Originally scheduled for March 29
Tucked away at the end of the monumental 17th
chapter of Matthew — which contains the Transfiguration — is the
story of Christ paying the temple tax. The tax originates in the Old
Testament Levitical law (see Exodus 30:11-16). It is originally an
atonement tax, and as such each Jewish male pays the same amount, no
matter how rich or poor he happens to be. As such, the sinless
Christ should not have to pay for his own atonement. But he is
considerate to the tax collectors; he does not wish to offend them.
A similar incident happened at his baptism by John the Baptist. John
challenged his desire to be baptized on the grounds that Christ
should baptize John, not the other way around. But Christ simply
said it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. This is a
similar instance. He does not have to pay the tax; he is not
required to decline it either.
There are many things can be said about this
incident. It is, strictly speaking, not a miracle but a providence.
There is no violation of physical law here, but the laws of
probability do get stretched quite a bit. There is also evidence of
the divine sense of humor in this; the fish, you will recall,
delivered exact change. I would focus your attention however on the
fact that there was one coin, not two. It would have been no less a
providence had there been two coins. It is actually an important
Look at it this way: if you go out to a fine
restaurant, you expect that your food will be cooked to your order.
That is what a restaurant does for a customer. But if you go to
someone’s house for a family gathering, you expect to be served the
same thing as everyone else; you are sharing a meal. You are one of
the family. Here, the same coin pays for both Peter and Christ — a
little detail that tells you that Peter is one of the family. Just
like us; we are the family of God.
From before time began, it was God’s plan that
Jesus would come in the form of a man. He would be one of us,
knowing the hot desert sun and the freezing desert night and all the
other experiences of man except sin. Because he knows what it is to
be human he can sympathize with us. He has become our High Priest,
and is able to intercede for us because he knows what it’s like to
be us. We are now the human members of his family. Consider well
then, the price that he paid to make this available to us. His
suffering on the cross — his body, his blood — that we remember when
we take communion allows us to be the children of God.
It is his body on the cross; his blood shed
there that provides us the pathway of salvation. This is how God
showed his love to us, by sending his Son to die. That same Christ
shares with us the suffering of being human, and therefore is able
to intercede for us as our High Priest. As you partake this morning,
remember what he has done for you. You are one of the family; he has
shared with you the payment for your atonement.