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Death and Taxes

March 12, 2023

Death and Taxes

Passage: Luke 20:20-47
Service Type:


LUKE 19:28-44


Good morning! It is good again to be with you this morning as we look into God’s word.


I always assume someone here is new, so first of all, welcome to River City again – thank you for being our guest today. Secondly, we are going through the book of Luke verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and we are in chapter 20. If you have a copy of scripture, I invite you to open it to Luke. As you do, if you’re new or you missed a Sunday or two, here’s the recap: Previously in Luke. 


  • After three years of public ministry, Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem for the last time. It is a holiday week, so the city is crammed with people who are there to celebrate Passover. 
  • But here’s the big event that just happened – Jesus has just gone into the temple and made a mess. He saw money changers taking advantage of the poor, he saw religious leaders who were set on being rich and not looking out for the vulnerable and the weak. He saw the temple which was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, being turned into a place to make a profit at the expense of those who worshiped there. Some people even think they had set up their money tables in the court of the Gentiles so that this whole marketplace was keeping out the nations. So Jesus blew all of that up by tossing people out and reminding them that God’s house is to be a house of prayer. 


Religious leaders already didn’t care much for him, and as you can imagine, this now just made them furious, and they demanded he tell them what gives him the right to do that? Who gave him the authority to act like that?


  • What you need to know for the passage today is that the religious leaders have progressed in their hatred of Jesus to the point where, verse 19, they are looking for a way to get their hands on him in any way they can, as soon as possible, and back in 19:47, they have one goal: eliminate the threat. Take him out, because he is a threat to their authority. 


Part of what made the religious leaders so angry with Jesus is that he did not fit the profile for what they thought the Messiah would be. They always supposed he would overthrow Rome. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a small donkey a few days ago, he was supposed to be on a war horse, but whatever. Surprise attack, maybe. But the problem is, He entered the city and went straight for the temple instead of going straight to King Herod’s palace. The problem is that Jesus overthrew the temple authorities instead of overthrowing the Roman authorities. 


And on top of that, instead of giving the religious leaders credit for their awesomeness, he confronted them at every turn. Not to mention, every time they tried to corner him or trap him, he would outsmart them. So, they are actively conspiring to kill him, and the only reason they haven’t is because they are afraid of the crowds. The people love Jesus, and want to hear him speak. The religious leaders don’t want the people to turn on them, so they can’t take him out, which as you can guess, only adds fuel to the fire. 


So today, they are going to try two new strategies to shut Jesus down. Here we go with strategy number 1. Luke 20:20 – [The religious leaders] watched closely and sent spies who pretended to be righteous so that they could catch him in what he said, [and here’s the goal]  to hand him over to the governor’s rule and authority


The strategy seems to be, what can we get Jesus to do or say, so that we can call 911 on him? The religious leaders are like, he doesn’t submit to our authority… and we can’t get to him because the crowds will turn on us. But if we can get him to slip up politically, we can call the police, they can cut through the crowds and put him away or kill him, and then the crowds won't turn on us! So… 


21 [The undercover spies pretending to be religious] questioned him, “Teacher, [not Lord, like the blind, the poor, the others call him] we know that you speak and teach correctly, and you don’t show partiality, but teach truthfully the way of God


Now of course, the irony here is that what they are saying is 100% true, even though they are “pretending to be righteous” in order to deceive Jesus. 


And man, they are really laying it on thick, aren’t they? Trying to pad his ego; trying to get him to lower his guard. “You’re so amazing, Jesus. You’re just so, like, so, like…awesome. You’re a good teacher, man. Thanks for the message today. Just so good, like, sooo good.” 


Question for you, though… 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 


No one likes paying taxes, right? And you hate it even more when you don’t care for the leadership of the people in charge, or how they are spending your tax dollars. You’ve felt that before, I’m sure. Keep in mind, these guys are not asking because they want to know the answer. Is it legal (according to God’s law) to pay taxes?


Jesus is in a bit of a pickle here, because… 

  1. If he says “NO, do not pay taxes to Caesar”… CALL 911!  Call the Roman police, because here is a rebel who doesn’t pay his taxes! He could face the death penalty! It’s not that the Jews really care about Rome or their taxes – they hate them, too. They just want to use the Roman authorities to get Jesus put away.
  2. If He says “YES pay taxes to Caesar”… well then what kind of Messiah would that be? The people now singing his praises will abandon Jesus because he’s supposed to be overthrowing Rome, not encouraging you to financially support the enemy! And once the crowd is gone – we can movie in and take him out.


The religious leaders watch closely from a distance, ready to pounce because Jesus cannot possibly get out of this one. Who knows how long they’ve spent scheming, running various test questions, trying to guess how he will answer this? And they’ve finally found a question they think will take him down. It's a lose-lose for Jesus. 


But there is one problem with trying to trick God… He knows everything about everything. Psalm 139 says he knows when we sit and when we stand up. He knows our thoughts from far away. He watches our travel and our rest, and he knows all of our ways: our preferences, habits, what makes us angry, happy, sad, bored, depressed, anxious. He knows the words we will say before we’ve said them. When we think we’re hiding something from him, it’s because we’re the ones blinded, not him.


23 … detecting their craftiness, he said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius [a Roman coin worth about a day’s wages]. Whose image and inscription does it have?” 


A denarius had the current Caesar’s image on it, and an inscription that would have said “Tiberius Caesar, son of divine Augustus.” The answer was obvious. “Caesar’s,” they said. 


 25 “Well then,” he told them, “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 


Jesus points out that whether or not they like it, they operate under the authority of the Roman Empire, and were obliged to obey the government so long as it didn’t ask them to step outside of God’s law. As long as Caesar’s image was on the coin, they should pay the tax (Sproul, 363). 


But humans, according to Genesis 1:27, carry the image of God. So give to Caesar what has his picture on it (taxes), and give to God what has his picture on it: Yourself. Give him your worship, devotion, obedience, etc - those things belong to God, not to the state. 


26 They were not able to catch him in what he said in public, and being amazed at his answer, they became silent. Strategy #1 is to use Caesar’s authority to take him out. But the spies who were sent to trap him, ended up coming away amazed and didn’t ask any more questions. 


Time to try another Strategy #2:   In the next verses, we meet a new group of religious leaders called the Sadducees. If you’ve never heard of the Sadducees before, verse 27 tells you all you need to know for today: 27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came up and questioned him: 


Other historical records tell us why the Sadducees said there was no resurrection. They only studied the first 5 books of the Bible. The writings of Moses. And they couldn’t find any verses in those 5 books that spoke of a resurrection, so they concluded there is no such thing. So their test for Jesus is put Moses in front of him as the great authority, and see if they can get Jesus to squirm:


28 “Teacher, [again, not Lord]… Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother has a wife, and dies childless, his brother should take the wife and produce offspring for his brother. 


They are telling the truth. Deuteronomy 25:5 talks about this exact situation. If the next marriage is able to produce children, the first son they have together gets the older brother’s name so that his name doesn’t disappear from the genealogies of Israel. 


Anyone here wish we still did that? Even Jewish people didn’t do this one all that often. Beyond just carrying on a family name, it was also one way God provided to make sure that widows were taken care of, if possible. 


But this again is meant to back Jesus into a corner. Jesus has often told parables of his own and this is one of the few times other people tell a parable to Jesus. Here go the Sadducees:


29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died without children. 30 Also the second 31 and the third took her. [So far, so good. Everyone’s following the law, but time to take it to the extreme.] In the same way, all seven died and left no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection [which we don’t believe in]…whose wife will the woman be? For all seven had married her.”  


I picture them trying to suppress their smirks and hide their smiles, right? They got Jesus. Their reasoning seems to be, God would only make a law like this if there was no resurrection and you just stopped existing when you died. That law would make sense if everyone dies and that’s it. Marry the sister-in-law, and keep the family tree going. 


But if there is a resurrection, and everyone comes back to life again, God has quite a dilemma on his hands. Seven brothers married the same woman. Now what!? She belongs to all of them! That’s going to be awkward and chaotic. And in their minds, since God is not a God of that kind of chaos, and with the fact that the first 5 books have no resurrections in them, they decide Jesus is going to look silly trying to stammer his way through this answer. 


34 Jesus told them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are counted worthy to take part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 For they can no longer die, because they are like angels and are children of God, since they are children of the resurrection. 


Jesus is saying a lot of things here about heaven, about the resurrection, that are good for us to try and understand: 


  1. No weddings in heaven: Children of this age, meaning this life, get married for a reason. A huge part of marriage in Jewish culture was bearing children to replace yourself, and carry on your family name because, news flash – we all die! 
    1. Well, in heaven, Jesus says, since there is no death there, marriage isn’t necessary in terms of carrying on future generations. 
    2. Secondly, if collectively we the Church are the bride of Christ there is no need to find that special someone you can’t live without, that soul mate, that companion to enjoy spending time with, when in the age to come there is no more loneliness, no more longings for someone to love or be loved, no more finding that person you enjoy doing things with when all of those deepest desires are 1000% met by Jesus and the sinless perfection of every single other relationship!
  2. Not everyone automatically qualifies for resurrection. Jesus does not go on to say how one qualifies or doesn’t at this particular moment, but he’s said it multiple times throughout his ministry: The ones who qualify for resurrection are those who believe and receive the gospel of grace! Those who are thirsty, come to the well and drink the living water. Those who refuse Jesus as King and Lord will face judgment.
  3. Death is no more: Jesus says if you qualify for the resurrection, that first death is the only one you get. After you’ve been resurrected, there is no more dying or reproducing, just like angels don’t reproduce or die. Jesus does not say we become angels or gods, he says we will be like like angels in that we never die.


And then, Jesus goes on offense, and quotes Moses back to them, letting them know they are wrong about not finding resurrection in those first 5 books: 37 Moses even indicated in the passage about the burning bush that the dead are raised, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 He is not the God of the dead but of the living, because all are living to him.” 


Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had all died a long time ago. If they simply stopped existing, God would not speak about them in present terms…I “am” the God of A, I, J – he would have said “I was the God of them.” But since they had for sure died, the only way that’s possible to talk about them in the present is if there is a kind of living that happens after death, and only resurrection makes that possible. 


And when he said that, 39 Some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” Good answer. 40 And they no longer dared to ask him anything. 


See they are still after Jesus about his authority – what gives you the right to act the way you do, speak the way you do, teach the way you do? Who died and made you king? 


So they’ve asked whether or not Jesus submits to Caesar’s authority. Jesus says yes – give to earthly authorities what is theirs, and give your heavenly authority what belongs to him.


They’ve asked whether or not Jesus submits to Moses’ authority… Moses doesn’t talk about resurrection, why do you? Jesus says actually Moses does talk about resurrection – Jesus submits to the authority of scripture.


And now Jesus has a question for them about his authority. He has been called the Son of David in the past, and it’s a somewhat common title for the Messiah. So Jesus goes there: 41 Then he said to them, “How can they say that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms: The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ 44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How, then, can the Messiah be his son?” 


We have different names in our culture for authority figures: Boss. Coach. Teacher. Administrator. Pastor. Your honor. DAD. Mom. But we don’t refer to anyone as Lord. In ancient times, sure they had different titles for people, but “Lord” was an across the board way of saying, “you are my authority.” A wife called her husband her lord. An employee called his boss lord. A slave called his master lord. A person of lower position called a person of higher position lord.


But you would never see a Dad call his son lord. Never see a grandfather bow to his grandson, or a master bow to his slave. That’s authority in the wrong direction. 


Yet Jesus points out that King David understood that God was going to choose someone from his own family tree who would be the Messiah, and when he did, even the great King David would have to bow to the authority of his descendant, who God is making lord and king and master. Whether it was his Son. Grandson. Great-great-great-great-great grandson… whoever it would be didn’t matter. David knew that the one God appoints to be the Messiah must be his Lord (Sproul 370), no matter what culture and tradition said. . 


At the end of the day, Luke puts all of these scenes together for us so that we can see Jesus gets his authority from His Heavenly Father and the written word. Sure, he submits to Roman authority when he can, he submitted to his parents when he could, he submits to the laws and constructs of the nation of Israel – one of the ways we submit to God is by honoring and submitting to earthly authorities where they don’t ask us to step outside of God’s law – but he ultimately answers to his Heavenly Father as revealed in the scriptures as his first and most important authority, even when he is asked to suffer and die for his enemies. 


If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then our authority has to come from the same place as his, no matter what culture or tradition tells us. The kingdom that Jesus is ushering in is one that trumps all other kingdoms and authorities on earth. God’s word shows us that this kingdom will be marked by humility. Suffering. Self-denial. Compassion for others. That’s why he warns in v 46: Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive a harsher judgment.


Today that might look like slick preachers in fancy suits, flashing million dollar smiles, telling you that if you give them some seed money, God will give you 100x what you give to their ministries. Don’t follow them. They belong to a different kingdom, eating up vulnerable people and pretending to be righteous. They are undercover spies, and they are in line for a very harsh judgment.


The gospel says just like the denarius had Caesar’s image on it, Jesus came to earth as the perfect mirror reflection of the God we couldn’t see. The inscription written about Caesar on the denarius said “The son of the divine...” The inscription spoken about Jesus happened at his baptism, when God’s audible voice was heard by everyone standing there… “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 


If you are in Christ, and by faith you have called out to him for salvation, then the same thing is true about you – you are God’s beloved son or daughter, and because Jesus died for your sins, God is well pleased with you too! You now belong to the highest authority there is, the God who made the heavens and the earth, and while he is your Lord and King and Master, he invites you to call him Father, inviting you to submit to the most intimate and personal and loving of all authorities.  


Jesus not only spoke of the resurrection, he made it possible by dying in the place of sinners. But in the end, if the Sadducees are right, and there is no resurrection, we are all hopeless – still dead in our sins – and people driving by the school today should shake their heads and say “what a deluded bunch of people. I feel sorry for them.” If there is no resurrection, and we just stop existing, we are wasting our time. You could be doing something a lot more exciting than listening to me talk for 30 minutes.


But if Jesus is right, and there is resurrection to come, where even the best things about life here on earth are all surpassed by the all-satisfying joy of walking with Jesus face to face, then we have reason for all the hope in the world. We have a reason to sing. We have reason to hang in there when life gets tough. We have a reason to head back to our Bibles, even when it feels a little boring or dry, to look and listen for God again. We have a reason to kneel by the bed, or bow our heads in prayer yet again, even when it too seems boring or like God isn’t listening, and confess our sin, receive forgiveness, and courage to keep praying; We have every reason to gather as a church even under threats and persecution, to show grace to one another, to grow in the Spirit, and to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as we wait for that glorious day. Lord Jesus, come quickly.  


So, for our response time today, let's allow this scripture to do it’s work in us:


    1. Pray: Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s - our devotion, worship, obedience, etc. Romans 12:1 says, because God has been merciful to us, the most reasonable act of worship we can do is offer our bodies as a living sacrifice back to him.
      1. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you’ve been giving the things that belong to God (your focus, your priorities, your devotion) to something or someone else. 
      2. Confess it to the Lord, and receive his forgiveness.
  • Rejoice in the gospel: Praise God for inviting you into the loving authority of his family! Praise him for sending Jesus to die and rise again, so that we can live with hope both now and in eternity. Praise him for the gift of his Holy Spirit, which empowers you to live in the newness of life that is offered. 


There are three ways again you can do this: 1) you can just bow your head and pray right where you are. Some of you may need to get some things straight with God today… this is your moment.  2) Another option is that you can listen to the Holy Spirit leading you to pray with someone else. Maybe it’s scooting over a chair or two, maybe it’s walking across the room. But feel free to move if the Spirit so directs, and pray with someone else. 3) There will be a few folks on the sides who are ready to pray with you if you’re struggling with how to  pray, what to pray, or if you would like specific prayer for healing, or wisdom, or something like that. Okay? I’ll kick things off, and then give you time to pray.




Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)


Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984)

R.C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)