Questioning Authority- Luke 20:19-26

    This coming week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Everything slows down and people focus on food, family and football.  It is right after a long, busy fall and right before a crazy Christmas season.  It is week when things slow down allowing us to stop and reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives.  Gratitude can change your life.  Gratefulness is the one of the keys to true and lasting happiness. Gratitude helps us shift our focus off of what we don’t have onto what we do have.

     I’ll never forget living in Washington, D.C. in our little two bedroom house. The kitchen had two feet of counter space and only two cabinets with no dishwasher. The house was in a bad neighborhood where our car was broken into several times and the house itself was attempted to be robbed.  The closets were so small that they could not fit one person’s wardrobe, let alone two adults. The bathroom was so small that when Ellen was pregnant she had to turn sideways and shuffle on her tip toes to lift her stomach over the sink to get to toilet.  The house had a lot of “charm.”

   My wife and I had our fair share of complaints about our little two-bedroom home that was until we entered Reggie and Victor Acevedo’s house.  Victor was one of my students in math class and I knew their family was going through a tight financial season so I got them a Thanksgiving Dinner Box that was being offered through a local church.  Ellen and I went to their apartment to bring by the dinner and I will never forget what I saw.  It was a one bedroom apartment that housed ten people.  Beds and blankets covered the floor.  At that moment, the Lord convicted my heart of how much I had to be grateful for in my life.  I had my own two bedroom house with my own kitchen with two feet of counter space and two cabinets and a sink to wash my own dishes.  I had much to be grateful for. 
Gratitude helps us see how much we have rather than how much we need.  Gratitude truly can change our lives. And one of the things we need to be more grateful for is authority. Authority is a blessing and a gift.  Jesus came preaching and teaching to establish his authority on earth.  The leaders of the day challenged Jesus authority. Luke 20:1-2

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” (Luke 20:1-2)

The leaders came to Jesus and basically said, “What gives you the right to do what you do?” They did not like his teaching so they challenged his authority.

          It is important to see all of chapter 20 in light of these leaders challenging his authority. Last week, we look at the parable of wicker tenants which was spoken against the leaders who challenged his authority as verse 19 makes clear.

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (Luke 20:19)

The leaders sought to arrest and destroy Jesus because they did not want to submit to Jesus’s authority. It is important to see that this concept of authority is still a central idea for Luke throughout this chapter.

     Who is our authority is a central idea in all of Scripture. One could say that all of the Bible is about restoring our ability to rightfully submit to God’s authority. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Eve to challenge and distrust God’s authority. 

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:4-6)

Satan tempted Eve to challenge God’s authority and Eve sinned in believing him by distrusting God’s authority. And ever since the Fall, (when God’s authority was first challenged and disregarded by man) we have been tempted to follow Eve’s example.  One of the ways we can overcome our propensity to challenge God’s authority is to be grateful for it.  So as we approach this coming week of Thanksgiving, let me as your two questions about authority.

Are you Grateful for Authority?

            The leaders continue their attack of Jesus’ authority by attempting to set a trap for him by offering him a lose-lose question.  Luke 20:20-22,

So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

The goal of the question is stated there in verse 20, “to deliver him up.” The Jews lived under Roman oppression and did not have authority of the state to arrest.  They wanted Jesus to speak against Caesar so that he would be arrested and killed. In their minds, this was a no win situation. He will either speak against Caesar and be arrested or speak for Caesar and anger the Jewish people who hated paying tributes to him.

           The spies approach Jesus with flattery. They affirm his fairness and righteous teaching and how he teaches the true way of God.  And what they said was true. Jesus did not show partiality and he taught what was right. There words were true, but their hearts were insincere.  (We can say all the right words and still have our hearts far from God. Do not be impressed with people’s lofty words.) These people would have appeared to being submitting to Jesus’ teaching, but submission goes beyond mere verbal affirmation.  This is where we have to check our own hearts.  Are we truly submitting to Jesus authority in our lives or merely giving the outward impression that we are? 

            The outward appearance of honoring God was the problem of the Pharisees.  Listen to the hard words of Jesus in Matthew 23,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28)

God wants more than the mere outward appearance of gratefulness for His authority, but wants a heart the delights in His authority.

And this is why God sent Jesus Christ.  In the beginning, man had a pure heart that delighted in God’s authority. They lived in the Garden of Eden under his loving rule, but when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they rejected God’s authority bringing sin into the world.  So now, every human is born with a natural heart that is set against God’s authority.  We do not acknowledge God’s authority in our lives or give thanks to Him, but instead we have become futile in our thinking and our foolish hearts are darkened. We claim to be wise, but we all have become fools living outside of God’s authority.  Titus 3:3 says,

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)

Paul and the rest of the apostles looked at themselves as once foolish and disobedient, in bondage to sin, but notice that is not what they are. They were foolish, but now they have changed. What happened?  Titus 3:4-8,

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

God sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior. He saved us according to his own mercy by dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our foolishness. We could not be righteous so God gave us the righteousness of another, Jesus Christ.  After Jesus Christ died, God raised him from the dead giving us the hope of eternal life. All we have to do is receive eternal life is repent of sin and believe Jesus Christ. Repentance is acknowledge and giving thanks to God’s authority in our life. Are you grateful for God’s Authority?  We show our gratefulness through repentance and faith. And our gratefulness is expressed through real concrete actions given to God.

Are you Giving unto Authority?

Jesus shifts the focus off of the question of taxes and broadens the issue to one of authority. Luke 20:22-26

Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

They attempted to trap Jesus with their question, but Jesus sees right through their schemes and flips the question back at them. With his responds, Jesus reveals two sovereign authorities over their lives (and ours).  First, Jesus affirms the authority of the state.  We live in a world in which God has given the state authority to provide for its needs by collecting taxes.

            No one enjoys paying taxes.  One of the reasons that so many people are moving to South Carolina is because it is more favorable in its taxes. We may not enjoy paying taxes, but they are necessary for the state to exercise its authority. One of the most important texts regarding the authority of the state is Romans 13. Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1). The state exists because God allows it to exist. And one of the purposes of the state is seen in 1 Peter 2:13 which says that government should, “punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The only way the state can fulfill its purpose to exercise authority in maintaining justice is to have people do the work of justice.

As much as I do not like paying taxes, I am grateful for the men and women of our police department who protect and serve our community to maintain peace and order. I am grateful for our firemen who protect and serve our community to keep us safe.  We may not love paying taxes, but we should be grateful for what our taxes provide.  This does not mean that every tax and/or roll exercised by our government is morally right, but Jesus affirms that we have an obligation to serve the state.

There will be things that our government endorses that we must protest because it goes against God, but we do so with gentleness following the example of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:18-24,

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

How we submit to our earthly authority is one way we display our faith in the gospel of Christ? Our submission helps us become like Jesus Christ.

            Secondly, after affirming the authority of the state, Jesus establishes God as the higher sovereign authority over our lives. Jesus asks for a denarius and said, “Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They of course said Caesar. Then Jesus makes the application that the people should give to Caesar that which is in his likeness, but also the people should give to God that which is in His likeness. What is made in the likeness of God? Who is made in the image of God? We are.  Therefore, we are to offer to God that which was made in His image: ourselves. We are to give ourselves unto God.  Romans 12:1-2,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Everything we have and everything we do belongs to God. So, are you giving yourselves unto God? 

            I do not want to make this passage formulaic and thus minimize the depth and comprehensiveness of Jesus’ statement.  In many ways the full application of this command is fulfilled in the greatest two commandments. Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31,

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

We give ourselves unto God’s authority by loving Him and loving others.

Although I do not want make this formulaic, I do think it would be helpful to look at three specific ways we can give to God the things that are God’s: your Time, Talent, and Treasure.

Time: Every day we make choices that display what we value.  We spent time on things we value.  What does the use of your time communicate about your values? We are called in the Scriptures to make the best use of our time because the days are evil (Eph 5:15-16; Col 4:5-6). Ask people who are close to you how about your use of time.

Talent: God has given us all various gifts and talents primarily to be used for the building up of the body of Christ. God has placed you in this community to use your gifts to help others become more like Jesus Christ.  Are you using your talents to build up others in the faith? Do not squander the gifts that God has given to this church by not using your talents for the good of others.

Treasure: All your money does not belong to you, but to God.  Are you giving your treasure unto God?  We are trained by our society to increase our standard of living as our income increases, but God may increase our income so we can increase the blessing we can be to others rather than our own comfort.  How you handle your treasure reveals the values of your heart!!!

Jesus wants us to give ourselves unto God. The challenge for us now is the application of that command. 

            And as we reflect and think through how we can give ourselves to God this coming week, let us remember that Jesus is not asking us to do anything that He has not already done. Jesus Christ gave himself for us. He offered his body as a living sacrifice unto to death that we may live.  And because of His obedience, He was exalted to the highest place and was given the name that is above every name.  Beloved, God asks you to give yourselves to Him and He promises you that it will be worth it.  
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