Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked what he would do if he died and Christianity turned out to be true. He would arrive at the gates of heaven and God would ask, “Why didn’t you believe?” What would he say? Russell said he would answer: “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”
God has already given His reply—the evidence is sufficient (Rom. 1:18–20). But for those who refuse to believe, there is never enough “evidence.” That was true for Bertrand Russell, and it was true for the religious leaders in today’s reading. Despite Jesus’ miracles and authoritative teaching, they simply refused to believe. Instead, they asked trick questions to try to trap and discredit Him.
By this point, they weren’t coming in person, for that would have been too embarrassing. Instead they sent “spies, who pretended to be sincere” but whose goal was to get Jesus in trouble with the political authorities (v. 20). They thought they had the perfect question: “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (v. 22). It was a lose-lose question. If He said no, He would be in trouble with the government. If He said yes, He would be in trouble with the Jews, who hated collaborators (like tax collectors).
Jesus saw through their duplicity and gave the perfect answer (v. 25). So the silence in this story is the silence of their defeat (v. 26). One wonders why they were “astonished,” since every previous trap question had also failed. Predictably, the Son of God was smarter and a better debater, not to mention that He had a perfect knowledge of truth. The Sadducees would make one more run at Him on the topic of the resurrection and marriage, but after that no one dared to ask Him any more questions (vv. 27–40).
Some skeptics are hardened against Christianity. Others are genuine seekers who want to know why we believe. One insightful book that has stood the test of time is Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Another, more contemporary resource that has helped many is The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.