27th April 2023
Read (Matthew 17v22-27)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
There are moments in the Gospels that cause us to pause and make us wonder if we've ever heard these stories before. The Lord continued to be clear that “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” (v22-23) causing His disciples to be greatly distressed. But then on arrival to Capernaum there was a brief incident involving a tax, a fish and a shekel. We are familiar with the necessity of Christ's death and resurrection but perhaps not so much with the final verses of Matthew 17.
What was going on? As Jesus arrived in Capernaum, Peter was approached by "the collectors of the two-drachma tax" who wanted to know if Jesus paid the tax or not (v24). What was this tax? Every Jewish male between the ages of twenty and fifty was required to pay a yearly tax to support the Jerusalem temple and it's work. The tax found its origins in Exodus 30v11-16 where the Lord commanded Moses to introduce such a tax to support the work of the tabernacle.
So the tax was instituted by God and Peter was certain that Jesus paid the tax (v25b), so far so simple. Nevertheless, the Lord later spoke to Peter and asked "From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?" (v25b). Peter answered the way we would - the kings of the earth take taxes "from others" (v26). That's true isn't it? We all look at human society and we realise that usually it isn't the great and the good who play by the rules but the lowly plebs like you and me.
In Communist Russia where everyone was supposedly equal, the people would sit stuck in traffic while a whole lane was kept free and empty for the use of the ruling elite. Tolls and taxes are taken from others, but Jesus wasn't an other. The tax was commanded by the Father and Christ was the Son, therefore Jesus could rightly argue that He had no need to pay the two drachma tax. Christ explained this position by stating "the sons are free." and indeed they are.
However Christ came to submit Himself willingly to the Law's demands and at no point did He demand His rights or His privileges as a Son. He told Peter that He wished to give no offence to the two drachma collectors and so Peter was to go fishing (v27). He would catch a fish and in the mouth of that fish he would find a shekel. A shekel was worth four drachmas and this would be enough to pay the tax for both Peter and Jesus (v27b).
In this story which is rarely preached and largely unknown, we see Christ's majestic humility. What is humility? It is defined as "The state or character of being humble; freedom from pride and arrogance; lowliness of mind; a low estimate of one's self; self-abasement." Jesus was the creator of the universe and the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. He had every right to deny paying the temple tax and if anyone had ever a reason to boast, it was Christ. Instead the Lord willingly lowered Himself to a humble condition "and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2v8)
Brothers and sisters, we live in an arrogant age where the needs and rights of the individual trump all else. How then do we respond to such a state of affairs? The Apostle Paul answers "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2v1-4). May it be so for Christ's sake.
Q31 What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.