Meeting Deception with Pure and Peaceable Wisdom
The Work of Earth’s “god”
There’s a lot of deception in the world, you know? Why do we have deceptive politicians, fake news, scandals, and a million contrasting religions and versions of morality?
In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul calls Satan the “god of this world,” and I’d like to couple that thought with what Jesus said of Satan in John 8:44—he is a liar, and the father of lies. So, he’s a god of sorts, and his authority is used full force to lie, to deceive. In 2 Corinthians 4, he was “blind[ing] the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
So God has this highly visible, enormously monumental scheme for the eternal goodness of mankind, and the devil is spending the whole of his time and energy to keep people from seeing it—to keep them blind to it.
How does he do it? How does he get his lies out here into the world so that people talk about them and believe them? Let me read a statement from Paul, which I think answers that question, but afterwards we will spend the remainder of the message looking at an actual example of Satan’s deceptive work being formed and executed. First of all, Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). So, created spirits work through human traditions and deceitful philosophies for the ultimate goal of deluding minds (see also 2:4). So I think that answers, in part, how it happens. The devil has a legion of demonic angels at the ready to go work some lie in some person who doesn’t know Christ nor wants to know Christ.
Our primary text this morning begins in Matthew 22:15, and I think this passage showcases the work of Satan in both human traditions and general deceitfulness.
Seeking to Entangle Christ
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
[Now, let me give a parenthesis for context: For two chapters, Jesus has been in Jerusalem, specifically in the temple of God, teaching the people. Over the course of these couple of days, Jesus violently drove venders out of the temple; he told the Pharisees that tax-collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven, but they would not; and he told the people of Israel that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to another people.
These were some hard-hitting teachings, which explains why in verse 15 the Pharisees “Then” went and plotted against him. They’d had enough! In 21:46, they were seeking to arrest him, but for fear of the crowds, they refrained. Now their tactic is to get the crowds turned against him (ultimately they will prevail).]
Notice something: In a moment we are going to discuss the particulars of the deception in this story, but we can’t miss the conditions from which that deception grew. The lie produced by Satan is generated in hostile hearts who did not like what Jesus had to say. They heard his teachings; they didn’t like them; so Satan will pounce like a hungry cougar on a heart in that kind of position. So be careful when you don’t like something Jesus says. Odds are that a lie will quickly follow.
Now how do I know that Satan was the agent at work here (it doesn’t even mention Satan!)? In short, Pharisees were the human agents of Satan. In chapter 23, Jesus will call them “children of hell.” He says they are “sons of those who murdered the prophets.” He told them in John’s gospel that their father was the devil, and they willed to do the devil’s desires. So it isn’t a stretch to say that this is a work of the devil being executed by human beings.
As I studied this week, I was struck by the level of forethought and structure Satan uses in his attacks. Satan isn’t apathetic. He isn’t merely wielding a sword in random directions, hoping it slashes some truth. He concocts specially formulated potions for every setting where Christ is.
Notice the text: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.” So these guys were probably shooting each other dirty looks, and collectively they left the room and went off to find some way to nail Jesus. This is premeditated, crafty business. This is how Satan works.
From this passage we can draw at least two devices of Satan’s work. I think as Christians waging war against the spiritual forces of evil, it is to our greatest advantage to know the enemy and his tactics. After we analyze these two devices, we will learn from Christ’s response how to navigate through these darts.
1. Satan uses any means to discredit Christ
So “[the Pharisees] sent their disciples to [Jesus], along with the Herodians, saying, ‘…Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’”
Here’s the amazing thing: The Pharisees and Herodians didn’t even agree on the answer to this question! These two groups were religious and political opposites. The best way to compare a Pharisee to a Herodian is to compare a Republican Protestant to a Democratic Catholic. So why in the world are the two groups colluding as if this was a question they could find common ground in? The answer is, they both wanted to destroy Christ.
The insight here is profoundly important. Satan doesn’t care if somebody’s a Pharisee or a Herodian. He doesn’t care if you’re a Muslim, Catholic, Mormon, secular humanist, atheist, or an apathetic Christian—so long as you, at the end of the day, desire to put Jesus away for something he said or taught.
Anything or anyone that isn’t Christ, Satan will wield to destroy Christ. Secular humanists may vehemently oppose Islam, but both are being used by the same master, for the same end purpose. Satan will use any means on earth—even opposing means—to hurt Christ.
2. Satan uses half-truths to manipulate
They came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.”
Do you believe a word of that? Actually, I believe about half of it. That’s usually how Satan works. Satan will give just enough truth to make his lie believable.
“You will not surely die; you will become like God, knowing good and evil,” said Satan to Eve (Genesis 3). Part lie and part truth.
“Jesus was not God; he was a prophet,” said Mohammed (in an oversimplified way). Part lie and part truth.
Here’s a conversation somebody might have in their head: “God gives everybody a talent (true); I’m not very confident when it comes to telling people the gospel of Jesus, so it mustn’t be my talent. I’m good at being a really good listener. I’ll just listen.”
Do you see how Satan could creep in on a thought like that? It’s true that God gave some people a talent to be full-time spokesmen for the kingdom, but it’s not true that any self-professed Christian is off the hook from sharing the message! Satan would love it if everybody who knew the gospel were merely a listener! It’s his mission to blind people from seeing the light of the gospel, so if he could give a little half truth to a Christian to keep them quiet, he’s already accomplished his purpose. We’ve gotta be on the lookout for those half truth manipulations.
The Silencing Response of Christ
So there’s all this collusion and deception, and Jesus sees the malice; he sees the inconsistencies; and he responds, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax…Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus’ advice to a divided, deceived body of people is essentially: Give man what man expects of you, but don’t forget there’s a God in heaven, and he also expects much of you. So meet every expectation of man insofar as it doesn’t impede something that belongs to God. I think that’s how we navigate through the divisive, deceitful schemes Satan has created in this world. Aim to meet the expectations of family members, coworkers, friends, and even your own SELF, but let your willingness to meet expectations be based first in God.
I was reading James earlier this week, and I think he said virtually the same thing; he just said it in a different way. Listen to this: “14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic [this was the kind of deception the Pharisees were dealing with]. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
So, selfish ambition, man-pleasing, jealously for things of the world—those things are demonic; those are the works of Satan to deceive and keep us blind to the all-sufficiency of the gospel.
But James goes on to say that God’s wisdom—God’s truth—as it shines into this broken, deceived world is first pure, then peaceable. In other words, the wisdom by which we navigate the world must be peaceable to all men—even Caesars!—but before anything else, it is pure. It is based in singular, Divinely-inspired truth; It is based in God; it is based in the Bible; it is based in Jesus. And after we have that starting point, we can go out and know when and where and how to make peace with men in a way that doesn’t negate the word God has for our life.
The Pharisees were not peaceable; because they had selfish ambition in their hearts. They’d been deceived. The Herodians were too peaceable. They were buddies with Rome and didn’t even care about the word of God. They’d been deceived. If we are to meet the deceptive schemes of Satan face to face in this life, we need the wisdom of God that is first concerned with pleasing God, after which we can speak truth into a broken place. By this wisdom we can give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.
Pray to the Lord that he would bless us with the wisdom from above which is peaceable. Strive for peace with all men.
Beg God for the wisdom to delineate when a secular demand compromises a divine demand. Sometimes giving God what he desires will make enemies. That can’t always be avoided.
Since the hosts of evil are working hard to persuade the world in falsity, the church must be a beaming light of truth. Study hard. Show the world the better way.
© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30