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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Greatness in the Kingdom

Matthew 17:24 - 18:14

Lesson audio

It sometimes confuses the new Christian to discover that the church has an inverted organization chart; those who would lead must serve. It is a consistent point of Christ’s teaching, and some attention must be paid to it.

The Temple Tax

Mat 17:24-27 NIV After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax[2]?" (25) "Yes, he does," he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?" (26) "From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. (27) "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

Taxes

We may note that the tax collectors in this instance are rather modest souls; the inquiry goes to Peter, not to Christ. Perhaps this is because the request is rather out of season – by about six months. Perhaps they felt this was the only time they’d have the chance to ask.

The tax itself dates back to the Old Testament[1]. It is considered an atonement tax, and thus the amount is not determined by your wealth but fixed equally for all. It can be considered, thus, a ransom tax; the Jews would have seen it as such.

The problem, of course, is the sovereignty of Christ. He is the atonement; how then can he pay the atonement tax?

“Lest we offend”

Note, please, that Jesus speaks first – before Peter has a chance to ask. In this way he shows His omniscience (a useful reminder at delicate times) and his courtesy – Peter does not have to present this awkward demand to him.

He points out that, as King, he pays no taxes. He doesn’t owe this money. But there is no reason not to pay this tax; it satisfies the word of the Law (as interpreted later). Closer to home, failing to pay this tax might offend – or even cause to go astray – these tax collectors. Is Jesus to be considered a “holy revolutionary?” Not at all. Bureaucrats tend to see themselves as high and mighty, though – so Christ arranges a demonstration for them. The method of obtaining the money must have struck them as unusual, at least.

There is a relationship between power and poverty in the kingdom of God. The Father is gracious about letting the rich (including almost all Americans) participate in the kingdom. He tells them[2] to be generous in their charity, both in what they give and how often they give it. But it is to the poverty stricken that power in the kingdom is given. The example is Christ himself. It is an example not to be missed.

Lord of all – with humor

The method of our Lord in this instance is a providence; from the root word, provide. As in God will provide for us. It is not technically a miracle – but it does stretch the laws of probability a bit. It is an example to us so that we may know that God provides for those who trust in Him.

He shares the coin from the fish with Peter; by example, then, it is a shared ransom. Just as we share the Ransom with Peter.

We may take the example of Christ as this: pay whatever you owe, do whatever you must do as long as it does not contradict the command of God. But don’t take it too seriously, will you?

Who is the Greatest?

Mat 18:1-5 NIV

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (2) He called a little child and had him stand among them. (3) And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (4) Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (5) "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

Background

The question must be seen in the context of the previous section. It may have appeared to the other disciples that Peter is being treated with favoritism here. But, to their credit, the disciples do not grumble about it, but take the question directly to Jesus. Just how does one become great in the kingdom?

In his reply, Jesus uses a word which can also be translated “infant.” The picture might be that of a toddler – that most independent of dependents.

Purity and innocence

One thing about little children: they lack the ability to be hypocrites. What they are is what you hear. In that culture, such a child would have been at the lowest social station. “Children are to be seen and not heard.” “Do what you’re told, when you’re told, how you’re told.” Except for new army recruits, they are the lowest of the low.

But have you ever seen the eagerness with which such a child “helps” daddy? It is the service of the humble and innocent. The connection of the two is important: the humble ask the privilege of serving. But leadership in the kingdom of God is servant-leadership, for which humility is essential. And a pure innocence is needed for humility.

You might well object that humility is something acquired or given; I think rather that it is chosen. Once chosen, it may be difficult to achieve; even the darkest paths start with a fork in the road, however.

Family

If you listen to modern advertising you will hear phrases like “family oriented” or “family friendly.” You know without looking that they’re not talking to grandma; they are advertising to those who have young children. The word “family” implies children, and by extension the family of God has children too – who must be cared for.

Remember, the Father is the head of this family just as the father is supposed to be the head of earthly families. This point is no longer taught in churches today, as the egalitarian ideal of marriage is now proclaimed to be eternal truth. Nevertheless, the Scripture has not changed. Therefore, if it is important to the Father, it should be important to us.

Even the lowest can be an ambassador of the highest. As my children act, so you judge me as a father. May God’s children be a shining example of the least in God’s kingdom.

Dad, we’re headed home

Permit me one story about little children. (A true story, or so I am told.) Dad was driving; mom was reading the map. She was having difficulties with the task, as is common, so much so that her confused husband had to ask her: “Just tell me: are we headed north or south?” The five year old in the back seat piped up, “Dad! We’re headed home.”

We ought to know where we are going and how to get there. We also ought to know whom Christ cares for along the way.

Lost Sheep

Mat 18:6-14 NIV But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (7) "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! (8) If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. (9) And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

(10) "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.[1] (11) (12) "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? (13) And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. (14) In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Woe to the world

Sin is inevitable in this fallen world. (You might want to make a note of that). That means we’re in for disappointment, let-down or even betrayal in those we love. The only qualification for being a Christian is that you must be a sinner first.

Some of us, however, reach the wrong conclusions about this:

  • Sin is going to happen. So why should I put forth effort to be sinless, when I know it can’t be done?
  • Indeed, when I sin, God forgives. So when I sin more, God forgives more. That’s a good thing, right?
  • And this shouldn’t affect others, because they’re responsible for their own lives, right?

Wrong.

God’s love is not an excuse for sin. Yes, it’s going to happen – but you’re still responsible for your own sin. If this is so, then how much greater is the offense when you cause (by example, perhaps) a little child to sin?

How God values the children

Surprisingly, our poor example to children is often completely ignored. The reason is usually our own egos; we’re important, kids are not. We’ll get around to them later, when they grow up.

Such an attitude says that children are worthless until they grow up – by which time they will have absorbed the lesson of your sin. (Ditto grandchildren). It’s easy to look down on children in a condescending way; the same applies to new believers as well. But see how God regards them! Their angels have access to Him face to face; the ultimate example of being “in.”

I hope you see the importance that God places on these children. He wants each and every one of them to come home to him – and woe to the one who leads them astray.

Lost sheep

May I leave you with two points?

  • Hospitals are for the sick; the church is for the lost. Let us remember what we are about.
  • We are to concentrate on our problems – be those personal or corporate – rather than congratulate ourselves on how well the remaining sheep are doing.

Christ came to seek and save the lost; if you cannot help, at least do not hinder.


[1] Exodus 30:11-16

[2] 1st Timothy 6:17-18

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