Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 22, 2015
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast 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 me and for yourself.”
— Matthew 17:24-27, ESV
You are no doubt familiar with our founding fathers. Names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin ring a bell. But do you know James Otis? He was an original New England patriot, a Harvard graduate, a lawyer and leading legislator in the fledgling colonies that created the United States of America. John Adams said of him, “I have never known a man so important and essential to the cause of his country as Mr. Otis.” What did he do? In 1761, he famously said, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” It was the fuel to the fire of American independence. The rest is history.
Biblical history records a lot of taxation, too, and often without representation. Jews in Jesus’ day were taxed heavily by their Roman overlords, and by one another. The temple tax, called into question in this passage, was a rite of passage for males in Israel once they entered the age of adulthood. Required only once, it was asked for often. There was no law in the Bible nor any other books that would have required Jesus to pay this tax on this day, but Simon Peter spoke up for Him and obligated the Lord of the Temple to pay up to the temple taxers. What we have here is yet another case of taxation without representation.
Matthew, the former tax collector, fittingly is the only Gospel writer to recored this episode. It puts taxation in a peculiar light, shines a dim light on Simon Peter, and pours abundant light on the Light of the World, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Necessity of Paying Taxes
The lessons learned in this account accrue in importance, so let us pursue the lesser of two evils first. Between death and taxes, I’ll take taxes. We don’t like them. Some go to extremes, even illegalities, to avoid them. But we all, or at least we all should, pay them. And, it’s a good thing.
The temple tax provided for the upkeep of, what else, the temple. Like the tabernacle in the Exodus, for which this tax was originally excised, the temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of the true worship of the true and living God at that time. To contribute to its maintenance was a responsibility and a privilege. The same can be said for tithes and offering that go in large part to provide buildings and staff to support the structure of the New Testament church. Though not every penny is perfectly spent, is is far from being a waste of money. Giving to God through the church puts our treasure where our hearts should be, namely in the worship and service of Almighty God.
Other due revenues do other good things. Some tax monies are wasted, to be sure, but most of it is put to good moral and civic use. Taxes provide for the good laws, good lawmakers, and good law enforcement officers in our municipalities and country. They provide for the common defense and create community with other countries. They allow us to drive on good roads and fly in safe airplanes and eat uncontaminated food. So the next time you think of 101 reasons not to pay your taxes, think of the 1,001 good things that the treasury provides.
And, think of Jesus, who did not balk one inch from making this meager contribution to the temple tax. Our Lord did not wish to offend, but rather make an offering. Even though technically, He did not have to do so, until Simon Peter spoke up in His place.
The Impetuousness of Simon Peter
Lesson one: pay your offerings, tithes, and taxes, without strenuous criticism or complaint. Lesson two: don’t speak for the Lord until you’ve spoken with the Lord. Once again, Simon “foot-in-my-mouth” Peter unwittingly helps makes a sharp point.
The imminent apostle was approached by temple tax collectors. As an ambassador for Christ, Peter spoke up on Jesus’ behalf, albeit without Jesus’ permission. Though the obligation he made caused no offense to Jesus, the mild rebuke he received from the Lord demonstrates that Peter would have been better advised to speak with the Lord before speaking for the Lord.
This is not a lesson for apostles only, but also for pastors and preachers. No preacher should ever preach without first praying. Speak with the Lord before speaking for the Lord, amen. But this is not a lesson for pastors and preachers only, but for every member of the church, every citizen of the heavenly kingdom, every child of God.
You would look before you leap; therefore, you should pray before you speak. In minor and major matters, in all things, before any commitment, take time to talk with the Lord. You will avoid embarrassment. More importantly, you will avoid embarrassing Jesus. Some impetuous leaps and loose lips are relatively innocuous, like this slip of Simon Peter’s tongue. But others, like his upcoming denials, are more damaging. Learn to talk to God about the little things, then you will automatically approach Him about the big things, so that all things can be done for His glory and according to His will.
Pay your tithes and taxes. Talk to God. And, know that the God with whom you are talking is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Deity of Jesus Christ
Lesson one: pay your offerings, tithes, and taxes, without strenuous criticism or complaint. Lesson two: don’t speak for the Jesus until you’ve spoken with Jesus. Lesson three: when you talk to Jesus, you are talking to God.
The purpose of this passage is to make a way for a miracle to magnify the humanity and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was a man, a devout, temple tax paying Jew. Jesus was God, who could make a shekel pop out of the mouth of a fish. Jesus was, is, and always will be the God-man, the Messiah, the Lord, the manifestation of the true and living triune God.
Jesus proved His deity by what He did. He did something that only God can do. He omnisciently listened in to the conversation between Simon Peter and the tax collectors. He omnipotently made a particular fish swallow a particular coin, then bite onto a hook that particularly belonged to one Simon Peter. Omnipresence is something we generally believe Jesus forsook to accomplish His messianic mission, but was God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who somehow got to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee and stuck that shekel in the fish’s mouth so that all four drachmas of the tax could be paid in full. Some say the devil is in the details, but I prefer to believe that it is God. Jesus did here precisely what only an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God can do. Jesus is Lord!
Jesus proved His deity by what He said. Liberals claim that Jesus never claimed to be divine. The Bible begs to differ on many occasions, including this one. Christ’s point to Peter was that king’s sons are exempt from paying the king’s tax. Who is the King of the temple? God. Who is God’s only begotten Son? Jesus. Jesus did not have to pay the tax in full, but He did. Jesus did not have to pay for our sins on the cross in full, but He did. Jesus raised tax money from a fish’s mouth, and on the third day after He was crucified, Jesus arose from the dead, just like He said. Jesus is Lord!
If it is true what the Bible records about Jesus, and I believe it is, and if the words Jesus spoke about Himself are true, and I believe they are, then Jesus is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, He is the only way of salvation. If Jesus can be trusted with your soul, He by His Spirit and His word can be trusted to lead you through life. If Jesus can be trusted with your soul and your life, then give Him your all. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (Isaac Watts).
Tomorrow you may not remember that James Otis complained about taxation without representation. Next month you may not remember to pay every penny of tax or take every deduction. Some days you may not remember to pray about every little decision that you have to make. But remember this: Jesus is Lord! Let Him represent you before God. Trust in Him, and you will have abundant and eternal life, tax free!