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?

John 16

Today’s reading is John 16.

Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for life without him. He spoke the words of this chapter just shortly before he was betrayed. He made disturbing prophecies about what they would face in the days ahead (vv. 2-3, 20-21, 32). Yet he also promised that they would not be alone; instead “the Advocate” (the Holy Spirit) would come and empower their work (vv. 7-11).

One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work would be to guide the disciples as they wrote the Scriptures. That’s what the promise at the end of verse 13 meant when Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” The disciples would not lead the church from their own mistake-prone thinking and human judgment. Instead, the Holy Spirit would guide them.

This is one reason why we value the Bible and believe it to be without error and fully reliable. It is not the collected opinions of a few good men. It is the written word of God recorded by godly man as they were guided by the Holy Spirit of God.

I’m glad you’ve been reading these devotionals and hope they have been truly helpful to your life. But my words are only correct and helpful as they correctly describe and apply THE WORD, the spirit-inspired scripture. It is what we need to become who Jesus called us to be, so value the Word and learn it for your own growth in godliness.

2 Samuel 23, Galatians 3, Ezekiel 30, Psalm 78:38–72

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Samuel 23, Galatians 3, Ezekiel 30, Psalm 78:38–72. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 2 Samuel 21.

It was a busy weekend; sorry for missing some devotionals. Let’s get back to it today, shall we?

David’s last words, recorded here in 2 Samuel 21, refer twice to the Lord as the source of what he wrote. The author of 2 Samuel called these words, “The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse” (v. 1) and David himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (v. 2). These phrases indicate that David understood the Psalms that he wrote to be God’s word. It was not the word of men that others elevated and claimed to be God’s word; it was given by God through David and David understood that as it was happening. Theologians refer to this concept as “the canonical consciousness.” It means that the writers of scripture knew they were writing scripture. The prophets who spoke verbally for the Lord knew that they were speaking God’s message. Appropriately, those who believed in the Lord recognized these writings and sayings to be God’s word as well. They were treated carefully, therefore, so that the Lord would speak to other generations, like us, though these passages.

The result of this work of God through the authors of scripture and the prophets is that we can have great confidence in their words. They reveal the living God to us, provide us with eternal insight that is useful for everyday service to his, and give us hope that sustains us through problems in this life and our exit from it. This is why we study the text carefully, try to learn what it says and does not say, and apply to our lives through obedience. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 16, Psalm 19, Proverbs 30, 1 Timothy 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 16, Psalm 19, Proverbs 30, 1 Timothy 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Psalm 19.

Someone* once said that God has given us two books: Scripture and nature. This is not a perfect analogy, but it is a useful one. Psalm 19 explores these two expressions of God’s revelation. Verses 1-6 describe the book of nature; verses 7-13 describe the book of scripture. Verse 14 gives a benediction to conclude the passage. 

First the Psalmist writes about nature (also called “general revelation”). It tells us of the glory of God—what makes him great, unique, magnificent (v. 1a). This quality of God is revealed by “the heavens” (v. 1a) and the “skies” (v. 1b). These aspects of creation bear witness to the craftsmanship of God. Rather than products of random chance, they speak powerfully of a God who created. Day and night, according to verse 2, they shout to humanity about the existence and magnificent power of God. They do this wordlessly (v. 3) but effectively in a way that testifies to all people no matter where they reside on earth (v. 4a-b). In verses 4c-6, the Psalmist focused his meditation on the sun. It resides in the sky which God created to be its home (“a tent,” v. 4b) and emerges each day with brilliance and energy, like a man whose wedding day has finally arrived (v. 5a) or a sprinter who is ready to run for the gold medal (v. 5b). The movement of the sun sheds light on the entire earth so that no one is unaware of its existence or deprived of its benefits (v. 6). This testifies to the goodness of God; even those who reject him receive the gracious benefits of his creation. Many have tried to use science to disprove the existence of God but the more we learn about our world and universe, the more we see how finely tuned this world is to support life. All of this testifies to the power and goodness of God, but it does so wordlessly. Since it is wordless, it cannot tell us of God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, grace, etc.

Scripture (also called “special revelation”) is, therefore, more helpful and revelatory for knowing God. It is perfect (v. 7a), trustworthy (v. 7b), right (v. 8a), radiant (v. 8b), “pure” (v 9a), “firm” and “righteous” (v. 9b). These terms are piled up by the Psalmist to emphasize how much greater and more powerful the scriptures are than nature in revealing God. They are also more beneficial to the spiritual life of humanity as indicated in the phrases “refreshing the soul” (v. 7b), “making wise the simple (v, 7d), “giving joy to the heart” (v. 8b) and so on.

While creation is magnificent and draws the heart of the believer to worship, it is not nearly as valuable for our spiritual life as scripture is; this is why the Psalmist says they are “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (v. 10). Specifically, they warn us about sin and its consequences (v. 11a) while promising blessing to us for obedience (v. 11b). Yet the Psalmist knows that, in our own natural state we are unable to live obediently to God’s perfect, pure, priceless Word, so we need God’s grace in forgiveness and sanctification (vv. 12-13). He concludes this meditation on divine revelation with a prayer that God would be pleased with it as an act of worship (v. 14). 

What an incredible gift the scriptures are to us; they provide everything we need to know God in his personality, character, will, and ways. This is why we read his word daily and why I try each week to explain and apply it to your life. There are many insights that come from studying nature, but the insights that transform lives for eternity come from God’s word alone.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

*According to this article it was Francis Bacon. While I agree with the author’s criticism of the “two book” claim, Psalm 19 shows that the concept is a biblical one if the differences between these two revelations are understood.