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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
June 26, 2016
There is an old adage that there is nothing sure in life except death and taxes. No one cares for either except funeral directors and some politicians, and even they do not like them when they are personally applied to themselves. There have been taxes for as long as there has been human government because it takes finances to run a government and someone has to pay for it. That prompted one man to remark that he would like to tell Patrick Henry, “Taxation without representation is nothing, you should see what it is like with it!” The certainty of taxes prompted another man to quip regarding its corollary, “I’m putting all my money in taxes – it is the only thing sure to go up!”
There are a couple of relationships between death and taxes. The first is that when you recognize how much you are paying in taxes, which is more noticeable for those of us who are self-employed and write out our income tax checks quarterly, that you feel like something is dying and even more so when you also see how what you have worked hard to earn is wasted by government. Second, when you die, your only gain is that you do not have to sign the check for your estate taxes. Your executor will do that for you. Third, for the Christian, death is not as inevitable as taxes, for if the Lord Jesus Christ returns first, we will be raptured and escape death. That is our wonderful hope, though I am certain the remaining ungodly government will tax whatever material assets we leave behind, but we will not need them or be interested in them anymore.
This morning I am going to talk about death and taxes as we pick up our study of the life of Christ from where we left off a few weeks ago. Turn in your Bibles to Mark 9:30 and put a marker at Matthew 17:22 and Luke 9:43. Let me set the context as you are turning there.
Peter, James, and John had been up on a high mountain with Jesus when He was transfigured before them. Jesus is God and man, and while walking this earth in His humanity, His glory was veiled. For a brief time that veil was lifted and Jesus’ divine majesty was displayed before these men as He talked with Moses and Elijah about what was coming in the future. Then God the Father commended Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Then as quickly as the veil was lifted, it was put back and the bright light was no longer emanating from Jesus. He then warned the three disciples not to say anything about what they had seen until after He was risen from the dead.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus explained to them how John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy concerning Elijah. The next day, when they had reached the foot of the mountain where the other disciples had waited, they found that a crowd had gathered and the disciples were in a dispute with the Pharisees. The cause of the dispute was the demonized son of a man that had come to the disciples for help. The disciples were unable to cast the demon out and they did not know why. Jesus cast out the demon and then taught the disciples a very important lesson on faith. Faith must have the right object which is God, not religion, yourself, the “power of positive thinking,” or faith itself. The purpose of faith must be doing God’s will and not your own. And faith must be persistent. Those are important truths for us to remember as well. We pick up our story here.
Mark 9:30, “From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it.” They had been up in the area of Caesarea Philippi and had spent the night in a house somewhere between there and Capernaum. He was seeking to avoid attention because He still had things He was teaching His disciples privately. Mark 9:31 records He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” This is at least the second time that Jesus was telling them in advance about what would happen when He got to Jerusalem. Jesus was on a mission to fulfill a divine plan which would include His suffering and death, but would be followed by rising from the dead after three days.
Jesus had told them this only a short time earlier when they had arrived in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22). Mark 8:32 adds that “He was stating the matter plainly.” They were apparently so shocked at the news that He was going to suffer and die that they seemed to have missed the fact that this would be followed by rising from the dead three days later. Peter even rebuked Jesus saying he would prevent it. Jesus in turn rebuked Peter for his audacity and ignorance. Jesus is now telling them a second time about what will be happening in the future and they still do not comprehend its meaning. Luke 9:45 states, “But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.” Matthew 17:23 adds that “they were deeply grieved,” which may be part of the reason they did not understand.
Jesus would tell them again about this in the future because it was important that the prophecy would be firmly fixed in their minds so that when Jesus did rise from the dead they would remember what Jesus had told already told them and believe. Jesus came into the world for a specific purpose and He would not be deterred from it though it meant His own suffering and death before the victory would be gained in His resurrection. As Hebrews 12:2 puts it, Jesus “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” He looked beyond the suffering to the joy that would come after when He would rise from the dead, ascend to heaven and sit down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Like the disciples, talk of death brings grief to our hearts because we are all acquainted with the suffering associated with it both for the one dying and those left behind. That grief can overwhelm you if you are not careful. Though we believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection, none of us were there and none of us have seen someone who has been resurrected. All the evidence points to the truth and reality of Jesus’ resurrection after His death, but it is a belief that we have and hold onto dearly because of faith and not personal experience. Our trust in Jesus’ promises for our own future after death are also held on the basis of faith and not personal experience because we have not yet died, but we can have great confidence in those future promises for two primary reasons. First, Jesus’ is trustworthy by virtue of His divine attributes. Second, He has and is proving Himself trustworthy by fulfilling His many promises concerning life in the present. As faith in Christ grows, it is easier to view life from God’s eternal perspective instead of your own very limited and temporal view. That includes gaining a proper perspective of death.
Jesus was able to face His coming suffering and death because He clearly understood the eternal perspective of what it would accomplish and what lay beyond it. While none of us can know exactly what God will accomplish through lives and deaths should that occur before Christ returns, we can know that God can and will glorify Himself through them, and we can know what lies beyond them. The means by which God will glorify Himself will be dependent on your faithfulness in walking with Christ, and that is regardless of the length or circumstances of your life. For the Christian, death is not the end, but rather a door which we go through to enter eternity with God. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body [is] to be at home with the Lord,” which is why he could say in Philippians 1:21, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Only from that does Psalm 116:15 finally make sense, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.”
Unless the Lord Jesus Christ returns first, death is inevitable even for the Christian. And while death is still an enemy, it no longer has to have the victory over you because God has made provision for you to have eternal life and be resurrected through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Tax – Matthew 17:24-25
The other inevitable thing in life is tax, but as we continue in our study of our text we will see that God makes provision for it too. Look at Matthew 17:24, “And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax? He said, ‘Yes.’”
First, note in your Bibles that the word “tax” in this verse should be italicized or in brackets every time it is used. The reason is the translators of the Scriptures will often add in a word not actually in the text as an aid to help us understand what it is talking about. The translators added the word “tax” here so that you would understand very quickly that the “two-drachma” was a particular tax that was being collected. There was no “two-drachma” coin, so the expression “two-drachma” became a slang expression used for a very particular tax. This was a government approved tax, but it was neither collected nor used by the Roman government at this time. It was a tax the Romans allowed the Jewish religious leaders to collect for the operation of the Jerusalem Temple. It was a temple tax to be paid equally by everyone.
This tax actually had a Biblical basis in Exodus 30. After the Tabernacle had been built in the wilderness, God provided for its continued maintenance and operation through an annual assessment of a half shekel on every male twenty years old and over. A half shekel is equal to two drachmas, and a drachma was the amount an average worker would earn in a day. When the Temple replaced the Tabernacle, the collection of this tax continued. This was the tax that Peter was being questioned about.
Historically, this tax was collected and used for the Temple in Jerusalem until it was destroyed in 70 A.D. Emperor Vespasian then decreed that the tax would continue to be collected from every Jew in order to maintain the pagan temple to Jupiter. It was a calculated and vindictive reminder to the Jews and to the rest of the world about the high cost of opposing Rome.
This particular tax was the Scripturally based annual assessment of every adult male for the maintenance of the Temple. It was collected by representatives of the Temple, and not by Roman appointed “publicans” who collected the Roman imposed taxes. Why then was Peter being questioned about whether Jesus would pay it?
There was one exception that had been made in paying the two-drachma. The priests were exempt. There was a question in the minds of the two-drachma collectors what Jesus would do. Would Jesus exempt Himself also? Jesus had already very clearly demonstrated that He would not be held to the Rabbinic traditions. That had created a sharp division between Jesus and the religious leaders. Recall from Matthew 12 that the Pharisees began to counsel how they might kill Jesus because He refused to keep their Rabbinic traditions regarding the Sabbath and had purposely healed a man on the Sabbath. The two-drachma collectors were uncertain if Jesus would pay the tax or not, so they approached Peter to find out. If Jesus refused to pay it, there would be another charge the religious leaders could make against Him.
Notice in Matthew 17:25 that there is no hesitation on Peter’s part in answering the question. Peter had been with Jesus long enough to know both what His master taught and what His master did. Jesus opposed man-made traditions, but He perfectly fulfilled the law of God. In addition, Peter would have known if Jesus had paid this tax in the past or not. Peter responds to the tax collectors in the affirmative. “Yes,” Jesus does pay the two drachma.
The Obligation – Matthew 17:25-26
Matthew 17:25-26 records that Peter went to tell Jesus that the assessors wanted to collect the two-drachma, and Jesus used this opportunity to teach Peter not only another lesson about His omniscience, but also on the obligation that Jesus and His followers have in paying taxes, not just the two drachma, but all taxes. “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? And upon his saying, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Consequently the sons are exempt.’”
Peter never got a chance to speak before Jesus, already knowing what has occurred, questions Peter. The text plainly states that Jesus spoke to Peter first. Those who call into question Jesus’ omniscience must ignore the text in their effort to reduce Jesus to mere man. But Jesus in not a mere man. Jesus is God in human flesh, and Matthew brings out what may seem at first glance like a minor point in order to emphasize that fact. Jesus is omniscient which is a characteristic of God.
Jesus then uses a common method of teaching of asking questions to let the student think through the issue. Jesus’ question points out to Peter a universal truth about who kings taxed. The term king is used in a general sense for any supreme ruler regardless of the particular title used in that nation – Pharaoh, emperor, Caesar, etc. With few exceptions, the nations were ruled at that time by autocratic rulers who had power to do what they wanted and they passed down their royal legacy to their heirs. One of the powers of kings was to collect taxes, both customs, which are taxes on goods and services, and poll-taxes, which are taxes on individuals. Kings collected these taxes from those he ruled over to support himself and his government.
Kings did not collect taxes from those they had to support such as their families, here represented by the term, “sons.” It would be counter productive for a king to tax his own family for he would in effect be taxing himself. The king would tax the subjects that he ruled over. In some kingdoms the citizens of that nation were not taxed for king and his government were instead supported through the tribute paid by the other nations he had conquered.
In brief, Jesus tells Peter here that neither He nor Peter were obligated to pay the two drachma for Jesus was not just Lord of the Sabbath, but Lord of the Temple as well, which He specifically claimed to be greater than in Matthew 12:6. In addition, the Temple was “His Father’s house” (Luke 2:49; John 2:16). The purpose of the temple was the worship of God, and Jesus is God in human flesh. Why would Jesus be required to pay a tax to support the place that was built to honor and worship Him? Jesus had every right to refuse to pay the two-drachma tax because of who He is.
Jesus’ followers would also be exempt because of their faith in Jesus as the Messiah for they had been adopted into God’s family as sons (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1,2). As fellow heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:16,17) they, and we who are also Jesus’ followers, are also exempt from such a tax. Neither Jesus nor His followers were obligated under God’s law to pay the two-drachma.
The wider application to the exemption from taxes is brought in by Jesus’ analogy and by the fact of whom Jesus is. Jesus’ analogy expands not only to “the kings of the earth,” but also to the different types of taxes collected. But more important, the kings of the earth exempted their sons while collecting their taxes from the “strangers.” In addition, a king who was subject to another king could not collect taxes from the family of the greater king. Who is the king over all the earth? Is not Jesus the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Are we not still joint heirs with Him as the adopted children of God?
Now some have used this passage as justification for not paying taxes to the government. And, as you can see from the arguments Jesus brings forth, they are correct in assessing the situation and declaring that as followers of Jesus, adopted children of God, they are not obligated to pay taxes. They are exempt as “sons.” Now if the passage ended there, then they might have a good case for their argument, but the passage does not end there. It goes on. Though we are exempt as adopted children of God, we faithfully pay our taxes because of the principle and example Jesus sets forth in verse 27.
The Principle – Matthew 17:27
“But lest we give them offense, 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 stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
I will deal with the part about Peter going to get the money from a fish in a minute, but please note the first and last part of that verse. “But lest we give them offense . . . give it to them for you and Me.” Jesus had Peter pay the two-drachma tax for both of them because He did not want to cause them offense.
Remember that Jesus came for the purpose of fulfilling the will of the Father and redeem man from sin. Jesus was not going to let something as simple and insignificant as a tax become an offense to the tax collectors that Jesus would soon die to save. The word “offense” here is from the word for the trigger on an animal trap. If Jesus had refused to pay the tax, they would have easily been “trapped” in the false conclusion that Jesus and the disciples despised the Temple and its worship, which would anger them, and they would then reject the gospel message. If Jesus would pay this tax to a group He called a “den of thieves” run by wicked, false teachers and leaders in order not to offend these unbelieving collectors, how should we act and what should our concern be for the lost? Note as well that this destroys the argument about not paying a tax because the government will do something evil with it. These religious leaders practiced evil, and the Roman government even more evil, yet Jesus paid taxes to both without reluctance. Our governments do many evil things with the money they tax from us, but that does not excuse us from paying those taxes. They, not those who are taxed, will answer to God for what they do with it.
Jesus had the right to refuse to pay the two-drachma or any tax just as He had a right to refuse to be humiliated and persecuted. However, when Jesus became a man, He willingly laid aside for a time His divine glory and relinquished the rights and prerogatives belonging to that glory. He had little concern for material things, but much concern for eternal things, and this principle He left us is why we as Christians pay our taxes without resentment.
As the adopted children of God, our citizenship being in heaven, we could claim an exemption from taxes. But as followers of Christ we follow His example and His teaching. Later in Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus is again questioned about paying taxes. There He states this principle more forcefully saying, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” Material wealth should be one of the last things on our minds. Our concern must center on the Lord. The point is driven home by how God supplied for this tax.
The Supply – Matthew 17:27
Jesus tells Peter exactly where the money for this tax would come from. God would supply the need. Peter was to go to the Sea of Galilee and throw in a hook instead of net which limited him to catching one fish instead of many. He was then to take the very first fish he caught and open its mouth in which he would find a stater which was the exact amount needed to pay the two-drachma tax for two people. Jesus’ deity is again displayed in this miracle in both how the stater was provided and in the fact that Jesus told Peter exactly how it would be provided beforehand.
The point is simple. God will provide for our needs. We are to keep our concentration on the Lord in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trust Him to provide what we need for life (Matthew 6:33). The story does not imply that God will always supply through some miraculous means, but at times He does. Diane and I have certainly been the recipients of God’s grace at times in completely unexpected and surprising ways. But more often, God simply supplies you with what you need by common means. Jesus and Peter had their two-drachma tax paid through the miracle of the stater in the fish’s mouth. But the other eleven disciples had to pay it by whatever normal means they had available to them. In either case, God provides for our material needs.
Taxes are certainly an irritant and especially so when so much of those funds end up being squandered away. You are reminded of them every time you buy anything, in the reduced amount of your paycheck, and anytime you have to send a check to the government. But the irritation of being taxed is related to your view of life. The more you are concerned about material things, the more taxes will irritate you. That does not mean you should not speak up about government waste and its support of evil things. We should stand up and speak against those things because evil is evil and waste is poor stewardship of what belongs to God. However, Christians should not be tax cheats or tax resisters. That is not honoring to God, and His honor and glory, along with carrying the gospel message to a lost and dying world, are our chief concerns, for they were the concerns of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter learned the lesson Jesus taught Him in this incident. In 1 Peter 2:13-15 Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
What should be our response to governmental demands? We willingly comply with the demands of government, not because we are obligated to the state, but for the Lord’s sake that we may silence the ignorance of foolish men and prove that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are also the best citizens. We resist the government only when its demands are contrary to God’s Word. Though good stewardship of what God has entrusted to you means it is wise to try to reduce your tax burden as much as you legitimately can, you can still pay your taxes with a smile for two reasons. First, knowing that you are doing it for the sake of righteousness and not because you have to. You honor the Lord by following His example and the principles He taught. Second, because He who conquered death and gives His followers eternal life and a promise of future resurrection also supplies all our needs in the present time as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness.
Death and taxes are ____________- except for Christians who escape death when the Lord returns
Jesus and the disciples had been in the area of Caesarea Philippi and to the Mount of __________________
Jesus cast out a demon from a boy and taught the disciples a lesson on ____________
As they returned south to __________, Jesus told them again He would suffer, be killed and then rise again
They needed to know this prophecy so that they would ______________it when it was fulfilled
Jesus looked _________the coming suffering and death to the joy of the resurrection and return to the Father
Death brings ___________which can overwhelm you if you are not careful
We believe and trust God for the future on the basis of ___________, not personal experience
Jesus is trustworthy by virtue of His divine _____________and fulfillment of promises for the present
Like Jesus, you can look beyond present circumstances and even death by _______________for your future
The Tax – Matthew 17:24-25
The word “________” is added to clarify the meaning of “the two-drachma”
This tax was based in Exodus 30 and used to support the maintenance and operation of the ____________
It was collected by Jewish representatives of the _____________without any Roman interest
The exceptions to the tax were the ______________and their families – what would Jesus do?
Peter _____________Jesus would pay the tax – Matthew 17:25
The Obligation – Matthew 17:25-26
Jesus spoke to Peter about taxes before Peter said anything – a display of Jesus’ _________________
Custom = tax on goods and services. Poll-tax = tax on _______________
Kings collect taxes from their subjects, but not from their own _____________they support
Jesus was ________obligated because He was Lord of the Sabbath and the Temple was His Father’s house
Jesus’ followers were not obligated as adopted _________of God, joint heirs with Jesus
Jesus was not obligated for any tax because He is King of Kings, and _____________are subject to Him
The Principle – Matthew 17:27
Jesus had Peter pay the two-drachma tax for both of them because He did not want to cause them ________
Jesus did not want them “_______” in a false conclusion that would anger them & harden them to the gospel
God will hold __________________those who do evil, not those who are taxed to pay for the evil
Jesus’ concern was for eternal matters, not ____________things – Matthew 22:15-22
The Supply – Matthew 17:27
Jesus tells Peter how he would ____________________get the money to pay the tax for both of them
God will provide for our ______________- Matthew 6:33
He may supply your needs by unexpected and surprising ways or though more __________________means
Righteousness and stewardship compels us to speak _____________taxes being used for evil or wastefully
Peter learned the ____________Jesus taught – 1 Peter 3:13
We comply with government demands that are not _______________to Scripture for the Lord’s sake
We trust Christ who conquered death and gives us eternal life to also supply our needs in the ____________
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word “tax” is used. Talk with your parents about a Christian’s obligation to pay taxes and why.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What corresponds between death and taxes? Set the context for Matthew 17:22-27 – Where is Jesus and the disciples and what events had occurred in the previous week or so? Why did Jesus not want His traveling to be known? Why would Jesus be telling His disciples again about having to suffer, die and rise again after three days? Why did that cause them to grieve? Why didn’t they understand what He was talking about? Why were they afraid to ask Him? How do you feel when people talk about death? Why? How does having a hope in Jesus Christ change your perspective on death? What does Jesus provide for Christians who die? Why does Matthew 17:24 add in the word “tax” into the translated text? What was the two-drachma tax? Who collected it and what was it for? Who was obligated to pay it? Who was exempt from paying it? Why would the tax collector question Peter about whether Jesus would pay that tax? Was Jesus obligated to pay that tax? Why or why not? Was Peter obligated to pay that tax? Why or why not? Was Jesus obligated to pay any tax? Why or why not? Why does Jesus tell Peter to pay the tax? What principle(s) from this should you apply to your own life? Why should you pay taxes? How was the money for the tax for Jesus and Peter provided? Have you ever had God provide for you in an unexpected and surprising way? Explain. How have you seen God provide for your needs by conventional means? What obligation(s) do you have toward human government? When must you resist human government? What can enable you to pay your taxes cheerfully? How does Jesus resurrection enable you to trust Him to provide for current needs as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
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