Traps and Questions

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “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. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-17

People who opposed Jesus intentionally tried to trap Him in His words. This is also a common strategy of the enemy for those who follow Jesus. The first attempt was by people with a combination of a religious spirit (Pharisees) and a political spirit (Herodians). The question was about politics. If Jesus rejected imperial taxes, He would gain favor with the general populace but could be condemned by Rome. If Jesus embraced imperial taxes, He would protect Himself from Roman imprisonment but would lose favor with the people.

Notice that they come with flattery. They are trying to get Jesus to overstep with His words and make an enemy of Rome. But Jesus sees through it all. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Everyone was amazed by His answer. Not only did He not fall for the trap, but He challenged their own arrogance.

Christian, beware of political questions that are not coming from a place of interest but from a place of trying to trap you in your words and discredit you. In our post-Christian culture, we need to be wise. Jesus warned us saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves“(Matthew 10:16).

Not only did the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trap Jesus with politics, but that same day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in His theology.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Matthew 22:23-28

Notice here that the Sadducees have concocted an elaborate question about the obscure details of the resurrection, something they don’t even believe in. This is a strong indicator that the question is not coming from a place of curiosity but from a place of cynicism.

Imagine you visit an island in the Pacific that has unique volcanic sand that is black. Now imagine a friend, who doesn’t even believe that island exists, asks an elaborate scientific question trying to prove that black sand is a myth. It’s not worth having a long conversation about the scientific reality of black sand. Your friend doesn’t even believe the island is real in the first place. Notice how Jesus answers the Sadducees.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30

Jesus skips over the elaborate details of their question and gets right to the root of the problem. The question itself is in error. They are asking the wrong question because 1) they don’t know the scriptures, and 2) they haven’t experienced the power of God. Their interpretation and understanding of scripture is limited and skewed and their experience of God is lacking. These two things cause a person not just to have the wrong answers but to start with the wrong questions. They are not coming to Jesus teachable and curious. They are skeptical and arrogant and want to get Jesus in a theological bind.

Christian, beware of theological questions that are not coming from a place of learning and curiosity but from a place of trying to trap you theologically. In our post-Christian culture, we need to know the scriptures and the power of God. Experiencing the power of God is just as important as our study of scripture. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

We can argue all day about black sand, but I’ve actually been to the island. I’ve put my toes in the sand in question. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean and breathed in the fresh air of the island. We’re not talking about an idea. We’re talking about something I’ve experienced firsthand.

There’s no going back after we’ve experienced the power of God. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. And knowing the scriptures helps us put our experiences of God into the larger context of the Kingdom of God and the story of God.

Spend time answering the questions of people who are genuinely curious, genuinely hungry to know God. This is the example that Jesus set. When people were trying to trap Him, He gave short answers and moved on, knowing their hearts were either hard or rocky and not ready for the seed of the word of God (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).

Silent Sabbath

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Luke 23:50-56

Friday, before the sun set, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’s body down from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in a new tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other women watched the burial, mourned, and planned to return after the sabbath to cover the body in spices and perfumes.

Imagine the looks of silent shock around the shabbat dinner Friday night. Imagine the silence of Saturday.

It was meant to be a day of rest, but I imagine it was a day of restlessness for the followers of Jesus. Their rabbi, their Messiah, their King, their hope for freedom from Roman occupation was dead. One of their closest friends, Judas, had turned Jesus over to the Jewish leaders and then committed suicide. One of the leaders of their band of brothers, Peter, had just denied even knowing Jesus in the moment when Jesus needed him most. Everyone else seemed to scatter except the women and the beloved disciple John.

What just happened?

Everything happened so fast. Have you ever had one of those moments of confusion and disillusionment that seemed to move faster than your thoughts and feelings could process? When things finally slow down, as they did that sabbath, everything comes rushing back. Flashes of scenes play through your mind.

Jesus in the Gethsemane agonizing in prayer.

The soldiers marching toward them with torches.

Jesus getting struck on the face.

The mock trial.

The early morning pronouncement of Pilate that left them in shock.

The beaten and bloodied image of Jesus stumbling up to Golgotha.

His eyes.

What was on his head?

The clank of metal on metal met with screams of pain.

Our Savior hanging there.

The smell of blood and death.

The lifeless body.

The dark tomb.

All the images flashing in their minds on repeat. Then the questions. How could this happen? Why would God let this happen? This can’t be God’s plan. Why didn’t God stop this? What do we do now? How can I go back to my old life? Will the Romans come for us next? The Jewish leaders know us. Are they going to hunt us down? What about my kids? What are we going to do?

Silence.

They couldn’t have known that while they were feeling defeated, Jesus was defeating death.
All they knew was silence.

Sometimes God does His best work in the quiet of disillusionment…

…if we would only hold on until morning.

Good Question

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 

Matthew 22:29

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they tried to trap Jesus with a theologically difficult hypothetical situation. They wove this complex story that they thought would trap Jesus.

Jesus responds with the above reply. He tells them that the question itself is based off of faulty assumptions and that the question itself is in error. He would then go on to give them an answer to their question and challenge their assumptions about the resurrection.

But we should stop and notice that it wasn’t the answer that the Sadducees got wrong; it was their question that they got wrong. If we ask questions that are filled with faulty assumptions and poor understandings then it doesn’t matter the answer; any and all answers will be in error. Jesus had to correct their question before He corrected their answer.

Notice why their question was in error. Jesus lists two reasons: 1) they didn’t know the Scriptures and 2) they didn’t know the power of God. In other words, if we don’t have a working knowledge of BOTH the Scriptures and the power of God we’ll not only get our answers wrong, we’ll ask questions that are full of error.

How many evangelicals know the Scriptures but have no understanding of God’s power? How many charismatics have understanding of God’s power but have no understanding of the Scriptures? How many mainline protestants have no working knowledge of either? We shouldn’t then be surprised when the questions people are asking are full of error, not to mention their answers.

If you’ve never operated in the power of God, then learn from those who have. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. If you don’t know much about the Bible, then learn from those who do. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. Only then will we start to ask good questions, questions that lead to the truth instead of questions that lead to unbelief and doubt.

For example, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a question that is full of error. It assumes the people are good and puts God’s goodness on trial, as if God should prove Himself to us, and yet our goodness goes without question. Can you see how arrogant this question is? Can you see how full of error it is? Once you ask such a poorly framed question, you’re bound to get a bad answer.

Yet, we know people are not “good” but are full of sin. We know people do all kinds of evil in the world. We know secret sins of every kind abound. Yet, God can only and always be perfectly good. So His goodness is never on trial. He never has to prove Himself to humanity (especially not after what He did on the cross).

So a better question would be “Why do so many good things happen to all of us who are so deeply messed up?” This is a good question, one worth pondering. And ultimately, while our goodness is on trial (as it should be), God is revealed for who He really is–a loving and gracious Father, slow to anger and abounding in love.

If you ask bad questions, you’re bound to get bad answers. Are there questions that you’ve been asking that are full of error? Do they need to get reframed in light of truth?

If we want to ask good questions, we must know the Scriptures and the power of God. Only then will our questions align with the truth. And God is pleased to answer all of our questions aligned with the truth.