Images and Authority

By Michael E. Brooks

“But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, ‘Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money.’ So they brought him a denarius. And he said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s'” (Matthew 22:18-21).

As I travel through many countries, I acquire a lot of different currencies. Though I am by no means a collector, I have kept representative samples of coins and bills in various denominations from most if not all of the lands I have visited.
Whereas there are differences in size, language, color and shape between the currencies produced by different nations, one thing they have in common. Every coin or bill has some picture or image on it which helps to identify its origin, nature, and jurisdiction.
These images may be that of a national animal or bird, a geographic feature peculiar to that country, an icon with cultural significance, or the face and name of a ruler or notable citizen.
When Jesus was tested by the Pharisees regarding the paying of taxes to hated Rome, he used the coinage of Rome to make a significant point. Whatever bears one’s image and name is the property of the one whose name he bears.
A coin with Caesar’s name and picture is under his authority and in some sense belongs to him.
I have visited some places repeatedly over a fairly long period, and during that time governments have changed. I often find that the coins I find now are significantly different from those made a decade or more ago. In one nation, older coins bear religious symbols.
The new government is much more secular so coins minted more recently do not reflect a religious perspective.
Another nation has had multiple elected governments, and with each change a different person is pictured on the currency. Their money reflects the identity of the power in place at a given time.
This phenomenon gives rise to the observation that the image a person bears may also reflect the identity of the one to whom he or she belongs.
Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). This forces the conclusion however that everyone serves a master. Paul affirms this in Romans 6:16, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves to obey?”
Whether we follow the urgings of men or God, we make ourselves slaves to one or the other. And we reflect that choice by the image and name which we wear. If our lives are modeled after that of secular heroes and celebrities, it is publicly proclaimed that the material world and its desires and pleasures have our allegiance.
If on the other hand, our lives are patterned after the nature and teachings of Christ, then God is our master. Just like a Roman coin we belong to the one whose image we bear.
One may claim faith in Jesus and consider himself to be a Christian. If his image does not correspond to that of Christ, however, his claim is false and hollow. Genuine faith demands obedience. Obedience surrenders to the Master.
Whose image do you bear? Whose servant are you?

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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