Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 17D

Chapter 17:22-27

Next lesson

  • We’re following Jesus in His final year of life on earth, and it’s a year of turmoil and conflict

    • The nation of Israel lost their opportunity to receive their King in the day their leaders rejected Jesus

      • Individually, Jews are still being saved, of course, as they place their faith in Jesus as Messiah

      • And for those who do believe, Jesus is ministering to them, teaching them and healing them at times

    • But for the crowds and the nation as a whole, Jesus is refusing to reveal Himself any further…He no longer teaches or heals publicly 

      • Instead, Jesus is secretly preparing His disciples to assume charge of the Kingdom Program after He departs

      • But that work is difficult because these men are having a hard time grasping the idea that Jesus is leaving

      • And more than just His leaving, they can’t make sense of Jesus’ statements that He is going to suffer and die and rise again

    • Jesus has hinted at His death and departure on numerous occasions, and He’s even stated it plainly once

      • Even though these men hear Jesus’ words, they can’t believe it and so they have yet to accept it

      • But they need to understand it, because ultimately it will be their responsibility to explain it to others

  • So as we return to Chapter 17 today, we begin with Jesus taking yet another opportunity to remind His men of what lay ahead 

Matt. 17:22  And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men;
Matt. 17:23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved.
  • Here we see Jesus’ stating for a second time the simple truth of what was coming for Him 

    • Jesus says plainly He would be delivered into the hands of men to be killed but then be raised again on the third day

      • This is the essence of the Gospel, and it’s at the core of our faith

      • We hear it preached today as history, but these men heard it preached as a prophecy

    • And as hard as it is for some today to believe in a historical resurrection of Jesus, it was even harder for them to understand it in advance

      • They must have asked themselves who could harm God’s anointed? 

      • And how could God send a Deliverer only to have Him killed by those He came to save?

      • In fact, if their Messiah could be killed, it would seem to argue against Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God

    • On its face, that makes no sense…but when we understand the significance of Jesus’ death, the plan becomes clear 

      • Jesus came to die because God was making a way for us to be forgiven for our sin

      • That’s what Jesus means when He says He will be delivered 

      • We know Jesus was delivered by Judas and the Jewish authorities over to the Romans for crucifixion 

      • But it wasn’t merely Judas or the Jews or even Pilate who delivered Jesus over to death

    • It was the Father in Heaven Who delivered His own Son over to death for our sake

Is. 53:10 But the LORD was pleased 
To crush Him, putting Him to grief; 
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, 
He will see His offspring, 
He will prolong His days, 
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
  • Jesus’ resurrection – His return to life after three days – is evidence that He was dying to pay for our sins, not His own

    • Because anyone who dies because of his own sin never returns to live life on earth

    • The death of the ungodly results in a permanent separation from God and from the opportunity to enjoy this Creation

  • But Jesus, having no sin of His own, could return from the dead because He was not under the penalty of sin

    • His resurrection proved that His death was not for His own sake

    • And therefore, it has become a payment for us, for all who receive it by trusting in it for their salvation 

    • That’s the Gospel…that we can be forgiven of all our sin by placing our faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death

  • That’s the message these men were going to be charged with sharing with others

    • So they needed to understand it themselves 

    • But that’s the piece of the story that the disciples were having the most trouble accepting at this point

  • And we see that clearly in their response in v.23 where Matthew says they were deeply grieved at what they heard

    • And at first it sounds as though the disciples had begun to understand what Jesus was saying which is why they were grieved

      • But Mark makes clear what was going on in their minds…which wasn’t much, frankly

Mark 9:30 From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it.
Mark 9:31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”
Mark 9:32 But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.
  • This is now the second time Jesus has stated He will die and rise again, yet it’s clear these men were not following what it meant

    • Mark says they were too afraid even to ask Jesus to explain Himself

    • But to be fair, a proper understanding was probably beyond their reach at that point

    • Because they couldn’t appreciate why Jesus had to die until they understood two central concepts of Christian theology

  • First, they need to understand the significance of the incarnation – of God becoming man

    • Granted, it’s impossible for anyone to truly understand how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man at the same time

    • But that’s not the issue…we don’t need to understand how that can be true

    • But we do need to understand the implications of that truth, and it’s those implications that these men were missing

  • Secondly, they didn’t truly understand God’s self-sacrificial love

    • Agape love, self-sacrificial love, is the way God loves

    • It’s the kind of love that Jesus shows us and the kind we are called to show one another and the world

    • But that kind of love does not come naturally to our sinful hearts…it’s actually the opposite of how we love

    • And yet that kind of love is at the core of Jesus’ ministry and it is the motivation for His willingness to die for us

  • Those two concepts – the incarnation of God and the self-sacrificial love of God – lie at the heart of all Christian theology and practice

    • And unless you appreciate these two ideas, you haven’t fully understood the Gospel itself

    • If you don’t understand them, then you cannot possible understand why the Messiah came to die

  • And the next two scenes recorded in Matthew serve to illustrate the disciples’ confusion on these points

    • We will study them, beginning with the first one today, which is a lesson on the significance of God becoming man

Matt. 17:24  When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?”
Matt. 17:25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”
  • Jesus and the disciples return from the far north of Judea near Caesarea Philippi and Mt. Hermon and enter Jesus’ adopted home town of Capernaum

    • And as they enter the city, they enter Peter’s home, and while there a group of tax collectors come calling looking for Jesus

      • These men were assigned by the temple authorities to collect a certain tax required by the Law of Moses

Ex. 30:11  The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying,
Ex. 30:12 “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.
Ex. 30:13 “This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD.
  • The Law required the sons of Israel to pay a ransom of half a shekel to the Lord each year 

  • The tax was paid to the temple for the operation of the temple, and it was required of every male Jew ages 20–50

  • The shekel was a Jewish coin, but Romans used the drachma coin, which the Jews valued at 1/4th of a shekel

    • So 2 drachma was the equivalent of 1/2 shekel

    • Since there was no half-shekel coin in circulation at that time, it became customary to give 2 drachma coins instead

    • Or else two Jewish men might pair up and give a single shekel coin to cover the both of them 

  • Normally, the temple tax was paid around Passover in Jerusalem

    • But here we have Jewish temple tax collectors collecting months after the Passover and up in the Galilee 

    • Which suggests that Jesus never paid the tax while in Jerusalem that year so they have come to collect back-taxes

  • Since it was Peter’s home, he goes outside to greet the men, and as he does they ask Peter if his rabbi pays the required tax?

    • Peter decides to answer these men without consulting Jesus first saying yes, Jesus would pay the temple tax

      • Now if the narrative ended here, we would assume Peter was correct and that Jesus did, in fact, owe the required tax

      • But because of what Jesus does next, we quickly discover that Peter answered presumptuously for Jesus

    • When Peter comes back inside, probably to ask Jesus for the money the tax collectors were waiting for outside, Jesus throws a question at Peter

      • Jesus asks when kings on earth institute a poll or customs tax, does that tax apply to the sons of the king or to strangers?

      • A customs tax was the tax assessed on goods passing through a kingdom along a trade route

      • So as goods flowed from the east to the west or vice versa, those goods would be taxed as they passed through customs 

    • But the tax generally only applied to foreigners not to the citizens of the king’s kingdom

      • In the Roman Empire, Roman citizens were not obligated to pay poll taxes 

      • Poll taxes or tribute taxes and the like were assessed on non-citizens who lived in territories conquered by the Roman army

      • Similarly today nations may have taxes they impose only on foreign nations or foreign visitors but not on their own citizens 

    • And at the very least, the king’s family members would always be exempt from paying taxes imposed by the king

      • A king wouldn’t expect his own family to pay a tax to their father 

      • Especially since his sons would eventually inherit the father’s wealth anyway

      • So only the strangers, whether foreign citizens or the king’s subjects, were obligated to pay the tax

    • And after hearing Jesus’ question, Peter gives the correct answer, saying only strangers are obligated to pay customs taxes

      • And that leads Jesus to make His application 

Matt. 17:26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt.
  • Jesus uses this simple example to establish a principle that’s true not only with human government but also with God Himself

    • The principle is this: a distinction should be made between the law giver and the law keeper

      • There are those who make the Law and those who are obligated to obey the Law

      • And the one who makes law for others is not obligated to keep that law himself

    • In our culture, we struggle a little to understand this principle because we have adopted a system of government that works differently

      • Our government follows principles like the rule of law and equal protection under law

      • Those principles hold that the law is the highest authority in the land and that no one in the government is above the law

      • Therefore, in our experience the one who makes the law is also bound to keep the same law

      • So therefore, Jesus’ example doesn’t make as much sense to us

    • But our way of government is actually a radical notion, and it was not the way governments worked in Jesus’ day

      • In Jesus’ day, most governments were monarchies and monarchs made the law for their subjects 

      • And monarchs were generally above that law, literally

      • They, and often their families or members of their court, were not bound by those laws 

      • In the case in the Roman Empire, there were two sets of laws: one for Roman citizens and another for non-citizens

    • So as you study this passage with me, you need to reorient your thinking to see it from a first century perspective

      • A law giver inherently had the right to decide what his subjects must do without being obligated to do it himself

      • That was normal and expected, and it is not inherently wrong or unrighteous

      • It was simply the way law worked in that day 

  • Peter knew this, of course, and so he answered the question correctly

    • Only the strangers must pay taxes to a king because the sons of the king would certainly not be expected to do so

      • But now why did Jesus ask Peter this question? 

      • Jesus was pointing out to Peter that he erred when he told the tax collectors that Jesus was bound to pay the temple tax

      • Jesus was not required to pay that tax because that tax was commanded by God to support the house of God, the temple

    • And therefore the Son of God was not obligated to pay His own Father a tax for the upkeep of His own house

      • That’s the point Jesus is making to Peter, but implicit in that point is a lesson about Jesus’ identity

      • To apply this principle to Jesus means you must acknowledge that Jesus is God just as a son is the future King

      • And that’s why Jesus asked Peter this question

    • Peter and the other disciples did not yet see Jesus as He truly was: God in the flesh

      • And if Peter had known that, he would have handled this moment very differently

      • Ask yourself this question…what if the Son of God had appeared inside Peter’s house not in His lowly form as Jesus of Nazareth 

      • Rather, imagine Jesus standing in Peter’s house in His full glory

      • Imagine Peter’s house filled with the glory of God shining as brightly as the sun, with a voice like thunder and all the rest

    • And then while Peter is standing in awe at the glory of Christ, there comes a knock at the door

      • Then Peter goes outside to greet tax collectors who ask Peter if Jesus was going to pay the temple tax or not?

      • How do we imagine Peter would respond to that question under those circumstances?

    • Do you suppose Peter might have said, “You guys are welcome to go inside and collect it from Jesus yourselves.”

      • The point is clear: if Peter had appreciated the deity of Jesus, he never would have imagined asking the Son of God to pay a tax

      • Especially a tax levied on Israel for the upkeep of God’s house

    • So then why did Peter tell those men that Jesus should pay that tax?

      • The answer is Peter failed to appreciate the incarnation of God

      • Peter knew Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, but he had not fully grasped that Jesus was God 

  • We too struggle at times to appreciate what it means that God became man

    • But for all that we can’t know, there is this at least we must know: Jesus is fully God and fully man, and no less one for the sake of the other

      • So as hard as that may be to appreciate that truth in all its dimensions, we must be careful not to dismiss it either

      • We can’t see Jesus only as God such that we overlook what it meant for Him to enter into His Creation

      • And of course, we cannot see Jesus merely as human so that we fail to appreciate Him as our Creator

    • Both sides are essential to the Gospel, for without both Jesus cannot be our Savior

      • If Jesus wasn’t fully man, then His death couldn’t pay the price for our sin

      • God requires a person’s life for the sin of a person, so Jesus had to be fully human to serve as a substitute for us

    • But if Jesus wasn’t also fully God, sinless and perfect, then He wouldn’t have been qualified to be our substitute 

      • Being only divine, Jesus entered the world without sin of His own

      • And therefore His death was available as a payment for our sin

    • So if Jesus is going to save anyone, He must be both God and man

      • That’s why Christians maintain that no one may enter Heaven except by faith in Jesus

      • No one else could do what is required to reconcile us with God

  • In this case Peter was seeing Jesus more as man and less as God – and perhaps not as God at all

    • And his confusion on this point is one reason why he and the other disciples were struggling to understand why Jesus would die

      • If Jesus was merely a man and not God, then the prospect of His untimely death is devastating 

      • It’s like Alexander the Greek dying early or JFK dying early…it would seem to bring an end to the Messiah’s mission

      • It would seem to suggest God failed in His promises and it would call into question God’s authority

    • But when I understand that Jesus is God becoming man so that He may die, now I see the outcome very differently 

      • It’s not a failure of the plan…it is the plan!

      • And so I’m forced to consider what did God accomplish by becoming a man and dying and then returning to life?

      • And that question leads me to the important theology that is the cornerstone of the Christian faith

    • So if you learn nothing else from your Bible, you must learn this: Jesus’ death was the plan of God to save you and me from eternal punishment 

Rom. 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
  • This simple lesson was Jesus’ way of leading Peter to a larger thought…to consider the importance that Jesus is the Son of God

    • And as the Son of God, Jesus is the lawgiver and as such He is not subject to the laws given to mankind

    • More importantly, Jesus is divine 

  • Perhaps the hardest thing for Peter and the other disciples to accept was not that a man could be God but that God should be willing to become a man

    • Every time Peter set his eyes on the earthly Jesus, he saw something very ordinary 

      • But plain and ordinary aren’t what we expect to see when we think of God

      • So the temptation is to explain it away as if Jesus was something less than God…it’s as though His humility denied His divinity 

    • And that’s the way the Father wanted it to be…as Jesus says

Matt. 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
  • God did not come to earth as a man to show off His power and authority…though He did show Himself to possess great power

    • He didn’t come to rule over us…though one day He will rule over the world

  • No, rather as Paul says

Rom. 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
  • And He came in ordinary packaging as a part of that strategy

    • Jesus wanted to be approachable so that no one might feel as though God was too powerful or awesome to accept them

    • So that He could sympathize with our circumstances, identify with our needs, and model righteousness as our example

    • But that ordinary appearance also allowed Peter to underestimate Jesus’ divinity

  • And Jesus’ divinity and humility come together in a beautiful way at the end of Chapter 17

Matt. 17:27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
  • Jesus has explained to Peter that He is God and therefore He is exempt, but the problem of the tax collectors remains

    • Imagine if Peter had gone back outside and told those men that he was mistaken, and since his teacher was God, he was exempt from the tax

      • How do you think that scene would play out?

      • At the very least, it would have become opportunity for the Pharisees to make an accusation against Jesus

      • More over, any suggestion that Jesus was God would have been very offensive to the religious leaders of the day

      • It would have been seen as blasphemy though of course it was a true statement in Jesus’ case

    • So Jesus says to avoid offending these men, we will pay the tax but in a way that reaffirms the lesson He’s teaching Peter

      • He tells Peter to go fish in the Sea of Galilee, which was barely a few hundred feet away

      • The first fish he catches will possess a shekel in its mouth and with that one shekel Peter can pay the tax for himself and for Jesus

    • This solution is notable for several reasons

      • First, it’s obviously a miraculous provision, which only serves to underscore that Jesus is God

      • How else could you explain this situation except that God is providing a payment for Himself by His own means

      • That a fish could be prepared to swallow a coin and then be directed to the hook at exactly that moment

      • Certainly, it’s another reminder that Jesus is not merely a man

    • Secondly, it demonstrates the humility of Jesus to condescend to pay a tax He didn’t owe, which is itself a picture of the Gospel

      • He is fulfilling His purpose in putting Himself in our place which was an act of humility on God’s part

Phil. 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
Phil. 2:6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
Phil. 2:7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Phil. 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
  • Thirdly, consider why Jesus elected to use the mouth of a fish to provide the payment? Why not have Peter find a coin under a rock or behind a tree?

    • Jesus was extending the teaching a step further for Peter’s sake

      • When Peter was called by Jesus to follow Him, Jesus said He would make Peter a fisher of men

      • So here Peter goes fishing and returns with a needed provision 

    • The message there was clear…obey Jesus and He will provide through your ministry  

      • The act of fishing for men will also result in the receiving of provision for all needs

      • In fact, notice Jesus tells Peter to use that shekel found in that fish to pay for both of them

      • Remember, the tax was half a shekel per man, so Jesus is allowing Peter to pair up with Him for that payment

    • But also notice, Jesus doesn’t say pay for “us” but rather for “you and me”

      • I think that detail is important because Peter and Jesus were not equals

      • Jesus was providing for Himself and providing for Peter but for different reasons

      • Peter was obligated to pay a ransom, but Jesus was humbling Himself to make that payment on Peter’s behalf

  • The incarnation of God is both the means by which we are saved and the example by which we serve others

    • We receive the payment of Jesus made on our behalf recognizing He made the ultimate sacrifice for us

      • And from that understanding, we seek to serve Him selflessly by mimicking His humility in our own work

      • If Jesus can leave the right hand of the Father to become man and then die on a cross for my sin, maybe I can get out of my recliner and serve someone in the body of Christ

      • Maybe I can set aside my own desires for the glory of Jesus

      • Maybe I can serve others the way He served me