Is God for us or against us? Have you ever wrestled with that question? Have you ever walked through a season of your life when it felt to you like you weren't really on God's radar? Maybe you felt overlooked, or possibly even worked against.
As a whole, the message of Scripture clearly reveals that God is for us. We're reminded that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. We're shown that He continually pursues people and invites us to have restored fellowship with Him. Scripture explains to us that the debt of our sin was so deep and offensive it could only be paid for by God Himself, so Jesus came to this earth and bore our sin so our debt could ultimately be cancelled.
But we're also told multiple times in Scripture that God opposes the proud and that He gives grace to the humble. Pride is a form of self-worship and self-glory. Pride reflects the heart and the intent of Satan, not the heart of Christ. Pride leads to stumbling and ultimately destruction.
Jesus frequently encountered proud people who thought more of themselves than they thought of Him. How did He deal with them? What can we learn from His encounters with them? Is Jesus for us or is He against us?
I. Do you hold your motives up to the light?
Preceding these verses, we're told that Jesus was teaching the gospel in the temple, but was interrupted by the religious leaders who questioned His authority. In His response to them, He shared a parable that illustrated that they weren't listening to the voice or direction of God, so God was about to remove them from their favored position and entrust the very things they idolized to others.
As Christ spoke this parable, He did so in such a way that they were able to catch on to the fact that He was speaking against them. The religious leaders felt provoked by Jesus. I'm sure they also felt insulted. They were so troubled by what He said that they wanted to physically attack him, but they held back because they knew this would not have been received favorably by most of the people.
We're told that they elected to take another approach instead. They kept an eye on Jesus and sent insincere spies who would attempt to catch Him saying something incorrect, inaccurate, or illegal. They had no intention of learning from Him. Their hearts were hardened and closed to that idea. All they wanted to do was hurt Him and stop Him.
This is a sad event to read about because Jesus was offering Himself to all people as the only source of hope, help, and salvation, yet He was being rejected by those who should have been pointing others to Him. Their motives were impure and they were driven by hatred and a desire to receive glory instead of giving it.
Your life and my life is being lived out each day, motivated by something. What motivates you? Is it safe to hold your sources of motivation up to the light? What might you find if you did so?
For the believer in Christ, our highest forms of motivation are to be; giving Him glory, showing Him love, gratitude to Him for saving us, knowing that He blesses obedience and disciplines disobedience, and will eventually grant rewards or remove rewards at His Judgement Seat. Do you hold your motives up to His light? What's motivating you?
II. How quickly can you spot false devotion?
Flattery is a tactic that is often used when when someone has impure motives. As some of these spies attempted to engage Jesus in conversation, they did so, hoping that they could flatter Him into trusting them.
In this passage, we're told that they stated the exact opposite of what they actually believed. They honored Him by calling Him, "Teacher." They stated that they believe that what He spoke and taught was right. They complimented Him for showing no partiality. They testified that Jesus taught the way of God. But they didn't believe a word of this. Everything they were saying was an attempt to make it appear that they were His followers and that they were genuinely inquisitive and willing to be taught.
The big question they tried to get Jesus to answer had to do with paying tribute or taxes. You see where this is going, right? They wanted to trap Jesus into stating something that would be an offense to the government authorities. One expedient way that's almost universally effective is to bring up the subject of paying taxes. I don't imagine that most people look forward to paying taxes. Frankly, if you want to hear me complain, just bring up the subject of taxes sometime. I realize they're necessary, but I wouldn't mind if they were lessened and used differently.
So they asked Jesus if it was lawful for them to pay taxes to Caesar or not? This certainly would have been a hot topic of discussion at the time. The people of Israel weren't crazy about their land being occupied by the Roman government. There were zealous people who repeatedly attempted to overthrow the governmental authorities in their land. Many of the people dreamed of the days when their land was ruled by men like King David or King Solomon and they resented being forced to pay taxes to the Roman government. They also knew they were frequently being overcharged so that the tax collectors could collect a hefty profit for themselves.
People definitely would have wanted to hear what Jesus was going to say about this, but Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He could spot their false devotion a mile away. It wasn't a mystery or surprise for Him to perceive that this was a trick. In some ways, this was reminiscent of the duplicitous way Satan spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden. He sounded innocent and smooth, but what he really wanted was their demise.
What is the nature of our devotion to Christ? Is it a false devotion that's being acted upon in order to create an inaccurate impression, or is it sincere and growing. Jesus invites us to be devoted followers of His. To consider His will superior to our own. From a personal standpoint, I can testify to the fact that my sense of peace and purpose in this world grew exponentially once I embraced the privilege of devoting my life to Him.
III. What if Jesus doesn't give you the answer you expected?
Jesus was wise to the schemes of those who were working against Him. He knew what they were up to. He wasn't deceived by their flattery or their cleverly crafted questions. So He replied to them in a manner that didn't give in to what they were trying to do. He purposely didn't give them the kind of answer they were seeking, but rather, gave them the answer they needed.
Every generation complains about the government to one degree or another, but biblically speaking, the government is one means the Lord uses to promote justice and restrain sin. There will be no perfect government until Jesus is ruling and reigning on this earth, but in the meantime, we're called to show respect to government authorities out of reverence for the Lord.
Humanity, by nature, is rebellious. It's easier for us to challenge authority than it is for us to submit to authority. But Christ calls us to be good citizens who remember to pray for our leaders. We're called to obey the law, so long as the law doesn't conflict with our devotion to Christ. And even if we do choose to object because of an issue of conscience, we need to accept that there may be earthly consequences for that decision.
This wasn't what these spies wanted to hear. They just wanted to cause trouble for Christ, but He gave them the answer they truly needed to hear in that moment. Have you ever had a similar experience in your walk with Christ? Have you ever made a request of Him, waited for an answer, received His answer, but didn't like what He had to say? What are we to do in moments like that?
We really have two primary options when Jesus replies differently than we wished. We can lean in the direction of our rebellious hearts and do whatever we wanted to do in the first place, or we can yield ourselves to Christ as our ultimate authority. We can accept His verdict while trusting that His will for our lives is perfect. Given enough time, we always see that trusting Him was the right choice.
Are you convinced that God is against you? If you're part of His family through faith in Jesus, He isn't against you, He's for you. His answers may not always be what you expect, but in His grace and love, He delights to grant you what you truly need.
© John Stange, 2017