Title: Sons and Servants
Text: Matthew 17:24-27
FCF: We often struggle balancing our freedom and our humility and love for others.
Scripture Intro: CSB
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 17. Today we close out yet another narrative section in Matthew’s book. The next two weeks we will have guest speakers. And on August 26th Lord willing, we’ll begin the 4th discourse of Christ. The narrative has focused on the identity of Jesus as seen through the faith of various people. Sometimes that faith was a strong and bountiful faith. Like the Canaanite woman who would not take no for an answer, because she saw Jesus as her best and only hope. But most of the time that faith was deficient. And most of the time that deficient faith was from Jesus’ disciples. So let’s look at this last episode and what it has for us. Look with me at chapter 17 starting in verse 24. I’ll be reading from the CSB, but follow along in whatever version you prefer.
[Slide 2] By way of review here’s what we’ve seen so far in this narrative.
13:53-58 – Jesus is rejected by his hometown. Their faith only allows for Him to be simply a carpenter’s son.
14:1-11 – Jesus is feared by Herod. Herod’s faith only allows for him to see Jesus as a ghost of John the Baptist sent to haunt him
14:13-21 – Jesus feeds the 5000. The faith of the disciples allows them to see the compassion and provision of Christ.
14:22-33 – Jesus and Peter walk on water. The faith of Peter gets him out of the boat and onto the waves, but cannot get him to Christ because it is deficient. Jesus calms the storm and teleports them to their destination. The Faith of the disciples allows them to see Him as a sent one of God.
14:34-15:20 – Jesus heals people, sets himself up as interpreter of the law, and reveals the source of sin which is our hearts. The faith of the Pharisees and crowds only see Jesus as a healer and blasphemer.
15:21-28 – Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Her faith allows her to see Jesus as her desperate hope.
[Slide 3] 15:29-38 – Jesus heals many and feeds 4000. His disciples’ faith does not let them see a Jesus capable of doing what He had already done again.
15:39-16:12 – Jesus teaches the disciples about having too small an outlook on the Kingdom. But the disciples are too distracted by worrying about bread to listen.
16:13-20 – Jesus teaches the disciples that He will set His assembly at the gates of the kingdom of darkness and it will not prevail against his assembly. His disciples’ faith could accept that this was true, but mostly in a physical sense.
16:21-27 – Jesus teaches about his death and resurrection. The disciples’ faith tries to prevent this from happening. Jesus teaches about what it takes to be part of the assembly he spoke of before – and how first there will be an invasion of the soul.
16:28 – 17:13 – Jesus reveals that He is the King of Glory and THE prophet God has promised that would be like Moses. But the disciples’ faith is only big enough to see an earthly kingdom invasion where Rome would be cast aside.
17:14-23 – Jesus heals a demon possessed boy after his disciples could not. Their faith was insufficient. Jesus teaches that a growing and permeating faith is able to do the impossible. Yet their faith still leaves them in despair at the teaching about His death, and ignorance about His resurrection.
As we approach this last episode, we notice immediately a certain disconnection from the previous threads in the narrative. It doesn’t focus on the faith of a particular person at all, but instead on the teaching of Christ.
[Slide 4 (blank)] It is challenging for us to see how this is connected to the rest of the narrative, but actually it is quite a wonderful transition from answering the question, “Who is Jesus really?” to opening up the subject of the following discourse. Let me explain – starting in verse 24.
I.) Jesus fulfills the ritualistic and ceremonial laws of Moses, so we must be like Christ (24-26)
a. [Slide 5] 24 – When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the temple tax approached Peter
i. This is Matthew’s last mention of the home town, base of operations for all Christ’s Galilean ministry, Capernaum. Probably because, this is the last time they will be in the city before the crucifixion.
ii. Jesus will soon move His little band to Judea and turn His face toward completing His mission.
iii. Although Matthew is the only gospel writer who records this specific episode, we know from Mark’s gospel, chronologically, that on the road to Capernaum, there was an interesting dispute happening between the disciples. Jesus’ answer to that dispute is the heart of what He will teach in the following discourse.
iv. This temple tax is a voluntary tax upon male citizens of 20 to 50 years of age.
v. This is not to be confused with taxes imposed by the Roman government. Jesus will address that later in chapter 22. So you cannot take Jesus’ statements and apply them to all taxes. In fact there is something culturally deeper here that we are not seeing.
vi. But let’s read their question first…
b. And said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
i. So what is going on here?
ii. Apparently there was a dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees on whether or not the tax should be paid.
1. The Pharisees insisted that it should. The Pharisees were also nationalists, not quite as passionate as Zealots who wanted to rebel against the Roman authorities, but still wanting to cling to their Jewish heritage and lineage.
2. The Sadducees were less concerned with the Jewishness of Israel and were more interested in gaining a successful Israel under Roman rule.
3. The Pharisees’ eschatology resembled the disciples and even John the Baptist’s in that they were hoping for a Kingdom to come and free them from the oppression of the nations.
4. The Sadducees did not believe in a Messiah or coming Kingdom.
iii. The Romans normally would not allow for the levying of taxes that did not go to Rome. But they made special provision for the Jews to allow them to levy taxes for the upkeep of the temple and sacrifices.
1. The Sadducees being sympathizers with Rome, side with Rome.
2. The Pharisees being more nationalistic, want the tax to continue. And even expect the tax to be paid by all who are true patriots of Israel.
iv. And so, what is probably happening here, is that this question, posed with a positive answer assumed, is not so much asking if Jesus paid His taxes, as if He had done something wrong. Because again – it was voluntary. But instead asking how patriotic Jesus was.
v. Jesus does have a history of discarding parts of the law that He claimed were misinterpreted or even non-applicable. Jesus also had run-ins with both parties disagreeing with both frequently. The Pharisees get the worst of it because for the most part their theology was closer than the Sadducees to the truth.
vi. So this question is a minefield for Jesus to navigate. But they didn’t ask Jesus. They asked Peter.
vii. Peter responds, perhaps how you might think he would…
c. [Slide 6] 25 – “Yes.” He said.
i. Peter is a Patriot. He believes in the Kingdom as much as the next guy.
ii. And furthermore, He’s seen it coming. Or at least he thought he did. Jesus keeps saying it is here
iii. But Peter isn’t allowed to say certain things that would prove it is.
iv. Altogether I’d imagine that the disciples didn’t know what to think at this point.
v. So Peter’s answer is a simple. YEPPERS. You betcha.
vi. Did Peter know Jesus had done this every year since He was 20? There is really no indication in scripture one way or another. So Peter’s answer could be a stitch presumptuous.
d. When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers?”
i. What a shock it must have been for Peter to walk in, and before he can ask Jesus, “Hey, some guys were wondering if you paid the temple tax?” – there is Jesus cutting in to ask him something.
ii. This question from Jesus should be interpreted as a teaching parable. Jesus is not making some comment on tariffs or taxes, nor is He broadening out the previous discussion about the temple tax to all taxes and tariffs imposed by a government.
iii. Jesus is simply using this common place principle to illustrate a greater point.
iv. This principle is that when a King rules a country, typically he is not imposing a tax upon His own royal line. Instead he would collect that tax from his citizens.
v. So Jesus asks which ones do a King tax?
vi. Peter, showing his adeptness at answering leading questions, answers as he is supposed to, again…
e. [Slide 7] 26 – “From strangers.” He said. “Then the sons are free.” Jesus told him.
i. Peter is 2/2 on how he is supposed to answer.
ii. Jesus has one final word of wisdom that crystalizes everything up to this point into 1 solid point of truth.
iii. The sons are free. Now what does this mean?
iv. With reference to the temple tax, a tax meant to keep the temple running and the provisions provided, the one imposing such a tax is God the Father. In fact we see Him doing just that in Exodus 30: 13-16 and 38:25-26.
v. But God the Father would not impose such a tax on His own Son – of course.
vi. So on an obvious level, this is a statement of Christ’s divinity. He is the Son of God. Not a son of God but THE Son of God. There is no need for Him to pay the temple tax because He’d be paying Himself. The Father doesn’t collect from His own.
vii. But another layer to this is that Jesus stays with the plural. Even into the next verse He talks about the He and the disciples not just Himself.
viii. When we add this with the teachings in the New Testament that speak of God as our Father. Being adopted as fellow heirs. Being in Christ and He in us. Being called sons and daughters of His Kingdom. We start to figure out what Jesus is actually hinting at. Something the writer of Hebrews makes plain.
ix. That one day the sacrificial system of the temple will be made obsolete. Because one sacrifice will be made for all and it will need no other. The penalty of sin will be paid. The power of sin will be broken.
x. Jesus is saying – Guys – no one will need to pay the temple tax soon. Cause there won’t be a need for a temple much longer.
xi. Truly… the sons… are free.
[Slide 8 (blank)] So in Christ, there will be no need for a temple tax, because there will be no need for a temple. We are free then to stop paying such a tax and stop performing such ceremonies, because we are children of God. Again Jesus’ face is turned to the cross. It is what He came for. But Jesus does not exercise that freedom and authority simply because He can. Instead, He displays a principle that will be the topic of conversation throughout chapter 18. Let me show you what it is.
II.) Jesus does not needlessly violate ritual for the sake of others, so we must be like Christ (27)
a. [Slide 9] 27 – But, so we won’t offend them
i. So if Jesus’ point is simply that He is not obligated as the Son of God to pay the tax, wouldn’t He have said, But so that I will not offend them instead of we?
ii. It is clear that He is including at least Peter in this exemption, and probably the only reason it was just He and Peter was because it seems that Peter and Jesus shared a home in Capernaum. Therefore, as residents, they were expected to support their local temple.
iii. The word here for offend is the word we get our word scandalize from. It is the same word that Jesus used when He was talking to Peter before. He called Peter Satan and said that Peter was a stumbling block to Him. Stumbling block is the noun form of the verb here.
iv. As we noted back in chapter 16, in scripture a stumbling block is referring to being the cause of someone’s sin.
1. This does not mean that someone gets upset with you for doing something they don’t think is right.
2. This doesn’t mean that someone judges you as less holy because you did something they personally would never do.
3. In both these cases, the one doing something wrong according to scripture is the one who is “offended.”
4. What this does mean is intentionally flaunting a liberty or freedom to the point that you influence another person to follow your example, even if they think it is sin.
v. [Slide 10] Illustration: So let’s pretend that Charles here has a real and solid conviction that walking backward and burping on Thursdays is a sin for him. Something in his past has associated these actions with a sinful lifestyle. I mean I don’t know what that could be, but for the sake of the story… Now in the midst of a discussion it randomly comes up that Charles has this personal conviction. He knows it isn’t for everyone and he knows that some won’t share his view. He doesn’t judge others for walking backward on Thursday, or for those who burp on Thursdays. And although it took some time and some prayer, he today is thankful that the Lord has freed him from judging those who both walk backwards AND burp on Thursdays. The Spirit’s POWER! Anyhoot, in learning those details, let’s say Justin over here decides that Charles’ conviction is silly, and he is going to work with Charles to overcome that weakness he has so that in the future Charles may be able to walk backwards on Thursday, burp on Thursday, or the golden goose, do both on Thursday. Now so far, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the story has gone awry. So if you have thought anyone was wrong up to this point, you are mistaken. So far everyone is good.
vi. Now I will give you two paths that Justin could take to disciple Charles.
1. Option 1: Justin sets up a time to study scripture with Charles privately. They decide on a weekly time to get together and unpack the issue. Charles trusts Justin. Justin is, afterall, a deacon and has a little more experience at all this than Charles does. Over the course of the next few weeks, Charles begins to understand that there is no association culturally between walking backward and burping on Thursdays and the law of Christ. He begins to understand that this is an unnecessary shackle he has put on himself. And while he never has to do either on Thursday, he certainly cannot call it wrong or sin – even for himself. During this entire time, Justin is careful to NEVER walk backward on Thursday, and NEVER burp on Thursday… even though their meeting time is on a Thursday after dinner. Eventually, after about a year, Charles, through the Spirit, is able to disassociate this conviction from himself. He has gained the ability to walk backward on a Thursday without violating his conscience or sinning against God. He is still working on the burping part, but that may take more time.
2. Option 2: Justin takes every opportunity he can to be near Charles on Thursdays so he can burp and walk backwards. Justin practices all day on Monday and Tuesday so he can do both at a moment’s notice. On Thursdays Justin makes sure to pack in his car 3 2 liters of diet Coke to ensure maximum burping power. He special orders a shoe designed to wear in reverse so he can walk speedily backward in front of Charles. Now after only a couple weeks of this, Charles, who trusts Justin, since he is a deacon and has experience at this Christian life, decides to try it out. After all Justin does it and he is a good guy. So even though Charles still sees walking backward on Thursday to be a sin… he does it anyway, following after Justin’s example.
vii. In option 1, Justin is a disciple maker.
viii. In option 2, Justin is a stumbling block.
ix. They both have the same end result. Charles walks backward on Thursday. But with one devastating difference. One result is a sin that will be charged to Justin. The other is love and growth.
x. [Slide 11] Jesus has gained a lot of clout as a great teacher and healer. It is obvious that His words are wise and authoritative. But if He imposes this, if He declares this openly that the sacrificial system is obsolete, He will lead others to disobey their consciences and ultimately sin.
xi. Making such a strong and specific stand neither contributes toward the mission He has on earth, nor is it time to instigate this level of hostility. Not yet. Especially since it is so easy to simply forgo the freedom.
xii. But given the financial state of the small band of disciples which is hinted at in their boat trip to Caesarea Philippi where they were concerned about where they would find bread, it seems challenging to think about where they might get the money.
xiii. But surely this is no challenge for one who can feed 5,000 right?
b. Go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you
i. So Jesus exercises His divinity here. His omniscience to know that such a fish has eaten a coin which would be enough to pay their temple tax
ii. He also exercises His Providence and power over nature to guide that fish to Peter’s hook.
iii. Interestingly enough, the fact that he is fishing with a hook is very odd, because the fishermen of Galilee did not fish with hooks.
iv. This is probably more for Peter’s faith. If Jesus had said go out and cast a net in until you find a fish with this coin, that would be one thing, but to say cast a hook in and pull the first fish up and find the coin… that is quite another.
v. But our attention here cannot be on the miracle of this but instead on the teaching of Christ.
vi. It would be easy to focus on the miracle because in this narrative we have seen such things happen.
1. The feeding of the 4,000
2. The feeding of the 5,000
3. Jesus walking on water
4. The transfiguration
vii. And in the midst of all these miracles the highlighted item is the faith, or lack thereof, of the disciples.
viii. But here we cannot focus on the miracle, nor the response to the miracle, simply because it is not recorded.
ix. We can assume that Peter obeyed Christ and paid their taxes. We can even assume that Peter was shocked to find the coin in the fish’s mouth. But all that is not recorded by Matthew.
x. Therefore, what is clearly in focus is not the miracle or Peter’s faith - but Jesus’ authority and Jesus’ teaching.
[Slide 12 (blank)(end)] The two basic things that Jesus shows and teaches us here, is first, that His sacrifice will do away with the ceremonial and ritualistic practices of the Mosaic Law by fulfilling them. And Second, that His humility and concern for others supersedes His rights as a Son of God. The first establishes His authority, and the second His Humility.
Therefore as children of God, how then does this apply to us? How are the sons and daughters of God, heirs to His throne to apply these two items.
Really I see one basic application that goes in two different directions. The application is essentially, be Christ-like. And that is a very big concept and in reality it is difficult to break that down into manageable truths. But today Jesus’ teachings give us a guide.
1.) So application A of being like Christ is encased in this teaching that Rituals, sacrifices, ceremony and tradition are all done away with. We live by the law of Christ. More freeing and binding than the law of Moses. We walk in the Spirit and by the Spirit.
This doesn’t mean we are free to live according to the flesh, otherwise we might suppose that our freedom was meant for sin. In fact, our freedom was meant for holiness. Our freedom was meant for works of righteousness. We were set free from the ritual, penalty, and power of the law to condemn us, but we were also set free from the power and penalty of sin therefore we are given greater grace to conquer it, through the redemption purchased by the Son, in the Spirit’s power and to the Father’s glory.
So the law of Christ is freeing to us, in that we are not bound to ritual, rites, ceremony and sacrifice to deal with sin – because it has been dealt with once… FOR ALL!
But what we find in the New Testament is a whole bunch of Jews coming out of this ceremonial and ritual heavy tradition and are trying to understand what that means. They had already been circumcised. They had already celebrated on many occasions the festivals and rituals. They had made many sacrifices. And even into the later letters we find tension between keeping festivals, observing holy days, circumcising young men and so on.
And what we find in the New Testament is, NO New Testament writer condemning the Jews for continuing some of these ceremonial practices. Like keeping the feast days, or the Sabbath, or even circumcising for non-faith affiliated reasons. In other words circumcising to identify as Jewish, not so much to be part of God’s covenant. You also see the other side where New Testament writers come to the defense of Gentile believers who do not keep the festivals, the Sabbath, and circumcision and saying that also is ok. Why?
Because we are free from the law of Moses, and free to the law of Christ.
For we Gentiles this is very simple because we don’t really have this history of tradition that the Jews did… but if I may extrapolate a little, I think we have inadvertently raised our own set of religious laws and expectations that are also not part of the law of Christ.
Having Church service on a Sunday. Having church service in a building. Having a choir. Women wearing dresses or hats. Men in suits and ties. Singing from hymns only. Using a specific version of the bible. Abstinence from alcohol. Abstinence from movie houses. Abstinence from secular music. The doors of the church opened for 3 services a week. And don’t forget about Sunday School, and Awana, And VBS. And on and on it goes until we are basically 21st Century Jews, lost as a goose in tradition and ritual of men. You may as well call it Catholic Baptists. Because it is no different.
But friends Christ freed us from all this. Not that any of these things that I mentioned are wrong or even unwise – but none of them are required by THIS BOOK. AND THIS BOOK IS WHAT WE LIVE BY!
The Law of Christ. The Guiding of the Spirit. If we are sons… then we are free.
But the other half of the application prevents us from pendulum swinging too far.
2.)So application B allows us to see that insisting on freedoms and violating rituals and traditions without cause or care for those who keep them speaks more to arrogance than spirituality. Our freedoms are not to be used to beat the weaker into violating their own consciences. Above all Jesus shows humility in knowing that the tax does not apply to Him, but since it is a simple thing to forgo this freedom and pay the tax, it is worth it to ensure that he would not lead those who thought it sinful to not pay, to violate their consciences by following His example.
We are set free in Christ, and that means that freedoms and liberties should be allowed to permeate every member of the church, the body of Christ. But clinging to these freedoms at the expense of another has never been God’s intention. There are clearly times when instruction must come. The entire book of Hebrews is telling Jews to abandon the sacrificial system. Galatians is all about how circumcision is not necessary for salvation and how keeping the festivals and holy days is no longer a requirement of New Testament believers. There is a point in every weaker brother’s life that he must be shown, in humility and love, that the convictions he holds are only binding his heart from the freedoms He has in Christ. That he can and should live free.
But to use power and influence to force someone to restrict their freedoms or to force someone to violate their convictions, is counter to the humility and nature of Christ.
Jesus had every right to forgo the temple tax… but his authority was not what was most important in this case. But rather the effectiveness of His mission and not becoming a stumbling block to Jews – who already had so many stumbling blocks of their own making.
As the members know, we are attempting to strike this balance with our church. Most recently we are looking at changing a couple items in our constitution to allow for freedoms of strong brothers to be expressed, but today’s message comes with a strong warning to those who may think that these changes mean you have a right to such freedoms. Freedoms are permitted by the moral law of God but checked by the law of love. We are here to serve one another and not to serve ourselves.
The weak must be taught they are weak, and even encouraged to strengthen up. But the strong are bound here in the scripture by Christ’s example. To live in humility toward others – considering yourself least as you serve.
I am praying that the Lord helps us to strike this balance in all aspects of what we do here. Not just in our constitution but in our application of the Word of God.