In this series I have been following Jesus’ last set of teachings to the crowds that gathered around Him… the last chance He would have to personally address them, to personally entreat them to enter the Kingdom. These lessons are now coming to an end. After these teaching sessions at the Temple, Jesus will concentrate on teaching His disciples the final set of lessons they would need to know before His mission was completed.
Having told the people the parable of the wedding feast of the Son, where those who rejected the invitation get themselves rejected forever, the Pharisees and Sadducees have had enough…
Matthew 22:15-22 Then went the Pharisees and held a council how they might ensnare him in speaking. And they send out to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that thou art true and teachest the way of God in truth, and carest not for any one, for thou regardest not men’s person; tell us therefore what thou thinkest: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said, Why tempt ye me, hypocrites? Shew me the money of the tribute. And they presented to him a denarius. And he says to them, Whose [is] this image and superscription? They say to him, Caesar’s. Then he says to them, Pay then what is Caesar’s to Caesar, and what is God’s to God.
And when they heard [him], they wondered, and left him, and went away.
They tried to catch Jesus with a trick question: If He said yes, then they could accuse Him to the crowds as a traitor and sympathizer with Rome. If He said no, then they could accuse Him to the Roman authorities as a revolutionary, a traitor to Rome.
Jesus ignores the trap and instead challenges their hearts. In a sense, Jesus is telling them:
“Why are you fretting over what Caesar imposes on you? Caesar is just a man, a king in the kingdoms of the world. How can you even dare ask this question, as if Caesar’s law were on equal footing with God’s Law and Way?”
It is a question we should take to heart.
It is not a surprise that we live a life exposed to stresses of all sorts, full of troubles and inconvenience, full of things that go wrong, that we don’t like. It is not a surprise if we feel oppressed, powerless, out of control. It is not a surprise if there is injustice in this world. We live in a fallen world.
But our spirit, made in the image of God, doesn’t just live in this fallen world, it also has access to the reality that there is a Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom is ruled by One who is Infinitely Good, Infinitely Just, and Infinitely above every other power in this world.
Therefore, it is, at best, silly when we take some problem, some issue we have with people or systems in this world and elevate it to God’s level. At best it is silly. At worst it is heresy.
What would Jesus say to us today when we use our Christian faith as an excuse to hate people, to even threaten people whose ideology or lifestyle we don’t like?
God is God. And Caesar is not… not your Caesar, not my Caesar.
This world is not my home.
Often, we forget that because we are stuck living day to day here. But that is so because He has given us a job to do, a Kingdom job, that needs to be carried out in this world. That is how we live in both realities. But that is where the connection and the resemblance between the two realities ends.
Yet, sometimes, we want the rules of this reality to apply in the Kingdom.
Matthew 22:23-33 On that day came to him Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection; and they demanded of him, saying, Teacher, Moses said, If any one die, not having children, his brother shall marry his wife and shall raise up seed to his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren; and the first having married died, and not having seed, left his wife to his brother. In like manner also the second and the third, unto the seven. And last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection therefore of which of the seven shall she be wife, for all had her?
And Jesus answering said to them, Ye err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, *I* am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not God of [the] dead, but of [the] living.
And when the crowds heard [it] they were astonished at his doctrine.
The Sadducees could not believe in the resurrection because their concept of it was a continuation of this reality into the next. They were making the same type of error that the Pharisees who asked about Caesar made: they were putting on equal footing the reality of their world with the reality of the Kingdom of God. They couldn’t conceive of the huge (infinitely huge) categorical difference between God’s Plan and human concerns.
But in His reply, Jesus is implying that if we would but listen, if we would pay attention to the Word, we would not make such a mistake. We would understand that this world with all its rules and limitations was not meant to be our home.
How can I, a mere human, be expected to live by the rules of God’s Kingdom?
Undaunted, the Pharisees decide to try again. If Rabbis, after hundreds of years still argued about which of all the commandments in the Law were the most important, surely, they could trip Jesus with that question.
Matthew 22:34 But the Pharisees, having heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, were gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, demanded, tempting him, and saying, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?
And he said to him, Thou shalt love [the] Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding. This is [the] great and first commandment. And [the] second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law and the prophets hang.
Jesus takes their wrangling with worldly logic and semantics and leaves it in the dust. Yes, there are all sorts of Laws God gave us to enable to live a life of peace in community, in this world. But God never forgot to tell us what really matters to Him, what is the bottom line of His Kingdom: Love God with all your heart, love His children with all your compassion.
Even if we forgot every other commandment, we could not go wrong if we lived by these two. Jesus has just reduced Infinity to Simplicity: Love. That’s it. And that is something we all can do because we all have been made in the image of God.
There is one thing living in this world was meant to teach us: Time is running out.
Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, out of reach of the Tree of Life, one thing is true for every human being: we all will die one day. I can live my life arguing with God, and He will keep trying to get through to me. But there is a day coming when time will run out. When that day comes, if I still have chosen to reject Him I will reap the consequences of my decisions.
Matthew 22:41-46 And the Pharisees being gathered together, Jesus demanded of them, saying, What think ye concerning the Christ? whose son is he? They say to him, David’s.
He says to them, How then does David in Spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand until I put thine enemies under thy feet? If therefore David call him Lord, how is he his son?
And no one was able to answer him a word, nor did any one dare from that day to question him any more.
All of us, one day, will come to exactly that place: God will make it undeniably plain that we don’t know what we are talking about, that we have just been arguing for the sake of arguing. And when that happens, we have one final choice: Surrender or Reject.
The Pharisees refused to surrender. May that not be so with us.