Luke 20:19-26 (ESV)
19 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.
The religious leaders were “fed up” with Jesus. They were tired of him speaking against them and were ready to be rid of him. But there was a problem. The people around Jesus listened to him and followed him, they weren’t yet ready to let him go. So the religious leaders schemed together to trap Jesus by using flattery. Most men and women are easily manipulated when they receive praise from others, but not Jesus. He didn’t fall for their set-up because he didn’t live for the approval of men. The scribes and chief priests sent spies who tried to catch Jesus off guard by calling him “teacher,” saying they knew that he spoke and taught rightly. They added that he didn’t show favoritism to anyone but instead professed what was honest before God. They thought they had him in the palm of their hands when they asked, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” They assumed he would say “no.” Then the Romans could arrest him as a rebel. But if Jesus said “yes,” the Jews around him would be furious because they thought it was wrong to give financially to a pagan and oppressive government. Either way, Jesus would be ruined. But Jesus knew what they were doing. He asked to see a small silver coin that was used to pay tax, and he questioned whose image it bore. They said it was Caesar’s. So Jesus said, “Then give it to Caesar. And give God what he is due.” The spies were speechless.
You gossip when you say something behind someone’s back that you would never say to her face, but you flatter when you say something to someone’s face that you would never say behind her back. The religious leaders didn’t like or approve of Jesus at all, yet they went so far as to say that he accurately spoke the way of God, that he wasn’t afraid of what anyone thought, and that his words about the way of the Lord were true. They were priming Jesus, hoping that he would use their “encouragement” to speak against the Romans. Like Jesus, we must always beware of flattery. Men and women often praise us so that we will do what they want. And we must also be careful to steer clear of using flattery to get what we want. As followers of Jesus, let’s make sure we avoid flattery at all costs.