Without a doubt, the grandest mystery of Scripture--next to the nature of the Trinity--is the Incarnation. We’ll camp out on the head-scratcher of who Jesus is/was when we get into the Gospel of John in a couple of months, but today’s passage is so short, yet so packed with meaning, that I wanted to touch upon it here.
By the way, this is another advertisement for a good study Bible. If you don’t have one, this story is a bit difficult to understand. Back in Exodus 30:13, Moses instructed Israel to institute a half-shekel tax on every male. This was to be used for the upkeep of the Tabernacle, the official place where man met God in fellowship and worship. They carried that over to the temple of Jesus’ day.
The collectors came to Peter and asked him whether his Master paid the temple tax, and I love how Peter just went ahead and answered on his behalf. He assumed that if it was the law, then his Master would obey it, which apparently was Jesus’ standard.
So Peter went to his Lord about this, and Jesus asked a simple question, and this is where we “part the curtain” just a little bit on the subject of the Incarnation. As he frequently did, Matthew recorded Christ as starting off with these words: “What do you think. . .?” Obviously if a king has subjects, he’s going to tax them and not his own sons, right? The temple was built as “[his] Father’s house” and he considered it as such.
As God’s Son he was exempt from all this. But there’s a phrase I learned a long time ago that’s saved me a lot of unnecessary strife: PYB—Pick Your Battles. He put up with the minor humiliation of paying the temple tax in order to “not offend them.” He willingly subjected himself to human authority as part of his Father’s plan. This is just among the smallest of the little sacrifices he made in order to participate in humanity.
On a related note, this is a little insight into Jesus’ economic status. In order to pay this tax, which was about two-days wages, the Lord resorted to miraculous means to meet his obligations. He didn’t have a secure home during his earthly ministry, and he was, by choice, living a life of poverty.
Of course, these hardships are pretty trivial compared to what he was going to go through later. But within these verses we see encapsulated the mystery of the Incarnation: God made flesh, willingly subjecting himself. And why did he do this? Among other reasons, it was for you and me. It was for our benefit. It was all part of the Father’s plan to rescue us, you and me, from the mess we put ourselves in.
Lord Jesus, this is not even the tip of the iceberg of what you went through for me. When I start to complain about some “hardship” I’m going through, please shut my mouth up, and let me talk about a more worthwhile subject, like you.