Drop Your Agenda
Drop Your Agenda
By the end of Luke's narrative of Jesus' life, opposition from the religious leaders is mounting, and Jesus' popularity among the people is growing. As a result, the leaders are afraid they will incite a rebellion if they arrest Jesus. So instead of attacking him directly, they come to Jesus with a series of questions designed to catch him in a misstatement that will discredit him either with the people or the Roman authorities. It seems on the surface as if these guys are sincere, but they have ulterior motives. They have their own agenda, including their own ideas concerning what the Messiah is supposed to do and what it means to be a part of his kingdom.
We, too, come to Jesus with our own agendas and assumptions. None of us comes to Christ with a blank slate. Instead, we bring opinions formed by a lifetime of experiences. Perhaps our agenda is political. Perhaps it is theological or intellectual. Perhaps it is racial or social. Whatever it is, we expect Jesus to buy in. If he doesn't, we're not so sure we want to follow him.
In Luke 20, Jesus has two encounters that force us to question to what degree we come to Christ with our own agendas. This passage forces us to ask, What cause am I trying to get Jesus to endorse? How does this reveal my own distorted view of what he is all about and what he came to do?
We come to Jesus with a political agenda.
In Luke 20, the religious officials question Jesus' authority, and Jesus responds with parables that indict them of their sin. Luke tells us in 20:1920 that these religious leaders are looking for a way to turn the tables on Jesus. They send spies to ask Jesus a question they hope will catch him off guard.
It's worth noting that in the parallel incident in Mark 12:1317, these spies were a combination of Pharisees and Herodians. What's interesting is that those two groups had completely different agendas. It would be analogous to sending a group consisting of ultra-liberal democrats and the religious right. Normally, these two groups despised each other. The Pharisees seethed under Rome's occupation of Palestine and dreamed of revolution. The Herodians, on the other hand, had sold out to the status quo. But these two groups were brought together by a mutual hatred of Jesus.
They come to him with flattering words, praising him for being a teacher of truth, and they ask him the perfect question for squeezing someone between a rock and a hard place: "Is it in keeping with the law of Moses to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" If he said they should pay the tax, the Jewish people would brand him a traitor. The Jews hated this tax. It had to be paid in Roman coinage stamped with the idolatrous image of Tiberius and an inscription proclaiming him as "the son of a god." It was a constant reminder of their subjection to pagan idolaters. On the other hand, if he instructed them not to pay the tax, he would have been branded an insurrectionist by the Roman authorities. Rome didn't tolerate people like that.
Before he says anything, Luke tells us that Jesus "detected their trickery." Then he asks them a question: "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They produce the coin and answer, "Caesar's." The fact that the religious leaders are able to produce a coin is significant. Because the coins bore Caesar's image, and Caesar claimed to be "the son of a god," the object was an idol, and anyone who carried it around was an idolater. It doesn't appear that Jesus had one on him, but the leaders did. If they were so righteous, why were they carrying these little idols in their pockets?
Then Jesus says to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Because they are unable to trip him up, they become silent. Jesus means that because the coin bears Caesar's name and image on it, it belongs to him; give it back. Jesus implies that since the Jews were enjoying some of the benefits of Caesar's government, they should give him his due. They still had a certain obligation to the ruling government, even if it was evil and pagan. It's clear that Jesus really didn't have a political agenda insofar as it meant overthrowing Rome.
What about us? We're to avoid the extreme of the Pharisees who were hostile to the secular government. That doesn't mean we always have to agree with it, but do we have a certain obligation to it. We enjoy the benefits of the state, so we should support it through our tax dollars. In the Book of Romans, Paul says that the governing authorities have been established by God. So we should obey the laws of the state insofar as they do not contradict a direct command of God. I think this also implies that we shouldn't withdraw from the state in passive protest. We should participate in the political process. We should vote and stay informed and pray for those God has placed in authority over us.
But Jesus doesn't leave it at that. He also says, "Render to God the things that are God's." By saying this, Jesus makes a subtle, yet powerful, protest against the idolatrous claims of Caesar. Caesar is not God. He doesn't rule over all of life. He can regulate our conduct to some degree, but he can't control our spirit. The government has domain over certain aspects of our lives, and Jesus is fine with that. But its domain is limited. Give God his due.
What is God's due? Think of it this wayCaesar's image is on the coin. Whose image is on the heart and soul of human beings? You and I are created in the image of God; we have his stamp and inscription on us, so we belong to him. He deserves our deepest affections and ultimate loyalty. Our worship is directed only to him. Early Christians were martyred because they wouldn't say, "Caesar is Lord." We don't give worship to any political leader. We don't put our ultimate hopes in anyone but God.
So while we avoid the extreme of the Pharisees, we must also avoid the extreme of the Herodians who so completely invested themselves in the system that they gave Caesar much more than his due. They built their lives and their hopes around him. Their security was invested in his government. In America, a nation founded upon many Christian principles, we have to be careful to remember that our ultimate allegiance is not to America, but to God.
It doesn't matter what your political agenda is; Jesus doesn't buy into it. Our hope is neither in political revolution nor maintaining the status quo. Jesus will establish his kingdom not thorough politics, but through the Cross. When you come to Jesus with your own agenda, he invites you to follow him to the Cross instead.
We come to Jesus with a theological agenda.
In the second encounter in Luke 20, Jesus is approached by a group of men called Sadducees, an aristocratic group made up of priestly families of Jerusalem. They were worldly and wealthy, the rationalistic intellectuals of their day. Like Thomas Jefferson who once published a copy of the Bible with all the references to miracles and the supernatural taken out, the Sadducees wanted the ethics of the Bible without the supernatural. So, just as the Pharisees and the Herodians had a political agenda, these guys had a theological and philosophical agenda. Unlike the Pharisees, they didn't believe in life after death or in the resurrection of the dead, and their conflict with Jesus was that he had already predicted his own resurrection.
They knew that if they were right, Jesus was a crock. To prove it, they approach Jesus in verses 2733 with a hypothetical situation designed to make anyone who believed in the Resurrection look ridiculous.
Quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, the Sadducees refer to a law that stated if a man died before he and his wife could produce a child, then his brother had an obligation to marry the widow. Then when the two of them produced a child, that child would take the dead brother's name so that his name wouldn't be erased. That law would make you think twice about whom your brother married! But that was how Israel worked. God's people were to think beyond themselves to what was good for the whole nation.
In the wild scenario the Sadducees paint for Jesus, a woman gets married and her husband dies before they have a child. So she married his brother, but he also dies without producing an heir. This goes on through seven brothers, all of whom die before they have a child. Finally the woman diesprobably from exhaustionand the Sadducees want to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection.
It's amazing to me that Jesus even took this seriously. He actually gives them a very thoughtful answer. First, he corrects their theology. The Sadducees assumed that if there were an afterlife, it would be an extension of this life, so that if you were married on earth you would be married in heaven, and if you had kids on earth you would have kids in heaven. Jesus says it doesn't work that way. Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven. One of the reasons for this is that we will be like angels; we will not die, so there will be no need for procreation. Instead of being husbands and wives, we'll all be sons of God. The focus will be not on our earthly families, but on being children of our Father God.
Jesus also corrected their understanding of the Bible. In verses 3740, Jesus refers back to Moses' interaction with God in the burning bush. He uses very simple logic: God's statement to Moses was in the present tense: "I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob." That doesn't make any sense if they're not alive. If someone comes to you and says, "I was your mother's best friend," that may be because your mother is dead or somehow their relationship has changed. But if she comes to you and says, "I am your mother's best friend," the assumption is that she's still alive and their relationship is still dynamic. That's why Jesus says, "He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
I know that some people really have a hard time with this. If you have a good marriage and you really love your wife or your husband, it's hard to think you won't have that kind of relationship in heaven. But this passage helps us understand how truly amazing heaven is going to be. It will be deeper and better than even the best of marriages and sexuality. Hollywood makes us think that romance is the end all. But Jesus says your vision of heaven is too small. This will be comforting news for those who are unhappily single or who have been through a painful divorce or have been unable to have children. This world is not all there is. You have a future in heaven that is bigger than all of that. Your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ will last forever, but your family relationships will change in eternity.
We come to Jesus with our own agenda. We want him to sign our petition or endorse our cause. How does Jesus respond? He loves us enough to engage with us, but he won't sign up. Our concept of what he's doing is way too small. Our view of his kingdom is at best a human remake of life on earth. It might be a political remake; it might be a theological remake. But he wants us to be part of something that transcends our own agendaa kingdom without end, created not through political power, but through the Cross; not through marriage or sexuality, but through the power of the Resurrection.
For the outline of this sermon, go to "Drop Your Agenda."
Mark Mitchell is the lead pastor of Central Peninsula Church in Foster City, California.