THE GOD OF THE LIVING
Luke 20:20-47 (K. V.: 20:38)
“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Thank God for Jesus, the cornerstone, the foundation of our church! Thank God for making us the livingstones to be built like bricks into that church building! Through Msn. Gideon’s message last week, we learned God has also hired us as the tenants in His vineyard so that we might be fruitful and maintain a good relationship with Him. May God continue to bless this life of vineyard tenants and strengthen our bond with Him as we also continue to acknowledge His ownership and lordship. In today’s passage, we see several important lessons to learn from Jesus regarding how to live in this world. Most of the teaching points are given us through the Q&A sessions. What is the meaning of living a dual citizen in this world? What is it to be like to live as the living people? Should we consider Jesus as the son of David only? Jesus gives us all the answers to the questions. Hence, let us listen to him and have a clear learning point in this passage such as the God of the living.
What is Caesar’s and What is God’s (20-26)
Look at verse 20. Who said that the gospel stories are not as exciting and thrilling as blockbuster action movies? Well, here we see a spy-movie-like plot as Jesus was being spied on and almost tricked into a trap. The so-called trap was to make Jesus answer a difficult question that would snare him anyway. Now right before asking the trickly question, the spies felt they needed something more to make sure Jesus be off guard. So, they used the method of compliments (or praises). There is an old saying that “Complements (praises) can even make the whale dance.” In our Friday meeting, we heard a story of one young college student who heard the praise from some new religious group and purchased their booklet right away (because he was called an intellectual). Now what were the contents of the compliments given to Jesus? Look at verse 21. “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.’”
Note they first called Jesus, “Teacher,” which was like calling him, “Professor or Your honor.” Then, they enumerated all the good things about him such as speaking and teaching what is right, not showing partiality and teaching the way of God in accordance with truth. Those are the essential traits for a man of God, or a good judge, or an excellent Bible teacher. It is too good to be true that Jesus was complemented this way because he had been hardly complemented. Rather he had been constantly called as a bad figure. Hence, he might be encouraged and possibly let down his guard, if he were a normal man. And that was only the pre-game warm-up. The main event was still to come.
Look at verse 22. “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Remember they used the term “what is right” first when they complemented Jesus? Since Jesus was said to always speak and teach what was right, the spies expected that Jesus would have to choose a right thing out of two options even though there was no right thing in those. Further, all the options would put Jesus at odds with either the Jews or the Romans. If Jesus says paying taxes to Caesar is right, the Jews who resented the taxes would brand him as a traitor. If Jesus says otherwise, the Roman authorities would come and arrest him on the suspicion of subversion. It seems there was no way out.
How did Jesus take this impossible question? Look at verses 23-25. Jesus was not tricked at all. In fact, he already saw their duplicity and came up with the best response. In doing so, he even used an audiovisual presentation. “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” A denarius was a silver coin for paying the tax, roughly equivalent to a day’s wage. The image and inscription were clearly Caesar’s. When the spies answered that it was Caesar’s, Jesus gave them his final answer, saying, “‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
This short answer aptly summarizes how to live as a Christian in this world. Caesar’s image inscribed in the silver coin best represents to whom we belong. We belong to Caesar, and as such “what is Caesar’s” means our duty to serve him. That duty is for the earthly citizenship. Think about the other case. Isn’t the image of God inscribed within us? Hence, we belong to God, and we have our duty to serve Him. Part of what is Caesar’s is to pay our taxes. Sometimes, we are asked more than paying taxes such as our military duty to protect our country when needed. How about what is God’s? Our heavenly duties? God does not demand too many duties. He only asks us to love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. Also, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. As we can see, we have dual citizenship. As dual citizens, we might feel burdened by the double amount of duties. Still, it is our blessing to serve both duties because it means we are considered as capable of double the amount of duties.
Look at verse 26. The spies realized they were unable to trap in what he said in public. They would be silent from then on. In Jesus’ wisdom, we can also escape a trap.
The Life of the Living People (27-40)
Look at verse 27. “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.” In the first part, the spies could not succeed in trapping Jesus. In this second half, the Sadducees thought that they were better than those poor spies and that they might be able to prove their betterment by giving Jesus a hard question relating to their theological view. In our Friday meeting, we learned that the Sadducees were very secular, earth-bound, and never accepting anything other than that was not written in the Torah, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament. Since resurrection was not explicitly written in the Torah (or Moses), they claimed that there is no such a thing as resurrection. In their disapproval, they probably wanted to justify their way of life as well, which is, focusing on their present times. With “no resurrection” in their mind, the best thing they could do was to work hard to be meaningful, influential, and wealthy in any way possible.
Right before 20th century, Lew Wallace, a lawyer and a famous general, had doubt about Christianity. Some people said he read the Bible to disapprove Christianity, but more accurate description would be he had no conviction about Jesus. However, while reading the Bible, especially on the Three Magi’s visit to Bethlehem to meet Jesus, he began to change. He reverently accepted Jesus and thought about what he could do for him. Hence, inspired by the Christ, he completed his novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” which became the most influential Christian book in that century.
Maybe the Sadducees could have followed the footprint of Lew Wallace. Instead, they chose to directly challenge Jesus with an impossible question that would possibly force him to agree with them. Look at verses 28-33. Here, we see a sad and tragic story being unfolded. The story started with the Sadducees first mentioning about a levirate law (Deut. 25:5–10). According to Moses, when a man died childless, his brother would marry the widow, and the first son would become the heir of the deceased. The problem was that this levirate marriage happened to happen seven times in a row to seven brothers and one woman. And none of the marriages produced any child. You may say the woman was a black widow. Or the brothers were infertile after all. In any case, this impossible, man-made story tells us the problems the Sadducees had. They tried to discredit the resurrection so as to prove their way of life was right. They also assumed wrong: a life after resurrection would be something like a repetition of this life. With that, there would be only chaos and confusion and thus, there should not be resurrection. Their view of life was truly fatalistic.
Jesus did not have to reply to this nonsensical, unworthy question. Yet still our Lord had mercy on them and gave them the answer. Look at verses 34-36. While the Sadducees emphasized on marriage, which is an essential part of this life, Jesus said that there would not be any more marriage in the afterlife. Sorry for the girls who cherished the beautiful wedding dress for their lifetime and cannot have it. Note the phrase “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead.” It means those who have firm faith in Jesus and living hope on spiritual life. When we are too much attached to this life, it is difficult to think beyond what we have been doing. Yet Jesus teaches us we are to strive to be worthy people and focus on spiritual life. That will make a difference. What is the essence of such a spiritual life? Look at verse 36. We can no longer die. Death has been swallowed up by the power of resurrection. We are like the angels with the new set of haloes and wings. We are God’s children, rightful heirs of His Kingdom. We are children of the resurrection, the conquerors of the fallen world.
Look at verse 37. Somehow our Lord Jesus helped the Sadducees to understand that resurrection was reflected in the Old Testament. “But in the account of the burning 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.’” Though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead at the speaking of those words, yet they were not so in God’s eye. That is what Moses showed: the dead already rose and became alive in front of God. This also gives us great hope that we are not going to be forgotten however small and insignificant we are but will stand before him forever.
Look at verse 38. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” That is the summary statement of all Q&A sessions with those who had questions about him. God is proud to be the God of the living people whose faith is alive, whose hope is alive and whose love is alive. In this world, the element of death is gripping with such force. Many bad news are here and there. We are easily discouraged and feel hopeless. Nevertheless, when we keep ourselves as the living people, God will be always there, and we will have the living relationship with Him. That is one of the essential parts of eternal life.
Whose Son Is the Messiah? (41-47)
Look at verse 41. So far, other people came to Jesus with difficult questions with the intent of trapping him or giving him a hard time. This time, it was Jesus’ turn to bring out his own version of difficult question. But it was for the good intent. His question was how come the said Messiah could be the son of David. He then quoted the prophetic words from the Book of Psalms (Ps 110:1). “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” This was for the great victory over his enemies. Here, the first Lord was originally all capitalized which means God’s name, Yahweh. The second Lord means a king or other respected person. Clearly, this Lord refers to his son, the promised Messiah descended from him. According to verse 44, Jesus seems to point out that since David called him ‘Lord,’ he could not be his son. Nevertheless, the point we need to take is the divinity of the Messiah. He is not just merely a descendant of David. He is the king of the kings and the lord of the lords. It also indicates that Jesus is the perfect man and perfect God, the mystery of the incarnation of God.
In later verses, Jesus sternly warns against the religious leaders who had a very hypocritical lifestyle. They always wanted to be in the high places, but their punishment would be severe, just like Haman in the Book of Esther ended up in the pole when he was arrogant and trying to be higher than anybody else in the Persian Empire.
In conclusion, we learned that as a dual citizen, we are to fulfill both earthly and heavenly duties. God’s image is inscribed within us, and we are God’s. And we are God’s worthy people and the living people whose faith, hope and love are living. God would be proud to be such people. May God bless us to be the living people that changes the world.