Summary: The basic sermon point is this: Everything belongs to God; taxes are for good or for bad, to be paid. I'd like to dwell a bit more on two other terms: image and inscription. These words unpack the tension of old and new creation.
εικων (icon/image): Humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26/27; even after the fall, humans are still in the image of God (Gen 9:6)). After these passages in Genesis, the idea of humanity in the image of God recedes into the background of the Old Testament. Most of the time, when there are divine images, they are graven images of other gods.
Two possible directions for a sermon:
- The image of Caesar is of a human. Any human is in the image of God, and therefore it is an image of God. Therefore the coin belongs to God, not just to Caesar. We live in a world that is God's, but somehow also of kings and emperors. Sometimes the image of God seems in the background against the world's chaos and injustice!
The New Testament makes scare reference to the idea of image of God, but when it does, it normally refers to Christ as the image of God:
- Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
- 1 Corinthians 15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
- 2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
- Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
There is the thought that we will be transformed into this image (Romans 8:29) and also
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
- Colossians 3:10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
In fact, there is only one reference to image of God outside of the Gospel, Christ and the transformational power of the Holy Spirit:
1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man.
Even with this passage, the overall New Testament emphasis on "image of God" is to the new creation's image of Christ, rather than the old creation's image.
This then is rather interesting: Is Caesar in the image of Christ? It pushes harder on what we mean by image of God; how creation and restoration relate to the image of God.
επιγραφη (inscription): This word comes into the Gospel's one other time: the inscription on the cross when Jesus has an "epigraph" or "inscription" King of the Jews. Does Caesar or Jesus deserve that title? (Clearly Jesus).
I am not sure if its great for a sermon, but this passage and the other passages these key words allude to suggest a real tension between the old and new creation as well as the "now and not yet" of Jesus' power in the world.
A reminder of translation difficulties:
The Pharisees try to "butter" Jesus up with praise. Their praise though is really tough to translate. Verse 14 literally reads:
And going they said to him, "Teacher we know that you are true/genuine and it is not a concern to you about anyone; for you do not look in to the face of people, but teach upon the truth the way of God."
They are trying to get across the point that Jesus is not superficial and does not try to please people with his teachings. This would be a very odd way to say it in modern English! In this case the literal translation almost certainly fails. One must message the translation to something like:
"Teacher, we know that you are a genuine person, who truly teaches the way of God, not concerned for what people might think of you or what their status is..." Or something like that.