Dealing with Unpleasant Realities
In 1789, Ben Franklin commented “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The quote is well known, and death and taxes universal realities of human life. Death and taxes are things we cannot say we tackle with great enthusiasm, but life has many unpleasant realities, and how we navigate them either honours or does not honour God. Unpleasant realities are more than death and taxes – they include our sins, the sins of others, the evil of this world, and very mundane, trivial things of life like dirty clothes, dirty dishes, household expenses, MOTs, among many other things. Let’s read together these The verses:
Matthew 17:22-27 (NIV)
22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief. 24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ 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 children or from others?’ 26 ‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him. 27 ‘But so that we may not cause offence, 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.’
Jesus has returned with his disciples from Transfiguration experience. He has healed a deaf and mute boy and he reminds them that “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him and He will be raised on the third day.” We’re told the disciples were deeply grieved. This is the second of three times in the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples are told about Jesus’ future.
For two and a half years of his three year ministry, Jesus had been convincing the disciples He was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and therefore God in the flesh. Peter’s great confession confirmed they finally understood this, and thereafter Jesus started preparing them for the unexpected, that even though the God-man would die on the cross for their sins, he would be raised again on the third day. Jesus needed to repeat this teaching over and over again because there was a problem to overcome. The disciples expected Jesus, as Messiah, would be exempt from death, sharing the contemporary Jewish expectation the Messiah would live and rule forever, and deliver Israel from its political enemies. They were expecting a Golden Messianic Age with Jesus as their king. Like many Jewish teachers, they simply missed many OT teachings and prophecies that clearly explain the coming Messiah will and must die, for the sins of the nation and the human race, and he would be resurrected. The Book of Daniel and Isaiah say this so clearly (Daniel 9:26 and Isaiah 52 and 53) but they could not reconcile those passages with many other prophecies that Messiah would live and rule forever as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
The disciples, now convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus began preparing them that he would experience death, convincing his little band that although he showed them miracles, signs, authority, power, proving he was the Son of God, he would be suddenly and unexpectedly overtaken by His enemies, beaten, battered and crucified. It raised a big question — how could God be mortal? Unbelievable, unless it was for a purpose. They had to understand God the Son and God the Father had a plan all along. That Jesus must die and then be raised from death. Jesus taught them he is actually God in the flesh, that although he could breath into being a heavenly army, to save him, at any time, he would not, because this was not the plan. He taught them that the Jewish practise of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin was the dress rehearsal for the main event. The disciples had to learn to not doubt His deity, and His sovereignty over all affairs, His omniscience and His omnipotence once it had happened. Or as Peter would later put it (as recorded in Acts 2:23) on the Day of Pentecost, that Jesus “had been delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” .
They needed to know the bad things about to happen to the Messiah were the core of the message they would later take to the world. Not the bad news, but the Good News—that Christ died for our sins and rose again. The gospel is very simple: only the Son of God’s death could pay for the sins of all mankind. The disciples became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah – are you?
There are more unpleasant realities than death and taxes but they remind us that our lives will end and that we will have to pay the price for our sinfulness. The problem is that eternal death is the penalty for our sin, but the solution for that problem is faith in Jesus. The sooner we come to terms with our mortality, the sooner we (hopefully) accept our need for an eternal saviour, Jesus Christ. If we deny our own mortality, we will likely remain in denial of Christ’s saving work on our behalf. Whether it’s taxes, or unpaid bills or DIY we leave undone, or relational problems, or for that matter, dirty dishes — the longer we procrastinate, the worse things become. We all know what happens if we fail to pay our taxes.
What are you putting off? What unpleasant reality in your life are you refusing to face and resolve? Is it a lingering temptation, a difficult conversation you need to have, or perhaps a debt, or making things right with a friend. Are you putting God off about serving him in some way? Is there a letter you need to write, an apology you need to make? Back to the disciples, they heard bad news, and believed it, at least part of it. They believed what Jesus said would come true—it always had. Not a single promise of His had ever fallen to the ground. But they didn’t believe the son of God must be killed, then raised from the dead on the third day! They did not believe if Christ could be raised, then all of us could be raised. If these disciples had believed and understood this, they would not have been as grieved as they became. They would have been greatly encouraged because it was Good News that death for the Messiah, and for them, was a stepping stone to resurrection. As it turned out, this bad news became the ultimate good news of all time! It is the proof that Romans 8:28 is absolutely true: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.” God lovingly and humbly becomes a human to save mankind from his sin, but humankind terribly abuses, rejects and crucifies the God-man. History is full of deplorable crimes against humanity, but there was none worse than this.
But God! He turns this crime into the greatest news in the history of mankind. He turns our sin, our deplorable and depraved behaviour, into something good. As we kill God, at the very same time he dies for our sin, and gains a victory that in turn offers us eternal life if we will trust in him. What an incredible plan, what an incredible turn of events. It truly helps us understand (Romans 8:28) — that God uses all things, good or bad in and of themselves, to work for our good. And what is that good. If you have never fully trusted Jesus and His death for your sins and resurrection for forgiveness and eternal life, do it now, don’t wait. If you have, be exceedingly thankful. In verse 24, the disciples are returning to Capernaum, Peter and Matthew’s home, and Jesus’ base of operations during most of his ministry. It was on the shores of Galilee, a major trade route that ran north and south and east and west and there were many customs officials and tax-gathers. Matthew was one of these, so it’s not surprising this story is in his gospel. As the disciples are approaching Capernaum with Jesus, tax-collectors approach Peter with the question found in verse 27: “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” In Exodus 30:11-16 we learn about the two-drachma tax — a sin tax instituted by Moses requiring the Children of Israel to make atonement — and the proceeds were used for the upkeep of the tabernacle, and later the temple. If you were over 20 and male, you paid the tax, about a day’s wages. Tax collectors knew who had not paid, and so when this band get back into town, they are on the hit list. Defending Jesus, Peter blurts out, “Yes.” He assumes Jesus would pay the tax because he knows he supports the temple and would pay his dues. Jesus had gone ahead into their house in Capernaum, perhaps Peter’s house, and verse 25 tells us what happened from here: “And when he (Peter) came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first” — Jesus exhibits his total knowledge of every circumstance and conversation, and before Peter could explain the circumstance, Jesus addresses saying in verse 25: **“What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” ** Jesus is speaking of civil taxes exacted by kings, noting earthly kings find ways to exempt their families yet always tax ordinary citizens and strangers. Peter knows the answer is “From strangers.” and Jesus says, in verse 26: “Then the sons are exempt.” Jesus is making two points. First, the governments of men are often corrupt. They tax some people, but not their families and friends, who they instead enrich through the taxes on others.
Second, and more profoundly, Jesus, who has just clearly established and confirmed Himself as the Son of God, is about to be asked to pay a tax on His own Father’s house in Jerusalem—the temple. He called it His Father’s House. So by the standards of the world, He should have been exempt from this tax. What does he do? Verse 27: “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook and when you open its mouth you will find a four drachma coin.” Enough tax for two people. Jesus tells them, take that and give it to those people, for you and me.
What can we learn? That we should graciously submit to human institutions for the glory of God, especially to human government, and taxation, for the glory of God. Yes, their will be corruption because human governors are often corrupted, but that is no excuse for disobeying Jesus’ teaching to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.” It is not a right to dodge taxation, and that sentiment is often driven by greed and wanting stuff other people have. In this example, Jesus made the point that as God’s son, he was exempt from the tax, but he was also concerned at causing offence to those tax collectors, literally, causing them to stumble. So he says, “However, so that we do not offend them,” unnecessarily, pay them! Christians should pay their dues. Smart Christians will also be careful they are not over-taxed, and its ok to do what is needed to check that out, but Jesus helps us understand this unpleasant reality is unavoidably part of our lives, established by God according to Romans 13, and we are responsible to graciously do our part. Another lesson is that when we do this, God takes care of us. Trust Him when you do your duty, and pay your taxes. Jesus directs Peter to pay the tax on his behalf, but He provides Peter with a miraculous means to pay the tax. Peter, a fisherman, is directed to go the Sea of Galilee, and throw in a hook (unusual, he was used to a net). This is the only time a fishing hook is mentioned in the New Testament, and Peter is told the first fish He catches, would provide for the tax demanded. Our sovereign God appoints a single fish to grab a coin in its mouth, and then to take the hook. When we graciously submit to God’s plans and simply trust and obey, God provides. Trust that Jesus will take care of you, when you are humbly obedient to Him. Death and taxes, like many unpleasant realities, are often unavoidable, but when we approach them with simple trust, as Jesus always did,God will bless us, and will take care of us. Amen.