s image, what is it in this world that is made in God’s image and likeness and bears His inscription? Phrased in that way, you know the answer: it’s you. In the beginning, God made man in His image and likeness, and in Holy Baptism He has inscribed His name upon you. You belong to Him. The things of this world are not what God is interested in. His kingdom is not of this world. He wants you. Always you. All of you. He wants your undivided heart and soul and mind and strength. He wants your uncompromised fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.
Too often we stick to the coins though, don’t we? It’s easier. Less involvement. Less threatening. Repentance and faith and holy living, investing yourself, giving yourself, that’s harder by far.
But that is, in fact, why Jesus was there that day, sparring with the Pharisees and Herodians. He was there for you. Giving Himself for you. All of Himself for you.
For this episode took place probably just about 72 hours before Jesus would lay down His life on the cross. To redeem you not with gold or silver coins, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death (Small Catechism, and 1 Peter 1:18-19). And in laying down His life as the perfect Lamb of God on the altar of the cross, to render unto God the perfect sacrifice due for your sin and mine. That the image lost in us by sin be restored to us in forgiveness, and that our life which will end in death, be raised to life again – first in Holy Baptism, and then in our resurrection from the grave to eternal life. That even now we live a new life. That even now we begin to give ourselves, living a Christ life, an image of God life.
It’s never about money with Jesus. That’s just the symptom, not the problem. It’s about the cross. It’s about life in the midst of death. It’s about false gods and false life versus the true God and eternal life.
And so you render to God the things that are God’s when you come here in repentance and faith to receive His forgiveness, His life, His Spirit. And you render to God the things that are God’s when you take that forgiveness, life, and Spirit here received in faith and serve your neighbor in love. Being, as St. Paul said, imitators of him and the apostles, and of the Lord.
As long as you live in this world, you live in two kingdoms. And you render unto Caesar, but knowing that you don’t belong to Him. You belong to God. To the one who created you and re-created you. Who bought you with a price. For not on coins did He put His image, but on you. And not for a worldly kingdom did He die, but for you. That you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness (Small Catechism).
And so now for you He comes once again in the bread and wine of His Supper, that eating His Body and drinking His Blood, His image be renewed in you and His life and love strengthened in you through the forgiveness of your sins. Giving you all that He is and all that He has, that with He in you and you in Him, you begin to live now that life that has no end. And with His Name on you and His Spirit in you, that is exactly the life you do live!