What was it that Shakespeare wrote? “Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Pity the disciples! They were with true greatness in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was great as only God is great. They were not. They had not been born great. They had not achieved greatness. They had not had greatness thrust upon them. Yet they wanted so much to be great.
In Matthew 17, Peter was asked if Jesus pays the tax. Some commentators point out the fact that this tax was for the support of the temple in Jerusalem, and therefore was a matter of nationalistic pride, while taxes leveled by the Romans were resented by most of the conquered peoples, including Jews. But Jesus’ words seem to reach beyond a merely Jewish tax. His illustration about kings and their taxes mentions both duty and taxes. “Duty” is the translation of the Greek word which refers to the local taxes collected at the custom houses by tax collectors. “Taxes” is where we get the English word “census.” This suggests that the principle of paying taxes so as not to give offense extends to all taxes rather than only to what we might think of as dues to support an approved religious function.
Another failure in Matthew 17 is briefly mentioned. It is the disciple’s failure to understand Jesus’ prediction of His death and resurrection. This is the second explicit prediction in Matthew, (the first was in ch.16).
In 1517, the same year in which Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Raphael Sanzio began a painting of Christ’s transfiguration. When he died in 1520 at the age of thirty-seven, the painting was not finished, but Raphael had completed enough for us to understand it. He showed Jesus on the mountain with Peter, James, and John. Everything is bathed with light. But in the same painting, at the bottom, Raphael shows the other nine disciples trying to cast a demon out of the epileptic boy and failing miserably. It is a way of saying that mountain-top experiences coexist with valleys and only by the power of the Son of God can we have victories in our lives.
The combined awareness of the Lord’s grace and His majesty, His love and His justice, His friendship and His lordship should cause a kind of spiritual tension in every believer. On the one hand he rejoices in his loving fellowship with the Lord because of His gracious kindness, and on the other hand he has reverential fear as he contemplates His awesome holiness and righteousness. As the believer walks in obedience to God, he experiences the comfort of His presence. But as he walks in disobedience, he should feel the terror of that same presence.
We finished last week by asking if anything could be more relevant than listening to Jesus…“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him” (Matthew 17.5b ESV).