3 Curly Questions

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Luke 20:20-21:4


The types of questions that people ask and the reasons that they are ask them are many and varied. Not all questions are looking for just a straight answer. Questions can be asked for other reasons.

  • Questions that are making a point

Just say that your spouse says to you, just as your about to open some dark chocolate, “Are you really going to eat that straight after just having finished your dinner?” You know that in asking that question that they aren’t just curious. We know when they are ask a question like that they are just making a pointed comment that you ought not to be opening the chocolate up after just having finished your dinner. Some questions are really are not questions at all but just statements turned into a question to make a point.

  • Questions without simple answers

Then there are those questions that are sometimes asked that really have no simple answer to them or at least not one that people will be patient enough to listen to. They are asked really to just to make the one answering them squirm and make life difficult for them. Sometimes a curly or difficult question is asked to just give someone enough rope to hang themselves. This often happens in politics and the curly (difficult) questions that get asked of our politicians in a TV interview or during question time in Parliament. A curly question will be posed for the PM or the leader of the opposition not because their opponent really wants answers, but to make life difficult for their opponent trying to catch them out in their words or make them look foolish in the eyes of others.

Three curly questions

In the reading today we are confronted with three curly questions that structure the passage. These questions come in the final public showdown between the religious leaders and Jesus. Last Sunday in Luke’s gospel in chapters 19 and 20 we saw that after Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the Jewish leaders (the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among people) opposed Jesus and immediately started trying to find ways to kill him. However, we also saw that their hands were tied because of the popularity of Jesus. The people hung on his words (19:48). After having tried to unsuccessfully to confront Jesus publicly about his authority to teach and take charge in the Temple the leaders were no longer willing to confront Jesus openly themselves. Instead they came up with a cunning plan. They sent spies to try and catch Jesus in something that he said so that they could either hand him over to the Roman authorities who were occupying Israel at the time or else so that they could discredit him in the eyes of the people who were hanging off his words.

Today we are going to firstly look at two curly questions that they asked Jesus and a third that Jesus himself asked of them. The questions that were asked of Jesus were clearly disingenuous and deceitful. The spies we are told pretended to be honest. They came to Jesus pretending to revere him as a teacher of the truth telling him that they know that he teaches the way of God and speaks and teaches what is right. But they weren’t there looking for the truth. The real reason they were there was to just try to get him to say something that might turn their Roman authorities against Jesus or else turn the people against him.

Curly question #1 – paying Roman taxes

The first curly questions had to with paying Roman taxes.

Luke 20:21-22

21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”[1]

  • It was a question that was a trap

In politics sometimes questions get asked because the person asking them knows that no matter how someone was to answer them, whatever answer they gave it would be most likely to end up upsetting someone. This was the kind of question that the spies asked the Lord Jesus and immediately we see that Jesus recognized it for what it was. We are told in verse 23 that he saw through their duplicity but instead of refusing to answer or just side step the question and then go on and talk about how well things had really been going for him, like many of our politicians often do, he answered the question not only truthfully but also in way that meant that he didn’t set of their trap.

  • The Lord answered it without setting off the trap

The Lord Jesus asked them to show him a denarius and asked them whose portrait and inscription was on it. He then went on to say, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. What I like about Jesus’ answer is that it not only answered their question without triggering the trap, but it highlighted the real issue which wasn’t paying taxes to the government but, whether they were giving to God what was God’s. This was what Jesus had just explained that they had not been doing in the parable of the tenants. They had been ignoring God and acting like they were owners and not tenants of what they had been entrusted with. The religious leaders wouldn’t have opposed paying taxes to Caesar, but they had been opposing God and ignoring him and even now they were plotting to get rid of the owner’s son, the Lord Jesus.

  • It was an answer that got to the heart of their problem and ours

Jesus answer is brilliant. It is very astute for it not only answered their question, but he pinpoints that the heart of the problem for these people and for all of us. Do we give to God what is God’s? Do we live our lives as though they are ours to hold on to and do with as we see fit, or do we see our God and Creator as the owner of our lives and live to honour him and give him his due?

In answering this question, we need to be careful. Jesus sees through our duplicity. He knows when people pretend. He can see the difference between those who only pretend to honour God but really live for themselves and their own honour. This is amply illustrated at the end of the chapter. In verses 45 to 47 Jesus warned the disciple to beware of the teachers of the law.

Luke 20:45-47

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

  • Do we give God the right place in our lives?

Who is it that we are seeking to honour? The teachers of the law did what they did because they loved to be honoured by the people. They liked to walk around in the flowing robes and to be greeted and be thought of as important in this world. But none of what they were doing was really for God. It was all for show so that they might feel important and be honoured. The Lord Jesus said that we are to give to God what is God’s. We are to seek to honour him with our lives – with who we are and that we have and what can do – like the poor women in chapter 21 that goes unnoticed by everyone expect Jesus – she gave everything she had even though she was poor.

Yes, we live in a world where we must pay taxes and work to live and buy and sell, and there is nothing wrong with this, but the question that we always need to ask ourselves is ‘Are we doing these things in way that honours God?’ What is our life all about? We must live in this world, but we are to live in such a way that we honour God in the way we live. And if you are wanting to honour the God who made you, then you will need to honour the Son, for God has sent him into so that you might believe in him and have life.

Friends, if you want to give God, his due then you need to trust Jesus and follow him taking up your cross and denying yourself. You are not to hold to your life but giving it up for his sake.  This is what the religious leaders were refusing to do because they wanted to hang on to what they had. Friends have you given God the place in your life that he ought to have or have you given that place to something or someone else? Is there some ambition or desire occupying the throne that God should be sitting on in your life? Is it success or money or a relationship that rules you? And are you still hanging on to things because you want to be honoured by the people around? Don’t play pretend like these spies did honouring Jesus with their words while still holding on to life living it for themselves. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.

Curly question #2 – resurrection and marriage

Just this week we heard of the passing of Mike Willesee who was very sharp and intelligent journalist who worked in the media. Many of you will not have been around at the time to remember it but in 1993 Mike asked John Hewson, the then federal liberal leader who was in opposition a question that many believed lost him the election. This was the first attempt of the liberal party to bring in a GST and the question seemed a very simple one.  Mike asked whether a chocolate cake would be more or less expensive under the GST. It seemed a simple question, but Mike knew the answer was far from simple. It depended on whether there had been a sales tax on the cake prior to the GST and how much confectionary or cream that they might have used to decorate the cake (for you could get charged GST on that) and in answering the question John Hewson was made to look like he had problem with explaining the GST. He was made to look very foolish in the eyes of the viewers by being given this curly question.

The next question that was asked of Jesus was this kind of question. The spies got nowhere with their questioning and gave up. They became silent and the Sadducees decided that it was there now their turn to ask Jesus a curly question. In their case the question they asked wasn’t one that wouldn’t have necessarily got him into trouble with the Romans but one that was meant to make Jesus look foolish or ridiculous in the eyes of the people of Jerusalem.

  • It was a question designed to make Jesus look ridiculous

The Sadducees were a priestly aristocratic movement that were part of the Jewish leadership. They didn’t necessarily agree with the Pharisees on a lot of things because they didn’t read the law in quite the same way and didn’t have all the oral tradition that the Pharisees had come up with. One of their significant differences was that they didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. They believed that this life was all there is and when it was over that was it. They came to Jesus with a question which was designed to make Jesus teaching about the resurrection look ridiculous.

Luke 20:27-33

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Their question was based around an OT law that required a man to marry his brother’s wife if he died without having any children. We don’t need to go into the details of what is often referred to Levirate marriage law to understand what they were getting at. If there were seven brothers and she married all of them then whose wife would she be in the resurrection? It wasn’t a genuine question but one that they asked to make all that Jesus said about the resurrection seem ridiculous and absurd. But the question revealed more about their shortcomings than the Lord Jesus. In answering it Jesus highlighted not only how ridiculous the question really was but also what was wrong with the Sadducees.

  • It was built on a wrong premise

Firstly, their premise was wrong. They believed that life in the age to come would go on just as it always has in this age. This isn’t the case, while some things won’t change, there will be some pretty big differences and Jesus explained just a couple of them. People won’t be given and taken in marriage as they used to be. Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and the resurrection will no longer die. They will live forever in the same ways that the angels do now. You might think that what you have now might be good to hold on to, but what you will have in the next life will far surpass even the best of what you have now. You won’t miss anything in this life – even the intimacy of marriage – for what you will have will be just so much better. To think everything will be the same as it is now in the next life was a ridiculous idea.

  • Ignoring God’s word is ridiculous

The second problem that the Sadducees had was they were ignoring the word of God and what God said about himself. The way that the Lord referred to himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and spoke of them in the present tense ought to have alerted these men who of the fact that these men who had died long before were still alive. Our God isn’t the God of the dead, said Jesus, but he is the God of the living. After this age has finished up God won’t just be the God of a whole lot of dead people who have come and gone in this world. But his children will be raised to life and as children of the resurrection they will never die. Jesus highlighted the absurdity of thinking that God will one day just be a God of a lot of dead people.

  • Ignoring the resurrection is ridiculous

What Jesus highlights is that for the Sadducees to leave the resurrection out is itself ridiculous for it is to believe in a God who will one day be just a God of a whole lot of dead people. If you believe in God and what he says, then the resurrection is something that you need to not only acknowledged, but it is also something you need to live out as way of life here and now. What you truly believe and think shapes the way you live.

The Sadducees said there was no resurrection, and this shaped the way they lived. They lived for what they could have here – wealth, power, honour – and they fought hard to hang on to it even if it meant handing Jesus over to the Romans to get rid of him. But if we know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life then we know this isn’t all there is. You don’t need to try to hang on to that which you can never really keep. You can even give away your last copper if you believe that this world isn’t all there is and there is something better to come. You can take up your cross and follow Jesus knowing that one day you will receive the crown life in the kingdom of God.

Today I want to ask you whether you are living like our God is the God of the living? Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead or are you living like this life is all there is? Are you holding on to your life or are you denying yourself and taking up your cross and following Jesus? Are you just like everybody else here busy storing up treasures for yourself on earth and none in heaven? Do you think that life is just about accumulating a whole lot of things or are you seeking to be good stewards of what God has given you using what you have for his kingdom? Are you busy making a name for yourself here and enjoying whatever time you have left? Are you really seeking his kingdom and not your own? Do you live to honour him in what you do at work, at home, with your finances, rather than yourself? We need to remember that the Lord Jesus said,

John 12:25

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man what hates life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Curly question #3 – How can Christ be David’s son if he is his Lord?

Now curly question number three is the one that Jesus directed at his opponents once they got to the point that they didn’t want to ask him any more questions. While the question that Jesus asked was a curly one it wasn’t a trap and nor was it just about making them look ridiculous, but it was rather an encouragement for them to think a little deeper about Jesus and respond to him aright. It is sort of a pointed question. Jesus asked them the question how “the Christ” can be the son of David when David himself refers to him as his Lord?

Luke 20:41-44

41 Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’ 44 David calls him ‘Lord’. How then can he be his son?”

  • Jesus was saying that he is more than just a son of David

Jesus quotes psalm 110 which was a psalm of David in which David refers to the Christ, the Lord’s anointed (the Messiah) as his Lord. But the Messiah, or Christ was to also be a descendant of David and in the ancient world a descendant wasn’t commonly thought of as being greater than his ancestor. It was the ancestor that was held in the highest of honour. But David here talks about his descendant as though he was far greater than himself for, he called him his Lord. What Jesus was implying by this was what he also implied in the parable of the tenants. Jesus is more than just another son of David he is also the son of the owner of the vineyard. He is the son of the Creator, God. He is the great king who sits at the right hand of his father and one day will rule over all the earth. He comes with the authority of God and even their greatest king, King David humbled himself calling him his Lord. Ultimately this is how we are all meant to respond to Jesus. We are to confess Jesus as our Lord, our King, our Sovereign.

  • We need to humble ourselves and follow David’s example

What these religious leaders in Jerusalem needed to learn was to humble themselves before their king and follow the example of David. David called the coming King his Lord and now that he had come to Jerusalem this should have been the stance that the Jewish leaders should have taken. They should have stood up and vacated their seats of honour and honoured the King that God had sent into the world. But instead of this what they did was ignoring and when they couldn’t ignore him anymore, they opposed him and looked for a way to get rid of him. But you can’t get rid of him. God has appointed his son, to sit at his right hand until he makes all his enemies a footstool for his feet. It is the Son who is the resurrection and the life, an it is only those who acknowledge him as their Lord and God who will be found worthy of taking part in the age to come and become children of God, children of the resurrection. It is he that can promise us life and it is this that even makes “giving up everything we have now worthwhile”.[2]

[1] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] Mike McKinley, Luke 12-24 For You