Choose sacrifice over self-righteousness
This study guide is adapted from a message shared at Corner Church in Minneapolis, MN.
We’re continuing in Matthew, in a section now that is based on perspectives of who Jesus is/was to people. Today we’re shifting gears a little bit as Jesus’ message talks about children and the kingdom, and what it might look like to be a ‘child of God’.
Think about your relationship with your parents now.
- What are some defining characteristics?
- How often do you talk with your parents?
- Do you have a relatively good or bad relationship with them?
- How do you view your parents as an adult?
- Think back to your childhood for a moment, how often did you interact with your parents?
- What was growing up as a child like for you?
- How did you view your parents when you were young?
How is a relationship with a parent different from other relationships?
How has your relationship with your parent(s) changed over time?
Today is a moment that comes directly after the transfiguration Jesus, where he shares the reality of where things are headed with his disciples. Imagine being Peter and seeing the craziness of the transfiguration then hearing Jesus saything these words:
Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time
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.
I imagine Jesus saying something like, “hey I know you kind of understand who I am, that you’ve left everything you have to follow me, but… I’m going to die soon”
They were filled with grief probably on many different levels
- Their friend is going to die
- Their leader is going to die
- Their Messiah is going to die
It was easy for them to see death as the end of all of their experiences, hopes and expectations of who Jesus is. It all bing over. Gone… Then Jesus shifts gears and talk about something else:
It’s interesting in the midst of everything that Jesus continually comes back to this idea of his death, continually reminding the disciples of what’s to come, and still dealing with life things that, in comparison, don’t really seem to matter as much. If I were a disciple, I probably would have asked Jesus to pump the brakes a bit. “Hey, let’s slow down and talk about this.” I would ask questions like: “how do we stop your death, because you still need to save us from Rome and be our king…”
The story continues:
The Temple Tax
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.
I find it interesting that after everything Peter has seen Jesus do, he still answers that Jesus pays the temple tax. That all of his power and the truth of who He is, is still confined to the Jewish traditions. Either Peter is still not fully understanding who Jesus is, or he believes that Jesus is still under the authority of the law. Think about it. The purpose of this tax was for the upkeep of the temple. The purpose of the temple was to house the presence of God. Jesus was about to change everything. In Jesus’ death we see the temple curtain that represents the physical barrier between God and humanity be torn in two. Why would Jesus pay the temple tax? Why would he pay for the upkeep of the very thing that he is about to change? Jesus of anyone would have reason to be exempt.
We all experience points in our lives where we are exempt from certain things. It’s a really great feeling to be exempt from things we don’t want to do.
- I’m exempt from doing a chore (I don’t have to do it anymore, I’ve moved on)
- I’m exempt from working a specific job (I’ve put my time in, I don’t have to do it anymore)
What did Jesus mean by “the children are exempt”?
What does that say about children/parent relationships?
I wonder what Peter may have been thinking in this moment. I wonder if he thought that he finally got it: “Wait. So you’re saying…you don’t actually have to pay this, right? That’s amazing! Can we just say we’re with you so we don’t have to pay it either?”
As we’ve read through Matthew, we’ve seen this amazing picture of a God who was willing to come to humanity and experience life through our lenses. This character of Jesus, the messiah, who came and lived among people and gave all of himself. If there were any people in history to this point who could have claimed sonship as a means to get out of something, it would have been Jesus. He absolutely had every right to claim exemption from pretty much any human activity on account of him being the son of God. But he didn’t. Instead Jesus spoke these words:
27 “But so that we may not cause offense, 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.”
There are a hundred ways Jesus could have gone about this interaction. He could have:
- Refused to pay the tax and given some cryptic parable to the tax collectors
- Snuck through the crowds to avoid the tax collectors at all costs
- Told Peter to “just figure it out”
- Opened his palm and had the coins materialize right there
Instead, he painted this picture of choosing to submit himself to something he was exempt from for the sake of others. I find it’s difficult enough to submit myself to things I’m supposed to do for other people; there’s no way I’d easily do something I’m exempt from for someone else.
Why does Jesus pay the temple tax?
What is the significance?
This picture of Jesus submitting himself to this tax I think is a challenge to us. It’s too easy to put life into these boxes of success and building ourselves up. We like to think and say things like:
- “I don’t have to do that anymore, I’ve done my time.”
- “That’s not really my job.”
- “Eh, I don’t actually have to do that, and I really don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.”
But, Jesus in this moment, says:
- I am completely exempt from this, and many other things.
- I have access to unlimited power and divinity, and could literally do anything I wanted.
- So, I’m going to submit myself to something that other people might say is so far below me, and I’m not going to do it for the sake of my own celebration, but as to be a peacemaker.
Remember we started this whole series in the beatitudes, and what does Jesus say about peacemakers?
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God’
To be considered exempt we must often do the very thing we believe to be exempt from. We must choose sacrifice over self righteousness. We’ll talk more about it next week, but it’s this beautiful moment where Jesus brings a child into his group and says “This child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Actually, if you don’t become like this child, you won’t be able to see the kingdom.”
What does it mean to you to be a son or daughter of God?
Take it deeper
- Read Matthew 17, Romans 9, 1 Corinthians 10
- What is something you inherited from your family?
- What does it mean to be somebody’s son?
- Why was Jesus exempt from the temple tax?
- What things do you feel like you are exempt from?
- What does it look like for your to be a peacemaker?
- How do you handle moments in life where you feel pressure to do or not do certain things in order to not offend someone?
- What does an ideal relationship with a parent look like?
- What does an ideal relationship with God look like?