Whose Image Will You Bear? Sermon by David A. Reed at Immanuel Baptist Church April 23, 2017

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In our responsive reading this morning,

we saw that Jesus used a Roman denarius coin to make a point.

In a moment we'll look more closely at that passage

and the lessons we can learn from it.

But first, I'd like to look at some of the coins used in the Bible.

 

In the Old Testament we often read about the Jewish shekel coin.

A shekel is mentioned as early as Genesis 24:22,

but there it was a unit of weight, not a coin.

 

People originally bought and sold by bartering.

They traded goods.

A fisherman had plenty of fish,

and a shepherd had plenty of sheep or goats.

So, they might trade so many fish for a goat.

A farmer had plenty of grain,

so he might trade a measure of grain for a fish.

But it was hard to carry around sheep, goats, grain or fish,

so people eventually weighed out small amounts of silver

and carried silver with them as a means of exchange.

A goat was worth so many shekels of silver, by weight.

A measure of grain was worth so many shekels of silver,

and so on.

Merchants who bought and sold

kept a scale and a set of weights,

so they could weigh out so many shekels of silver.

Then around 800 years before Christ, some governments

began to make coins of a certain weight of silver.

A shekel's weight of silver was poured or squeezed

into into a mold.

And the result was a coin

you could easily carry around in your pocket or purse.

Then merchants could just count the coins, instead of

weighing silver.

 

The silver coin mentioned most often in the New Testament

was the denarius.

The tax or tribute to Rome was paid using a Roman denarius coin.

It was a small silver coin, about the size of a dime,

our modern 10-cent piece.

Our silver dime is worth 10 copper pennies,

and the denarius, likewise, was worth 10 copper coins.

 

But a denarius was worth a whole lot more than a dime.

In fact, it was a full day's pay for a farm worker, in Jesus' day.

And a farm worker could use a denarius

to provide everything needed by his family.

How could that be,

if a denarius was just a tiny silver coin like our dime,

worth 10 copper coins?

Well, we've all experienced inflation over our lifetime.

Things cost more now than they did 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

I remember when you could buy a gallon of gasoline for 25 cents.

And what is it now?

Between $2.00 and $2.50 a gallon.

When I was a little boy,

I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel.

Now I don't think you can buy anything for a nickel.

And I could get into the movie theater for a quarter.

What is it now? Around $15.00.

 

So, if we've seen that much inflation during our lifetime,

just imagine the inflation that's taken place over the 2000 years,

since Jesus used that denarius coin to make a point.

 

=====================

 

When we realize that a small silver coin was worth a day's pay at that time,

it can help us appreciate a parable Jesus gave in Luke chapter 15

about a woman who had ten silver coins,

and lost one of them.

Jesus also used the coin in this parable

to show how much God cares about us

-- how much God wants us to repent

and turn away from sin

and come back to Him, so that he can bless us.

 

This parable is found in Luke chapter 15

in between

the familiar story of the 99 sheep and the one lost sheep,

that the shepherd, like God, goes to find

and the story of the Prodigal Son,

who is welcomed home,

after he sins and then repents.

So, let's read the parable of the lost coin at Luke 15:8-10 [ READ ]

The coin was lost in the dirt and the darkness,

just like we are

when we wander away from God and live a life of sin.

But the woman who lost the coin searched for it.

She lighted a lamp and swept the house.

And when we repent and return to him,

there is joy in heaven,

just like when that woman celebrated when she found her lost coin.

 

=======================================

 

Now, let's look more closely at this morning's responsive reading

in Matthew chapter 22,

where read verses 15-22.

Verse 21 is the passage often quoted from the King James Version,

where Jesus said to,

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's;

and unto God the things that are God's."

Let's read it now context, at Matthew 22, beginning at verse 15.

[ READ ]

Israel was under Roman occupation at that time in history.

Roman legions had conquered the land some 90 years earlier

and the Roman Empire was still in control in Jesus' day.

Most of the Jewish people hated this foreign occupation.

They didn't want to pay taxes to the Roman Caesar,

They wanted to be free from Roman rule.

Yet there were other Jews, like the political party of King Herod, the Herodians,

who worked closely with the Romans.

They supported paying taxes to Caesar.

But THE LEADERS of BOTH groups hated Jesus,

and they got together here, to try to trick Jesus into saying something

that could get him in trouble.

If Jesus answered "Yes, pay taxes to Caesar,"

he would have angered the patriotic Jews,

who would have rejected Jesus as a traitor.

But, if he answered "No, don't pay taxes to Caesar,"

he would have provoked the Roman authorities,

and made himself subject to arrest.

It seemed to be a question where Jesus couldn't win,

no matter how he answered.

He would lose either way.

But, Jesus escaped their trap - and he used a denarius coin to do it.

 

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ONE of the ways we KNOW that a denarius was a DAY's PAY

is from Matthew chapter 20.

That's where we find Jesus'

Parable of the workers in the vineyard.

We'll read just verses 1 and 2, there in Matthew chapter 20.

[ READ ]

So, each worker was hired for a denarius - a day's pay.

 

If we look at VERSE 8,

we would also see that each worker received his pay

at the end of the work day.

This shows God's concern for working people.

Those workers in the field received their pay at the end of the day,

because of a law God had given to the Jewish people through Moses

1500 years before Christ.

God had commanded Israel not to keep a worker's wages over night.

Leviticus 19:13 reads this way in the Contemporary English Version:

"Do not steal anything or cheat anyone, and don't fail to pay your workers at the end of each day."

Jewish employers in Jesus' day still followed that law,

and so they could not hold back their workers' pay

until the next week, or even the end of the week.

God required them to give employees their pay

at the end of each work day.

That law from God shows us God's concern for working people,

and the denarius coin Jesus used

when answering that question about paying taxes to Caesar

reminds us that God cares for working people.

============================

But, let's get back to that occasion when Jesus was confronted

by the Pharisees and the Herodians, who were trying to trap him,

by asking 'Should we pay taxes to Caesar, or not?'

Jesus asked them whose image and inscription was on the coin.

And when they answered that the coin bore Caesar's image,

Jesus said to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar,

and to give God what belongs to God.

 

Now, the lesson that's usually drawn from this passage

is that we, as Christians, are obligated to pay our taxes.

Even if we don't like what the government is doing with our tax money,

even if we didn't vote for the President in power

(Remember, the Jews in Jesus' day didn't vote

for a Roman Caesar to rule over them),

we still need to pay our taxes.

The Apostle Paul reinforces this same message in Romans chapter 13,

where he explains that the government --

-- whatever government happens to be in power -

is performing a needed service by maintaining law & order,

Then Paul says in Romans 13:6,

"This is also why you pay taxes,"

he goes on to say in verse 7,

"If you owe taxes, pay taxes,

if revenue, then revenue."

=============================

So, there are a couple of important lessons that we can draw

from the passage we read earlier in Matthew chapter 15:

First of all, that nobody can trick Jesus or outsmart him -

not even slick political leaders or hypocritical religious leaders like

the Herodians and the Pharisees;

And second that God wants us, as Christians, to pay our taxes.

(So, if you forgot to file your federal tax return,

let this be a reminder,

since the deadline was earlier this week.)

 

But there is also another lesson we can draw from this.

 

Jesus looked at the coin, and asked,

"Whose portrait is this?" or, "Whose image is this?"

And, of course, it was Caesar's face on the coin.

 

If you have some coins in your pocket or purse today,

whose image appears on them?

Our coins today display portraits of Abraham Lincoln on the penny,

Thomas Jefferson on the nickel,

Franklin Roosevelt on the dime,

and George Washington on the quarter

-- all former Presidents.

 

Now, imagine for a minute that instead that all your coins

bear the image of President Obama.

There he is, President Obama on the quarters,

on the nickels, the dimes and the pennies - on all the coins.

And then imagine that President Trump gave orders to the Treasury Dept.,

to have them start minting coins

with his image -- President Trump's image,

and to gather up as many Obama coins as possible,

to have them over-struck with the new president's image -

a heavy machine stamping down really hard on each coin,

and squeezing it into a mold

with President Trump's face on it,

and spitting out the coins

to go back into circulation, with that new image.

That's how it was in the Roman Empire.

And that's how it was with the denarius Jesus held up,

when he asked, "Whose image is this?"

The Roman emperors put their own faces on coins.

 

Julius Caesar was the first Roman ruler

to have coins minted with his own image.

After that, whenever a new emperor came to power,

he immediately had new coins minted with his own portrait on them.

And it was common for a new emperor to have

his officials gather up as many old coins as possible

-- those that had pictures of previous emperors --

and melt them down or OVERSTRIKE THEM

to make NEW coins with HIS OWN name and face on the front.

 

 

I'm talking about these coins because WE ourselves are LIKE COINS.

Coins start out as BLANK pieces of metal,

and then someone PRESSES an IMAGE onto the metal,

so that the coin ENDS UP bearing THAT IMAGE.

These coins started out as blank pieces of metal,

then they got squeezed into a mold,

and came out with Caesar's image stamped on them.

In a similar way, we can let the BIBLE mold us into Christ's image,

or

we can let the world around us squeeze us into its mold.

 

The Apostle Paul tells us,

in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians

that we should be transformed into Christ's image.

He said this in 2 Corinthians 3:18. [ READ ]

An ALTERNATIVE READING for that passage

in a different edition of the NIV is this:

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image"

That's how it reads in the NIV.

 

The New Living Translation of 2 Corinthians 3:18 says

the Lord "makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."

 

 

We end up being changed into Jesus' image -

-- like a coin with Jesus' face on it.

if we spend our time listening to God,

if we spend our time prayerfully reading the Bible,

worshiping regularly at church,

fellowshipping regularly with other Christians.

 

These things help mold us into Jesus' image.

We start to look like Jesus.

When people look at us, they see Jesus.

Not his physical characteristics, of course,

with a beard and a Middle-Eastern face,

but we take on Jesus' personality.

We become like him in the way we think

and the way we show love to other people.

The more we spend time in prayer and in

prayerfully reading the Bible, and listening to Jesus

the more we reflect Jesus,

and take on his image.

 

But the ungodly world around us is trying to squeeze us

into a different mold,

to make us just like them: ungodly and sinful.

 

The Apostle Paul warns us against letting this happen

in his letter to the Roman, chapter 12.

It's at Romans 12:2. [ READ ]

If we "conform to the pattern of this world,"

we are letting this world shape us

into something that doesn't look like Jesus.

That same verse, Romans 12:2, says this, in the New Living Translation:

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."

 

The J.B. Phillips translation puts it this way:

"Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould,

but let God re-mould your minds"

 

So, what kind of coin will YOU be?

Will you let this wicked world squeeze you into its mold?

Or will you spend prayerful time in the Bible,

and let God shape your thinking?

Will you end up like a coin with Caesar's image?

Or a coin bearing the image of Christ?

 

 

Can you FEEL the pressures the world uses to squeeze you into its mold?

They come from radio, television, the internet, newspapers, magazines,

people at work, people at school:

"Be like us!" is their subtle message

or there's something wrong with you.

 

The world is changing.

America used to be a society

that publicly upheld the Bible's teachings and values.

But now, it takes courage to speak up in defense of the Bible.

 

Will we let the world change us?

 

If we don't devote ourselves to prayer,

and to prayerfully reading our Bibles,

we WILL be led astray by a wicked world

that is determined to squeeze us into its mold.

 

We need to give Caesar's things to Caesar,

but not let Caesar's world take away God's things.

 

So, what kind of coin will YOU be?

Will you let this world squeeze you into its mold?

Or

Will you spend enough time prayerfully reading the Bible,

so that God will shape your thinking?

 

Will you end up like a coin with Caesar's image?

Or a coin bearing the image of Christ?

 

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