Four Stumpers

Jesus had asked the religious leadership of Israel about the identity of John the Baptist. Their refusal or inability to answer authoritatively demonstrated their own powerless and fruitless ministry. Soon the different groups of leaders rallied though to try to return the favor. Today, I want to examine Matthew 22 for three stumpers asked by those who opposed Jesus. By stumpers, I mean questions that are meant to leave him without an answer. Jesus will of course have an answer and lastly we will look at the last stumper, asked by Jesus Himself.

Mat 22:15-22 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. (16) 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. (17) Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (18) But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? (19) Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. (20) And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (21) 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.” (22) When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Pharisees and Herodians were not normally on the same side. The Pharisees were extremely nationalistic and opposed Roman rule. The Herodians, as the name suggests, were Jews who were loyal to Herod, the Roman puppet king. They joined forces this day to trap Jesus. We are told their motivation. It is not to gain wisdom, it is to entangle Jesus in his words. They ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. If he says “yes pay the tax” the Pharisees think they have a card to distance him from the crowds following him with an unpopular position. If he says “no” the Herodians will have grounds to accuse him of insurrection. It seems they have left him no winning option.

Jesus, fully aware of their hypocrisy asks to see the coin used for paying the tax. It bears the inscription and image of Caesar. So He says, give to Caesar what is Caesars. And give to God what is Gods. If you use the same standard, how would you determine what is Gods? You give to God that which bears his image and inscription. It is all of us, male and female, created in the image of God. Give your earthly wealth to Caesar, what does it matter, give yourself to God.

Those who heard the answer marveled. So now came the Sadducees with a question meant to mock to Jesus.

Mat 22:23-28 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, (24) saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ (25) Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. (26) So too the second and third, down to the seventh. (27) After them all, the woman died. (28) In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

Jesus’ answer led with the words “you are wrong.” He knows their question is not earnest but flows from disbelief. They do not believe the Scriptures nor do they believe God is powerful. He says the Resurrection they doubt is real. Their question is not funny, it is based on a small view of God and they will give an account one day to that God.

There Pharisees thought they would take another shot at it and they sent a lawyer to ask which is the greatest commandment in the law of God. Jesus’ answer was very straight forward.

Mat 22:37-40 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Having silenced all those who opposed him, Jesus asks a question of his own. He asks, “If the Messiah is called the son of David how is it that David calls him Lord?” The elders are silent because they cannot answer. Of course they cannot. The Holy Spirit had to reveal the answer to this question to the apostles and they had to pass it down to the church through the Scriptures. The Messiah is a man who is descended from David, but he is at the same time the eternal Son of God whom David worshiped. It is profound, it is mysterious.

Today will you experience the humility of silence? Will you listen to what Jesus is saying through his word? Will you entrust yourself to the mysterious King who was absolutely human and absolutely divine?