Truth Taught- In Christ we are set free from the bondage of sin
to be the bondservants of Christ
Today, Jesus takes another everyday event and turns it into a very powerful teaching moment for Peter and for us. He teaches about Sonship and the responsibilities of sonship. He teaches about freedom that comes to us as sons. With our freedom in Christ comes responsibilities.
In this short section we’ll see together the event, the freedom as sons and the responsibility of being a son.
Matthew 17:24–27 (ESV)
24 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?” 25 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?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 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.”
1. The Temple Tax
24 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?”
The Lord and His disciples have made their way down from Galilee to Capernaum. This is Peter’s town and they were probably staying at Peter’s house. Jesus did a lot of His ministry here in Capernaum. This town is situated on the north west side of the sea of Galilee.
While they are here in Capernaum Peter is approached by the collectors of the Temple Tax. Once a year every adult male was asked to pay a tax to support the Temple. It was two-drachma or half a shekel per man.
This tax was not like the Roman taxes which were collected by the hated tax collectors. This tax was looked on with favor by the people. It was almost patriotic in a sense showing loyalty and favor for the Temple.
Exodus 30:13 (ESV)
13 Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord.
This tax is really a yearly offering that God had prescribed to His people to meet all the expenses surrounding the Temple. Building upkeep, supplies, and expenses.
Contained within the Jewish writings were instructions concerning the collection of the Temple Tax, Jewish men only. The Priests who served in the Temple were exempt and Gentiles and Samaritans were not allowed to pay. This was the responsibility of the Jewish population to maintain the Temple.
The Tax Collectors approached Peter and asked, does your teacher not pay the tax?
Jesus was a visiting Rabbi and it could have been exempt from paying the tax. This could have been the thinking behind their question. It could also stem from our Lord’s approach to the Temple as He has made some claims that may have brought into question His position concerning the Temple.
John 2:13–17 (ESV)
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
John 2:18–19 (ESV)
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The attitude toward Jesus and His followers is the tax collectors have some doubts as to whether Jesus is patriotic toward the Temple…we could see it as, How pro-temple are you?
2. Children of the King are Free
25 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?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.
Here’s the meaning of Jesus’ question first given to Peter. Our Lord’s question is asked as a parable. The story goes like this…
There is a King needing to charge a tax or a toll to pay for the expenses of his kingdom. To whom does the King charge the tax to? Does the King’s own children pay the tax? No. That would be counterproductive to have his own house pay the taxes. The one’s who are charged taxes are those outside the king’s family not his own children.
From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?”
Peter answers the question correctly. He answers others. So, the children of the earthly king are exempt from paying taxes. The children of the King are in a different relationship with the king and his taxes than the others are. So those of the royal household are exempt from paying taxes.
Since Jesus is the unique Son of God and since we are talking about a tax that God the Father has initiated He is exempt from paying the tax.
We have already seen clearly that Jesus is God’s Son…
Matthew 17:5 (ESV)
5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
John 1:1–18 contains some of the clearest teaching on the reality that Jesus is the Son of God. In this text, we read of the Word of God who was God (v. 1) and of His incarnation (v. 14). This Word is also identified as the Son of God (v. 14), so we have in this passage John’s presentation of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, taking on a human nature and walking among us. Jesus Christ is the divine person of the Son of God in whom are perfectly and inseparably united deity and humanity, without mixture or confusion, with each nature retaining its own attributes.
John 1:1–2 (ESV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:14 (ESV)
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Because Jesus is the Son of the King who owns the Temple He is exempt from paying the Temple Tax.
Here in this amazing teaching Jesus affirms something of great magnificence for us…like Peter who is now considered a son of the King by faith, we too who believe are adopted into the King’s house and are also sons of the King.
Galatians 3:26–4:7 (ESV)
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
4 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Jesus is teaching us that by faith we become children of God. He’s teaching us the doctrine of adoption. Adoption exposes our lavish spiritual identity: children of God, brothers of Christ, joint heirs with him, and co-regents in his kingdom. In adoption as sons and daughters we have full rights as children within the royal household. In Christ you are beloved of God and counted as children of God.
John mentions adoption at the beginning of his gospel, where he says, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). By contrast, those who do not believe in Christ are not children of God or adopted into his family, but are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2; 5:6). Although those Jews who rejected Christ tried to claim that God was their father (John 8:41), Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me … You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42–44).
The sons of the King are free.
What does our freedom in Christ mean?
Galatians 5:1 (ESV)
5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
We are set free from slavery to sin and set free from the guilt of sin. Our freedom comes about because Christ took our punishment as law breakers so our debt has been paid. Now we are free from the yoke of slavery from the Law. However, our freedom also means that we are not free to do whatever we want. We are now slaves to Christ. As His bondservants we must follow Him.
3. Our Freedom Comes With Responsibilities
27 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.”
So, we see that with our freedom in Christ there comes holy responsibilities.
After Jesus teaches Peter that he is free because he is now a son, Jesus still desires that the Tax be paid because with freedom comes the responsibility not to give an offense. Here is the idea of our freedom as sons causing someone else to be ensnared and led into sin by our freedom.
We must be cautious like Jesus is here.
If they did not pay the tax then those collecting would be put in an awkward position. If they didn’t pay the tax it would make it seem as if Jesus did not care about the Temple which He did.
So, our Lord tells Peter that the tax should be paid not because they had to but because it would show love and care toward others.
Sometimes we too must reign in our freedoms so as to better care for and love those around us.
Christian liberty must never be flaunted. “Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Rom. 14:22, NIV).
Here’s an example from the Bible…
We are free in Christ from the Mosaic dietary laws; Christ has pronounced all food clean (Mark 7:18-19). We may eat whatever we like.
However, if I’m going to visit a Jewish family, I will not exercise my freedom to eat something they may think is unclean.
But you do not need to exercise your liberty in order to enjoy it. Indeed, Paul elsewhere asks some very penetrating questions of those who insist on exercising their liberty whatever the circumstances: Does this really build up others? Is this really liberating you—or has it actually begun to enslave you?
Romans 14:19 (ESV)
19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV)
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
The subtle truth is that the Christian who has to exercise his or her liberty is in bondage to the very thing he or she insists on doing. Says Paul, if the kingdom consists for you in food, drink, and the like, you have missed the point of the gospel and the freedom of the Spirit.
Romans 14:17 (ESV)
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s caution to us is that in exercising freedom we can be enslaved to that if we are not careful. Because the Kingdom of God is not food whether to those who are enslaved by OT dietary laws or to those enslaved by the freedom of eating all foods and drinking all drinks. God’s Kingdom in which we are sons and daughters in Christ is righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit.