Whenever we encounter Jesus, He says so much more than we comprehend. We ask questions for which we listen for the answer. He answers our questions and so much more.

The Pharisees set up a political situation in which they asked a political question with which they hoped to catch Jesus in a trap.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22, ESV)

Their thought was to catch the Master in a dilemma which would either estrange Him from the crowds where He had developed a massive following, or to tie Him to a controversial statement that could be used as fodder in a treason charge against Him. They had Him in a no-win situation and He turned the tables on them. His response could be taken as neither blasphemous nor treasonous. He spoke the truth in such a way that it confounded their question.

Simply they asked, “Do we have to pay taxes?” Simply, He answered, “Yes.” And this is the way that preachers (including this one) have addressed this passage time and again—as an answer to whether it is lawful for God’s people to participate in the tax system or not.

Often preachers will expand that we are to give to God our hearts as well, but we neglect to see the main point of what Christ is saying. Look again at the passage—what is His focus? If this statement of Christ is anything like many of His recorded sayings (especially in the book of Matthew), then He is centering on God and His Kingdom. On the surface, Jesus takes the object lesson of a coin and points out that Caesar’s image is etched into the coin, implying that it belongs to Caesar. With this in mind, Jesus tacitly suggests that we look at what God has burned His image into, and that we surrender that to God.

For those who need a hint, here’s what all of the Pharisees would be familiar with: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:26-27, ESV)

The emphasis is not so much on the political message that we (and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) see, and what made them walk away bewildered—what is much more important—is what we give over to God. And according to the Lord that should be our very selves.