Lesson 69: Tribute Money and the Fires of Envy
Matt. 17:24-18:5, Mark 9:33-41, Luke 9:46-50
A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. Welcome to lesson # 69. After the passover of AD 32 or roughly about the time John the Baptist was killed by Antipater Herod or as summer approached that year; Jesus began to avoid the crowds and his travels were mostly around the northern fringes of Galilee. He stayed away from Judea and what John called Jewry (John 7:1). The early part of the summer was evidently divided into two main tours. The first circuit was in or near Tyre and Sidon. Then they returned back into the region of the sea of Galilee through Trachonitis passing through the fringes of Decapolis. After a brief stay, probably a week or two, Jesus took the twelve on another retirement, as some call it. The second trip was into the region of Caesarea Philippi. The reason for these trips had three main facets. First, the threats on Jesus' life had intensified. Second, the regions in the north of Galilee undoubtedly was the home land of many Jews or the lost sheep of Israel that needed to be taught about the coming kingdom. Third, it was an opportunity for Jesus to have more private time with the apostles and to give individual instruction.
It was during the trip to Caesarea Philippi that Jesus began to emphasize: (#1) That Jesus must go to Jerusalem. (#2) That he would there suffer many things of the scribes, elders and chief priests. (#3) That he would be killed in Jerusalem. And, (#4) that he would raise from the dead on the third day. (Matt. 16:21). In coming down the mountain of transfiguration; Jesus commented to Peter, James and John that his suffering and death would be in some way similar to the fate of John the Baptist. (Matt. 17:12). Then after healing the little demoniac boy, they returned to Capernaum from Caesarea Philippi traveling through Galilee; i.e. they traveled south on the west side of the Jordan, if you want to sketch their journey on your map. But, some where on that journey as they traveled through Galilee, Jesus had another session with the apostles and emphasized the facts about his death and resurrection again. Matthew said in Matt. 17:23, "they were exceeding sorry." And, because of the grief and the sensitivity of the subject, the apostles accepted Jesus' announcement; but, they did not inquire into the details.
When they arrived in Capernaum is where this lesson begins. The first incident is recorded only by Matthew. Let's read that. Matt. 17:24-27, four verses at the end of Matt. ch. 17. Have you got your eyes on that? Let's read, beginning in Matt. 17:24. "And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevent him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou has opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee."
Some think that this tax was collected about the time of a Jewish feast called Pentecost which was 50 days after the Passover feast. Pentecost was about June on our calendar. Most commentators think this was the Jewish half-sheckle used for the upkeep of the temple. It was not, a Roman tax. You will remember that Matthew who recorded this was undoubtedly an. expert on taxes as he had worked for the Romans in that capacity. But, he doesn't give us much help on this. However, when those responsible for collecting the tax came to Capernaum; they asked Peter, "Doth not your master pay tribute?" For some reason they did not go to Jesus directly. But, Peter answer in the affirmative; probably because, he was aware that Jesus had paid the tax the year before, or possibly because he assumed Jesus would consider it an obligation. But, when Peter went into the house where Jesus was; and before Peter told Jesus about the tax collectors; Jesus, knowing what was in man, asked Peter a question. Now, I'll let you analyze the question; but, the bottom line is this: Jesus the Son of God was exempt from the tax. You see, this money was regarded as given to God. But, Jesus used this (we would say) for academic reasons; i.e. that he might teach Peter this point. But, it cannot be assumed that Peter was exempt. The same reasoning does not apply. But, rather than make an issue of it and especially since Peter had committed for Jesus in his usual impulsive way; Jesus paid the tax. However, to teach the lesson that the whole world and even nature itself was tributary to Jesus; Jesus had Peter to go to the lake of Galilee and take the money. He gave Peter instruction as to how to catch the fish. He was to us a hook, not a net. Undoubtedly, Peter did as he was instructed; we have no further information. But, like every other miracle that Jesus did; this too, declared Jesus to be the Son of God.
O.K. while you're there, let's harvest five more verses from Matthew. Matt. 18:1-5, and then we'll read the sequel of Mark and Luke. Are you ready? Beginning in Matt. 18:1. "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me."
Now, let's go to Mark 9:33-37. Mark's account is also five verses. Are you ready? Mark 9:33 beginning. "And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of than: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me."
Luke has three verses, Luke 9:46-48. Let's read that before we discuss who is the greatest. Beginning in Luke 9:46, are you ready? "Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great."
O.K. back up and try to get a handle on what happened here. Let's call it the fires of envy. There's nothing more self indulging than personal ambitions. When they were in Caesarea Philippi, several days before, after's Peter's confession and Jesus' statement that upon that confession, i.e. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" Jesus would build his church or kingdom. That statement was (and is) the cornerstone upon which Christ1 ekklesia of God or assembly of disciples is built. And then, Jesus told the apostles they would have a part IN THAT kingdom or assembly. Their part would be in the binding and loosing of authority. Jesus would give to the apostles the "keys of the kingdom" (Matt. 16:19), and they would thus open up the kingdom. Now, stir into that, their concept of the kingdom. These apostles apparently began to envision themselves serving as offices of authority. Jesus had taken Peter, James and John up in the mountain apart from the other nine. We don't know what other personal ambition, comments, and conversations, etc. were involved in motivating the twelve to consider their future positions. But, as they had traveled along through Galilee on their way back to Capernaum; some at least had discussed this issue. As they talked together, no doubt, the competition of self ambition began to show itself among the twelve. Would Peter and the sons of Zebedee receive a higher position than the other apostles? Now, they had thought their discussion of the matter was private and concealed from Jesus. However, you will remember, Jesus knew what was in man (John 2:25). Mark 9:33 said, "he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?" But, they would not answer at first; because, they thought Jesus was the one that would appoint them to that great seat of authority, what ever it was, as they envisioned it. They didn't want to lose Jesus' vote of confidence in the matter, you see.
Now, if Jesus had wanted to make Peter or any other disciple superior to the rest; that would, have been the ideal time to begin putting the different strata of authority into place, (that is) if Jesus had wanted a pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, etc. So, let's pay particular attention to how Jesus answered that question. Mark 9:35 says that Jesus sat down, and called the twelve, (that is) to teach concerning this point. And it would appear that after the discussion started some of them apparently opened up and expressed interest in knowing the score on their future positions. Because, Matt. 18:1 said, some of the disciples asked: "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Now, their question here was ill founded in that they (like Peter on the mountain) didn't understand what he said (Luke 9:33). It was a little like children quarreling over an estate before the death of the one bequeathing it. You know, it's not unusual for the children to die before their parents. So, Jesus in his usual method of parables and metaphors selected an appropriate visual aid and began his spiritual lecture. Luke 9:47 said, "Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great." Can you visualize Jesus sitting that little child by his side? WHOSOEVER implies anybody and everybody. Matthew reports Jesus' statement like this: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." What does it mean to be converted? The NIV says, "unless you change..." The American Standard says, "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." It goes back to the beatitude. And did you notice IT IS a condition to ENTER the kingdom. Just like baptism. Do you remember what Jesus told Nicodemus? "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot ENTER into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5). So, Jesus was saying to the twelve, in effect; your attitude may eliminate you altogether from the kingdom or church. One must become AS a little child to enter. And, just in case someone should ever asks you, Jesus' statement here PROVES that the apostles WERE NOT in the kingdom at that time. Jesus said (talking to the twelve, Mark 9:35), "Except ye be converted...ye shall NOT ENTER into the kingdom..." (Matt. 18:3). Who'll be the greatest? One more time! Jesus said, "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." (that's Mark 9:35). O.K., what's the ranking system among Christians? There is none! Every Christian is a servant. And every servant is a servant. Do you get it? To be a child of God is to be a child of God. Jesus' reference to a little one or a little child in the metaphorical language here does not mean to be little in age; but to be little in disposition and character, (that is) to have humility.
There is more text relating to this occasion than we can cram into this lesson. So, we'll have to save part of it for our next lesson. Apparently, on that same occasion while they were assembled together the apostle John spoke up with something bothering him. Let's read that. Mark and Luke only! Matthew does not cover this. Beginning in Mark 9:38, let's read four verses. Here we go, Mark 9:38. "And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbade him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because he belongs to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." O.K. quickly, let's go to Luke 9:49 for two verses. V.49-50. Beginning in Luke 9:49, let's read. "And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."
Alright, I'm not sure whether the man John described was legitimate or not. Jesus did not question or explain THAT PART of John's report. Certainly, John was in a much better position to judge that point than I am. Undoubtedly, Jesus knew what the circumstances were; but, he gives us nothing to go on with respect to this case. Don't miss the point: John said the man was casting out the demons in Christ's name, (that is) by Christ's authority. So, Jesus used this occasion to teach a lesson on envy that connects very close to that question up above: who is the greatest in the kingdom. John was struck with jealousy because he thought the man did not have official prerogative for His actions. But, Jesus' point transcends that question. In other words, that didn't make any difference. If the man was doing it in Jesus' name or by Jesus authority; then it was not John's job to regulate such matters. There is a great lesson in this for us. Remember, that Jesus had just made the point with the little child; that in the Christian system there was not going to be stratus of power or offices of authority and the least would be the greatest in his kingdom. Thus, it is our job as Christians to teach and make disciples of Jesus; but it is NOT our job to regulate the way others do everything. After all, others are individually responsible for their conduct; just as we are individually responsible for our conduct. Since Jesus is going to be the judge; he will take care of all such in the judgment. Notice the axiom that Jesus gave, "he that is not against us in on our part." If you remember Matt. 12:30, Jesus in talking to the Pharisees gave the converse of that statement, "He that is not with me is against me." No one can straddle the fence; That last part about the cup of water (v.41) means that where good is done, regardless of how trivial, it will be rewarded and you can be assured it will be remembered by Jesus in the judgment. Until next time, have a good day.