January 30, 2022

When Christians are Offensive (Matthew 17:24-27)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022) Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Scripture: Matthew 17:24–27

message video button copy

Children's Lesson (Click Here) 

I. A Mailbox Meeting

Think with me about this hypothetical scenario: let's say you and a few of your neighbors all arrive at the mailbox at the same time. Subsequently a conversation begins about current events in the neighborhood (like new HOA fees), as well as current events more broadly. After covering a wide range of topics, one of your neighbors poses this question to two of the individuals who have been most vocal: “My son recently identified himself as transgender. Do you think he (or now “she”) should be able to use the girls' bathroom at school?”

One of the neighbors asked simply says, “Well, I believe God created every person to be either male or female, both in mind and body. Even though some struggle with feelings to the contrary, I think we need to respect that biological difference between the genders.” The other individual who was asked offered this response: “Yes, that's what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, I think people like you and your dysfunctional son are only interested in pushing your own 'politically correct' agenda and not God's. You're the reason our country is in such a bad place right now.”

As those two neighbors walk away from the conversation, you decide to ask the neighbor who posed the question about her opinion of what was just said. This is how she responds: “Well, frankly, I found both of those individuals to be incredibly offensive.”

Keep that 'mailbox meeting' in mind as we look together at another passage from our our Way of Grace daily reading plan, specifically Matthew 17.


II. The Passage: “Not to Give Offense” (17:24-27)

Look with me at the somewhat obscure story we find in verses 24-27. This is what we read...

When they [Jesus and his disciples] 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.”

Okay, let's pull a few phrases out of this passage and unpack them in the hopes of hearing what God's word is saying through this short account. So look back with me at v. 24 and the phrase...


1. “The Two-Drachma Tax” (v. 24)

So Peter is stopped in Capernaum, his place of residence, and asked specifically about this tax.

Why Peter? Well, it may have been that Peter was locally the best known of the disciples at this point. It's not clear. But notice why he's stopped and questioned. There seems to be some uncertainty about whether or not Jesus has paid or will pay what's described here as “the two-drachma tax”. Unlike a later conversation with the religious leaders in chapter 22, the issue here is not a Roman tax. This was instead a Jewish temple tax.

Was this some policy created by the religious elites in Jerusalem? No, this was an OT requirement first found in the book of Exodus, chapter 30. This “two-drachma tax” is better known as the “half a shekel” tax in Exodus, and it was collected from everyone twenty years old and older. Why was it collected? To be able to raise funds for the construction and maintenance of the Tent of Meeting, that mobile temple that preceded the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. You may also remember that this tax was mentioned in the time of King Joash (in the 830s B.C.), when the Jerusalem Temple was in need of repair.

So this half-shekel tax was regularly collected for various needs related to the temple facility and its worship. Why there was uncertainty about Jesus' views regarding the temple tax is not clear. Maybe word had spread concerning what Jesus declared about himself in Matthew 12:6... “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” It may be enough to say that Jesus had already demonstrated he was an outsider, and therefore, some might have assumed that he was not interested in supporting the 'establishment' in Jerusalem. As we saw in our main passage, this question about Jesus leads to Jesus' own statement in verse 26...


2. “The Sons are Free” (v. 25-26)

Jesus may have overheard the conversation taking place outside, and so when Peter enters “the house” mentioned in verse 25, the Teacher wastes no time capitalizing on an extremely teachable moment. Was Peter wrong to answer in the affirmative when questioned by the temple tax collector? No. But Peter needs to understand why Jesus is willing to pay this tax. This is key: Jesus is not willing to pay the tax because he is required by God to pay the tax. Yes, this tax comes directly from the Law of Moses... the Law of God. But neither Jesus, nor Peter, nor any of the disciples is obligated to pay the tax as a matter of obedience.

But why? Jesus explains using the analogy presented in verse 25. He puts this question to Peter: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” Peter responds the way most of us would respond: “From others” . Based on that answer, Jesus goes on in verse 26 to highlight this principle: “Then the sons are free.” What point is Christ making here? He's arguing that just as this principle is true for human rulers and their children, it's also true for the heavenly Ruler and his children.

What's clear in this teaching is that Jesus is separating those who are God's children from those who are still obligated to pay the King of heaven's temple tax. That means not everyone who thinks of themselves as one of the 'children of Israel' is in fact a child of God. The difference, of course, is Jesus. Only those in right relationship with Jesus will be in right relationship with God... as... children of God. Of course this reality also highlights the broader covenant change that Jesus is bringing. The Temple and its rituals will come to an end. Jesus will fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He is bringing (in the words of 9:17) “new wine”. But this temple tax is just one feature of the “old wineskins” that will soon be discarded. As children of God through Jesus, the disciples are called to walk according to the “new wineskins” of freedom in the kingdom.

So if all this is true (which it is), then why would, why should, Jesus and his followers pay this “two-drachma” tax? The answer is found in verse 27, where we find this key phrase...


3. “Not to Give Offense” (v. 27)

As we've talked about, Jesus is going to pay the tax. He explains why in verse 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 Jesus covers this half-shekel tax for both himself and Peter, and he does so in order to not “give offense” to those collecting the tax and those overseeing the tax; we could say, to fellow Jews in general. To “give offense” can also be translated “cause to stumble” (in other contexts it is also translated, “cause to sin” or “cause to fall away”). Now, what's interesting about Christ's motivation here is that two chapters earlier, Matthew describes a situation where some Jewish leaders took issue with the disciples' failure to ritually clean their hands before eating. This is what Jesus said about this matter of ritual uncleanness...

And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: [11] it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." [12] Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" [13] He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. [14] Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." (Matthew 15:10-14)

How interesting that Jesus has no problem with offending the Jewish leaders in this instance, but is eager to give no offense when it comes to the Temple tax. How do we make sense of this? I think the point Jesus is wanting to communicate through his words and actions is this: always seek to give no unnecessary offense, especially to those with whom you differ.

Let's be clear about this: Jesus Christ never, ever did or said anything that was unnecessarily offensive. But that doesn't mean people were not offended by him. You may recall 13:57 tells us that the people of Jesus' hometown of Nazareth “took offense at him”. We've seen that many of the religious leaders were regularly offended by Jesus. But these people 'stumbled' over Jesus, not because he did something wrong, but because he was always right; always righteous. Sinners will necessarily stumble over truth and purity and holiness. Jesus understood this. But he was also and always committed to give no unnecessary offense.

Would Jesus have sinned if he failed to pay the tax? No. But it would have been sinful to do this knowing it would be unnecessarily offensive. You see, the tax was not the issue. Caring for others was the issue. Why would Jesus, with those who were skeptical or confrontational, want to tempt them to focus on his tax non-compliance rather than his call to repentance? Why would he want to add to the possibility that they would focus on minor issues rather than the major issues he sought to highlight. Yes, his opponents did that very thing with Sabbath violations and his neglect of certain traditions. But Jesus knew they would, and he used those instances to focus on those major issues. This is the point: as Matthew's Jewish-Christian audience read this Gospel, it was very important that they thought carefully about not giving unnecessary offense to their Jewish neighbors. Jesus models that here, for them... and for us.


III. Supernatural Provision

Years later, the Apostle Paul spoke to another group of disciples about this very issue.

He wrote in I Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God... Now remember, this is the same letter where we find this statement in the opening chapter, ...but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (that's the noun form of the verb from our main passage) to Jews and folly to Gentiles... (1:23) Paul knew that Christ, that the gospel, could be offensive to unbelieving Jews and Greeks. But if this was ever the case, he wanted his readers to make sure it was the truth about Christ that others found offensive, not any kind of prideful, insensitive, foolish, unreasonable, or combative behavior from Christ-followers. The woman at that mailbox meeting (the one I described in the introduction) may have found both of those Christians offensive, but in one of those responsive, it was simply the truth that offended.

Paul said this: that he would “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (9:12) Jesus was often a “stumbling block”, but the Apostle was careful not to place any other obstacle on someone's path. He described this careful approach in these terms, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (9:22) That means he was not only careful to give no unnecessary offense to his listeners, but if possible, to find common ground from which he could build trust and minister effectively. Is that your heart, fellow believer? Do you also seek to win others to Christ with the same mindset?

Sadly, there are some in evangelical circles who seem to care more about winning 'Temple tax' kinds of arguments than they do winning that other person to Christ. For these, giving offense is just par for the course. For some reason, it seems to them to always be necessary. In fact, it's often viewed as a badge of honor. Brothers and sisters, we need to reject this kind of behavior, both inside and outside the church. When Christians are unnecessarily offensive, we dishonor the One whose name we bear; the One who was never unnecessarily offensive; not even once.

And yet, none of us can make that claim, can we? All of us have been unnecessarily offensive at one time or another. Sometimes we give unnecessary offense because we major on minors when it comes to the truth. Only growth in God's word can help us find the perspective we need. Sometimes we offend because of a controlling spirit. It can feel safer at times to draw lines everywhere, especially between or around people. At other times, we offend because we won't take the time to listen and understand where someone else is coming from. We assume we know and are more interested in saying what we want to say than hearing what they need us to hear. And on other occasions, we are insensitive simply because we look down on others. Deep down we tell ourselves, “This person doesn't deserve my respect.” So when we offend, we blame it on them, which then deepens our lack of respect. Brothers and sisters, friends, we are in desperate need of humility. Where can we look in light of our offense-giving heart?

In this same Gospel, in Matthew 11:6, Jesus said, “...blessed is the one who is not offended by me." Similarly, Paul (in Romans 9:33) quoted two verse from the prophet Isaiah: ...as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." Please hear me: God's ultimate call to you this morning is a call to lean on rather than stumble over Jesus. Why? Because only He, through his death and resurrection, can forgive our offensiveness and cleanse that offense-giving heart. In fact, he can transform that heart. And ultimately, that's the miraculous means, the supernatural provision, to which our main passage points us. Listen: just as Peter eventually (and amazingly) plucked a coin... out of the mouth of a fish (!), we too can experience God's perfect provision in ways we wouldn't expect. What did that coin represent: supernatural power to give no offense! And so... as we have received patience, let us show it. As we have been given grace, let us give it; let us be merciful in light of His mercy, for we are now sons and daughters of the King... and we are now free to love as we've been loved. Let's pray in light of the power Christ provides.


other sermons in this series

Oct 2