Luke 20: The Debates

Jesus was teaching in the temple again that day, and preaching the gospel. The chief priests, scribes and elders came up to him, questioning him about who gave him the authority to “do these things.” It’s not clear if “these things” meant, simply, teaching the people who listened with rapt attention, or if it included the miracles he was now famous for. Considering how the rest of the conversation went, this was not just information-gathering or love of debate on their part. It was an adversarial encounter.

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The people were listening to all of this, so Jesus decided to teach them—-with the challengers listening—-by telling another parable. The Parable of the Vineyard and Vinedressers made it clear to the chief priests that they were the wicked vinedressers who shamefully treated the servants who had been sent to receive the fruit which was the owner’s payment for the lease. As the story goes, the owner then sent his son, expecting that they would respect him. Instead, they murdered him.

“What will the owner of the vineyard do?” Jesus asks. Then, answering his own question, he says, “He will come and kill the vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.”

There was more, but you can imagine the response that received! They wanted to kill Jesus right there and then, and actually tried to lay hands on him, but they were afraid of the people.

Later, they sent spies who pretended to honour Jesus, flattering him and asking his opinion about whether or not Jewish people should pay taxes to Caesar. The famous phrase, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” came from this encounter.

They simply couldn’t trap him. Not even with their question about marriage in the afterlife. I could almost hear Jesus sigh before he answered this one. It felt to me like the response of a school teacher who was running out of patience.

After this, they stopped trying.

But now he asked them a question, “How can David call the Messiah ‘Lord’ if he is David’s son?” and followed their silence with advice to the people who were still listening closely, “ Beware of the scribes…”

In front of the scribes!

For some reason, that tickled me. However, to be frank, I found reading their constant challenges wearying. To those listening that day it would have been enlightening and inspiring, but from our vantage point, we already know Jesus has all authority, given him by the Father; we know that the rejection of Jesus by his own people gave opportunity for the Gentiles—-those without Covenant with God—-to become children of Abraham by faith in Jesus; and we know that followers of Jesus in every generation are told to obey “Caesar’s” requirements—-unless those requirements are in opposition to God’s ways.

What these debates clearly brought home to me is the fact that debating the scriptures has been going on for millennia! Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s probably a very good thing. There are books galore on biblical subjects, more online articles than we can ever read, and as many opinions or more.

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But we should be careful not to quickly accept anybody’s take on any principle or teaching found there—-not without prayerful reading of God’s word. That is not to disparage any of the Ascension Gifts. We need every one of them. But books, articles and opinions don’t feed the spirit and soul in the same way the scriptures do.

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A search for clarity in our understanding of the truth is a worthy occupation of our time because, even though Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit without measure, it was the truth in his heart and mouth that defeated every challenge.

“I will meditate on your precepts…I will not forget your word,” (Psalm 119:16).