Matthew 22:15-33 – The King silences those pursuing money, morality or knowledge for life.
In the first event (15-23), the Pharisees and the Herodians come to Jesus. These two group of people hated each other. The Herodians were those who supported the Kingship of Herod in Israel (Rome's puppet leader). The Pharisees were the religious leaders who believed the only way to get rid of Rome and King Herod was to obey the Laws of Moses like an OCD person cleans their house. That the two groups were working together shows just how unpopular Jesus was becoming. The question they ask puts Jesus is a lose-lose situation: Matthew 22:17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" If Jesus says what the Pharisees would say, that is, "Give nothing to Caesar," Jesus will enrage the Herodians and give them an excuse to have him killed for treason. If he says what the Herodians thought, that is, use the Roman money and power anyway you want, the Pharisees would paint Jesus as faithless to God’s true people and land Israel.
Jesus responds: Matthew 22:19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" 21 "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
Notice Jesus didn’t have any money himself; he was poor. He served freely, not for profit. By claiming that Caesar should be given what is Caesar's, he was authenticating on one level that those who benefit from Caesar (roads, military protection, etc.) should not withhold from Caesar his due (nor the US Government). But those marked by God’s image, that is every human person (Gen. 1:26-28), should give themselves wholly to God. Neither money (Herodians) nor morality (Pharisees) were sufficient for true life . . . only surrendering one’s life to God was sufficient. And you can do that whether you pay taxes or not.
Next comes the Sadducees (Mt. 22:23-33). These were the ruling religious leaders in town. They did not believe in a resurrection or final judgment, claimed only the first 5 books of the Bible were authentic, and thus had worked it out that since life was only these 70-80 years or so they could do whatever they wanted in this life (align with Rome, tax people, etc.). Their question to Jesus cloaks their deeper desires to continue their vile status quo. This is often why people use intellectual arguments to ignore the demands of Christ. We are not unwilling to believe because Christianity is illogical; we are unwilling to believe because we want to continue in our sin. Jesus, however, showed them they had no clue how to even understand their own Scriptures (note, Jesus quotes from one of the first 5 books). By showing them their faults, and thus, showing that immortality and judgment awaited those who attempted to use false teachings in this life to excuse sinful behavior, he put them (us) in a difficult spot.
All of these things that Jesus judges are some of the ever-present idols. Like in the 1st century, we all are seeking life, hope, and happiness. Some have sought it in religion. Others turn to money; some of us like morality; some of us turn to knowledge (regardless of how logical it is) to excuse ourselves and our sin. But all of these pursuits mean we have turned from God. We are not seeking Him as the Lord of the universe, the pearl of great price, or the way, the truth and the life. Jesus will not allow any idol to stand in the way. In fact, in 70 AD, the Romans came into the Holy City and effectively destroyed all the false idols that are shown in Matthew 21-22. Religion was destroyed. Those clinging to power now had none. Those who thought money, morality, or knowledge protected them and brought them life, were exiled or killed, abandoned, and alone. What’s not so funny is that today, we still put our trust in similar idols. We turn to these idols even though judgment always follows these pursuits.
But here’s the amazing story, the real story that goes on during Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. On a fateful Friday, Jesus went to the top of a hill and took the judgment we deserved. All of our idolatry and wickedness deserved death and God’s vengeance. But on Calvary 2000 years ago, the Son of God gave his life up for us. Yes, the power players did the killing and they thought by doing so they would remain in power forever. But it was God’s will that Jesus should be crushed. It was God’s will that the Son would die for the sinful. And then, 3 days later, God was pleased to raise Jesus back to life with an indestructible body. Now those who trust in Christ (not in money, power, morality or anything else) are promised an indestructible life as well.
To understand Christ fully, we must first accept the bitter truth that we deserve God’s judgment. We are no better than the 1st Century folks who had trusted in other things. We deserve to be punished. But by embracing the bitter truth of our own judgment, we are prepared then to turn to the one who took our judgment that we might have life. Do you know this Jesus? Have you trusted in His death on your behalf? Turn to Him, believe in Him! Cry out, "Jesus save me from my sin."
If you are interested in the earlier parts of the sermon, check out the audio by clicking HERE.