READ: Matthew 17
BACKGROUND: It is, admittedly, hard for me to even condense this background section because I think Matthew 17 is an unbelievably cool chapter that could be the basis of 2 or 3 whole sermon series. Feel free to ask questions about anything I don’t cover! The stories of the Transfiguration, the healing of the boy, and the temple tax are all driving at one major theme: Jesus is the promised Messiah – God in the flesh – and he has come to die to usher in a completely new era for humanity.
1 – This occurs approximately 1 week after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God.
2 – When it says he “transfigured” this means that his physical appearance changed. The disciples saw him in his glorified (a.k.a. heavenly) state.
3 – Why Moses & Elijah? Moses represents the Old Covenant which is about to be rendered obsolete. Elijah represents the restoration of all things (Malachi 4:5-6).
5 – These are the same words that were spoken when Jesus was baptized. They emphasize that Jesus isn’t just a man but God incarnate.
11 – Based on the prophecy in Malachi 4, Jews expected that Elijah’s return would proceed the Messiah. Jesus indicates that it did in the person of John the Baptist. John was not Elijah reincarnate. Instead he was a type of Elijah (a prophetic force for repentance and restoration) that preceded the Messiah.
20 – Jesus isn’t suggesting that they start moving mountains. He uses this phrase in a metaphorical manner to help the disciples understand that deep faith will help them overcome any and all obstacles in their ministry as they seek to build his kingdom.
22 – This is the 2nd specific prediction of Jesus death and resurrection in Matthew.
24 – This tax wasn’t levied by the Romans but by the Jews. Everyone was expected to pay it to help keep up the temple.
26 – The word “exempt” literally means “free.”
27 – This is a sweet miracle!
THINK: Almost 2 years ago the best basketball player in the NBA announced during a live television event called “The Decision” that he would be leaving his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and joining the Miami Heat. In the months that followed there was a ton of speculation – perpetuated in part by the players themselves – that LeBron James’ decision to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would usher in a completely new era in the NBA. Professional basketball had “changed forever” and the Heat were sure, according to LeBron, to win “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” championships. In fairness, the league had never seen superstars choose to join forces before and so a totally new era seemed to be on the horizon. (I say seemed because the Heat currently sit at not one, not two…but zero championships, but that’s beside the point).
In Matthew 17 Jesus ushers in a totally new era (and unlike the Heat he actually succeeded in doing it). He begins by allowing the disciples to witness undeniable confirmation that Peters confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” was right on the money. And he helps the disciples see that John the Baptist prepared the way. Then, after driving out a demon, he explains to his disciples that he will be killed and raise again from the dead on the third day.
Immediately after this we find the story of the temple tax, and there is a very strategic reason for its place here. When the tax collectors come to collect the annual temple upkeep tax (about 2 days wages) Jesus and Peter have a really interesting discussion. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to an earthly kingdom. He asks Peter who kings collect taxes from, their subjects or their family members? Peter correctly answers that it’s from others. And then Jesus says this crazy thing: “Then the sons are exempt.” Then he pulls off an outrageous miracle and pays the tax anyways.
But what does all this mean? As simply and shortly as I can put it in a blog devotional: Jesus is saying that a totally new era is being ushered in with his death and resurrection that will change the game completely. The temple is being replaced by something better – Jesus himself. No longer will the temple be a necessary conduit to accessing God because we have access through Christ. Worship is being redefined as person-centered instead of place-centered. And not only that, but the entire foundation and construct of worship is being renewed. Why? Because the “sons are free!” Jesus is saying that the old way – where people paid the worship tax out of compulsion and obligation is done away with. His disciples – and everyone who puts their faith in him – are God’s sons & daughters. And God’s children are exempt from the obligation. They are set free from the law. Worship isn’t about going through the right motions in the right place! It is about freely choosing to respond to the person of Jesus Christ because of who he is and what he’s done for you.
ASK: In my freedom, how will I respond to Jesus today?