Robert Jeffress - Jesus In The Hot Seat
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. God never discourages a sincere question, but when our inquiries are intended to twist God's word and rationalize disbelief or even disobedience, well, that's an entirely different matter. And that's exactly what took place in a famous passage from Luke 20. Today, we're going to examine a fascinating scene in which religious leaders tried and failed to put Jesus to the test. My message is titled "Jesus In The Hot Seat" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Every parent knows what it's like to be bombarded with questions from your children. And when your children are small, the questions are sincere questions, questions like, "Why is the sky blue? Where did God come from?" or, "why is daddy always in a bad mood"? I mean, we get those questions when our children are small, but have you noticed, the older they get, those questions move from being sincere questions to sometimes questions that challenge our authority. "Why can't I stay out an extra hour? Why can't I have my own car"?
As a parent, we respond one way to sincere questions, but we respond completely differently to questions meant to challenge our authority. We shouldn't be surprised that God's the same way. God never resents sincere questions. He doesn't always answer the questions. Remember, Job asked him in the midst of his suffering the "Why" question, and God basically said, "It's beyond your pay grade to understand. You couldn't begin to understand the why question even if I explained it to you". Or the disciples, they were asking Jesus before he ascended back into heaven, "Lord, is it at this time? When are you going to restore the kingdom"? And Jesus politely but firmly said, "It's none of your business. That's God the Father's business". But God is not threatened by sincere questions.
However, when people ask questions that are meant to mask their own rebellion and unbelief, God responds differently. And we see that illustrated in how Jesus responded to three questions that were asked not sincerely, but were meant to discredit and ultimately destroy him. If you have your Bibles, turn to Luke 19 as we discover how Jesus responded when he found himself in the hot seat. Luke 19. Let me remind you where we are in our study of Luke. We're now in the final week of the Lord's life, his earthly life, before he's crucified on Friday. Jesus and his disciples have entered into Jerusalem. They entered not on palm Sunday like we say. It was really palm Monday. It was a Monday that was the triumphal entry when the people praised him.
How quickly that would change. And then on Tuesday of that week, he went to the temple, and he cleared out the money changers who were desecrating the temple. And then how did the people, the religious leaders, respond to that? Look at Luke 19:47-48. "And Jesus was teaching daily in the temple, but the chief priest and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy him". They were infuriated at Jesus. "And so they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging upon his words". They wanted to get rid of Jesus, and they knew the only way to do that was to either catch him in blasphemy, or in treason against Rome. And now, between the white space in your Bible, between the end of chapter 19 and the beginning of chapter 20, they came up with a plan.
You see, they couldn't openly kill him at this point, because he was too popular. So how in the world were they going to catch Jesus? Well, they came up with this plan, and the plan was they would try to trick Jesus into committing either blasphemy or treason by asking him three tough questions, questions about his identity, about the role of government, and about the nature of eternity. Let's look at the first question, the question of Jesus's identity, beginning with chapter 20:1-2. "And it came about on one of the days while Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the Gospel, the chief priest and the scribes with the elders confronted him. And they spoke saying to him, tell us, by what authority are you doing these things, or who is the one who gave you this authority"? What things? They were saying, "Who gave you the authority to do what you did yesterday in cleaning out this temple, turning over the tables of the money changers? Who gave you the authority to do what you did in our holy temple"?
Well, Jesus decided to answer their question with another question. Look at verses 3 and 4. "And he answered and said to them, 'I shall also ask you a question, and you tell me. Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men'"? Why did he ask about John the Baptist? John the Baptist, remember, was a revered prophet. The people loved John the Baptist. And remember, John the Baptist was the one who came to announce the coming of Christ. When he saw Jesus, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who is to take away the sins of the world". So Jesus asked the leaders a question about this popular prophet: was John sent from God, or did he just make up his own message?
Well, this put the religious leaders on the horns of a dilemma. If they said, "Oh, we agree that he was a prophet of God," then the natural follow-up question is, "Well, why don't you believe what he said about me, that I'm the Messiah"? However, if they tried to discredit John the Baptist and say, "Oh no, he wasn't from God", then they would have faced the ire of the people. And so, how did they answer the question "Was is he from heaven or not"? They shrugged their shoulders and said, "We don't know, we don't know". But Jesus wasn't about to allow them to get away with that. And so, he looks beyond those questioners and tells the people a parable, and the parable begins in verse 9.
Now, we don't have time to look at this parable in depth. Let me give you the reader's digest version of the parable. Jesus told the story about the owner of a vineyard who had some tenant farmers. Now, what happened then happens today. If you own a farm, you'll hire some farmers, some tenant farmers, who will work the land for you, harvest the crops, and they will keep a percentage of the profits for themselves and send you the rest. Well, that's exactly what was going on here. Here's the owner of a vineyard. He has some tenant farmers, and the owner goes on an extended trip. And while he's away on the trip, harvest time comes. Naturally, he wants his cut of the profits. And so he sends one of his servants from where he is back home to the farm to request payment from the tenant farmers.
How do they treat this representative of the owner? They beat him up. And so the owner says, "I'll send a second representative". They beat up the second representative. So what's he going to do? Verse 13 of chapter 20. "And the owner of the vineyard said, what shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Perhaps they will respect him". But instead of respecting the son, the tenant farmers plot to kill him, saying, "He is the heir. If we get rid of him, then the vineyard is ours". And that's exactly what the farmers do. They kill the son of the owner. How's the owner going to respond to that? Look at verse 16. "He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others. And when the people heard it, they said, 'me genoita', may it never be".
You see, these people didn't have a PhD in theology, but even they got the point of what Jesus was saying in this parable. The owner of the vineyard represents God the Father. God the Father's the owner. The vineyard represents God's blessings to the people of Israel. The tenant farmers were the Israelites, who were reaping the benefits of God's promises. Yet, when they got off track, when they failed to give the owner, God, what was due him, how did God respond? He sent his representatives to speak to them. How did they respond to God's representatives? They treated them with contempt. Jeremiah was a prophet. They threw him in a pit. Isaiah was a prophet. They had him sawn in two. And so what did God say? He said, "I'm going to send the ultimate prophet. My own son I'm going to send to speak to this people".
How would they respond to him? In just a few days, they would crucify him. Look at verse 16. How will he respond? "God will come and destroy the vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others". In other words, because the Israelites crucified the Son of God, God will take the blessings meant to Israel and he will give them to the gentiles. And that's why the people said, "May it never be"! That is unthinkable. Now, notice this application in verses 17 to 18. "The Lord looked at them and said, what then is this that is written"? And then he quotes from Psalm 118, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief cornerstone".
A cornerstone was the foundational stone of any building. It was an immovable rock. He said, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief cornerstone. Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust". Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the foundation of this entire universe. You either submit to him, or you will be broken over him.
You know, the apostle Peter understood that. There are some faith traditions today that say that the apostle Peter is the cornerstone of the church, the foundation of the church. No, he's not. Even Peter did not believe he was the cornerstone of the church. Peter said, "Jesus is the cornerstone of the church". Listen to what Peter said in I Peter two verses 6 through 8. "For this is contained in scripture," and he quotes from Isaiah 28: "Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed. This precious value then is for you who believe, but for those who disbelieve," and then he quotes from Psalm 118, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very cornerstone". Then he quotes from Isaiah 8: "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed".
Although Jesus is the cornerstone of God's plan for the world, have you noticed how people stumble over Jesus Christ? Have you ever noticed this? Have you ever noticed that how in most audiences, you can talk about God all you want to, and people, for the most part, aren't that offended? Even on secular television, on reality shows, people will talk about their faith in God. That's acceptable. That's fine. But you talk about Jesus Christ, people freeze up. They're offended that you would dare mention the name of Jesus Christ.
Why is it people are so offended by the name of Jesus? I mean, here's the man who did more good for the world than any human being who's ever lived, a man who talked about loving one another, a man who talked about turning the other cheek. What is it that is offensive about Jesus Christ? Why do people stumble over him? It's because of what he represents. The Gospel is offensive to people. It's offensive to tell people that we are sinners in the sight of God, that we are unclean. "There's not one righteous among us, no, not even one". The best we can do is like a filthy rag in the presence of God, and we are so unclean and so unrighteous and bound for hell that our only hope of salvation is a blood sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ. Only through Jesus Christ can we find forgiveness and a right relationship with God.
People are offended by that. People are offended when you tell them there's only one way to heaven and it is through faith in Jesus Christ. And so, they stumble over Jesus. He is a rock of offense, a stumbling block. It's true today, and it was true 2.000 years ago. And that's why verse 19 says the religious leaders were infuriated by his message. They wanted to kill him right then, but they had a problem. He was too popular, so they decided to try to trip him up with a second question, a question that is sure to cause controversy, back then just as it is today. They decided to question him about the subject of politics, the politics of his day. And that's what they did.
Look at verses 21 and 22, the question about government's authority. And so, a second group came to him of Jews. "They questioned him, saying, teacher, we know that you speak and teach correctly, and you're not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth". Pardon me if I barf right here. They are so insincere. You just see the insincerity, the honey drip. "Oh Lord, we just believe everything you have to say, so please answer this simple question for us. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not"? Is it lawful for a Jew to pay taxes to the corrupt Roman government?
Now, Matthew and Mark's account tell us which group of Jews were coming to ask this question. It was the pharisees and the Herodians, and why that's interesting is because those two group of Jews hated one another. They absolutely hated one another because they had polar opposite views of what the right response to government was. The pharisees believed you oughta resist the Roman government at every chance you have. The Roman government is corrupt, and it's an abomination that foreigners would have rule over Israel. So they said, "Resist the government". The Herodians were that sect of the Jews that said, "Let's go along to get along. Let's try to make peace with the Romans as much we can. Let's pay our taxes and do what we can to live under their rule".
But these two groups, even though they hated one another, they had a common enemy: Jesus Christ. And so they come together, and they say, "Now, Lord, tell us about this tax thing. Is it rightful to pay taxes or not"? Here's why it was a trick question. If Jesus said, "Yes, it's right to pay taxes," then the group of Jews who hated Rome would say, "He can't be the Messiah if he's for supporting Rome". If he said, "No, you need to be conscientious objectors and not pay your taxes," then he would have been guilty of treason and would have been prematurely killed by the Romans.
So how did he answer this question? Look at verse 24. Jesus said, "Show me a Denarius. Bring me a Denarius," a coin, the basic unit of currency then. The Denarius was about one day's wage. On the Denarius, there was an inscription. It said, "Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus". Tiberius was the emperor of Rome. He was the son Augustus, whom the Romans thought was divine. So he said, "Bring me this Denarius". Now the Denarius represented the poll tax that the Jews paid once a year. They paid other taxes, but this was the poll tax to support the Roman government, and it was one Denarius. That's what it was, the tax that was due, one Denari.
So Jesus said, "Now, gimme one of those coins," and he held it up. What did he do with the coin? Did he throw it away and say, "This is a pagan image on here. You shouldn't have anything to do with it"? No, as he held it up, he said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's". That word "Render" means "Pay to". "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and render to God what is God's". There you find a theme we've talked about before, and that is a Christian's response to government. Government is one of the three institutions God has created to carry out his purpose in the world. God hasn't created one or two institutions. He's created three, and only three.
In Genesis two, he created the family, the building block of society. In Genesis 9, he created government for the purpose of keeping order in society. And in acts 2, he created the church. The purpose of the church is to be the body, the representative of Christ on the earth. Each institution has its own lane that it's to operate in to carry out God's purpose for the world. The government has never been given the job of rearing children. The church has not been given the responsibility of hunting down and punishing evildoers. The government's not been charged with the responsibility of bringing revival to this country. Every organization God has created for a unique purpose. But government is a legitimate institution.
In fact, in Romans 13:1-2, Paul said this: "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority," that is, government, "Has opposed the ordinance of God, and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves". Paul goes on to say, "God has even given the government the right to take the lives of people who are committing the evil".
You know people who say, "Well, I don't believe in capital punishment"? Well then, you don't believe the Word of God, because God says government has the right to execute people who are evildoers. That is their responsibility. And what he is saying here is, Jesus, "Give to government what belongs to government. Render to Caesar," the government, "what belongs to him," your allegiance, your paying your taxes, but, he goes on to say, "Be sure you give to God what belongs to God".
What belongs to God? Well, not just our money, but our ultimate allegiance belongs to God. I don't know if you've seen some of this stuff after we had our Freedom Sunday here last month in which we thanked God for his undeserved blessings upon our country and we sang patriotic songs and we heard that wonderful testimony from that former army ranger. Did you see some of the criticism from these, I call them "Evangelical gnats". These gnats swarm around, find something to complain about. And they complained about our church daring to have a patriotic service and thanking God for our country.
Why is that suddenly un-Christian, to have a patriotic service? There's nothing wrong and everything right with thanking God for his undeserved blessings on America. We ought to do that, we ought to do that. We oughta remind us ourselves the fact that this nation was founded on a Christian bedrock foundation. There's no argument about that. We oughta say that over and over again. But these people, they said, "Well, you're confusing people, pastor Jeffress. What if there comes a time when we have to disobey government? You're confusing people with this allegiance to America".
Hey, there's no confusion whatsoever. When, not if, when there comes a time we have to choose between obeying the government and obeying God, that's not a choice at all. Acts 5:29 says, "We must obey God rather than man". Our ultimate allegiance belongs to God always, and that's what Jesus is saying. You give to government what belongs to government, our respect, our obedience, until that obedience comes in conflict with Jesus Christ. Well, the Sanhedrin couldn't trip him up on the question about his identity. The Pharisees and the Herodians couldn't trip him up on questions about government. So there was one final group to come to Jesus to question him about eternity, and this final group the Bible tells us was a group known as the Sadducees.