Today we continue our conversation through Matthew. Matthew is not just another rendition of stories about Jesus. It’s an intentional walk towards life and relationship with Jesus. In beginning of Matthew we learned:
Jesus is greater than Moses
Jesus is a descendant of David
Jesus is the messiah
JESUS IS GOD WITH US
And as Matthew was inviting his audience to process this, we are invited to process as well. Today, we’re not starting with a dialog question, we’re starting with 30 seconds of writing. Without much introduction, I want you to think for a moment and then write. In a moment of “physical presence,” what would you ask Jesus? If you saw him face to face, what would your one question be? This may seem a little elementary, but it is really going to help us process out text today.
If you could ask Jesus any question, what would you ask?
The way that we ask something matters. Have you ever started googling a question you have and it autofills what it thinks you’re trying to ask? There are so many different ways to phrase the same question when we’re all looking for one answer. The kinds of questions we ask give a peek at what’s going on in our lives. Some of the top Googled questions recently have been:
What is DACA?
What is Bitcoin?
What is net neutrality?
Which celebrity do I look like?
Why did I get married?
Who unfollowed me on Instagram?
What time is it?
What song is this?
When is Mother’s day?
Questions are a good window into what is going on. They reveal something about:
Our perception of future
They reveal something challenging, confusing, exciting or anticipated. In Matthew 22, Jesus is approached and asked questions. A few months ago, in our study of Matthew, we mentioned the cultural embracing of something called challenge and riposte. There is a non-hostile, relational version of this process. We see it in Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, and with the crippled man in John 5. There was also a lot of challenge and riposte between Jesus and the religious authorities. Challenge and riposte is:
Ancient societal tradition
Taken place in a public venue
The purpose is for each party to try to undermine the honor or social status of the other party
Each round, the opponent ups the ante until someone can’t respond
I imagine it as a very intense, intellectual rap battle? Pitch Perfect vibes. They just go back and forth until someone can’t keep up. Today we’ll get a glimpse into some of this public sparring between jesus and some authorities. The religious authorities worked hard to stack the cards to ensure their victory, but Jesus kept bringing it back to what is really important. He’s seemingly much less concerned about winning for the sake of winning and more concerned about what is most important.
So if you haven’t participated in a rap battle lately, I want you to… Feel the pressure of answering questions quickly. I am going to ask you 10 questions. Ready?
1. What two things can you never eat for breakfast?
Lunch and dinner.
2. What gets wetter the more it dries?
3. What word is spelled incorrectly in every single dictionary?
4. What never asks a question but gets answered all the time?
A cell phone.
5. What goes up but never ever comes down?
6. Someone fell off a 50-foot ladder but didn’t get hurt. How come?
They fell off the bottom rung.
7. What starts with “e” and ends with “e” but only has one letter in it?
8. How can someone go 25 days without sleep?
They sleep at night.
9. You spot a boat full of people but there isn’t a single person on board. How is that possible?
Everyone on board is married.
10. How do you make the number one disappear?
Add the letter G and it’s “gone”!
I could have asked you a list of impossible questions (think calculus, obscure art history, latin). I could have been Intent of making you look and feel totally stupid. I don’t think that would have been very nice. It may have built some empathy to Jesus’ experience, but it also may have crossed some lines. So instead I asked you more obtainable, but tricky questions. We’ve all heard brain teasers before. You probably have a few answers memorized. I gave you some hope of having the right answer and then I pulled the rug out from under you. I presented the questions in a pushy, inconsiderant way. I stacked the cards against you. I wasn’t on your team. I didn’t want you to win.
Today we’re looking at Jesus being attacked by people trying to trick him and catch him in his words. Let’s take a break with our first dialogue question.
What happens inside of you when you are attacked with “trick” questions?
How do you feel when you realize someone is trying to defame you?
What happens inside of you? Jesus kept focus on what is most important. We are looking at Matthew 22 starting at verse 15. Jesus is approached by a strange grouping of people. By a group including both Pharisees and Herodians.
The word Pharisee is derived from an Aramaic word meaning, "separated." They were a group that held to the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, and punishment in future life. They believed that punishment was based upon how one behaves in this life. The souls of the wicked would be in prison forever under the earth. Those who were righteous would live again.
The Herodians derived their name as followers of King Herod. The Herodians were a political party that wanted to restore a Herod to the throne in Judea as well as other areas ruled by Herod the Great. They were political foes of the Pharisees who wished to restore the kingdom of David.
This was stranger than a group of democrats and republicans coming as one. They came with strange compliments. Underhanded compliments.
“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.
Then they asked a question:
17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”
The cards were stacked. It was a trick. Jesus must have thought:
If I say - PAY IT TO CAESAR
Pharisees will attack… (agreeing that Caesar is a God)
If I say - DON’T PAY IT TO CAESAR
Herodians will attack… (you are breaking the law)
Jesus saw through their question and responded:
19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
They were amazed and went away. Jesus kept focus on the main things. Jesus’ response wasn’t about paying taxes.
What does the Pharisees and Herodians question say about them?
Then the Sadducees show up with a question. A question about the afterlife. Something they didn’t even believe in...
Who were the Sadducees:
The Sadducees were a Jewish political party. They were members of the priesthood and made up part of the Jewish council- the Sanhedrin. The high priest was taken from the Sadducees. Although they were few in number, they educated and usually wealthy. We read a description of them in the Book of Acts. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all (Acts 23:8).
They approached Jesus and asked:
“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; 26 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.”
To this Jesus responds:
29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
They were impressed. They came wanting to trip up Jesus. They were wanting to pick a fight. They were wanting to prove His ignorance. Jesus didn’t flinch. He kept the main thing the main thing.
What does the Sadducees’ question say about them?
But it didn’t end there. Hearing that the Sadducees had been stumped, the Pharisees came at him again. This time we’ll get him. We will come at him with our greatest expert, ready to dissect every word.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus quickly responded…
37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Again, in the face of their hypercritical expert, Jesus didn’t flinch. He kept the main thing the main thing. Then, Jesus goes on the offensive in the challenge and riposte. He says - OK, now I have a question for you:
42 “What do you think about Christ, whose son is He?”
They said to Him, “The son of David.”
43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’?
45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?”
Jesus was: Son of David and Lord of David at the same time. That doesn’t make sense.
The Pharisees believed both, that the Messiah would be a “son” descendant of David, and that the Messiah would be Lord of David. Setting those two beliefs side by side trapped them in a paradox. The answer to the paradox was standing right in front of them.
Jesus again, keeping the main thing the main thing:
Jesus is from the line of David
Jesus is the Messiah
Jesus is the Son of God
Jesus is greater than Moses
Jesus is God...with us
He dropped it in their lap but they decided that it was better to lose (the challenge and riposte) than to admit Jesus was the Messiah. So the challenge and riposte was over and Jesus won. He’s had so many moments of teaching, probably wishing that people would just get it. Not only that, but He’s getting ready to go and die. How does he hold onto the important things in the midst of all of this?
One thing we could not get away from in the challenge and riposte portion of the story is that questions expose the heart. This is not a moment to try figure other people out. Let’s look inward. What do our questions say about US?
Today, I hope we can be challenged to use our questions to God as a window into ourselves. The questions themselves are not key. It’s the heart behind them is what we’re looking for. We ask questions like:
Why didn’t they like me GOD?
Why do I feel this way GOD?
Why did you let them get elected GOD?
What am I supposed to do next GOD?
Are you going to say something GOD?
Should I do something GOD?
Where are you GOD?
God can take our questions. I think he loves them. There is so much learning, relationship and growth that comes from a curious mind. Our church is dialog-based for a reason. The challenge and riposte process in Jesus’ culture was actually respected and relational. It was an opportunity to learn. It didn’t have to get nasty. Jesus was inviting these people to go deeper. To change, focus, refocus. They didn’t see it as a learning opportunity. But we can. This is not a moment to dismiss, ignore, or censor our questions. Don’t feel like you can’t be true to where you are, right now. This is a moment to dive deeper into your questions. The questions I ask out loud and the questions I ask inside of my head. What can they reveal about me? Where is my heart?
We saw the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees completely dismissing this process. They’d rather be wrong than admit Jesus is who he says he is. I don’t want to be like them. So, in your challenge and riposte process with Jesus, are you willing to admit you don’t have all the answers? That you’ve seen Jesus or yourself incorrectly? Or would you rather not admit those kind of things?Let’s end with one last dialogue question:
What are you asking (silently or out loud) to God
and what is that revealing about yourself, to yourself?
Take it Deeper Questions:
Read Matthew 22:34-40
Who are three or four people in this world that you love the most?
Why do you think Jesus emphasized loving God with all of your heart, soul and mind?
How is loving God related to loving people?
In what ways do you want to grow in love right now: Towards God? Towards your family? Towards your neighbors? Towards those in need?
How might you do so?