One day, the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17, NKJV) This was a loaded question. If He would answer, “No you don’t have to,” He could be accused of usurping the Roman government. If He answered, “Yes, you really should,” He would be viewed as supporting the Roman government, which would come across as betraying the Jewish nation. They wanted to trap Him.
“But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money’” (vs. 18-19a). He asks whose image is on the coin and they reply that it has Caesar’s inscription. He goes on to instruct them to give to Caesar that which belongs to him, and to God that which belongs to God.
He skillfully sidestepped a political question and cut to the heart. He avoided the stated question while answering the more important question: What do I owe to whom? His answer: Give taxes to whom it is due, but more importantly, give God that which belongs to Him.
Seeing that the Pharisees were unsuccessful at trapping Jesus, the Sadducees decided to take a stab. Matthew precedes the question with a brief commentary. These are the religious leaders “who say there is no resurrection” (vs. 23).
They ask the question with a short, yet tragic, story. A woman had a husband. He died and his brother took the widow as his wife to raise up offspring for the deceased brother. This happened seven times. Now the question, “Whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her” (vs. 28).
Jesus starts out by answering their stated question: She won’t be married to any of the men, because in heaven there is no marriage.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with that. He goes on to address their heart question: Does the resurrection really exist? Quoting the Torah, He points out that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died a long time ago. Although their physical bodies have deteriorated, Jehovah is their God, so they must have a spirit that continues living. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vs. 32).
The multitudes were astonished at His teaching. His authority and skill were unmatched.
That wasn’t the end of His interrogation. The Pharisees put forward a lawyer to ask a question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (vs. 36) Again, the question is not as simple as it appears. Out of the many commandments that God had given through Moses--along with the many other laws to ensure no one broke the God-given laws--there were many to choose from. No matter which commandment He would choose, they were sure to come back with, “But what about this law? Or what about that? Aren't these just as important?”
As we already know, Jesus quotes, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (vs. 37-40).
In very few words, Jesus answers their question while cutting to the heart. It’s not about simply obeying the letter of each law. It’s about why you obey to begin with! Obedience flows out of love for God, which will ultimately result in love for one’s neighbor. Every law hangs on these two concepts.
Jesus ends the interrogation by asking them a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” (vs. 42) He already knew what they believed, but He asked the question anyway to challenge their preconceived ideas.
“The Son of David,” they replied.
He came right back with a well-known quote from the Psalms.
"How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying:
'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand,
till I make Your enemies Your footstool" ' ?
"If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He His Son?" (vs. 43-45)
He pushed them to wrestle with the most important question: Who is Jesus? Their arguments were silenced and their consciences were pricked. As I meditate on this passage, I long to have more spiritual wisdom to look past the questions people ask and to see the real questions their hearts are wrestling with. This leads me to look more closely at how Jesus responded in each of the situations above.
He looked for the intent behind the questions. Jesus saw politics in the question about taxes. Right away, He knew it was a trap, but He still didn’t turn them away.
He looked beyond the intent and addressed the heart issue. Jesus answered their question about marriage in heaven, but He went even further. He saw their real question was about the resurrection and He focused on that issue instead.
He turned their religious questions towards relationship. The Pharisees’ question about the most important law was a religious one. Jesus answered their question but pointed out that the law is really all about relationships. It’s about loving God above all and loving others out of love for Him.
He pushed people to wrestle with the question: Who is Jesus? And so must we. May God give us skill to become more like Jesus in our daily interactions. May we have discerning hearts and bold lips to answer and ask the important questions, just as Jesus did.
--Written by I.M.