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Foiled Entrapment

July 18, 2021 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Luke Verse: Luke 20:20–20:26

Theme: The subjectivity of unbelief is overwhelmed by objective truth

Introduction: One of the most tragic responses to the clear revelation of God’s Word is that of indifference. The idea that God’s authority is in some way subject to what we think about it or how we feel about it is a consummate deification of man. The exchanging the creature for the creator is to dive into a sea of Subjectivity from the shore of objective truth and reality. This tendency is seen today in a variety of ways in our culture as objective truth is dismissed and the subjective assertions of self-determining people are elevated as superior to God’s ways, will, and Word. 

In our text today, the subjective assessments of the religious leaders of Israel had dismissed all of the evidence of divine truth that Jesus had provided – the miracles, signs, wonders that He did, and the words that He spoke. Instead of objectively recognizing the truth, they subjectively dismissed it in favor of their own ideas and priorities. Instead of yielding to the truth, they sought to discredit the truth by entrapping Him in a no-win conundrum – that either way He answered would cause Him to be discredited or indicted. Yet, they failed miserably and thus we have entitled this sermon “Foiled Entrapment.”

I. The Trap: Dismissing Authority – 20:20-22

A. The Effort to Deceive Authority – vv. 20-21

  • Realizing the disadvantage that they had as they approached Jesus, the Pharisees determined that the use of supposedly innocent and sincere inquisitors would be more likely to get a more casual answer from Jesus – “So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous …” 
  • Their hearts had been so seared and their consciences so hardened that the heinousness of their hypocrisy was completely missed.
  • Their entire motivation was to “catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.”
  • The deception clearly casts them as those who were satanically motivated to dim the light of the glory of Christ – cp. 2 Corinthians 11:15.
  • We are told by Matthew that In light of their plot, they enlisted some very unlikely allies – “along with the Herodians” – men who were very pro-Roman and credible witnesses should Jesus respond to their question by illegitimating the Romans tax – Matthew 22:15.
  • “They questioned Him …” [πηρώτησαν] – a wide range of meaning from politely ask to interrogate; it seems that the ruse is in play and they seem honest enough. 
  • Their plot was naively initiated by the use of great flattery and duplicity as they complimented Jesus as “Teacher …” – an address reserved for the most respected and honored Rabbis.
  1. Integrity - “We know that you speak and teach correctly …”
  2. Impartial - “… and You are not partial to any ….”
  3. Insightful - “… but teach the way of God in truth …”
  • They “butter him up” for the purpose of loosing his lips to speak inflammatory words in response to a set-up question.

B. The Enticement to Defy Authority – v. 22

  • All of this was to get Jesus to answer the following question: “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
  • This was a “poll-tax” [κῆνσος] was a particularly controversial tax in Israel – it was based on the “census” – and was essentially an annual “head tax” – that the Jews had to pay for the “privilege” of living in the Roman Empire and benefitting from Roman protection.
  1. It was this very tax that had precipitated the rebellion by Judas of Galilee in AD 6 that resulted in Herold Archelaus being removed and replaced by a Roman governor.
  2. It was this same tax that fueled much of the nationalistic, anti-Roman sentiment of the Zealots – those who rebelled in AD 66 and caused the reaction by Rome in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
  • The Herodians were pro-tax and would have been interested to see Jesus speak out against the tax – an event that would have immediately caused Him to be arrested for sedition against Rome.
  • However, the Pharisees were anti-tax and desired to have the pagan oppressors out of Israel – and would have been interested in Jesus supporting the tax so that his popularity with the people would be devastated.
  • Their bias is seen a bit in how they asked whether they should “pay taxes” by using the term “give” [δίδωμι].
  • Their persuasion was that any godly person would answer “no” – insisting that the godly have nothing to do with the defiled pagans who occupied Israel. 
  • Since they all believed that when the Messiah came, He would deliver them from the oppression of Rome, Jesus would certainly have to “fish or cut bait” in answering this question.

II. The Tutorial: Demonstrating Authority – 20:23-24

A. The Alertness of Divine Authority – v. 23

  • The thought that they could trick Jesus into answering a question that would bring condemnation in either way He answered was foolishness.
  • Jesus immediately “detected their trickery …” [πανουργία] – craftiness or evil cunning.
  • The lack of moral virtue was evident and their hypocritical approach to Him was transparent.
  • This demonstrates for us our own accountability before Jesus Christ – we cannot hide behind facades or fronts, projections or professions – we are seen for what we truly are at all times – cp. Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 33:13-15.
  • Because He knows the hearts of men, Jesus had the diving authority to require they answer Him – “… and said to them …”

B. The Accountability to Divine Authority – v. 24

  • He immediately commands them: “Show Me a denarius” – the very amount of the tax in question – cp. Matthew 22:19.
  • He then asks them: “Whose likeness and inscription does it have?”
  • This “coin” was in itself an offense to the Jews – because it not only reminded them of Roman oppression, but it bore the graven image of the emperor – a violation of the command not to make a graven image in the Decalogue.
  • Again, this is building the excitement for the moment when they were going to catch Jesus in sedition – as a Man who defended the holiness and honor of Jehovah God, He was calling out the human ruler who was promoting himself as deity.
  • They felt that they had Jesus … and therefore readily answer: “They said, ‘Caesar’s.’”
  • Because Jesus had identified Himself as God by calling Himself the Son of God, they expected Him to denounce as a false god and blasphemer the Caesar whose “likeness and inscription” was being held before them.
  • However, Jesus takes an immediate turn in a direction they didn’t see coming.


III. The Tenet: Defining Authority – 20:25-26

A. The Accountability to God on Earth – v. 25

  • “And He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s …’” – an immediate endorsement of the right of Rome to collect the tax.
  • They had asked if it was lawful to “give” [δίδωμι] the tax as if it was being given as a gift, and Jesus responds by saying that they were to “render” [ποδίδωμι] – a reference to giving back or returning something that belongs to another.
  • Jesus indicates that paying the tax was an obligation – since it is from the government they had received the money.
  • The government’s exercise of authority within God’s design is a way that it serves its delegated purpose – as the ministers of God - cp. Romans 13:1, 5-7.
  • While it is true that we are accountable to God’s human representatives on earth, we are at the same time subjects of the kingdom of God and possess the responsibility to remain loyal to our King.
  • The Herodians immediately sigh in relief that their viewpoint had been vindicated by Jesus and the Pharisees were readied to condemn Him when Jesus completed His statement.

B. The Accountability to God in Heaven – vv. 26-27

  • He continued and said: “… and to God the things that are God’s.”
  • Given the fact that man is made in the image of God, in the same way that the coin should be given to the one in whose image it was minted, the very life and heart of man should be given to God in whose image he was created – cp. Genesis 1:26.
  • This statement was a further indictment of the Pharisees and all of those who were resisting surrendering to the authority of God by means of their rejection of the Messiah.
  • Jesus is essentially saying: “You are concerning yourself over a mere denarius and whether you ought to have to give it to Caesar when the greater concern is giving yourself to God with ‘all your heart, soul, mind, and strength’” – cp. Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Micah 6:8.
  • “Giving back to God” was a total failure as they refused to bow themselves to Jesus as the Messiah and thus, they would be held accountable in Heaven for their unbelief.
  • They remained stymied in their efforts to entrap Jesus – “And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and begin amazed at His answer, they became silent.”

So What?

God sees through all of our hypocrisy and pretense – we are who are before Him, not who we want Him to think we are.

Flattering “worship” with the ulterior motive of avoiding submission to God is disgusting to Him.

God’s expectation is for citizens to submit to government authorities in the execution of their God-given duties.

Being as eager to avoid giving God what He is due in your life as diligently as you seek to avoid paying taxes is a mark of unbelief.

Do you refuse to bow before Jesus Christ as your Lord – resisting giving Him what He is due?