The Pharisees plotted a way to trap [Jesus] into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.

“This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads. (Matthew 22:15-22)

Jesus always got the better of his critics. The tax in question was the Roman poll-tax. The Jewish people despised it. In fact, a couple of decades before Jesus was asked about it, a popular leader from the Galilee area named Judas had led a major revolt against the Romans. For the Zealots, Judas and his revolt still inspired them to fight against Rome. So the question was very dangerous: supporting the tax meant siding with the Romans. But to oppose the tax would open up Jesus to the charge of sedition. No matter how he answered, the Pharisees figured they could get Jesus into serious trouble.

When Jesus asked them to show him a denarius, Jesus revealed their hypocrisy. If they really were the good, patriotic Jews they pretended, then how could they carry a coin with an idolatrous portrait of Caesar carrying an inscription that described him as the “son of God?” With his answer, Jesus distanced himself from the Zealots and indicated that loyalty to a pagan government was not incompatible with loyalty to God.

What Jesus told the Pharisees took the wind out of their sails. But notice that Jesus’ answer contradicted what his disciples would have expected of the Messiah. Though not everyone was a Zealot, most Jewish people believed in their goals and they all expected the Messiah to overthrow the occupiers.

The kingdom of God and the kingdom of Man are two different, and sometimes mutually exclusive things. Jesus thinks we can honor both God and whatever nation we live in.

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Silence Can Be Loud

Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.”

The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly.

Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!”

But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them.

Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.

Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify Him!”

But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

Jesus merely agreed with the truth; he never sought to defend himself or to argue a point. Pilate was amazed by the silence of Jesus. He had seen numberless criminals. He knew criminals were quick to claim innocence.
But Jesus was different. He acknowledged that he was the King of the Jews. In a world where only Rome decided who was king and who was not, that made Jesus guilty as charged. But Pilate wasn’t buying it. Jesus didn’t act like some pretender to the throne. He didn’t strut, he didn’t offer excuses.

So Pilate decided that Jesus really was innocent. But Pilate had to pander to what the mob wanted in order to keep the mob from turning against him and destroying his career.

It is not easy to do the right thing, even when you know what the right thing is and you want to do it. When faced with the choice of doing the right thing, or keeping his job, Pilate chose to keep his job. Most people today will do the same thing: they will just follow orders and procedure. But Jesus asks us to follow him.

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Wake Up

They came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.”

He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.

Then He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42)

Sleeping on your job will get you fired. But three times Jesus found his disciples sleeping. Three times he tried to awaken them. The first two times to join him in prayer. The last time so they could witness his betrayal.

All along, he had told his disciples what was going on. And all along, the disciples just didn’t get it. Had they understood the necessity of praying this night, had they known that in only a short hour their master would be arrested and taken away to be crucified, they would have doubtless acted differently. But how many times had they been with Jesus when he went off to pray? Jesus prayed all the time. How was this night different from all the others? That very question was probably on their minds, since every Passover, a child was supposed to ask that question.

How is this night different from all others? Jesus changed the meaning of the bread and wine, the meaning of prayer, and the meaning of being the Messiah. The world would never be the same after Jesus fulfilled his destiny. Jesus’ disciples weren’t his employees. They weren’t his servants. They were his brothers—and his friends. We don’t work for Jesus. We’re part of his family.

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After singing a hymn, [Jesus and His disciples] went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’

“But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.”

Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”

Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:30-36)

“You will fail me.” That’s what Jesus told his disciples. But Jesus never gave up on them. After the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Or rather, Jesus went to pray. The disciples went to sleep. Jesus warned his disciples that they would all desert him. Likewise, he reassured them that he’d meet up with them again in Galilee after his resurrection.

Peter insisted that he would never deny Jesus. He affirmed a willingness to die for him. All the disciples insisted on the same and all of them missed the words of comfort Jesus offered. The disciples expected to fight for Jesus against the Romans. They did not expect Jesus to surrender and die meekly. Unable to die for him gloriously in battle as they had imagined, they fled. Though all the disciples ran, Peter was singled out with a prophesy. He stands out as the representative for all their bad behavior.

The disciples missed the promise of Jesus’ resurrection. So they spent three days in unnecessary misery, before the reality of his resurrection forced them to joy. Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He planned for it. He fixed it. God knows us. He knows how we’ll react to our lives. He isn’t at a loss, and he won’t give up on us, no matter how often we give up on him, or worse, ourselves. Jesus will always go ahead of us to meet up with us again.

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Slay Them

“Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’

“And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’ ” (Luke 19:20-27)

Sometimes, you have to wonder what a person was thinking. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. His disciples thought Jesus was about to become the new king over Israel. The purpose of Jesus’ parable was to correct their erroneous thought.

Jesus told a parable about a king who went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. Though most of the king’s servants were wise, one made poor choices and lost everything as a consequence, joining the fate of those who had rejected the king. Jesus’ story might have reminded his disciples about Herod and his descendents, who ruled the people of Israel because Rome had given the throne to them. For instance, after Herod the Great died in 4 BC, his son Archelaus went to Rome to have his father’s will confirmed, so he could become king in his place. A group of Jewish leaders followed him to Rome to protest his appointment.

Jesus knew he would be betrayed by Judas, rejected by the religious leadership of Israel and die at the hands of the Romans. Judas would lose his place, while the religious leaders would lose their place when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed within a generation. Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples would be left behind to work without him. He wanted them—and us—to work in confidence, knowing that Jesus would come back again. And when he finally returned, he’d bring us our reward.

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Are We There Yet?

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Are we there yet? Children on a trip are impatient. So are people in general. Jesus used the parable of the unjust judge to make the point that praying to God is never a waste of time. Even a horrible judge who doesn’t properly do his job, will do it if he gets nagged enough. So God, who is not a negligent jurist, will certainly bring justice for his chosen people. Jesus was making a point about God. God is not lazy, he isn’t too busy, he isn’t distracted. He isn’t dragging his feet. He actually is doing what needs to be done as quickly as it needs to be done.

Some have looked at the Holocaust and wondered, “where was God?” The question would be a reasonable one had the Germans won the war. But they didn’t. They lost. So where was God? He was using the allied forces to bomb Germany to bits. Then Germany was divided and occupied. Half of it was enslaved by the Soviets for a generation. Israel was restored as a nation. And it all came to pass considerably faster than the four hundred years of slavery endured by the Israelites in Egypt.

God does take care of his people. He does bring justice to them. And he’ll do it as quickly as possible. Count on it.

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“Who are faithful and wise servants? Who are the ones the master will put in charge of giving the other servants their food supplies at the proper time? Servants are fortunate if their master comes and finds them doing their job. A servant who is always faithful will surely be put in charge of everything the master owns.

“But suppose one of the servants thinks that the master won’t return until late. Suppose that servant starts beating all the other servants and eats and drinks and gets drunk. If that happens, the master will come on a day and at a time when the servant least expects him. That servant will then be punished and thrown out with the servants who cannot be trusted.

“If servants are not ready or willing to do what their master wants them to do, they will be beaten hard. But servants who don’t know what their master wants them to do will not be beaten so hard for doing wrong. If God has been generous with you, he will expect you to serve him well. But if he has been more than generous, he will expect you to serve him even better.” (Luke 12:42-48)

The Pharisees and religious leaders fancied themselves in the service of God. But in fact, they were mostly just serving themselves. Jesus warned his disciples about them repeatedly, in many different ways and at many different times. This parable about a bad servant was one such warning.

The purpose of servants was to do the jobs that their master needed to have done that he would prefer not to have to do himself. Ideally, the master shouldn’t even have to think about it. The servants should just do their jobs. In our modern world, our servants are things like our cars, the electricity in our homes, or the plumbing. We don’t think about our cars unless they break. We flick a switch and we expect the light to come on. We turn a knob and we expect the water to be hot in our shower. We become angry when any of our modern servants fail us.

What was Jesus’ point about the parable of the servants that he gave his disciples? He did not want his disciples to turn out as the Pharisees had. He wanted them to be different. He wanted them to serve God and each other. And that’s what Jesus wants of us, too.

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Little Flock

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:32-40)

Don’t you wish we’d all been ready? Jesus promised his disciples that he would come unexpectedly. To illustrate what he meant, he compared his future arrival to that of Jewish wedding customs of the time. The groom did not tell his bride when he would show up to get her. It was a surprise and part of the fun of getting married. So the bride, her family, the guests—everyone involved, had to simply wait in anticipation, and make certain that they were always ready. Jesus’ story then takes an odd turn. In a real banquet, it was the servants who would serve their master. But Jesus has the master serving the servants: a hint about the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

To drive the point home in a way that perhaps is clearer for modern readers of the Bible, Jesus said his arrival would also be like the coming of a thief. No one knows about a burglary before it happens. That his disciples should await his coming prepared, no matter how long the delay, was so important that Jesus explained it to them in more than one way.

We should live our lives each day in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. We never know when he may come for us, whether in the clouds, or in our dying breath. Each day should be lived as if it might be our last.

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Lots to Do

After Jesus left the synagogue with James and John, they went to Simon and Andrew’s home. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. They told Jesus about her right away. So he went to her bedside, took her by the hand, and helped her sit up. Then the fever left her, and she prepared a meal for them.

That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. The whole town gathered at the door to watch. So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:29-39)

Jesus made people feel wonderful. Look at Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum. Jesus simply went to where she was, took her by the hand, and helped her sit up. At which point, she wasn’t sick any more. No one had asked for her healing. Not even she had made the request. But healed she was, nevertheless. God does not wait to take care of us only when we ask. Good thing, since we may not always know what we need.

After Peter’s mother-in-law was healed she prepared a meal for Jesus and the disciples. That may seem an odd response to being healed, but the point that the author was wishing to make was to demonstrate just how thoroughly healed she was: she went back to living her life as she normally did. It is akin to the lame man not only walking, but picking up his mat and carrying it. It demonstrated the completeness of the healing.

Capernaum was a small town. Soon, every sick person, everyone who knew a sick person, and everyone who just wanted to watch, had descended upon the house where Jesus was. He was kept busy for hours. When Jesus changes our life, it’s not just our life that is transformed. His work in us soon spreads to everyone we know. Jesus’ work in a life can never stay a secret.

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