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God’s Word for You

Luke 20:20-22 spies who pretended to be honest

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 7, 2019

20 So as they watched, they sent spies who pretended to be honest. They hoped they might trap him with something he said, so that they could hand him over to the power and the authority of the governor. 21 The spies questioned him, saying, “Teacher, we know that you say and teach rightly, and you do not show favoritism to anyone, but teach the way of God in accord with the truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Matthew and Mark tell us that there were Herodians in this group as well as Pharisees. Luke never mentions the Herodians since Theophilus would have no reason to know anything about them. They were a political group in Jerusalem rather than a religious sect. They favored the rule of Israel through the family of King Herod even though Herod had been a foreigner (an Edomite), since it was preferable than more direct government by Rome. This meant that they favored taxation by Rome since it kept the Herodian dynasty in place. In this matter they were directly opposed to the Pharisees, who wanted the Romans to leave (the Pharisees as a group had their beginnings in the Maccabean opposition to Roman rule).

The men in the group that approached Jesus were opposed to one another in almost every way, but they were united by their hatred of him. They approached the Lord with the question that was at the heart of their own opposition to each other: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

They thought that they had trapped Jesus. If he said “yes,” he could be labeled as a Herodian or a Roman sympathizer, and he could even be excommunicated from the temple and its worship. Perhaps the Pharisees hoped that the people would even turn against Jesus and label him a “Roman.” However, if he said “no,” they could hand him over to the Roman governor, Pilate, as a lawbreaker; a man who publicly opposed paying taxes. Of course this was hypocritical, since the Pharisees held that very opinion. But they were careful not to say it publicly for the Romans to hear, at least not when they could be identified personally.

It seemed like the perfect trap.

We should be careful when we point fingers at the Pharisees and Herodians. Sometimes Christians try to trap God with prayerful ultimatums. “O God, if you just do this one thing for me, I will turn my life around. If you cure my cancer, I’ll start going to church every Sunday!” What kind of a prayer is that, when God already wants us to worship him regularly, to set aside time willingly out of love and not out of any bargains? So if he did not cure the one praying, would he, God, be at fault for the man’s absence from Church? “It’s God’s own fault that I’m damned,” the fool would say as he fell into the pit of hell, “because he wouldn’t jump when I tried to pull his strings.” We need to follow Jesus’ example and pray, “Not my will, but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

We follow Jesus because “he has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5). We must keep our feet firmly on the path that follows him, never seeking to surpass the Almighty. What madness that would be, and yet how quickly we forget it. “What can I do with you, Judah?” the Lord asks. “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears” (Hosea 6:4). Too often we say that we want to follow Christ, and yet the devil prods us like a boy poking a dog with a stick. He wants us to think we can twist ourselves into a new position, like the time he tried to do that with God; the sin which got him thrown down from heaven into the abyss (Revelation 20:3). We beg the Holy Spirit who lives in our very flesh to guide us, to turn us aside from the madness of the devil’s temptations, and to cheerfully, gratefully, and gladly take up our place as followers of the Holy One of Israel.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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