Luke 19:45 – 20:40

Luke 19:45 – 20:40

What Do You Do When the Questions Are All Answered?

Introduction:  Last Sunday our text from Luke 19 concerned the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, which took place on Sunday of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  Today we are going to examine the events of Monday and Tuesday of that week, days on which a number of major conflicts erupted between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel.  Four of these controversies are grouped together by Luke in the 20th chapter of his gospel, and while we could profitably spend four sermons on these profound incidents, I thought that perhaps the big picture would be more valuable than the details.  

Please open your Bibles and we will read beginning in Luke 19:45 through the 40th verse of chapter 20:

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling.  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’”

Every day he was teaching at the temple.  But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him.  Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

“One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him.  “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said.  “Who gave you this authority?” 

He replied, “I will also ask you a question.  Tell me, John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?” 

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” 

So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” 

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” 

He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.  At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed.  He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 

“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over.  ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!” 

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone ‘? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” 

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them.  But they were afraid of the people. 

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest.  They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.  So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius.  Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 

“Caesar’s,” they replied.  He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 

They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public.  And astonished by his answer, they became silent. 

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  The first one married a woman and died childless.  The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children.  Finally, the woman died too.  Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.  They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.  But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘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, for to him all are alive.”

Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!”  And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Now I want you to put your thinking caps on this morning, particularly the high school, university and graduate students.  I believe as we examine these controversies we will see a very important truth emerging, namely that rejection of the claims of Christ has a lot less to do with factual evidence than it does with human pride.  The skeptics of our day (and his) would like for us to think their unbelief is due to intellectual problems with the gospel; but I am convinced that it has a lot more to do with moral problems in their own lives.  They want to do what they want to do, and they know that if they bow the knee to Jesus, they will no longer be able to call the shots.  We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when we find people continuing in unbelief even after all their questions are answered.  The problem is not lack of knowledge; it is pride; and nothing but the convicting power of the Holy Spirit can deal with the pride in the human heart.

I think a lot of Christians, particularly young people in our universities, are made to feel pretty insecure in their faith as they face a society and a culture that almost totally ignores God.  Thirty years ago when I was at the university, it was not uncommon to have professors in the fields of natural science, social science, philosophy, history, literature, and the arts who argued strongly against Christianity.  But we live today in what is called a postmodern society, where it is far more common for professors to take the position that religious faith is not even a topic worth discussing.

Modernism, though often opposed to the views of Christianity, still believed in the objectivity of knowledge, but postmodernism, and its stepchildren, philosophical pluralism and multiculturism, reject even the possibility of objective truth.  To the postmodern mind all beliefs are merely personal or at best culturally conditioned options.  Therefore, no views can be dismissed, except the view that some views can be dismissed.  The notion that a particular ideological or religious claim is true and therefore intrinsically superior to another is necessarily wrong.[i]  Intolerance of someone else’s position is the only thing that is intolerable.  Frankly, this is where much of academia is today.  The result is what Stephen Carter calls a “culture of disbelief.”

In this kind of atmosphere one can be tempted to compartmentalize one’s faith, to accept the notion that there is a world of facts and a world of faith, and these two worlds don’t really intersect.  So long as we keep them separate we can survive.  In other words, our faith must be private—it describes who we are at church and it doesn’t particularly impact how we look at the world or even how we behave.  The result is we are faced with the bizarre situation in which: 

  • 74% of Americans strongly agree that “there is only one true God, who is holy and perfect, and who created the world and rules it today,” while fully 64% agree (strongly agree or agree somewhat) with the assertion that “there is no such thing as absolute truth.”[ii]
  • We have professing Christians who accept macro-evolution at school or at work as a legitimate explanation for life while they worship God as Creator on Sundays.
  • We have people supporting the woman’s right to choose while they worship a God who clearly forbids the taking of innocent human life.
  • We have people divorcing their spouses without biblical cause to marry someone else while they worship a God who says, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).
  • We have people tolerating homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle while they worship a God who says it is an abomination to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex.

Friends, the church is quickly becoming spiritually schizophrenic.  We are divorcing our “faith” from the objective truth upon which it is built.  Christianity is, by its very nature, a faith built on facts.  If the Bible is not truth as revealed by God and if Jesus did not really live a perfect life, die as a sacrifice for sins, and rise from the dead, then Christianity is a fool’s religion.  That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17,19 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  

It’s absurd to take the position that there is value in our faith even if the facts upon which it is based are not historical, on the grounds that at least it helps us be better neighbors and husbands and fathers.  Poppycock!  If our faith is phony, what’s the point of even being a good neighbor or a good husband or a good father?  That’s weak sentimentality at best.  Instead we should be going for all the gusto we can get in as short a time as possible, no matter who gets hurt in the process, because when the fat lady sings, it’s all over.  I would have said, “When the trumpet sounds,” but, of course, there won’t be a trumpet if the Scripture is not true.

Furthermore, it’s absurd to take the position, as many do, that all faiths are of equal value, because if Christianity is true, then Islam must be false.  Why?  Because biblical Christianity claims that Jesus is the only way.  And so is Buddhism false, as is Hinduism, and Mormonism, and New Age gobbledygook.  That’s not a popular position to take today, but it’s the only sensible position for a biblical Christian to take.

Now this is a long introduction to my sermon, but please stay with me.  If Christianity rises or falls on its truth claims, then religious questions are relevant, profound, and of utmost importance.  Where did I come from?  Where am I going?  Is God real?  Is Jesus the Son of God?  How can I be sure?  All of these questions are of eternal importance.  Friends, God is not afraid of your questions, and God’s spokesmen should not be afraid of your questions.  We may not be able to answer them all to your satisfaction, but you should never be made to feel ignorant or impertinent for asking an honest question.

But even if we should be fortunate to answer all of them, you are not necessarily any closer to the Kingdom of God, for the Gospel must reach your will, as well as your mind.  Until you are willing to bow the knee to Jesus, you are lost and on your way to a Christless (that is, hellish) eternity.

Now I believe our chapter today is a profound illustration of what I have just been saying.  Here the religious leaders of Israel tackle Jesus with some very difficult questions—challenging his authority, his orthodoxy, his loyalty to the nation, and his theology.  Yet despite his brilliant answers—so perceptive that his enemies were astonished and quit asking—they refuse to believe and actually redouble their effort to put him to death.

It all starts with a visit to the Temple on the day after the triumphal entry.  The cleansing of the temple was necessary because the religious leaders had allowed the temple to become a place of commerce and corruption.  The principal issues involved currency exchange and the sale of sacrificial animals.  Everyone who came to Passover had to pay a temple tax.  Since many of these people were pilgrims from out of town, they had to exchange currency, since the temple would only accept local shekels.  If you’ve done any foreign travel you know that a transaction fee always accompanies currency exchanges.  Historians tell us that the moneychangers at the temple extracted a huge fee for this, and the money all went into the pockets of the religious leaders.

Furthermore, the only animals acceptable for sacrifice at the temple were animals deemed without defect or blemish.  If a pilgrim brought one of his own animals to the temple, the inspectors, who were in cahoots with the religious leaders, always found something wrong with it.  The worshipers then had to buy a sheep from the merchandisers at the temple, and those sheep always seemed to pass inspection.  The price for these animals, however, was exorbitant.  In other words, extortion of the poor was being practiced right in the temple precincts.

Furthermore, the area that was used for these transactions was the Court of the Gentiles – the only place a devout non-Jew could come to worship the one true God.  So not only were God’s people perverting his true worship for monetary gain, they were also blocking the only access to God which was allowed to pious Gentiles!  Mark 11:17 makes this explicit in Jesus’ quoting of Isaiah 56:7 “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” – a passage about God extending his covenant of grace to all nations and peoples.

Jesus responds by taking out a whip and driving the sellers out, overturning their money tables in the process.  He focuses not on their extortion of the poor, but on the paramount issue: “My house will be a house of prayer.”  Even today when churches sponsor bazaars and bingo parties and bake sales, there is the real danger that their primary functions—worship, prayer, Bible study, fellowship—will get lost in the commercial activity.

The religious leaders, of course, stand to lose a great deal of money through Jesus’ actions, so they are all the more committed to getting rid of him.  But his popularity among the common people makes it imperative that they find a politically correct way to do it.  The best way seems to be to challenge him with theological questions, hoping that he will say something that will undermine him either with the common people or with the Roman authorities.

Chapter 20 opens with the words, “one day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the Gospel.”  Nearly all biblical scholars are agreed that this is the day after the cleansing of the temple or Tuesday of Passion Week.  In the first incident recorded here in chapter 20 we see that

Jesus confounds the religious leaders by deflecting their challenge to his authority.

The challenge comes from the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders (these are the three primary groups that made up the Jewish Sanhedrin, sort of the religious Supreme Court of Israel).  They demand: “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things.  And who gave you this authority?”  The things they are talking about are probably first of all, his grand entry into Jerusalem, then his cleansing of the temple, and finally his audacity in coming to the temple for the second day in a row to teach.

Jesus decides to answer their question with a question.  He isn’t just playing games with them, for the answer to their question is found in the answer to his, if they will just be honest.  His question is straightforward: “Tell me, John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men?”  Immediately they realize they are caught between the horns of a dilemma.  If they say, “from heaven,” then Jesus will ask, “Why didn’t you believe him?”

You see, John made it clear that he was only the forerunner of the Messiah.  He also clearly identified Jesus as the Lamb of God.  In fact, as he was baptizing Jesus a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  So if they say John’s baptism was from heaven, they will have answered their own question—Jesus’ authority must also come from heaven.

But if they say John’s baptism was an earthly baptism, they’ll be in big trouble with the common people, who view John as a hero.  So their choice is to plead ignorance: “We don’t know where it was from.”  Jesus knows they are being disingenuous, so he responds, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  Wow!  Challenge number one has been met and defeated.  If these guys were smart, they’d quit while they are behind.

Next Jesus himself takes the offensive by telling the people a parable:

Jesus confounds the religious leaders by directing a pointed and convicting parable at them.

Few of Jesus’ parables are as obvious in their intent as this one.  The man who planted a vineyard and leased it out represents God.  The vineyard is the people of God, the Jews.  The farmers who rent it from the owner represent the Jewish religious leaders.

Eventually the owner sends one of his servants to collect the rent, which would typically be paid in produce.  The message is that God is looking for a return on his investment in the nation of Israel.  But the tenants beat the servant and send him away empty-handed.  Three times he sends servants and each time they treat him worse than the one before.  These servants clearly represent the Old Testament prophets, who were consistently disregarded, persecuted, and even killed.  The tenants are clearly relying on the fact that the owner is a long way away.

Finally the owner says, “What shall I do?  I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.”  But the perverse tenants seize him and kill him (not in the vineyard, of course; they would not want to defile the ground!).  The Son, of course, is Jesus himself.  I see the courage of Jesus as he shares this story just three days before his own crucifixion.  He did not come to Jerusalem hoping against hope that he might yet escape the Cross.  He knew what lay ahead of him—the Son is to be killed by the tenants.  Yet he is confident in his position as the Father’s beloved.  The previous prophets were only servants; he is the Son.  He will trust the Father.

Jesus then asks a question and answers it himself.  “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  The “others” are a thinly veiled reference to Gentiles.  And the mere thought of Gentiles being given the vineyard designed for the Jews elicits a horrified reaction from the people, “May this never be!”

But it will be.  God’s patience is seen in that the owner does not strike at the first sign of rebellion; he gives them chance after chance to do the right thing.  But the tenants presume too long on the owner’s patience.  Eventually the day of reckoning will come, and the tenants will be judged severely and their inheritance given to others.

After telling the parable Jesus takes a verse from Psalm 118 and applies it to himself.  In verse 22-24 it says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”   The religious leaders may reject him as their Messiah, but God will make him the foundation stone of the Church.  Men may reject him, but God has accepted him.  And then he adds these somber words: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”   People may reject and oppose Jesus, but it is they who will suffer for it, not he.

The religious leaders know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus has aimed this parable directly at them.  They long for an opportunity to arrest him immediately, but they are afraid of the people.  Now the third incident of chapter 20 shows that 

Jesus confounds the religious leaders by slipping between the horns of a dilemma they employ to trap him.

Jesus himself had presented them with a dilemma in verse 4 and they got impaled on its horns.  So now they decide to use one against him.  They don’t approach him directly, however; rather they employ some spies “who pretended to be honest.”  In fact, they come with flattery on their lips: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  Wow!  A lesser man might have thought, “Finally, here are some people who really understand who I am.”  A lesser man might have let his guard down.  Not Jesus.

Having set him up, they ask their question, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  If Jesus says, “Yes, it’s OK to pay taxes,” he might be interpreted as approving idolatry, since Caesar’s image was on Roman coins, as well as the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Augustus.”  This inscription was clearly blasphemous and violated the Second Commandment.  Certain orthodox Jews refused even to touch Roman money.  But even many of those who couldn’t care less about the Second Commandment, were nevertheless angry about their tax burden and hated the Romans.  They would be even angrier if he answered, “Yes.”  On the other hand, if he says, “No, you don’t have to pay taxes,” he will make the Romans angry.  Either way, Jesus loses and his enemies win.

But Jesus sees right through their duplicity and answers with wisdom that is almost beyond imagination.  He asks them for a Roman coin.  Now he could have taken one out of his own pocket or even asked the treasurer of the disciples, Judas, to produce one.  But instead he asks the representatives of the religious leaders for one.  His point will be driven home more strongly by the tacit admission that they use these coins in their own personal lives.  As he takes the coin, he asks, “Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”  “Caesar’s,” they respond.  Jesus answers, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

What Jesus is saying is, “If you accept Caesar’s currency and use it, you are bound to accept Caesar’s right to impose taxes.  Nevertheless, there is a domain to which Caesar’s authority does not extend, a domain which belongs to God alone.”  The Christian’s first and overriding loyalty is to God.  Let the world have its coins, but let God have your life!  Jesus is claiming that we are all citizens of two worlds.  When a man lives in a country and enjoys the privileges of a country, he should not divorce himself from that country.  In fact, there should be no more conscientious citizen of any country than the Christian.

Jesus has slipped through the horns of the dilemma they employed to trap him.  They are astonished at his answer, and they decide to ask no more questions.

But there is still one more group that hasn’t learned their lesson yet, and that is the Sadducees.  Where the other religious leaders have taken an intellectual beating from Jesus, the Sadducees think they have a question that will stump him.

Who were the Sadducees?  Well, they were one of the major religious parties that made up first-century Judaism.  If the Pharisees were legalistic fundamentalists, very religious, and suspicious of government, the Sadducees tended to be theologically liberal, very political, and collaborators with the occupation government.  They were most noteworthy for their rejection of any belief in resurrection, in angels, or in the afterlife.  In fact, verse 27 clearly says they didn’t believe in the resurrection.  Let’s see how

Jesus confounds the religious leaders by challenging both their logic and their theology.

On the surface the Sadducees’ argument sounds ludicrous.  It is, in fact, a fairly classic example of what is called an ad absurdum argument.  But there is at least some rationale behind it.  You see, there was a Levirate marriage law in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:5) that specified that if a man died childless, his brother, if unmarried himself, was required to marry the widow and have children by her to carry on his brother’s name.  This law was probably not observed in the time of Jesus, and even if it were, it is highly unlikely that a case so bizarre as this would ever have occurred.  The last few brothers would have to have been a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic to agree to marry this gal with her track record.

But that is not the strangest thing about the story.  That would be the question asked in verse 33: “Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”  Remember now, these Sadducees don’t even believe in resurrection, yet they pretend that they do.  They think they have put Jesus’ belief in the resurrection in jeopardy by giving him an unsolvable riddle.

He, however, challenges both their logic and their theology.  By the way, only Mark records what Jesus first asked them: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24).  Friends, that is the basic problem with all unbelief.  People do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  And that is what we, the church, are here for.  The church’s job is to explain the Scriptures and demonstrate the power of God through our lives so that the world will know that they are lost and that God is able to save them.

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is basically this: He confirms the resurrection but warns that we must not think of heaven in terms of this earth.  Life there will be quite different, because we will be quite different.  People here marry and are given in marriage, the principal reason being the procreation of the race.  That won’t be necessary in heaven because no one will die there.  Therefore, there’s no need for marriage in heaven, at least as we know it.  We will be like the angels in at least two respects: no marriage and no death.  The premise of their argument, namely that the woman must be someone’s wife, is false and therefore, no conclusion can be drawn from it.

Now, let me take just a moment and speak to the issue of family relationships in heaven, for Jesus’ words may be a shock to some of you and perhaps even a relief to a few.  It sure should be distressing to our Mormon friends, for one of the primary reasons they built that beautiful temple out on Highway 40 is to perform celestial marriages, to seal people to their spouses for eternity.

Is Jesus saying that we will not be reunited with our family members who have gone to heaven before us?  No, I don’t think so.  It just means that the nature of our relationship will be different.  It will not be less than it is now — just different.

The way Jesus proves his point is to appeal to Moses, whom the Sadducees hold in very high esteem.  He quotes from the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3:6, where God says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  God didn’t say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but “I am …”  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

We aren’t told the reaction of the Sadducees to Jesus’ answer, but some of the teachers of the law respond, “Well said, teacher!”  Apparently these scribes are torn between their hatred of Jesus and their dislike of the Sadducees.  But the key is the last phrase, “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Conclusion:  I want to return where I started today.  Merely having one’s questions answered doesn’t solve one’s spiritual problems automatically.  These leaders of Israel were silenced by Jesus, but that didn’t result in their repentance or conversion.  In fact, it just made them all the more intent on putting him to death.  Why?  Because people don’t reject the Gospel due to intellectual problems; they reject it because of moral problems.  That is, they reject it because they don’t want God telling them what to do.

I fear there are some who come to church here regularly, and as you hear the Word taught, you have more and more questions answered about who Jesus is, why he came, who we are, why man is separated from God, how man can be made right with God.  You may have even come to believe many of things you have been taught as facts.  But what really matters is this:  Have you bowed the knee to Jesus?  Have you acknowledged his Lordship?  Romans 10:9, 10 says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the head, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”

If you bow the knee to Jesus, you will never be put to shame, because he bore your shame at Calvary.






[i]D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, 19.

[ii]Carson, 23.