Friday, January 31, 2020 -
There is an incident that only Matthew’s gospel records, which is found in Matthew 17:24-27. Recall that Matthew’s occupation was that of a tax collector (Matthew 9:9), and as such was looked down upon much as we would view an IRS agent today, collecting money for a wasteful and corrupt government that mandates the brainwashing of our children in public schools, endorses evil and perverse behavior, and distorts justice.
In this passage, Jesus is at Peter’s home, where He often stayed, and was inside, when the tax collectors came up to Peter, who was outside and asked, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” This tax was equivalent to about two-days’ wages, and Peter merely replies yes, and enters the house. Nothing more is told us. We don’t know whether they were making their rounds to collect the tax at that time, or what the purpose was. This is very different from Mark 12:13-17, where the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap Jesus regarding the issue of taxation.
Jesus, using this opportunity as He often does to teach a spiritual lesson from the seemingly mundane, already knows what transpired outside before Peter could even open his mouth. This was a common thing with Christ, who even often read people’s thoughts or knew their whisperings out of His earshot. And so He says, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” The answer on the surface is obvious to Peter, and so he responds, “From strangers.” Yet Jesus says to him, “Consequently the sons are exempt.” The word here translated “exempt” actually means “free.”
Taxes are collects for and by human kings, yet Christ is the King of kings, and we are His sons. We are His adoptive children. Paul explains this very effectively in Galatians 4:1-7, where we see that through Christ’s coming and through His redemption, we have become the sons of God and are therefore free from the law, just as the sons of the king referred to in Matthew 17:26 are free from the burden of taxation. In Christ, we have become free from obligation to the law. The law no longer becomes obligatory to those who have been redeemed and adopted as children of the King!
Yet Paul tells us elsewhere, in Romans 13:1-7, that we are to abide by manmade laws even though we are the sons of the Kings. Jesus explains this in Matthew 17:27, “But, lest we give them offense…” pay the tax. But then Christ also miraculously provides the money from the mouth of a fish – exactly the correct amount of the required tax for both Peter and Jesus. Christ, Himself even submitted Himself to the human authorities, and so should we. In the Mark 12:13-17 passage, Jesus teaches this same thing. As believers, even though we are set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-4), we are to honor manmade law.
Yet we also find that in Acts, the apostle clearly drew a line that we are not to cross, and that is when man’s laws tell us to disobey God’s law. When Peter and John were ordered not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, how did they respond? They told the authorities, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19). Then, when they are once again arrested, they tell the authorities bluntly, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). However, where what is required of us doesn’t deny Christ, we are to oblige! And if we do, God will always provide for us, just as Jesus miraculously provided the tax to pay in Matthew 17:27, in order to be an example to those around us who are observing our actions as God’s children!