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What Do You Think About the Messiah?

Date: Sep. 4, 2016

Author: Bob Henkins

Matthew 22:15-46

Key Verse: Matthew 22:42

“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied.”

Whether it’s on the internet, news media, talk shows or whatever, these days it seems that there is no shortage of public opinion. I imagine that it probably hasn’t changed much over the years’ people are no more opinionated now than in the past it’s just that we hear about it so much more because of social media and how connected the world has become. Some people can even make a pretty good living throwing in their two cents. It’s often said that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion when in mixed company, why is that? It’s because people often have very deep seated opinions when it comes to these topics and the conversation can get quite heated if you’re not careful. And speaking about heated conversations, that’s exactly what happens in today’s passage. The conversation between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders hits a new level as they square off in one of the epic debates of all time. I wonder how it will end.

Today’s passage takes place during Jesus’ last week of his life. I’ve heard that it happens on Tuesday and Jesus will be arrested on Thursday and killed on Friday. Since Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem things between him and the religious leaders has really been heating up. Upon entering the city, Jesus headed straight for the temple, once there he overturned the money changer’s tables and drove all the animals out of the temple courts. The religious leaders confront Jesus and challenge his authority. In response, Jesus publicly rebukes them by telling several parables and sends them away fuming mad. In their frustration, the religious leaders look for a way to arrest Jesus, but they have to be careful because they don’t want to upset the crowds of people because they hold Jesus in high regard and believe that he is a prophet of God.

The Jewish religious leaders consist of several groups of people much like our political system. Instead of Democrats and Republicans, they have Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians etc. Usually they couldn’t stand each other, however circumstances being what they were, they both had a common enemy; Jesus, and as the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Let’s take a look at what happens in verses 15 to 17. “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “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. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”” Up to this point the religious leaders were mostly reactionary, reacting to what Jesus did, but now their thoughts begin to change and they started to be proactive and to plan their attacks upon Jesus. The first group up were the Pharisees. They were very nationalistic and opposed to Roman rule. They most spiritual of groups but that didn’t mean much because they were plotting to murder Jesus (Mk 3:6). They teamed up with the Herodians who were Jews that supported the Roman appointed ruler Herod. Normally the pious Pharisees wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with the Herodians because they despised them and viewed them as traitors. Now, however the Pharisees enlisted the help of the Herodians to trap Jesus in his words. They needed the Herodians to lay the trap because they were the enforcers.

Their past direct confrontation had left them embarrassed, so now they switch gears and try an indirect approach. Instead of going themselves, the Pharisees send some young disciples (their JV team) to go and butter Jesus up with compliments. Their flattery made them sound as if they were on Jesus’ side but the Bible tells us to watch out when it comes to flattery. Proverbs tells us, “Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet (Prov 29:5).” And as we can see this is what they were doing to Jesus. I find it interesting that they even give their reason for being angry with Jesus because he didn’t pay any attention to them.

The first trap had to do with money, national pride, and their law. The Pharisees resented having to pay taxes to Rome viewing it as an infringement on Jewish law so they asked, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” To them it seems like Jesus has no way out of this trap. If Jesus says yes to pay the tax the Jews would denounce him to the people as disloyal to Israel and a Roman sympathizer. And if Jesus says not to pay the tax, the Herodians would report him to the Roman Governor and he would be executed for treason. The Jews thought they had Jesus caught between a rock and a hard place.

Was Jesus squirming as he sat in the hot seat? Take a look at verse 18. “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” Not exactly, Jesus wasn’t nervous at all because no matter what they did, Jesus knew their evil intent. The Pharisees had no intention of NOT paying the tax, they had to pay, the Romans would make dang sure of that. They didn’t really want to know Jesus’ answer, they only wanted to trap Jesus. The Pharisees tried everything lying, deceiving, flattery, and manipulation but they couldn’t fool him, why? The prophet Isaiah gives us a hint he said, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him -- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD (Isa 11:2).” The Pharisees couldn’t catch Jesus because he had wisdom and this enabled him to know the true motives of people. That means there wasn’t anything that could happen to catch Jesus off guard. This was how Jesus could control situations.

Take a look at verses 19-22 to see how Jesus responds. “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” Jesus saw their hypocrisy and in one of the most famous sayings in the Gospels, Jesus avoids the trap by affirming both what the Pharisees and what the Herodians hold dear. God’s sovereignty must be acknowledged, but human governments also have a legitimate authority. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s acknowledges that reasonable taxation is a legitimate function for all governments. Christians who avoid paying taxes, or cheat on their taxes, sin against God just as much as other moral sins, it’s just that it’s easier for us to justify. [To be honest, I had trouble with this part because we live in crook country – highest taxes in country – corrupt politics – I wanted to use the church tax exempt status for myself] The Bible says that all rulers have been established by God (Ro 13) so when we go against the authorities we are going against God. Jesus implied that as believers we should be the best citizens, a good example to others. Jesus gave us a good example when paid his taxes by telling Peter to catch a fish with a coin in his mouth. (Mt 17:27) [how I wish it were that easy] When Jesus said, “Give to God what is God’s” if Caesar’s image was on the money, who’s image is on man? God’s. We were made in the image of God therefore we should love, honor, and obey God. Simply put, God doesn’t want our belongings, he wants our love and affection. The Pharisees were off track and Jesus was trying to put them on the right track again.

Later that same day, the Sadducees try their hand at attacking Jesus. Take a look at verses 23-28. “That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”” The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, angels or anything spiritual. They are like modern day internet trolls, their goal is to derail the discussion and get it off track so as to hinder people. So they ask silly, unimportant questions to get people talking about the question instead of God, like this one – If God is all powerful, could he make a rock big enough that he couldn’t lift it? They didn’t believe in the resurrection so that made up this pretty sad ad deranged question. Since they didn’t believe in heaven, their thinking was earth bound.

“Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘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.”” Although they were scholars, they were in error because they really didn’t know the scriptures. Jesus responds using their favorite book to show where they are wrong. What’s worse they didn’t know the power of God. God is the God of the living, he is the source of life. Once again we see Jesus trying to help the religious leaders to get back on the right track because they were on the wrong one.

Finally, the Pharisees come out themselves, they are the varsity team and they are bringing one of their star players with them, an expert in the law. These are the heavy hitters, the first round draft picks. They test Jesus, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? The Pharisees divided the laws into 365 commandments, one for each day, and 248 prohibitions, beginning with “You shall not...” Some of the laws conflicted with each other thus they debated which ones were the most important. For example, the Jews were to circumcise their baby boys 8 days after their birth, also they had to worship God on the Sabbath, but what would happen if their baby’s circumcision date fell on a Sabbath, which law should they follow? This was a legitimate question but they really didn’t care about Jesus’ answer they thought they could use Jesus’ answer to weaken his support.

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” Jesus' point: the law is first and foremost about loving God, and secondly about loving mankind. The story of the Scriptures is not ultimately a guidebook for living, but a love story between God and his lost creation. Jesus says these two are what all the Law and Prophets hang on. Yet loving God has to be done with our whole being. As any law, sinful human beings cannot keep these two laws. We all give our hearts to other things at times. Our minds wander. Our souls become contaminated with pride, lust and laziness. What is more, we tend to be very subjective in relationships with others. We care for those we like, and are indifferent to those we don’t. On our own we cannot love God or our neighbor.

Finally, Jesus is able to bring up a subject of his own. He asks, “What do you think about the Messiah?” This is the most important question, and how we answer it determines our eternal destiny. Those who had come up under John the Baptist had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but these religious leaders were very stubborn. To help them, Jesus first had to reveal the gaping flaw in their knowledge. Verse 42 again reads, “‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ ‘The Son of David,’ they replied.” Since they viewed the Messiah as only the son of David, they were unable to accept Jesus as their Messiah. They were looking for some outward characteristics of a descendent of King David, like power, prestige, wealth, or a strong army. Jesus had none of these things on the surface. They were looking for a great warrior, who would lead them in their rebellion against Rome, restoring the past glorious nation.

Jesus helps them to understand their error through David’s example: Verses 42-45 reads, “He said to them, 'How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says, “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 can he be his son?’” Jesus’ point is clear: David himself had a hope in a Lord greater than himself, a man to whom God would give all victory. David needed such a Messiah. David, speaking by the Spirit, was a prophet. Thousands of years ago he was thinking about the Messiah, one who would defeat the enemies of his sins and guilt. One whose body would not see decay. Jesus is David’s Lord, David’s Messiah. God accomplished victory over our enemies of sin and death by sending his one and only Son to this world to die on the cross and shed his blood to forgive sins. God raised him from the dead, and declared him with power to be his Son. Jesus is absolutely David’s Son. But Jesus is more. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah

Do you remember back in chapter 16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered very clearly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). What was Jesus’ response at that time?  “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:17) In his next breath Jesus ordered all of them Not to tell anyone because it wasn’t the right time. But now Jesus is fully embracing the title of Messiah and was proclaiming it himself. He is the Son of God and was sent to earth to fulfill God’s world salvation plan. If you ask people, “Who do you think Jesus is?” I’m sure the answers you get will be all over the place. Some will say, he was a nice guy, he had good morals, he had superpowers. While others will say, that he never existed, was just a regular person, or maybe even roll their eyes at you when you ask them the question.

Why is this question so important? (and it is) This question is so important because what we think about the Messiah determines our past, present, and future. Everything is in the context of the Messiah. For when we believe in Jesus he gives meaning to our past history, he gives us purpose for how we live in the present, and he determines our eternal destiny. What we think about the Messiah will determine everything in your life. If we think that he was no big deal or blow him off completely, our lives can easily get off track. Our lives can lose their meaning as our past becomes a series of random events, our present has no purpose as we are tossed from situation to situation beyond our control and our future will grow dimmer as we grow older and closer to death. I had a friend that thought when he finished college he would become this great engineer that would change the world, after graduation he got a good stable job working as a design engineer making parts for different equipment. After a while, it became painfully obvious to him that his position, although good, was ordinary and that he wasn’t going to change the world in any great way. Caught in the meaninglessness of life, he became down and depressed. He struggled with the meaning of life. Thankfully he was a believed in Jesus and after a period time, he recovered and found the meaning of his life. Some people are not so lucky. I heard about Japan’s Aokigahara forest, a forest so thick with foliage that it's known as the Sea of Trees. But it's the Japanese landmark's horrific history that made the woods famous as it is more commonly known as Suicide Forest. It’s estimated that about once every three days someone enters that forest never to come out again.

That is the extreme case. But the best case is that our lives can get derailed and we go off track. That is what happened to the religious leaders. When the Pharisees weren’t focused on Jesus, the Messiah, they kept getting off track. They kept getting caught up in things that were really the main point. For example, when they came to Jesus about paying taxes, they missed the main point that God doesn’t desire our things, he is the creator of all things, he doesn’t need ours, but what he does desire is to have a relationship with us. He is like a parent that loves his children and wants to know what’s going on in their lives and to be a part of their life. When the Sadducees weren’t focused on Jesus, the got off track too. They were so caught up trying to disprove the resurrection that they missed the main point that God is the source of all life and that Jesus is the way to eternal life. When the religious leaders weren’t focused on Jesus, they got off track and argued about what commandment was the greatest. They missed the main point that we are to love God and love one another. Jesus was continuously pointing them back to God because they kept getting off track and he tried to get them back on track.

Everything is in context to what we think about the Messiah. The topics in this passage were just three examples but there are so many more. And truth be told it’s so easy for us to get off track. In fact, Satan tries to derail us all the time because the more time we spend focusing on issues other than Jesus, he wins. When Christians get off track and only focus on ancillary issues instead of focusing on Jesus, people begin to see Christians as close minded bigots, who are cruel and self-righteous. And frankly that’s what we become when we take our focus off of Jesus. For example, Christians argue about full immersion baptism vs just being sprinkled and they miss the main point of just being baptized in the first place.

When we have the right view of the Messiah, we can find meaning to events that happened in our past. Several years ago when I got demoted at work for standing behind the people that worked for me, through Jesus I came to realize that God used this event to free me up when our family was blessed to have our fourth child. Before that I was too busy and would not been able to take off three weeks from work when he was born because that was one of the busiest times of the work schedule. When I focus on Jesus, he gives purpose to my life and helps provide direction to my everyday life. I can live a life that that has meaning, sharing the good news of Jesus with those around me. Without it life would be getting up, eating, going to work, come home and go to sleep only to repeat it day after day after day. I remember when my grandfather died recently, and as we were going through my grandparent’s house getting it ready to sell, as I was going through my grandfather’s belongings, I was thinking to myself, it this it, is this all that there is to life? We work hard all our life accumulating belongings and then when we die, someone goes through our stuff deciding what is useful or not. It made me think that one day someone will be going through my stuff. However, when I focus on Jesus, I don’t fear death or despair because I know that in him I have eternal life and that one day all believers will be re-united in God’s kingdom in heaven. What we think about the Messiah is the most important question we can ask ourselves because everything hinges on it. So now I ask you, what do you think about the Messiah?

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