Jesus has the answers to our hard questions.
Matthew(18) (Part of the Liturgical Calendar(9) series)
by Stuart Johns(204) on October 22, 2017 (Sunday Morning(291))
20th Sunday after Pentecost
In the recent past, we were noticing a mouse that would scurry from under the dishwasher to the stove and refrigerator. We also saw it scurry from under a side table in our dining room under the basement door.
We saw evidence of the mouse behind the dishwasher, because there were fresh droppings and dog food that had been carried there. Judy had cleaned all of those items up previously, so we knew they were fresh.
I had the old fashioned mouse traps (show picture of mouse trap) that I baited and put down behind the dishwasher and the refrigerator and one at the top of the basement stairs. It was frustrating to find the bait gone and the mouse traps still set. So, I decided to buy the newer mouse traps (show picture of newer mousetrap) that are pre-baited and have a more sensitive trigger. I even added more bait to the traps and set them in the same locations as the old fashioned traps. Still nothing!!! I finally bought the multi-use traps that have pre-baited glue traps inside them with a one-way door (show picture of multi-use trap), so the mouse cannot escape. You’ve guessed it; we still didn’t trap this mouse.
This mouse was untrappable!
VIDEO: “Hilarious Commercial! Mouse Trap Survivor – Nolan’s Cheddar Cheese” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoSQyXBagLk)
One day our indoor cat had the mouse between her paws and was playing with it. When we tried to get the mouse, it scurried away. Another time I found the mouse in the cat’s litter box, where it was trapped. It was in the middle of the night and I figured that it couldn’t get out, because the cat enters from the top of the litter box. There was no way that mouse could get out. When I woke up in the morning and went to the litter box, the mouse was gone. I assumed that the cat had taken it out of the litter box and was playing with it. Finally, the cat presented the DEAD mouse to us on the kitchen floor one morning.
Hard questions from children
Working with Child Evangelism Fellowship for ten years allowed me to field some difficult questions from children
“Who is God’s father?”
“Can the devil be saved?”
“How did Noah fit all the animals on the ark? or “How did Noah get all the animals to come to the ark?”
Hard questions from adults
I’ve also heard hard questions from adults
“How can you believe that God brought all the animals to Noah so he could put them on the ark?” (I don’t understand how it happened, but I believe by faith that God accomplished it)
“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
“Why did God allow my family member or friend to die so young?”
Trapped by children’s questions (Bruce Kluger) [http://www.parenting.com/article/the-toughest-questions-kids-ask]
“Why do people die?”
“How much money do we have?”
“What is God?”
“Why do you and Mommy fight?”
“Where did I come from?”
Trapped by skeptics questions
Has it ever happened to you that when someone at school or work finds out you’re a Christian, they start asking the hard questions
Those questions can sometimes make us feel trapped, because we don’t have the answer(s) readily available
Here are 7 Questions Skeptics Ask that Rusty Wright has compiled [http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/evangelism/seven-questions-skeptics-ask.html]
Why is there evil and suffering?
What about all the contradictions in the Bible?
What about those who never hear of Jesus?
How can Jesus be the only way to God?
Isn’t Christianity just a psychological crutch?
I could never take the blind leap of faith that believing in Christ requires.
It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.
In the final verses of Matthew 22, the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees try to trap Jesus in His words. They use three avenues, political (22:15-22), doctrinal (22:23-33), and ethical (22:34-40) to try to trap Him so they could arrest Him. Jesus concludes by asking them a question that they cannot answer. It proved His authority as the Son of God. The religious leaders were unable to trap Jesus in His words. What we learn from these three attempts is that . . .
BIG IDEA – Jesus has the answers to our hard questions.
We are only looking at the first attempt by the religious leaders to trap Jesus, but I encourage you to read the other two attempts and then Jesus’ question for the religious leaders.
GOD (Matthew 22:15-22)
Trap laid (vv. 15-17)
The reason (v. 15)
The religious leaders have just been reprimanded by Jesus for not leading the Jews correctly
He exposed their desire for financial gain, by clearing the temple
The religious leaders challenged Jesus’ authority
He used three parables to show them that His authority came from God
The three parables also highlighted the fact that the religious leaders’ authority was soon ending and their responsibility to show the world what a relationship with God was supposed to look like was being given to others instead of them
Because the religious leaders do not have eyes to see and ears to hear and are unrepentant, they begin to plot and plan
The Pharisees get together to plot a way to get Jesus to say something that will allow them to arrest Him
The trappers (v. 16a)
The disciples of the Pharisees
These men would have been those who were in training to become full initiates to the brotherhood of Pharisees [Wilkins, 719]
They were well versed in the law and would perhaps be perceived as less of a threat to Jesus than the Pharisees themselves
Perhaps this was their final test before becoming full-fledged Pharisees themselves
Against paying taxes (poll tax) [Wiersbe, 80]
They did not want to submit to a Gentile power (amazing they also did not want to submit to God’s authority through Jesus – submission problem)
Caesar was revered as a god (they were monotheistic – only one God)
They had better uses for their money than to give it to Rome (although they benefited from the advancements that Rome had provided – roadway infrastructure)
So, the disciples of the Pharisees were there and represented one group within the culture, but an unlikely opposing group had joined with the Pharisees against Jesus
They were a small group of Jews who supported the Herodian family and dynasty
The current leader was Herod Antipas who ruled in Galilee
He was ruling only a portion of the territory that his father, Herod the Great, had ruled
The Herodians were interested in advancing the Herod’s influence in Israel
The end game for them was to have the Herod’s ruling over Judea in place of Pilot, whom Rome had appointed
The Herodians were in favor of paying the poll tax, because Herod received his power from Caesar
This was all part of supporting the Herodian family and dynasty
So we know who the trappers are, which sets the stage for the bait and the trap
The bait (v. 16b)
The Pharisaic disciples and the Herodians speak well of Jesus – they’re trying to butter Him up
They call him “Teacher”
This title was used for Jesus in Matthew by outsiders instead of His disciples
In Matthew 9:11; 12:38; 17:24; 22:24, 36 we see the religious leaders referring to Jesus as “Teacher”
In Matthew 19:16, the rich young ruler addresses Jesus as “Teacher”
The disciples and those who believed in Jesus addressed Him as Lord
Matthew 14:28, “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus sends a demon out of a girl after her mother approaches Jesus and addresses Him as Lord
In Matthew 17:4, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” (he’s talking to Jesus after His transfiguration)
They not only use a title of respect, but they talk about His character
They speak of His integrity and character
Man of integrity
It more literally means, you are true
He was honest in His teaching
He did not say one thing and do another
They recognized that in Jesus
Teach the way of God truthfully
This is interesting to hear them admit this
We realize they aren’t being truthful themselves, because they believed Jesus’ teaching was heretical
They called Him a blasphemer when He spoke about being the Son of God
You are impartial
The literal translation of the text would read, it is not a care to you concerning anyone, for you do not look on a person’s face
The way they had formed their question, was an attempt to get Jesus to be partial – to take a side
We’ll see that in v. 17
The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians were correct in their assessment of Jesus’ integrity and character, whether or not they genuinely believed it
PRINCIPLE – God does not show favoritism.
Acts 10:34-35, Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
Peter had experienced the vision of the sheet being let down from heaven with both clean and unclean animals in it – God told him to get up, kill, and eat, but he refused three times
This was preparation for Peter to go to Cornelius’ house (a Gentile’s house) where he would experience the salvation and filling of the Holy Spirit within Gentiles
Romans 2:9-11, There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus was definitely not being partial or playing favorites with the those He ministered to
This was all part of the religious leaders plan to trap Him – they were hoping to be able to call His integrity and character into question after He answered their question
The religious leaders feel confident that the trap has been baited, so they ask Jesus their question
The trap (v. 17)
They want to know what Jesus thinks about paying taxes to Caesar
Is it right or wrong?
It was either the annual head tax or the more general poll tax
“. . . the poll tax was a direct tax levied on every adult Jew (including women and slaves), and was a potent symbol of political subjection.” [France, 832]
The Romans were not the only ones taxing the Jewish people
The Jewish religious leaders also collected taxes from the Jews for the upkeep of the temple and other expenses
“Some estimate that a Jewish family paid approximately 49-50 percent of its annual income to these various taxes.” [Wilkins, 720]
They believed their question could only be answered one of two ways
“Yes, it’s right to pay taxes to Caesar.”
“No, it’s not right to pay taxes to Caesar.”
They have Jesus trapped!
If He answers that it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, He will alienate Himself from a large part of His followers
The Pharisees would use His answer to accuse Him of sympathizing with the Romans
He would be labeled a collaborator
While this wasn’t a crime, it was also not a popular position with the Jews
If Jesus sympathized with the Romans, then He obviously could not be the Messiah or from God, because some of them believed that paying taxes to Rome was robbing from God
If He answers that it is not right to pay taxes to Caesar, He could immediately be arrested for treason against the Roman Empire
He would be labeled an insurrectionist
Insurrectionists were dangerous, because they threatened the Pax Romano (Roman Peace)
I can just imagine the delight that’s spread across the religious leaders face as they anticipate Jesus’ response, because they believe He will condemn Himself no matter what
Trap avoided (vv. 18-21)
Jesus knew their intentions
Whether it was a supernatural knowledge from God, or simply Jesus’ seeing through their flattery, He knew their intentions were evil
PRINCIPLE – God knows His people’s heart.
We may be able to mask our true feelings and intentions from those around us, but we can never hide them from God
God is omniscient (all knowing)
This is one of His many attributes
He knows us better than we know ourselves
Jeremiah 17:10, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Luke 16:15, He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
1 Chronicles 28:9, “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.
Proverbs 21:2, All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.
What are your intentions?
Perhaps you’ve been struggling with some evil intentions that no one else knows about
You’ve been hiding them from everyone else, but God knows those intentions
You’ve been struggling with pornography, but you haven’t been caught yet
You’ve been thinking about taking the emotional affair at work to the next level
You’ve been struggling in school and have decided to cheat on the next test to help boost your grade
You’ve been holding a grudge against someone else
You’re negative thoughts about someone else show that you’re struggling with pride in your own life
You’ve been contemplating cheating or your taxes
You’ve thought about ways to steal money or products from your employer
You’ve been thinking about hurting yourself or someone else
God knows all about those thoughts and intentions of your heart
He wants you to confess those before Him and find help from those around you
Some of those things are not easy to voice to another person, but having someone to hold you accountable helps to have victory over them
My Next Step Today Is To: Recognize that God knows my heart, confess my evil intentions to Him, and seek accountability.
God knows our intentions and He knew the intentions of the religious leaders, which is why Jesus calls them hypocrites
He calls them hypocrites
They weren’t really interested in His answer, but rather in which group He was going to alienate with His answer
Their flattery was disingenuous – Jesus wasn’t misled by it
They did not really believe that He was a man of integrity, that He taught the way of God in accordance with the truth, or that He was impartial
They were hypocrites (they were wearing masks)
He asks why they are trying to trap Him
The Greek word behind our English word “trap” is peirazo and is the common word for “test” or “tempt”
“There is certainly an element of ‘testing’ here, but the malicious intent of the questioners makes this more akin to the devil’s ‘tempting,’ trying to get Jesus to do or say something which he should not.” [France, 833]
They obviously thought they were backing Jesus into a corner, therefore tempting or forcing Him to say something He should not
But, Jesus is not flustered by their question instead He asks them for something
He wants them to show Him the coin that was used to pay the tax they were referring to
They produce a denarius (one penny coin)
The tribute to Rome was not too much (it was the amount of one day’s pay for a common laborer)
He asks them two questions
Whose portrait is this? Whose inscription?
NLT – Whose picture and title are stamped on it?
“A denarius of Tiberius would carry his garlanded portrait surrounded by the inscription ‘Ti[berius] Caesar Divi Aug[usti] F[ilius] Augustus’; on the reverse would be ‘Pontif[ex] Maxim[us].’ He is thus proclaimed to be not only son of the divine Augustus, but also a high priest; the two titles together could hardly be more calculated to offend Jewish piety.” [France, 833]
The Greek word for “portrait” is eikon from which we get the English word icon
Blomberg explains that “‘portrait’ is, literally, image and perhaps highlights imperial ownership of the money.” [Blomberg, 331]
That concept will be important as we look at Jesus’ response to their question
The answer to Jesus’ question about the portrait and inscription on the coin is easy – Caesar’s!
Jesus’ response to their question
His response is not what the religious leaders expected
It was not a simple “Yes” or “No”
“Wait! Jesus isn’t getting trap by His words”
“Our plan isn’t working!”
The Greek word for “give” means “give back” or “pay back” what is rightfully due
Jesus’ answer did two things
It validated submitting to civil authority
Jesus said “Yes” to paying taxes to Caesar which endeared Him to the Herodians, yet His answer did not alienate Him from the Jews
“The use of Caesar’s coinage acknowledges his authority and, with it, the obligation to pay taxes. They could not benefit from imperial roads, education, justice and freedom from invasion without making their contribution . . . those who enjoy Caesar’s benefits should pay Caesar’s taxes.” [Green, 233]
The same holds true for us today – we must pay our taxes because we benefit from the local, state, and federal authorities
They provide improved infrastructure, education, justice, and freedom from invasion
There are many legal ways to reduce our taxable income, so we should take advantage of them
It is never right for us to not pay our taxes
“In their book Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner explain how a simple change to U. S. tax rules in 1987 exposed the depth of the public's willingness to deceive for financial gain:
In the 1980s, an I.R.S. research officer in Washington named John Szilagyi (shee-la-jee) had seen enough random audits to know that some taxpayers were incorrectly claiming dependants for the sake of exemption. Sometimes it was a genuine mistake (a divorced wife and husband making duplicate claims on their children), and sometimes the claims were comically fraudulent (Szilagyi recalls at least one dependent's name listed as Fluffy, who was quite obviously a pet rather than a child).
Szilagyi decided that the most efficient way to clean up this mess was to simply require taxpayers to list their children's Social Security numbers… The idea never made its way out of the agency.
A few years later, however, with Congress clamoring for more tax revenue, Szilagyi's idea was dug up, rushed forward, and put into law for tax year 1986. When the returns started coming in the following April, Szilagyi recalls, he and his bosses were shocked: seven million dependents had suddenly vanished from the tax rolls, some incalculable combination of real pets and phantom children. Szilagyi's clever twist generated nearly $3 billion in revenues in a single year.”
[Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics (William Morrow 2006), p. 239; submitted by Kevin Miller, executive vice president of Christianity Today International]
It also validated submitting to spiritual authority
While Jesus had said “Yes” to paying taxes to Caesar, He also said “No” to worshipping Caesar which endeared Him to the Jews, without alienating Him the Herodians
What the religious leaders and those in the crowd needed to understand is that God had provided them with many benefits also, as the Creator of the universe
What God required was not material, but spiritual – it was worship of Him as divine, instead of Caesar
PRINCIPLE – God validates both civil and spiritual authority.
Four options [Boice, 475-476]
God alone as an authority – monasticism
Caesar alone as an authority – secularism
The authority of God and Caesar but with Caesar in the dominant position – cowards
The authority of God and Caesar but with God in the dominant position – biblical Christianity
Jesus was not validating one authority in exclusion of the other
“The two claims by the two authorities were not in conflict with each other. Obedience to both was not contradictory. Both God and civil government were valid authorities.” [Weber, 355]
Read Romans 13:1-7 [#1]
Read 1 Peter 2:13-17 [#2]
“The coin bears Caesar’s image: give it back to him. You bear God’s image: so give yourself back to Him!” [Green, 234]
As Christians we must honor and obey our civil authorities and God
It goes without saying that if they are not following God’s laws, we must obey God rather than men
Are you obeying the civil authorities?
Are you obeying God?
My Next Step Today Is To: Give myself back to God by obeying Him and the civil authorities He has placed over me.
Jesus has the answers to our hard questions
Trapper’s amazement (v. 22)
His answer amazed the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians (they simply left and went away)
It probably amazed the crowd that was also listening to this exchange
We serve an awesome God who does not show favoritism, but invites everyone to join Him in His kingdom
We also serve an omniscient God who knows our hearts and minds
Finally, we serve a Savior who has the answers to our hard questions
I encourage you to take time to ask Jesus the hard questions you’re struggling with today
He is waiting to hear from you
Quietly wait before Him and read His Word so you can hear from Him
The Bible is your guidebook for life – it has all the answers for your hard questions
“An unknown writer said, "This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead you to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.”