“God of the Living”

Matthew 22:15-33

We are reading through the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth as a human. He entered Jerusalem in a parade, announcing Him as the Messiah. He wasted no time in letting the religious leaders know exactly what He thought of their behavior by disrupting their money laundering in the temple. Currently in our reading of the Gospel According to Matthew Jesus is in the temple on the second day of Passover being questioned by the chief priests and elders as to what authority He has to be there in the first place. His immediate response to their questioning was three parables. Each parable presented an affirmation of how poorly the Pharisees and leaders of the temple had been doing in leading the people of Israel. The Pharisees did not take this sitting down. They plotted how they could entangle Jesus in His own rhetoric. 

However, rather than face Jesus directly they sent their disciples along with the Herodians to battle it out. The Herodians weren’t even Jewish, they were hero-worshippers for Herod the Great, and up to this point the religious leaders of the temple would have nothing to do with them. However, the hatred the Pharisees had towards Jesus was greater than the differences they had with the pagans. Jesus had directly accused and exposed the religious leaders and they were fighting back. 

They began their counter attack with flattery. Like that was going to work with Jesus? He was neither insecure nor foolish enough to be impressed with their hollow praise. 

However, their question was simple. They thought they had Jesus with a yes or no reply. 

Should Jesus say “Yes,” the taxes should be paid, He could be accused of denying the sovereignty of God over Israel, and the Jewish people would rebel. 

If Jesus said “No,” that taxes should not be paid, He would make Himself an enemy of Rome. 

Again, some Roman history is helpful in this situation. What tax was being discussed here? It turns out there were three regular taxes from Rome in the time of Jesus. > There was the “ground tax” which was a 10% tax on grain production and a 20% tax on oil and wine. 

> There was an “income tax,” which was 1% of a man’s income and 

> There was a “poll tax,” paid by every man for 14-65 years of age and every woman from 12-65 years of age, this tax was a denarius a year. 

To give you a perspective, typically, one denarius (or one drachma) was considered a fair wage for a day of manual labor. So a worker might expect to earn a little over 300 denarii in a year. Depending on how many people in one’s family, one for each was to be given to Rome. Paying this poll tax was the most obvious sign of submission to Rome. One Bible scholar states, “The Zealots claimed the poll tax was a God-dishonoring badge of slavery to the pagans.”  

Jesus demonstrated He was in complete control. He was not going to be thwarted by the wickedness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Herodians. His response was, we are responsible to God in all our actions, including being a good citizen. Let the government have what is theirs and God have what is His.  

Later on Peter put it this way in 1 Peter 2:17, 

“Fear God. Honor the king.”

The verb “render” used in this sentence means, “give.” It is the verb used when paying a bill or settling a debt. In other words Jesus was stating citizens owe it to Caesar.

For Jesus, everyone has the image of God impressed upon them. We are what belongs to God, not to Caesar, not even to ourselves.  The image of a human stamped on a coin demonstrates how temporal things belong to the government. The image of God stamped on our souls demonstrates that all that we have and all that we are belong to the Most High and should be offered in His service. 

Jesus’ answer not only stumps them, it amazes them and they walk away. 

Matthew tells us on the same day, the Sadducees decide to take a whack at stumping Jesus. Here was another group of Jewish religious leaders who had their own way of thinking and living. They were the wealthy upper class and their lives were spent around the Temple, making sacrifices and maintaining the purity of the Temple. They did not believe in oral law, only the written Torah, which, by the way, turns out they didn’t know very well according to Jesus. They rejected doctrines that were not written in the Law such as the resurrection, retribution in a future life and the existence of angels. Their question for Jesus was an attempt to ridicule the idea of the resurrection. 

The hypothetical and ridiculous soap opera story the Sadducees concocted was based on a law written in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. 

The law says if a married man died childless, it was his brother’s responsibility to impregnate his brother’s widow and then count the child as the deceased husband’s descendant. This practice was known as a “levirate marriage” the term comes from the Latin word, “lavir” meaning “brother-in-law.” 

The Sadducees were doing what people continue to do, take pieces of Scripture and rethink it into ridiculous scenarios. Such as, “Can God build a rock so large He cannot move?” or “How many angels fit on the head of a pin?”

Jesus listens to their story and tells them they are mistaken on two accounts: 

  1. They didn’t know their Scripture
  2. They didn’t know the power of God

They connected their story to a Biblical passage but they didn’t think through the passage correctly. Even though they were highly trained in their career they were basically anti-supernaturalists and had no concept of the power of God. 

Knowing the Scriptures is one thing, but understanding that knowledge is another. 

Paul put it this way for Timothy, in 2 Timothy 1:13,14,

​​”What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

Biblical truth has a pattern to it that can be detected by the discerning heart. 

We are to read Scripture with the understanding that God doesn’t change but remains the same throughout. 

The Sadducees denied supernatural truths such as angelic beings and the bodily resurrection. If it couldn’t happen in their material world, it couldn’t happen. There are some today who can’t seem to step into a realm they cannot measure and understand.  

Then Jesus provides a glimpse of what the resurrection will be like. This is the only place Jesus offers an insight as to what happens after death. 

First off, marriage will not be needed. The whole concept of marriage was established to demonstrate the relationship God has with His people. It was within this covenant humans were called to create other humans. This will not be necessary in heaven. 

Marriage will not be needed, but family relationships will be understood. We are told in Luke 16 that the rich man Jesus described in the afterlife was aware of his family relationships. However, we are told in Revelation 21 that the glory of heaven will be a relationship and connection with God that surpasses anything we can even imagine. 

Jesus even steps on their disbelief of angels by proclaiming  we will be like the angels in heaven. 

Jesus goes one step further and questions their knowledge of the Torah, the only books the Sadducees accept as authoritative, by using a statement of God’s from the Torah, verse 32

 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’

Jesus was inferring that if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not alive, God would have said, 

“He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” 

The last part of verse 32, we should take to heart, verse 

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 

Those who heard Him that day we are told were astonished. He had certainly put the Sadducees in their place. Watch out when you come up against the creator of heaven and earth. 

This encounter Jesus had with these men, who thought they knew Scripture, is something we should use to check our own relationship with Jesus.

The Sadducees were mistaken on two accounts:  

> They didn’t know their Scripture

> They didn’t know the power of God

Because of this they missed the fact that God is a God of the living. 

Check in time. 

Do you know your Scripture?

Do you recognize and trust in the power of God?

Have you been living for God or merely existing? 

Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins and by doing so He brought the Kingdom of God down to earth. It is here, now. Not in its full capacity, that will happen when Jesus returns again. But we, as believers in Jesus Christ, are called to “live” in such a way that we recognize that God is the God of the living. 

When Jesus was in Jerusalem the religious leaders had knowledge of the Scriptures but they certainly weren’t living like they understood them. They were existing. 

As we take on the week to come, I encourage you to “live” in such a way that you recognize God’s presence. You actively seek His counsel, read His Word, feel His love and then pass it on to those around you. 

Let’s pray.