Read Matthew 22
The Pharisees and their sometimes rival, the Sadducees, ca me at Jesus in tandem hoping to bring him down. How? They will expose something that makes him unqualified to be a prophet or even the Messiah. These are smart men who have studied all of their adult lives.
They knew more than the scriptures. They had a political savvy about them. These were men who were concerned that this Jesus was cutting into their status. He already said that the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them.
If that were not enough, the people believed that Jesus taught with authority, not the way their teachers did. They had to put Jesus down for the count. The only other alternative was to kill him and they couldn’t even arrest him as the people would not stand for it, at least in broad daylight.
The Pharisees would take the first crack at Jesus. They sent some of their disciples to question Jesus. Let me put this in military terms. This was not the captain saying: Follow me! This was the officer saying go get him and let me know how it goes.
These disciples were accompanied by some Herodians. These Herodians were proselytized Greeks who were politically aligned with Herod. Why bring these Hellenistic Jews who were more secular than religious? That will reveal itself in the question asked Jesus.
While on another day, the questions asked might have truly been to gain understanding, on this day, we are told the religious hypocrites wanted to trap Jesus. The Pharisees went to bat first.
“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
Feigned sincerity preceded the question. It is a good tactic for someone trying to gain your trust before giving you the velvet knife, but the question carried enough consequences without the pretense of desiring understanding.
Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar? Tax to Herod or the temple tax were not included in the question. The people probably didn’t like any taxes but the tax to Caesar was especially heinous to them and surely would put Jesus on the spot.
If Jesus said yes to the question, he would be acknowledging the authority of one who had declared himself a god. That dog don’t hunt.
If he said no to the question, he would be on record before many witnesses, some of them—Herodians—less concerned about the theology but only present to offer a report to Rome and other political authorities. Surely that would bolster their own standing and bring this Jesus matter to a quick close if he told the crowd not to pay taxes to Caesar.
You know the rest of the story. Jesus asked for a coin used to pay the tax. He was given a denarius.
Jesus asked the Pharisees, surely with the crowd playing along, whose picture is on the coin? Whose inscription is on it?
They all replied Caesar’s.
Jesus replied, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”
Everyone was amazed. The disciples of the Pharisees went away. They had to regroup.
The day continued with another religious group—the Sadducees. They came to trick Jesus with a special question. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. There is a universal law that says that every preacher must follow that statement—they did not believe in the resurrection—with this statement. That is why they are sad you see.
The Sadducees noted what Moses had said about a woman who dies without giving her husband a child. His brother must give her a child. This happens, and one brother takes her to give her a child but he dies.
There were 7 brothers in all and each one took her and did not give her a child but died. You have seen the movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but you didn’t see One Bride for Seven Brothers.
At some point—brother 3 or 4—someone should have let everyone else know not to take this woman as a wife and try to give her a child. It’s fatal. It’s sort of like the new medication advertisement. It might bring sinus relief but you have to listen to 90 seconds worth of side effects, including blood clotting, stroke, seizures, and death.
But this isn’t about how lethal this woman was.
The question is at the resurrection, whose wife will she be?
Now that’s a good question. Some thought went into that question. I don’t think it was the first time they asked that question.
I think that every time the Pharisees went one up on the Sadducees, the Sadducees would whip out this question which surely the Pharisees could give not answer.
I think the Sadducees had played the 7 brothers card before.
Jesus knew that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They didn’t have to tell him. That made it easy for Jesus to say, you’re just wrong.
You don’t know the scriptures.
You don’t know the power of God.
Jesus went on to say that there is no marriage in the resurrection. We won’t be angels, but we will be like them.
Then comes the kicker.
But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
The crowds heard this and were astonished. We don’t know where the Sadducees went but the word of Jesus silencing the Sadducees spread quickly.
The Pharisees huddled again—a huddle of hypocrites. They didn’t send the trainees this time. They sent one of their experts in the law to test Jesus. You know his question.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
This was an excellent question that had no deviousness about it. The Pharisee might have hoped he could stump Jesus, but the people surely would like to know the answer to this question.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment.
Surely the expert in the law was expecting one commandment for one question, but Jesus would answer as he answered not restricted by the expert.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus didn’t stop there. He continued his response to this one question.
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
By the end of these encounters that conclude in the next section, the scripture said that no one dared to ask him any more questions. By no one, that did not include the disciples. It meant no one would publicly try to test Jesus like this again. He really did speak as one with authority.
Other than being three interesting encounters between Jesus and those religious hypocrites who would try to best him, what’s in it for us?
None of us walk around wearing phylacteries, but we are all susceptible to becoming hypocrites. In the next chapter, Jesus chastised the Pharisees in many ways, but this comes to mind as we consider these scriptures in the present chapter.
You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
How often do we become so myopic in our interpretation of God’s word that we get wrapped up in the things of this world and miss the redemptive work of Christ?
How often do we become so myopic in our interpretation of God’s word that we forget he is God of the living?
How often do we become so myopic in our interpretation of God’s word that we lose sight of our command to love one another?
Do we look at God’s word and see his guidance and his sustenance and his fulness that should enrich us, or do we look to see what aligns itself with what we believe?
Are we confronting Jesus? Are we trying to make his words fit our comfort zone?
Are we becoming Pharisees? It is a legitimate question.
We need to get in step with him and not our own comfort zone. Don’t defend your comfort zone. Let Jesus move your boundaries every day. Don’t defend doctrine and dogma when the Spirit of God himself will lead you in the truth.
Let’s put it in simple terms. If you find yourself in conflict with Jesus or his word, you are on the wrong side of the argument. It’s just that simple.
How many have traded in their teachable spirit for what they know and are comfortable with now? I call it requirement freeze. At some point in business, you have to stop adding new stuff to your new device, freeze the requirements and build the thing. It's called requirements freeze and is essential to take the theoretical to production.
Sometimes, we don’t want to learn anymore. We just want to solidify what we know, close the book, anchor ourselves to our comfort zone, and just be done with learning. We want to have a requirements freeze as well, but as long as we walk this earth, we have more to learn.
We should come to know God’s word to be qualified workmen not experts in our own eyes.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
We are to learn from him and be more like him every day. We have more to learn not to prove.