There’s nothing quite like a good trap.
Unless, of course, the intended victim of the trap is aware of it.
All three synoptic Gospels describe a trap the Pharisees set for Jesus. They were trying to find a way to arrest Him and have Him killed. I’m sure their plan seemed absolutely fool-proof to them. Here’s how it’s told in Matthew 22:15-17:
“Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Despite being laced with totally insincere flattery, the beauty of the plan was that if Jesus said people should not pay taxes to Caesar, He would be in deep trouble with the Romans as He would be advocating tax evasion. And, if He did that, the Romans would kill Him –leaving no blood on the hands of the Pharisees.
On the other hand, if Jesus did say the people should pay taxes to the Romans, He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah because Scripture clearly said the Messiah would be a warrior-king who would overthrow Israel’s oppressor.
The Pharisees couldn’t lose –or so they thought.
Jesus saw right through them, as the rest of the passage describes. Matthew 22:18-22:
“But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it? “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God. His reply amazed them, and they went away.”
The flaw in the trap was that the Pharisees had made it about earthly politics, but Jesus would have none of it. I can see Him putting that coin, and the whole pettiness of it right back in their hands as He elevated the supposed earthly conflict into a heavenly and spiritual situation.
We see a very similar scenario playing out today. Lawlessness and immorality are all around us. There are things going on which deeply and greatly grieve the hearts of Christians. At the same time, the political climate is such that anyone who speaks out against that which is clearly against God’s will is labeled as a “hater” and they find themselves “cancelled.”
It’s a trap.
As much as we’d like to, we cannot and will not change the way people think, we will not change people’s hearts by making Jesus political. And people do not change the way they act without first changing the way they think.
Scripture tells us that sanctification does not precede justification. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 1 Corinthians 6:11) The Holy Spirit works repentance in the hearts of those who have come to believe through faith and faith does not come through works. (Ephesians 2:9)
So, as Christ followers, what is our role in all of this? We are here to show people the cure for the pain they feel from sin, and that is the Gospel! We would love for our shouts of warning to be heeded now so that people could avoid the pain caused by sin, but no one does that in response to seeing someone standing on a street corner with a sign yelling “REPENT!”
The cross and the empty grave shout across the ages louder than anyone standing on a street corner with a sign because love triumphed over sin and evil. The very first words He cried from that cross were a prayer begging His Father to forgive the ones who put Him there. And, make no mistake, they put Him there for political reasons.
People need Jesus first and foremost.
What the Holy Spirit does with their hearts and minds and souls afterwards is truly miraculous.
“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NKJV)