who it is that gave you this authority." He answered them, "I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" And they discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From man,' all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet." So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
Luke 20:19-26 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar's." He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became
It's not always wise nor necessary to respond to a question asked with a ready answer. Sometime, people are not looking for answers when they ask questions: they are just trying to trap or trip you. In Alpha small group discussion, we have heard lots of questions asked by non-churchgoers. But not everyone who asks a question necessarily wants an answer. A good small group facilitator must be like Jesus: Sometime it's best to answer a question with another question.
The religious leaders came to Jesus to challenge His claim to divine authority with the question, "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority" (v.2). Jesus knew they weren't interested in the obvious answer. So he answered their question with another question: "I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" (vv.3-4). Gotcha! They didn't want to answer his question because either way, they would get themselves into a bind. If they said John's baptism was from man, they were afraid of the crowd's reaction for they believed John was sent by God. If they said it was from God, they would have to answer why they didn't get themselves baptized. So, they replied, "We don't know." If they couldn't answer such a simple question, Jesus then felt no obligation to answer theirs: "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
In the second instant, the religious leaders set a trap to ask Jesus a politically sensitive question: "Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (v.22). If Jesus answered yes, the Jews would accuse him of being a traitor to the Jewish nation. If he said no, the Romans would accuse him of subversion. It was a lose-lose situation. So, Jesus refused to give a yes-or-no answer. Instead he asked them back a question, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" (v.24) The denarius was a Roman coin and the face on it was Caesar's. So, they replied, "Caesar's". So Jesus replied, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (v.25). So, Jesus was able to avoid the dichotomous yes-or-no answer and gave instead the third alternative: an integrative yes-and-yes answer.
I have also come across many theological questions that are phrased in a dichotomous yes-or-no manner. If only Christians seek for a third integrative alternative, we would have less theological debates. For example:
- Is a person's eternal salvation predestined by God or determined by man? The answer is both yes and yes: it is both predestined by God and also determined by man.
- Are we under Grace or Law? The answer is yes and yes. We are under under Grace with regard to God and under Law with regard to man.
- Do we trust God or trust medicine for healing? The answer is yes and yes. We trust God for supernatural healing and we also believe God uses natural means to heal us.
Father, grant us wisdom in answering people's questions about You. For eternal matters often confound the rational and limited human mind. Amen.