Sermon September 8, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1411

September 8, 2019 Luke 20.1-26

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“A Conversation With Jesus”

What would it be like to have a conversation with Jesus? I’m not talking about prayer, which is a great conversation with Jesus, nor am I talking about reading and reflecting on Scripture, which is another great conversation, but I am considering and imagining a conversation like we have around the dinner table. What would it be like to talk to Jesus like the disciples once did? What would it be like to sit down with Jesus over coffee? (I would not do coffee, but you probably would!)

I remember reading a somewhat comical conversation someone once wrote, I think it was called That Hour with Jesus. What I remember was the author imagining an hour long conversation with Jesus and the author was so nervous in the conversation that he kept asking all these deep theological questions and Jesus just wanted to spend some time together talking about life and the normal things we talk about. As I mentioned before, if we were to think about a conversation with Jesus we might first talk about prayer or reading the Bible as a conversation or some other spiritual discipline as a time with Jesus. But what I want us to imagine for a few moments is what it would have been like to be in the conversation in the biblical stories. That is, what if we were there at the time, like in Luke 20, among those in conversation? And perhaps today, what would we say to Jesus in a conversation sitting around the dinner table?

We are going to consider this passage in Luke 20 in three scenes and take a look at what we might learn from conversations with Jesus. How might we handle conversation with others on faith and defending our hope. Last Sunday we considered how we might respond to someone if asked why are you a Christian? And we will consider that question again in light of how Jesus interacted with people.



  • Scene 1 – Authority Questioned


Luke 201-8 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” 3 He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” 5 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”


Many believe that this was a typical day for Jesus. One day He was teaching and preaching in the temple. It appears that this setting is not like we might imagine today with the Sunday morning preaching, the preacher speaking and the congregation listening, but it may have been more conversational in nature. While He is teaching and preaching the priests and scribes and elders request that Jesus explain what gives Him the authority to preach and teach. In essence they want to know what Jesus thinks gives Him the right to say the things He says and do the things He does. They may have been trying to delegitimize Jesus in whatever way possible, thinking that if the people thought He had no authority they might stop listening to Him and stop following Him. But Jesus is clever and uses a classic rabbinical strategy by answering a question with a question.

Where did John the Baptist get his authority? The leaders huddle up and realize they are the ones on the spot now. They tried their best to put Jesus in a difficult position but Jesus turns the table on them. They cannot answer Jesus so He will in turn not answer them.

I will speak to this conversation technique more later, but I want us to see how Jesus answers a question with a question.



  • Scene 2 – Story Time


Luke 20.9-18 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The second scene is Jesus turning to the people with a story, a parable. It is about a man who planted a vineyard and gave others responsibility to look after it. When the field began to yield fruit, the owner sent servants, one after another, to collect some fruit but each one was turned away empty. The owner finally sent his son and they did not just turn him away but killed him. Jesus concludes the story with the judgment that the owner will come and destroy those who killed his son. We know by verse nineteen that the leaders believed Jesus was talking about them as tenants of God’s vineyard. Even in verse sixteen they are upset, “surely not!” But Jesus singles them out as those who have rejected Jesus who is the cornerstone.

In this conversation Jesus uses a story to make his point. This is also a typical method by Jewish Rabbis. I think Jesus is still responding to the question of authority, first by asking a question and then by telling a story. Ask a Rabbi a question and you will either get a question or a story. If you question the story it is likely that you will get another story.

I will speak to this conversation technique more later, but I want us to see how Jesus answers a question with a story.


  • Scene 3 – Should I Pay Taxes?


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. 20 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. 21 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?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 26 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 silent.


Scene number three is another attempt to trick Jesus. They could not get Him with their first question, so they come back with another. Check out what this so called ethical righteous leaders of the Jews do. They get some spies! Probably some laymen, or maybe some scribes without any religious clothing. Whoever they were they were pretending to be sincere but actually out to catch Jesus saying something He should not. They choose a topic we know about, taxes. Should they pay tribute to Caesar? Should they pay their taxes to the ruling government? Jesus knows exactly what they are up to. He knows they are trying to trap him. I like to think Jesus took a few minutes to ponder their question. He does not answer it right away. Instead He asks for a coin, a denarius. Jesus is going for an object lesson here! Then, he still does not answer their question, but asks another question. Whose likeness and inscription is on the coin? Everyone there knows the answer to that question. There is no hesitation, Caesar’s likeness and inscription is on the coin.

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It is another indictment against the self-righteous leadership. Have they not been rendering to God the things that are God’s? Probably not. What happens after Jesus says this? Silence. They have no response. Not only have they not been able to catch Jesus with an errant answer, but He has also silenced them. All they can do is marvel at how Jesus has responded.

I’m calling this the ability to not answer right away. Let’s now look at what Jesus has done in these three scenes.


  • Skillful Conversation


I have selected today’s passage to help us learn how Jesus handled conversations with those around Him and what we might learn from it to help us defend the hope that is within us. Last Sunday I spoke of how we might respond to the question of why we are Christian. Let’s consider that question in light of what Jesus has done in these three scenes. The first lesson is that Jesus answers a question with a question. What might that look like for us? Why are you a Christian? We might consider asking this question: What do you think makes someone a Christian? It gets more information as to the understanding of the one asking the question. It gives you time to consider your response. It helps you to clarify what terms the person knows or may misunderstand. It helps us to get behind the original question asked of us. Most questions these days are filled with a certain agenda. We call them loaded questions. Asking questions about the question helps us to understand the question better. It helps us understand what might be a set up. It helps us to articulate more fully an answer to what is being asked.

The second thing Jesus does is tell a story. Parables are first stories. In our media driven world we have to wonder it we have forgotten how to tell stories. Story telling seems to be a lost art in the world today. Even our television shows and movies are not very adept at telling quality stories. We all have stories to tell if nothing more than the stories of family. I remember so many stories of growing up in the family and many of those stories are opportunities to talk about Christian themes even though I did not grow up in a Christian family. I was telling the story of my grandfather cooking everything we ever ate in his house in a black skillet. It did not seem to me, as a young kid, that he did anything in the oven or on the stove except in that skillet. Now, what in the world does that mean toward defending the hope within us. Well, I have often told that story to express my interest in cooking and enjoying time at table with family and how Jesus spends a lot of time at table with people in the Bible. Food is important in the Bible and then you can lead into talking about Jesus Himself being the bread of life, nurturing us at the Lord’s table in communion, and things like we do not live by bread alone but by the word of God. All we have to do is think a bit about how some of our family stories can lead into the gospel story.

Consider too the vast number of stories available to us from the Bible that most people in the world today have never heard. How many of us could easily tell the story about a man who had two sons and the youngest son took his inheritance and left to go to the big city only to lose everything and then returns home to a loving response from his father? We know that story, we know the story of Christmas, the story of resurrection, the story of Jonah, Noah, and many more.

The third scene reveals how Jesus does not rush to answer a question, but gives some space to create an object lesson, and he also gets to asks another question! But he does not answer right away, instead giving some space to work through a response. Jesus is creating space and a moment of silence can be a great time for reflective thought. We don’t have to fill the air with words. We might pull a coin out of our pocket and make a point with it. We might point to an event or situation that can lead to the gospel or at least to some biblical truth out of something that does not, at first glance, lead to anything close to that.


One thing that Jesus does in each of these three scenes is He listens well. He knew instinctively when to ask questions, when to tell a story, and when to leave some space. We may not be as adept as Jesus, but these lessons will indeed help us to consider any of these strategies when having a conversation on any topic that we might be able to direct toward faith and God. It is unfortunate that our modernity and culture has deeply crippled our ability to give witness because we are always too quick to give answers. We are impatient to get answers and to give answers. In the same way we have become less capable to tell stories. We are all too dependent on the world of entertainment and sensationalism. We become complacent about telling the stories of the Bible or any stories. In many ways we have been robbed of imagination. We are robbed of the wonder and marvel that is contained in good conversation that can lead to the good news. We are only adept at talking about weather, sports, or the latest episodes of our favorite shows.

Learn Bible stories again. Recall family stories and think about how they might lead to a gospel truth. Ask questions about questions. Get clarification on what is behind any question. Create some space in conversations to give time for reflection and to give room for the Holy Spirit. In saying all this I don’t mean to imply that we go into every conversation with the agenda to force it, but what I hope we can do is, when opportunity arises, we can be better prepared to defend the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3.15).

I remember one particular devotion from Oswald Chambers. It is from the date August 30 in My Utmost for His Highest, “Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it.” It is my hope and prayer that we can learn more about how Jesus conversed with others so that God can pour out rivers of living water through us without our even realizing it. Let us strive to be rightly related to God and He will lead us to ask the right questions, tell the best stories, and create room for the gospel to be revealed! Amen to that.



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