Matthew 17

Read Matthew 17.

God’s Law required Jewish men to pay a flat tax at every census “for the service of the tent of meeting” (v. 16 of Ex 30:11-16). By the time of Jesus, this tax had become an annual fee required of every man in Israel between twenty and fifty years old.

So, the tax we read about here in Matthew 17:24-27 was not a Roman tax but fee paid for the ongoing ministry of the temple. Every good Jewish man paid it as part of his faithfulness to God in obedience to God’s law.

This is why Peter answered so quickly and confidently when he was asked if Jesus paid the temple tax (vv. 24-25). Other men might be tax-cheats and religious deadbeats but Peter was certain Jesus wasn’t among them.

It turned out, however, that Peter spoke out of turn. If you were an Über driver, you would not charge your kids for rides to school even though you charge everyone else for a ride. That would just be weird and stupid.

Likewise, Jesus did not pay that tax because he’s the Son of God (v. 5). There was no need for him to pay his Father for admission into their “house” (vv. 25b-26).

Peter had just witnessed Christ’s transfiguration (vv. 1-8) so he could have–should have–reasoned his way to the right conclusion. Jesus HAD to pay the tax now; otherwise, he’d appear to be deceptive and this situation would have caused stumbling (“offense,” v. 27) to those who had asked the question.

Because Peter is the one who put Jesus on the hook for the taxes, he could have taken responsibility to pay Jesus’s tax himself. Christ could have insisted that Peter do so for the same reason. “Learn your lesson, Peter.”

Instead, Jesus told Peter how to perform a miracle that would pay both Jesus’s and Peter’s tax (v. 27).

This story demonstrates the implications of two truths in this passage:

One is that Jesus is the Son of God as the transfiguration demonstrated (vv. 1-8, esp. v. 5). The implication of that truth is that the temple belongs to him so he doesn’t need to pay for it.

A second implication grows out of verses 22-23. There Jesus predicted his death. That passage did not explain that his death would cover the disciples’s sin obligation before God but we know that was the purpose of it. Here, Jesus takes on the obligation of Peter, providing for his temple tax as well as the one his quick mouth obligated Jesus to pay (v. 27). Instead of making Peter pay these obligations himself, Jesus provided payment for Peter’s obligations to God if Peter believed and did what Jesus told him to do (v. 27).

This is a simple illustration of what Christ has done for all of us. We not only are obligated to serve and worship God but we incur greater obligation to him every time we speak untruthful words or do evil things. Yet Christ provides the means to cover all our obligations to a holy and perfect God.

One other truth to think about from this passage: How confident are we about the things we say are true or false based on our faith-relationship with God? When people ask us if:

  • …a loving God would send people to hell?
  • …would God ever disapprove of two people loving each other, even if they are the same sex or one is already married or a guy and girl want to live together without getting married?
  • …if Christianity is the only way to God or could a sincere adherent to another religion who never heard the gospel be saved?
  • …or any other of a long list of questions

…do we give scriptural answers or answer off the cuff on God’s behalf like Peter did?

What about if someone asks whether all infants who die go to heaven or not or whether Jesus would vote for a certain presidential candidate or not. Do you speak your answer confidently like Peter did in verse 24 or do you talk through the scriptural principles with the person who asked you?

We are often too quick with our words, too confident about our answers. There are biblical principles that apply to any question in the previous paragraph and many others. I’m not at all saying that we can’t give a good answer to those questions.

Instead, I’m asking you to consider your words. Do you speak for God recklessly like Peter did in verse 24? Is there a better way to handle the question of unbelievers?

Matthew 11

Read Matthew 11.

Can you prove the existence of God?

Can you prove that the Bible is true–that it is God’s Word, as we claim it is, not just a human book?

These seem like reasonable questions, don’t they?

But, they are not reasonable questions at all. They are expressions of unbelief, not genuine inquires from open hearts that want to know God.

How do I know? Jesus said so here in Matthew 11:12-19.

The greatest evangelist in history, other than Christ himself, is not Billy Graham, or John Calvin, or Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or anyone else. It is John the Baptist, according to verse 11.

Yet despite his witness and the testimony of “all the Prophets and the Law” (v. 13), God’s kingdom “has been subjected to violence” (v. 12b). In other words, “violent people” (v. 12c) have been attacking God, his authority, Lordship, dominion, and truth.

That assault continues today. One way unbelievers attack the Lord and his kingdom is by setting new standards: “Do this” or “prove that,” says the unbeliever, “and then I will consider believing in Jesus.” In verses 17-19, Jesus pointed out the ever-shifting requirements for faith that unbelievers set up for us. The point of Jesus’s proverb, “We played the pipe for you and you did not dance,” is that people want to be in control of the conditions under which they will believe:

  • If they demand proof of the resurrection, you’d better provide it to them or they will continue to scoff at our faith.
  • If they think the Bible is full of errors, you could answer every problem verse they mention and they’ll just come up with more.

Jesus gave John and himself as the perfect set of examples (vv. 18-19). John and Jesus were totally on the same page in their faith and mission but they couldn’t have been more different as Jewish men. John was strict, austere, and took no prisoners in his life and approach to others. But unbelievers said, “He’s demon possessed!” (v. 18). By contrast, Jesus flouted the conventional wisdom about how you had to live to please God. He didn’t live in disobedience to God’s law but he did willfully disobey many of the false “standards” that Pharisees and others tried to get him to live by. Yet, unbelievers in his world said he was “‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” So neither Jesus nor John could satisfy the objections of those who rejected the gospel.

Why?

Because they were not genuine objections; they were excuses for unbelief.

Unbelief remains the same today. Can you prove the existence of God? Yes, creation and conscience prove it daily. Unbelievers, however, reject that proof because they want dance music, not funeral dirges (v. 17).

Can you prove that the Bible is true? Yes. Your life and mine daily prove the truth, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But this isn’t good enough for the fallen.

Believers should not dance to the music of unbelief. People don’t genuinely come to Christ when we dance to their tune. They need a spiritual transformation–a new birth–not better answers or arguments. Those who become believers do so because “the Son chooses to reveal” the Father (v. 25) not to “the wise and learned” (v. 25) but to those who believe like “little children” (v. 25).

Like Jesus and John, our job is to faithfully explain the message and call people to repent. Our job is to extend the invitation that Jesus gave to “Come to me… and I will give you rest” (v. 28).

Is there someone you can share this message of hope with today?

1 Kings 6, Hosea 9, Titus 3

Read 1 Kings 6, Hosea 9, and Titus 3 today. This devotional is about Hosea 9.

“Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired person a maniac.”

Hosea 9:7d-g

Our society pretends that it has rejected God and our faith because it has advanced beyond belief in anything beyond the natural world. Scientific study has yielded so much truth about things that used to mystify people in the past. So, many people to equate our faith with superstitions from the past that should be rejected in this modern age.

This passage confronts that thinking.

People reject God’s word because they want to live an immoral, godless life. The verse says that the greatness of humanity’s sins is what causes people to think God’s servants are stupid. People today may have a more secular mindset in general. But they deny historical facts that are biblical, despise the moral commands of the Bible, or laugh at the miracles in scripture because of their sins. The greater the sin and unbelief, the stronger the negative reaction one will have to the commands of God’s word.

The cure for this is not to emphasize the points where some unbeliever might agree with the Bible or show how wise advice from the Bible makes for better living.

The cure is more of God’s word; that’s what God gave Hosea despite the fact that prophets were considered “fools” and “maniacs” in Hosea’s day. Although sinners try hard to suppress the truth of God’s word, God’s word is like a hammer that breaks hard hearts and fire that melts them down (Jer 23:29).

The same is true for us believers. Although our faith in Christ inclines us to receive and believe God’s word, our sin nature at times may cause us to react to some of God’s commands as crazy. In those moments we need to immerse ourselves deeper in scripture, not sit in skepticism toward it.

May God give us the grace to receive his word obediently ourselves, hold it out unflinchingly to the world around us, and find some who will believe it and obey it for eternal life just as we have.

Numbers 8, Isaiah 33, Galatians 2

Read Numbers 8, Isaiah 33, and Galatians 2 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 33.

Our society has changed dramatically in the past few years. Actions that were once were considered immoral are now considered acceptable. In some cases things that were illegal are not only legal now but receive special legal protection.

Those who are advocating and legalizing these changes do so with much self-righteousness under the guise of civil rights, creating a lot of pressure on the rest of society to celebrate these changes, or conform to them or, at the very least, remain quiet about them.

If you have ever wondered why so many people have suddenly lost their minds, Isaiah 33:5-6 provides the answer. Verse 5 describes God’s exalted state and how his kingdom (“Zion”) will be filled “with his justice and righteousness.” But this world is not yet his kingdom; until Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, every human government will become unjust and every society will practice increasing unrighteousness. Why? Verse 6 says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times….” When people believe in God and bow to his definition of “righteousness,” they have this sure foundation on which to establish and right and wrong. Without faith in God, no sure foundation exists; instead, ideas of righteousness and justice will be (re)defined by the perverse and ever degrading notions of humanity.

But verse 6 of our passage continues by saying that the Lord will be “a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.” As believers who fear the Lord, we can be certain of what we know because it has been revealed to us by someone who knows all things. That was stated in the final line of our passage for today, Isaiah 33:6: “…the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” “Fearing the Lord” means so much in the Old Testament. It means reverencing God in worship, of course, but it also means understanding his greatness and awesomeness and how undeserving we are of anything from him. Fearing God causes us to reverence what he has revealed in his word and that leads to repentance and faith.

But fearing God and receiving his word also means accepting what his word says about the origin of all things, the end of all things, why some things are wrong, why we need salvation, etc.

Yes, it is true that unbelievers know many things that we believers do not and that believers do not know anything. But if you dig a little bit beneath the surface of an unbeliever’s knowledge, you will find assumptions rather than certainty. This is why right and wrong, which should be obvious to anyone, eventually become questioned and then denied in godless societies. When someone cuts himself off from God he will have no foundation to know anything. That means that anything could be true which causes people to believe in foolishness (see Romans 1:21, 28).

There is much more to say about this than I can write in this devotional. For a taste of more, check out this brief video by Sye Ten Bruggencate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM1AWO92Crc

Acts 24

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

So, Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to protect his life from a plot by his Jewish opponents at the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 23. Five days (v. 1) after Paul arrived in Caesarea, his Jewish opponents showed up there to charge him with stirring up conflict among the Jews (vv. 2-9). Paul answered the charges against him by appealing to what actually happened and the lack of proof his opponents had for their charges (vv. 10-13). Paul skillfully wove the gospel into his defense starting in verse 14. Felix, the governor who was handling this case, punted the case to a later date (vv. 22-23).

But a few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla set up a private meeting with Paul (vv. 24-26). This meeting allowed Paul to specifically bring the gospel to this couple. An interesting aspect of this is that Felix was a Gentile, a Roman governor, but his wife Drusilla was Jewish (v. 24b). So Paul had a mixed audience religiously when he spoke to this couple. How did he handle this opportunity? According to verse 25, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come….” Let’s break that down:

  • “righteousness” refers to what is right, how someone measures up to a standard. In this case, the standard is God’s perfect holiness as revealed in his Law.
  • “self-control” has to do with a person’s ability to say no to his sinful impulses and choose to do what is right instead.
  • “judgment to come” of course, refers to the fact that every person will stand before God to give an account of his or her life.

In other words, Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about right and wrong, about their inability to control themselves enough to do what is right, and about the fact that God would judge them individually for doing what was wrong. What was the reaction? “Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave…” (v. 25b). In other words, Paul’s conversation with them caused Felix to feel the conviction of sin and his need for a savior.

Unfortunately, he did not repent at Paul’s teaching and find forgiveness in Christ. But once again Paul’s approach when talking to him is instructive for us when we speak about Christ to unbelievers. Almost any point of sin is an adequate starting point for the gospel. When you are talking with an unbeliever, if they complain about an injustice in the news or about crime or about the lack of self-control they see in others or in young people, that is an opportunity to talk about Christ. Why do people dislike it when others can’t exercise self-control? Because an uncontrolled population is dangerous and difficult to live in. But what standard do unbelievers use to complain about the sins, injustices, and failures of self-control in others? They appeal to God’s standards, even though they may not know it or even may deny it. The Bible says that the law is written on the heart of every human. That means that we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Use that! Show them how they too fall short of the standards they apply to others and admit to them that you, too, fall short but that Jesus didn’t. This will give you the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us to deliver us from the coming judgment of God at the end of the age.