Thursday, January 14, 2010

Obedient in All Things

So Dick reminded me just now that it's been a long time, over a month in fact, since I posted on here. Sadly I've been swamped with school and work but just haven't remembered to take the time to get something up. So here's a new post and hopefully I can keep them coming on a more regular basis now.

Obedient in all Things
By Matthew Pickens

I think that Matthew 17:24-27 is a fascinating passage that we often gloss over when we read Matthew’s account of Jesus life. This is the passage where collectors come to Peter to ask if Jesus will pay the temple tax. Peter immediately answers affirmatively. When Peter comes into the house Jesus asks him, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” Peter rightly answers, “From others.” Jesus points out that this means that the sons are free from the tax. His implication is that as Son of God he does not have to pay the tax due to the King of the temple. Yet he then gives Peter instructions to go and catch and fish and promises that there will be enough money in the fish’s mouth to pay the tax for both Jesus and Peter.
The reason I find this passage so intriguing is because it really gives us a fascinating picture of Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament and to the Old Testament law in particular. We should consider Jesus’ comments about how he is free from this tax. First, we should remember that as the eternal Second Person of the Trinity the temple tax was ultimately due to Jesus. Second, ultimately Jesus was the source and giver of the Old Testament law that commanded the tax. Third, because he is Son of God Jesus was the true heir of the King who commanded and received the temple tax and therefore he was free from it just like any prince would not have to pay taxes to his own father.
This should lead us to ask why Jesus decided to pay the tax anyway. It certainly wasn’t simply because Peter said that Jesus would. Instead this is an example of Jesus’ voluntarily submitting himself to the law on our behalf. Matthew tells us that at the Jordan River John did not want to baptize Jesus because he knew that he was the one who should have been baptized by the Christ. Yet Jesus insists upon being baptized by John “in order to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:13-15) This scene tells us that Jesus does not undergo a baptism of repentance because he had any sins of his own that needed repentance but rather in order to identify himself with his Messianic people. Jesus is baptized at the Jordan River to show that he will represent us before God and God accepts this sign of obedience by proclaiming from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)
So what we see here in Matthew 17 is the outworking of Jesus’ identifying himself with us. He does not obey this law about the temple tax for his own good. Instead he does it so that as our representative he might be perfectly obedient to all of God’s commands. Paul tells us that the many are made righteous through the obedience of the one Man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:19). Theologically when we talk about the imputation of Jesus’ obedience to us we talk about both his active and passive obedience. Here we just mean that God’s law has both commands we must obey and then proclaims the penalty of death for disobedience. Jesus’ active obedience means that he perfectly obeyed all of God’s commands in our place and his passive obedience means that he also bore the punishment for our disobedience when he died on the cross.

So the next time you come across this story about the temple tax in your readings take a moment to remember that 2,000 years ago Jesus lived a life that was perfectly obedient to all of God’s laws so that in union with him you are also considered to be perfectly obedient. He then also bore God’s wrath in your place so that God’s righteous justice is perfectly satisfied. This is what Paul means when he writes to the church in Corinth, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)