The glory of his wisdom - Luke 20:20-47

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 8th November 2009.

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Have you ever been asked a question designed to trap you or to make you look stupid? Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Questions meant to trap us. Have you stopped speeding on the motorway? Have you stopped running naked through the streets? Does your mother know that you are stupid? You don’t want to answer ‘yes’ and you certainly don’t want to answer ‘no’.

Questions meant to make us look stupid. People have already decided what they think. They simply what to make you look foolish. Who was Cain’s wife? How did Noah get all the animals in the ark?

In the section of Luke 20 that we have open before us tonight, Jesus is asked two questions. One of them is meant to trap him and the other is meant to make him look stupid. And what I want to show us is how he answers them and what this tells us about Jesus.

The question meant to trap Jesus (Vs 20-26)

To help us understand this let me read from verse 19. “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority to the governor.”

How did they achieve their aim? Look at verse 21. “So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”

They are trying to trap him. How do they begin? One of the oldest tricks in the book. They flatter him. “We’ve been watching you Jesus. We love what you say. We’re really big fans. In fact, we’ve got all your books and we listen to your podcasts every week.”

They flattered him but only in order to trap him.

How is their question supposed to trap him? This tax was paid straight to Caesar and it was very unpopular with the Jewish people. Money that went out of the country and was paid to the foreign ruler. Should we pay it or not? If he says ‘yes’ there is a risk of losing the following of the people. This would have been dreadful for their eternal future. Jesus wants them to keep on listening to his words. If he says ‘no’ then he will have given the teachers of the law and the chief priests exactly what they want. A reason to hand him over to the political authorities.

Do you see how tricky this situation is for Jesus? It is a surprise question. It is a question where a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would lead to an outcome Jesus didn’t want. How would he respond?

His response is brilliant. Look at what he did in verse 23. “He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Why is this a brilliant response? He gets them to take the coin out of their own pockets. They were already using this coin for trade. They were already submitted themselves to the foreign power by using its coinage. They were some things you just had to do in the situation you found yourself living in.

If it’s Caesar’s coin then what’s your problem? Give it back to him. Give the thing that bears his image back to him.

What does it mean to give to God what is his? Give the thing that bears his image back to him. That’s us. We give ourselves to God. Wholly and completely.

Non-Christians often think that Christians only want their money. One year at the Christmas Eve midnight service I said don’t give us your money. God wants you. He wants all of you. Surrender your life to him.

This means submitting to the state in all things lawful and honest, where there is not a direct clash with God’s commandments.

It’s a brilliant response. The people know he is not a traitor and the Romans don’t think he is a revolutionary.

And that’s why we’re told in verse 26, “they were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.”

Just a few days later they would lie about what Jesus had said. Luke 23:2, “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be a Christ, a king.” Sobering thought to see religious leaders telling a blatant lie – let’s not be naïve and think it doesn’t happen today.

But at the end of their conversation with Jesus they were silent. They had met their match. They thought they were clever, coming to Jesus armed with a dangerous loaded question but they discovered that Jesus was too wise for them and so their plan to trap him failed to catch it’s prey. So off they went with their tails between their legs.

However, they were soon replaced by another group of people with another question for Jesus. They were called the Sadducees and they came forward with a question designed solely to make Jesus look stupid.

We meet them in verse 27 and this is what we are told. “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.  29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless.  30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children.  32 Finally, the woman died too.  33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”’

What do you need to know about the Sadducees? They denied the future resurrection of the dead. This meant that they denied all life after the grave. They were Jewish and therefore did not divide body and soul. The soul was not a good thing trapped in a body. They believed that once you were dead you were dead. There was no future for an individual.

This was the attitude they approached Jesus with. It’s important to realize this. They didn’t come to learn at feet of a teacher who did teach the future resurrection of the dead. No, they came to make him look stupid.

You can just imagine them laughing to themselves as they presented their question to Jesus. So Jesus you know what Moses wrote all those years ago. If a man’s brother dies and leaves his wife with new children then the brother has an obligation to marry her and to have children for her. It’s all there in what we call Deuteronomy 25:5-6. What about this? Just suppose there were seven brothers. First marries a woman but he dies without children. His brother marries her and then he dies childless. Then the third - no doubt all the men from this point onwards are a little nervous as she walks down the aisle and perhaps sniff their food before they eat it! And eventually all seven marry and die without any children being born. Well, Jesus you teach the future resurrection of the dead, then answer this one. Whose wife will she be when the dead are raised?

I’m sure they thought they had Jesus on the ropes. How could he come back from this one? Well look at what he said in verse 34.

‘Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage,  36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

We discover from Jesus’ answer that the Sadducees had made two fundamental mistakes. First of all, they had made a wrong assumption.

The Sadducees had assumed that life after the grave would be exactly similar to life before the grave. They were not completely wrong. The Christian hope is not to spend eternity without a body. It is to be transformed in the twinkling of an eye. When Jesus appears once more the Christian hope is of a renewed universe where we will be physical beings prepared for our new home. So there will be similarities. The physical things that give us pleasure. It will not be completely different.

However, the Sadducees fatal mistake was to assume that everything would be the same. This is not the case. Marriage is one of the examples of difference. The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. This is a good thing. We should commend it but Jesus says in the age to come there will be no marriage.

There will be life forever, like the angels, we will live forever, but there will not be marriages in the New Creation. If you run a Bridal Shop in this life then you will need some new skills and retraining.

If you are married don’t be disheartened. Your relationship with your spouse will be even better but you will not be married.

The second mistake they made was that they hadn’t read their bibles closely enough. This is why Jesus quotes from what we call Exodus chapter 3. The Sadducees only believed in the first five books and so Jesus took them to the account of Moses meeting God as the burning bush. I don’t know if you would have spotted the significance of this verse but Jesus did and I’m sure this was because he read his Bible carefully.

“The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” What does it show? They are not dead. Therefore, individuals must have a future and because soul/body were not divided, it must be a physical future.

The importance of reading the Bible closely, carefully and slowly. Sometimes we rush on a try to read as much as possible but end up missing the detail. God has authored the individual words, even the grammar, which means that words are important.

Do you like listening to the detail? Do you see how important it is to listen to the detail? Have you bibles open and be a keen learner. We love to teach by pointing you to the Bible. Showing you what is there. Help us out by having an attitude that longs to hear the detail of God’s word explained.

As a result of what Jesus had said some of the teachers of the law said, “Well said teacher.” They were happy because the Sadducees had been shown to be wrong. But the most important detail is in verse 40, “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

This led to Jesus asking a question of his own but rather than look on and try to understand what happens next I thought we would stop here and apply what we’ve learned.

What impression are we to have of Jesus as a result of reading this part of the Bible?

Respect for Jesus. He is presented as very very wise. This was not a one off for Jesus. It’s not that he has simply had a good day. This was how he lived his life.

At the very least it’s great to see Jesus winning the arguments. As Christians he is our King and therefore it should thrill our hearts when we hear of him dealing with peoples’ questions in this way.

It also reminds me how unlike I am to Jesus. This is good for me to realise. He is not just an example, he is my unique saviour. It provokes me to remember all the other ways he is different from me.

It is also a challenge for us to turn to Jesus for the wisdom we need to live and to speak.

The wisdom we need to live

The Bible is certainly a book about the identity of God and his salvation story.

It is also a place where we learn wisdom. How to live rightly in life situations.

Come to Jesus and he will point us back to the Old Testament and forward to the books in our New Testament.

Where do you look for wisdom?

What would cause you the most problems? If you lost your bible or your internet connection went down?

The wisdom we need to speak

How do you answer questions? There is a command to be prepared in 1 Peter 3:15. Do your homework. What answers do you store away? See how Jesus dealt with people. What he said and how he answered.

We need wisdom to live and wisdom to speak. It’s all in here. So let’s be encouraged all the more to learn this wisdom and put it into practice.

Let’s pray.

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