While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Matthew 17:5
1. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain.
2. Jesus clarifies that John the Baptist was the Elijah expected to return.
3. Jesus casts out a demon and encourages faith in His disciples.
4. Jesus pays taxes from money retrieved from the mouth of a fish.
Verses 22–27. These verses contain a circumstance in our Lord’s history, which is not recorded by any of the evangelists excepting Matthew. A remarkable miracle is worked in order to provide payment of the tax-money, required for the service of the temple.
There are three striking points in the narrative, which deserve attentive observation.
Let us observe, in the first place, our Lord’s perfect knowledge of everything that is said and done in this world. We are told that those who “collected the two drachma tax came to Peter, and said, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’” It was evident that our Lord was not present, when the question was asked and the answer given. And yet no sooner did Peter come into the house than our Lord asked him, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive toll or tribute?” He showed that He was as well acquainted with the conversation, as if He had been listening or standing by.
There is something unspeakably solemn in the thought that the Lord Jesus knows all things. There is an eye that sees all our daily conduct. There is an ear that hears all our daily words. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him, with whom we have to do. Concealment is impossible. Hypocrisy is useless. We may deceive ministers. We may fool our family and neighbors. But the Lord sees us through and through. We cannot deceive Christ.
We ought to endeavor to make practical use of this truth. We should strive to live as in the Lord’s sight, and, like Abraham, to “walk before Him” (Gen. 17:1). Let it be our daily aim to say nothing we would not like Christ to hear, and to do nothing we would not like Christ to see. Let us measure every difficult question as to right and wrong by one simple test, “How would I behave, if Jesus was standing by my side?” Such a standard is not extravagant and absurd. It is a standard that interferes with no duty or relation of life. It interferes with nothing but sin. Happy is he that tries to realize his Lord’s presence, and to do all and say all as unto Christ.
Let us observe, in the next place, our Lord’s almighty power over all creation. He makes a fish his paymaster. He makes a voiceless creature bring the tribute-money to meet the collector’s demand. Well says Jerome, “I know not which to admire most here, our Lord’s foreknowledge, or His greatness.”
We see here a literal fulfillment of the Psalmist’s words, “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Ps. 8:6–8).
Here is one among many proofs of the majesty and greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He only who first created, could at His will command the obedience of all His creatures. “For by Him were all things created. By Him all things consist.” (Col. 1:16–17). The believer who goes forth to do Christ’s work among the heathen, may safely commit himself to his Master’s keeping. He serves one who has all power, even over the beasts of the earth. How wonderful the thought, that such an Almighty Lord should condescend to be crucified for our salvation! How comfortable the thought that when He comes again the second time, He will gloriously manifest His power over all created things to the whole world—“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat.” (Isa. 65:25).
In the last place, let us observe, in these verses, our Lord’s willingness to make concessions, rather than give offence. He might justly have claimed exemption from the payment of this tax-money. He, who was Son of God, might fairly have been excused from paying for the maintenance of His Father’s house. He, who was “greater than the temple,” might have shown good cause for declining to contribute to the support of the temple. But our Lord does not do so. He claims no exemption. He desires Peter to pay the money demanded. At the same time He declares His reasons. It was to be done, “so that we may not offend them.”
Our Lord’s example in this case deserves attention of all who profess and call themselves Christians. There is deep wisdom in those seven words, “so that we may not offend them.” They teach us plainly, that there are matters in which Christ’s people ought to forego their own opinions, and submit to requirements which they may not thoroughly approve, rather than give offence and “hinder the Gospel of Christ.” God’s rights undoubtedly we ought never to give up; but we may sometimes safely give up our own. It may sound very fine and seem very heroic to be always standing out tenaciously for our rights. But it may well be doubted, with such a passage as this, whether such tenacity is always wise, and shows the mind of Christ. There are occasions, when it shows more grace in a Christian to submit than to resist.
Let us remember this passage as citizens. We may not like all the political measures of our rulers. We may disapprove of some of the taxes they impose. But the grand question after all is—Will it do any good to the cause of religion to resist the powers that be? Are their measures really injuring our souls? If not, let us hold our peace, “so that we may not offend them.”
Let us remember this passage as members of a church. We may not like every jot and tittle of the forms and ceremonies used in our communion. We may not think that those who rule us in spiritual matters are always wise. But after all—Are the points on which we are dissatisfied really of vital importance? Is any great truth of the Gospel at stake? If not, let us be quiet, “so that we may not offend them.”
Let us remember this passage as members of society. There may be usages and customs in the circle where our lot is cast, which to us, as Christians, are tiresome, useless, and unprofitable. But are they matters of principle? Do they injure our souls? Will it do any good to the cause of religion, if we refuse to comply with them? If not, let us patiently submit, “lest we cause them to stumble.”
Well would it be for the church and the world, if these seven words of our Lord had been more studied, pondered, and used!
1. What are the themes of chapters 1 through 17?
2. What was the disciples’ response when Jesus told them that He was about to be killed, and that He would rise again on the third day?
3. Based on Jesus’ comments about taxes, what can we say about our rulers who tax their own people to the tune of 30–60% of the people’s income? If the children of good kings are free, then what are we?
4. Why did Jesus pay the tax even though He believed it was unjust (according to His own words)?
1. Did the disciples have any concern about their provision while they were with Jesus? Why or why not? Do you have any concern about your daily provision? Why or why not?
2. Should we pay our taxes, for the same reason that Jesus paid His tax? Are our leaders more or less tyrannical than the “kings of the earth” who lived during Jesus’ time?