We study through books of the Bible here at the Village Chapel, and today is no different. If you need a paper copy to follow along with, just raise your hand and someone will get you a copy. We’re continuing on in Matthew Chapter 22, in which I’ve entitled today’s message, “A coin, a Casket, and a Commandment.” If you look up on the screen, there’s our Wi-Fi network and password information. And there’s a QR code too if you want to get slides and stuff.
So, we’re picking back up with Jesus in the temple. If you remember, he’s been having conversations with Pharisees, the chief priest, scribes, and elders, and they’re all trying to trip him up, asking questions, testing his authority. As we’ll see today, they’re going to start teaming up with people who are normally adversaries or enemies in hopes of getting the upper hand with Jesus. Kind of like WWE tag team wrestling a little bit.
Speaking of which, anybody here watch the Royal Rumble last night? Anybody at all? No hands? Oh my, people. (Yes! To be honest, Jesse, I didn’t get to watch it because I was prepping for the sermon, but I wanted to.) So, the Royal Rumble is one of the tent pole events that the WWE has every year. And it starts out, they do it first with men wrestlers and then women wrestlers.
You get 30 of the top wrestlers in the ring together. The match starts, and if you get thrown out of the ring, you’re done. And finally, it comes down to one. And I would expect during the match, bitter enemies are going to team together at some point—two guys to get another guy out of the ring. Eventually they have to fight each other. But these bitter enemies team up because as the saying goes, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ and kind of strange bedfellows.
We’re going to see some of that today in our passage. And speaking of the term bedfellows, because we have the little magic box that tells us everything we want to know, the first person to use the phrase ‘strange bedfellows’ was William Shakespeare in 1610 in the Tempest. He said, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” Fast forward to 1850, and Charles Warner adapts it to, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” Which we’re familiar with. Fast forward to somewhere around 1960, and Walt Disney adapts it again. “Perhaps Bach and Beethoven are strange bedfellows from Mickey Mouse, but it’s all been a lot of fun.” I just love it, Walt.
So, we have ‘strange bedfellows’ in Matthew Chapter 22, and we’re going to take a look at these groups. We have the Pharisees who are called “The Serious.” They’re, as we know, obsessive about the law. They’re separatists. If they lived in modern day times, they’d probably be out in the woods. No TV, no internet, kind of preppers. But they are ardent nationalists. They want nothing to do with the Roman government, with Caesar, with taxation. And there was a subset of the Pharisees who were the Zealots who were not happy unless there was some revolution going on.
And then we have what we call “The Sophisticated,” the Sadducees who were members of the cultural elite, the wealthy. They disliked the Pharisees, and the Pharisees disliked them. A couple of things about the Sadducees. They only accepted the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, everything else they regarded as not scripture. They did not believe in the supernatural, the afterlife or the resurrection, which is going to come into play in our passage.
Then we’ll see a lawyer who’s a Pharisee. And then the Herodians are listed in our passage today—we don’t know much about the Herodians except they were Jews who supported Herod the Great and his dynasty and his government. They were in favor of Rome, of taxation, of all things culture.
So, those are our strange bedfellows. And then on our next slide, we have four pericopes in our passage today. The first one is the Pharisees and paying taxes to Caesar, and then the Sadducees and the resurrection, the great commandment (a question by a lawyer). And then Jesus asked them a final question, “Whose son is the Christ?” And I think that we’ll see that all four of these pericopes, all four of these questions, overlap. They have something to do with each other and they point us squarely to the gospel.
So, let’s pray church and dig in, because as the old country song says, “we’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.” So, let’s pray together.
Lord, you are so good. We come to you today with open hands and open hearts asking that what we know, not teach us. What we are, not make us. What we have, not give us because you are the teacher, the maker, the giver, and we do love you. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
So, we’re starting in Chapter 22, verse 15. I’m going to do my best to slow down here. I love this passage—so excited about it. There’s a lot to cover. I’m charging ahead.
Verse 15: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully. And you do not care about anyone’s opinion for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us then what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”
Well, you’ve got to love that the right off the bat. The Pharisees are sending their interns instead of going. I think they have been bested by Jesus. So, this round, they’re sending in their disciples and they’re teaming up with these Herodians. You’ve got total anti-government guys on one side teaming up with total parole government guys on the other side—all united in their dislike of Jesus. And look at how they butter Jesus up. It’s funny because everything they’re saying is actually true, but they’re using it to try and butter him up.
They’re saying, “You’re true. You teach the way of God truthfully. You don’t care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” And they think they’re buttering him up to where they can win. Of course, all of this is absolutely true. And what they’re doing here, in the question that they’ve asked, they’re hoping to trick Jesus one way or the other. Because if he says, “No, it’s not lawful to pay the tax,” then the Herodians are going to turn him into the Roman government for inciting rebellion and insurrection. But then if he does, if he says, “It is lawful to pay the tax,” then the Pharisees are going to turn the crowds and the people against him because he’s supporting the Roman government. Jesus is aware of all this; he knows what they’re up to.
Verse 18: “Jesus aware of their malice said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius.” So, a denarius, this coin, and Matthew tells us—the tax collector, by the way, who’s writing this—words it that it’s a poll tax that they’re required to pay. And it’s a denarius, which is a coin worth about one day’s wage. And we see a photo here. This is a replica, and this would be Caesar Augustus on this coin. And then the coin that Jesus would be holding in his hand had Tiberius Caesar, Augustus’s son, on it. But this poll tax, out of all the taxes the Jews had to pay, this was the most galling, most aggravating. Because it’s just for being alive and living in the land you had to pay this tax.
So, “Jesus says to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ And they say, “Caesar’s.” And again, this would be Tiberius Caesar. “And he says to them, ‘Therefore rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God, the things that are God’s.’ And when they heard it, they marveled and they left him and went away.”
So, there would be an inscription on the coin that Jesus was holding that said, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.” Basically, ‘Tiberius son of the God Augustus, son of God.’ And on the other side of the coin, it would say ‘Chief priest.’ Well, Jesus does two things here. In one of them, when he says, “Render to Caesars, what is Caesars.” By the way, the word “render” doesn’t mean so much “give or pay,” but it means “pay back”—pay back what you owe Caesar for enjoying Roman roads and aqueducts and Roman peace. But what Jesus is doing is legitimizing earthly government. First Peter Chapter 2 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. Honor everyone, love the brotherhood, honor the emperor.”
Jesus is making the point that Christians should be good earthly citizens. We should honor and pray for our leaders, even the ones we don’t vote for—which is hard to do, but we should do that. But then the other thing that Jesus is saying here, “render to God, what is God’s.” Pay back to God what is God’s. He’s making the point that every atom, every molecule, the coin, Augustus and Tiberius, Caesar, all of these, all of us belong to God. And that’s the point that Jesus is making here.
Well, so tag team time. The Pharisees leave and then the Sadducees come in. And remember, the Sadducees, they only believe in the first five books of Moses. They don’t believe in the resurrection. Well, they’re going to ask Jesus this absurd question. They’re going to tell him this story, and it’s really pointing fun at the resurrection which Jesus and God take very seriously. And we’re going to talk about that in a minute.
They’re quoting Levirate [marriage] law, which is from Deuteronomy Chapter 25, which said if a man dies and he has a brother, his brother was to marry the man’s widow. And their firstborn son would carry the dead father’s name. And that accomplished two things. It kept the family name going. But then it was caring for the widows and the orphans and providing for them socially and economically because at the time they would be absolutely marginalized. And we know that God longs to care for those that are marginalized. So, the intent of this scripture was to care for the widows and the orphans. But the Sadducees have turned it in into a joke. They probably [conspired], ‘Hey, Fred, hey Paul! I know, why don’t we make this up and we’ll just make it so there were seven brothers.’ They just tried to make it as ludicrous as possible.
Let’s read verse 23: “The same day Sadducees came to him who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question saying, ‘Teacher, Moses said, if a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up an offspring for his brother.’ Now, there were seven brothers among us, the first married and died and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third down to the seventh.’” And you got to think, about the fourth or fifth brother starts wondering, ‘Is there something wrong with her cream of mushroom soup? Is she using bad mushrooms or something?’ Anyway, so to the second and third down to the seventh. And “’after them all, the women died in the resurrection. Therefore, of the seven whose wife will she be, for they all had her?’ But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.’” Power of God who created everything out of nothing and can recreate and resurrect us out of the dust! “’For in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but God of the living. And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” Man, I love Jesus’s direct response, ‘Guys, you’re wrong.’ They didn’t know Scripture because they just studied the five books of Moses.
They didn’t know the reality of the resurrection that was taught in the rest of the Old Testament Scripture, like Daniel Chapter 12, Isaiah Chapter 26, Job Chapter 19. The resurrection, the reality of it is taught in Scripture. And then they also did not understand that the power of God enough to understand that God might create a future reality that was different and better than our current reality. Their question assumed that our future life will look exactly like this life. And that’s why they’re using the example of marriage. And that’s why I believe Jesus directly talks about marriage because that’s the way they frame the question. And we can ask ourselves, well, why won’t there be marriage in heaven? I don’t have all the answers, but I think there might be a couple answers here all related to, in the new heavens, in the new earth, what we have that lies ahead of us is so much better than we can understand or comprehend now.
Marriage is intended for intimacy, to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church. It’s for procreation, which there will not be a need for in heaven. And maybe for all the good things of marriage, the gift of intimacy and self-sacrificing love that we experience here on earth, maybe in heaven. All our relationships are going to be this true and open and intimate and loving. Maybe there just isn’t a need for that type of relationship in heaven. We don’t know all the answers. But we can trust that God has something amazing prepared for us.
Well, let’s continue on because its tag team time again. “And when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees,” in verse 34, “they gathered together,” and they’re like, ‘What do we do now?’ Well tag team and they send in a lawyer.
“One of them, a lawyer asked him a question to test him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ And he said to him, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself on these two commandments, depend all the law and the prophets.’”
Man, what an answer. The lawyer was probably trying to trap Jesus legally. He was probably trying to get Jesus to pick out one of the 10 commandments and single that out. And therefore denigrate the other nine commandments. And then he would’ve trapped Jesus legally and could take him before the Sanhedrin. Or maybe this lawyer had some questions himself. Maybe he laid awake at night and wondered out of these 613 laws, which is the one that really matters the most? Maybe he asked himself that.
I love how Jesus answers him. Jesus doesn’t use one of the 10 commandments. Instead, he takes the Shema from Deuteronomy Chapter 6. This would have been a core set of verses. Every devout Jew would say these verses two times a day. “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.” That’s what Jesus says is the greatest commandment. Wholehearted, whole person, whole soul devotion to God, the vertical, like the first table in Ten Commandments. And then he adds a second element to it, the horizontal. And he quotes Leviticus Chapter 19, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Whole person devotion to God looks an awful lot like render to God what is God’s, doesn’t it (from the first periscope)? And a genuine love for God looks like a genuine love for your neighbor, doesn’t it?
Well now, Jesus, it’s his turn to ask a question. Verse 41: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ And they said to him, ‘The son of David.’” And they’ve got to be feeling good about themselves for just a second. And then, “he said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet?” If then David calls him, Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word. Nor from that day, did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
Boy, that is absolutely the definition of a mic drop, isn’t it? I mean, Jesus so confounds them with this question that they just give up at that point. He quotes Psalm 1:10 here, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” And from the Pharisees point of view, if the Christ is David’s son, which he is, they cannot understand how he would call him “Lord.” Because in the ancient near East, the patriarch, the father was always greater than the son. So, a father would never say to a son, my Lord, if the Lord says to my Lord. So, Jesus is asked them a question that they absolutely cannot answer. And fortunately for us post resurrection, we have the perspective and the understanding that the Christ Jesus is both. He is David’s son through the human lineage, the genealogy of Mary and Joseph. And yet he is also God’s son clothed in the flesh.
What a passage! So, what did we make of it, these four scenes? I’ve got four questions that I think we can ask ourselves in response to these four pericopes. I’ve been thinking about these questions and asking them of myself all week long while I’ve been sitting on this. And I think these four questions overlap in the same way that the pericopes overlap. And my prayer is that they would be both encouraging but challenging for all of us. I know they are for me.
So, with apologies to Samuel L. Jackson and Capital One, I think the first question we can ask is “What’s in your wallet?” By that I mean, if you’re carrying around a coin in your wallet or in your pocket, and that coin represents you, the core of who you are, whose face is on the coin? Is it you? Is it your work? Who’s your ultimate authority? Is it family, job? Is it God? What’s the primary identifying factor in your life? And then to carry that a little further, if you’re carrying that coin around in your pocket all week, kind of representing your daily life, who do you pledge allegiance to? Whose face is on that coin? Not necessarily at 9:00am or 11:00am on a Sunday, but at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday when it’s rainy and rush hour traffic just stinks, and you’ve had an argument with your wife and work stinks? Whose face is on the coin then?
What’s in your wallet? I ask the question because I ask myself this question a lot. Am I living like a believer only on Sundays and then kind of as a functioning agnostic the rest of the week? Or am I carrying that coin with me from Sunday out, not in terms of behavior but what the ultimate authority is in my life?
What’s in your wallet? On this very day, January 29, 1956, C.S. Lewis preached his last public sermon. And he said this:
“For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands. It’s not even all our time and all our attention: it is ourselves.”–C.S. Lewis, “A Slip of the Tongue” from The Weight of Glory
I just want to encourage us that God wants all of us and He wants all of us, all of ourselves because He loves all of us. He loves us in spite of our sin and our brokenness. And He meets us right where we are. As the saying goes, “Grace meets you where you are, but it doesn’t leave you where you are.” God wants us, which leads us to our next question that we can ask ourselves again, both challenging and encouraging: what’s in your future?
Friends, I think we seriously underestimate God’s desire to rescue and redeem us. And I think we underestimate God’s focus on the resurrection of believers. That’s why I am just amazed at the Sadducees ridiculing the idea of the resurrection. I think God takes this so seriously. This has been the plan all along. I mean, at the very least since Genesis Chapter 3, when God confronts Adam and Eve after they sinned, after the Fall, and Eve answers God and tells Him that the servant deceived her and she ate of the apple. What’s the very, very first thing that God does? He addresses a serpent and he tells him in no uncertain terms what’s going to happen. He waits to address Adam and Eve about the consequences of their choice until after He has dealt with the serpent. The plan of redemption just kicked into high gear like a Tesla taking off from a stoplight, hitting 60 in about two seconds. And that’s what happens here. It’s as if God is saying to sin and death, ‘You will not win.’
And I love that that’s the order of events that happened. Right away in the garden, he immediately started the plan of redemption. Douglas Sean O’Donnell in his commentary on Matthew, which if you want to read about a 10-inch thick book, it’s really awesome. But he says it this way,
“Since the Torah teaches that God is a covenantal God, it is therefore inconceivable that God’s promises and blessings sees when his people die… If death has the final word, then God’s covenant has been breached or broken… The grievous error of the Sadducees was their failure to recognize and appreciate the necessary link between God’s covenantal faithfulness and the resurrection.”–Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth
And friends, because God is faithful, because He keeps His promises, there is a necessary and inescapable link between His covenant and what He has promised and the resurrection.
It’s not wishful thinking. It is a promise. J.I. Packer explains it this way. Boy, I really love this.
“Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God… Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is yet to come.”–J.I. Packer
Amen. So, no matter what lies behind us, no matter what is going on in our lives right now, no matter what lies ahead of us, we can absolutely trust in God that He is going to do what He said He would do. We have a future ahead of us that goes so far beyond the best of what we’re experiencing in life right now. And it goes so far beyond the worst of what we’re experiencing in life right now. So far that, 1 Corinthians tells us, we can’t even imagine it. It tells us, “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) That is really good news.
That leads us to our third question, which deals with the here and now. What’s in your wallet? What’s in your future? What’s in your heart?
What’s in my heart? Because what’s in our heart is going to work itself out in how we live our lives, isn’t it? How are we responding to that command to love God with our whole self and to cherish and love our neighbor as ourselves? Because if God is our Sovereign Maker, Creator, Sustainer of the Universe, then it’s His right to have a say in how we live our lives, isn’t it? And the command could have been to obey, or submit, or fear the Lord, but instead the command was to love the Lord and to loveour neighbor.
Anyone here remember the Peanuts comic strip? I mean, even if you’re under 50, I think you probably know Peanuts and Snoopy and Linus and Loopy, Lucy. (Well, not Loopy. That was a character that I only saw once.) Anyway, so I remember this from being a kid and I looked it up on the internet and found it, which is just amazing, the magic box. So, in this series, this one day, Linus is telling Lucy that he wants to be a doctor. And Lucy says back to Linus, “You? Huh, a doctor? That’s a big laugh. You could never be a doctor. You know why? Because you don’t love mankind, that’s why.” And she storms off. And as she’s leaving, Linus yells after Lucy, “I love mankind. Its people I can’t stand.”
That’s so true, isn’t it? We find it easy to love our neighbor who is the abstract. But man, it’s a lot harder to love our next-door neighbor who plays the music too loud, too late, whose dog eats our flowers and digs them up, who puts a sign out front, vote for Fred when we can’t stand Fred, the candidate and can’t imagine why any human would vote for Fred.
It’s hard to love our neighbor next door or down the street or on the other side of the bed because we are all beautiful but broken. We are all messy, complicated image bears of the God who created us, who put on Himself the cloak of flesh to walk among us, to love us, to redeem us, and to give us the ability to love our neighbor.
Christopher Watkins says in his book, Biblical Critical Theory,
“Love is the epicenter of the distinctively Christian way of being in the world—not power, respect, or tolerance, and not equality, justice, freedom, enlightenment or submission. Love is ‘the overall shape of Christian ethics, the form of the human participation in created order.’”–Christopher Watkins, Biblical Critical Theory
That is how we are created to participate in the created order. That dual, vertical and horizontal shape of loving God and loving our neighbor, that’s how we’re meant to live. If all you have is total devotion to God, but no love of your neighbor, you might fly a plane into the World Trade Center on 9/11. But if all you care about, if you have no love for God, but all you’re committed to is loving your neighbor via social justice issues, then you end up with a secular creed sign in your yard that says, “Love is love. Science is real.” while not acknowledging the God who created both love and science.
We are commanded to love both ways, vertically and horizontally. Which brings us to our last question. Who is Jesus to you? Who is Jesus to me?
I don’t know where all of you are in your inner life this morning. Some of you might be here visiting. And this might be the first time you’ve ever heard about this person, Jesus. And man, if that’s the case, come talk to me afterwards. I really want to talk. I want to meet you. But some of you, you may have heard this whole thing before and you just don’t think about it very much. You don’t give it a second thought. But here’s what I do know. Every culture, every race, every country, every nationality, everybody has an idea or concept of what life should be like and what it’s actually like. And they can see the gap between the two. And whether you believe in a transcendent external Being or not, there’s this reality. You see the difference. You see the gap between life as it should be in life as it is. Almost every culture, almost every faith deals with it from the human perspective, from the idea of human behavior—“this” is what we have to do to bridge the gap. But Christianity alone teaches us that Jesus himself is the bridge to bridge that gap. Christianity alone is willing to tell us the sober truth about ourselves, that we cannot close that gap on our own. But that because He loves us, God has come down to us to close that gap himself.
Joni Eareckson Tada says these few simple words to describe this gift, so short, but so good:
“God doesn’t just give us grace; He gives us Jesus, the Lord of grace.”–Joni Eareckson Tada
Amen to that. He comes to us. Right where we are, He finds us. Zephaniah 3:17 tells us this:
“The Lord your God is in your midst. A mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will quiet you by his love. He will exalt over you with loud singing.”Zephaniah 3:17
Man, that’s good to hear, isn’t it? Robert Murray McCheyne puts it this way:
“You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then He is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, a rock rising above the storm.”–Robert Murray McSheyne
This is who Jesus is. And I’ll close with this quote from Tim Keller. It kind of wraps up all four of these pericopes and all four of these questions:
“We have to recognize that virtually all of us begin our journey toward God because we want something from Him. However, we must come to grips with the fact that we owe Him our entire lives just because of what He has done for us already. He is our creator, and for that fact alone, we owe him everything. However, He is also our redeemer, who rescued us at infinite cost to Himself. Any heart that has come to its senses wants to surrender to someone who not only is all-powerful, but has proved that He will sacrifice anything for our good.”–Tim Keller, The Reason for God
Amen. That is just good news, isn’t it? And I invite us all to surrender to that Someone. Let’s pray church.
Lord, we thank You for the gift of your Word. And boy, we thank You for the gift of Matthew, the former tax collector who took such good notes, grateful for the truth of Your sovereignty, the truth of who You are, the truth of who Jesus is, and the sober truth of who we are, but who we can be when we surrender to You. Thank You for Your dear son who has come to rescue and redeem us. We do love You, Lord. We lift this up in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Edited for reading)