This is the fourth lesson in an emphasis that challenges you to deepen your understanding of transformation. In the first two lessons we dealt with the fact that what humans became after rebelling against God in no way compared with what God intended when He created us. We are nothing like what God intended for us to be.

In the third lesson I focused your attention on the fact that the objective of transformation in Christ is on radically changing ourselves as persons. The goal of Christians is to journey toward the intentions of God when God made us. Jesus Christ is our guide. We know we are journeying to the highest good known to humans.

For two or three weeks I want us to focus on specific illustrations from scripture that reveal and stress the nature of transformation. Tonight I want to illustrate the meaning and nature of transformation by focusing on the tax collectors.

  1. Let's begin by going back to the first century world of tax collecting in Jewish society in Jewish Palestine.
    1. In the world of right now, today, most people do not like to pay taxes.
      1. I had my truck worked on recently, and $63 of the bill was taxes.
        1. That was not the business's fault--they had to charge the $63.
        2. That was not the mechanic's fault--it cost what it cost to do the work.
        3. It merely was the cost of living in Fort Smith and in this nation.
        4. Though I greatly enjoy living in Fort Smith and cherish living in this nation, I do not enjoy paying taxes.
      2. My Dad hated paying taxes--he almost regarded it as something dishonest which was trying to steal his money.
        1. He died of complications created by Alzheimer's about a decade ago.
        2. One of the last things he forgot was the quarterly due date for paying his taxes.
        3. Even sick, he would get so upset around the time to pay quarterly taxes that we feared he might have a heart attack.
        4. He really, really hated to pay taxes, and his dislike of taxes grew after he retired.
    2. The first thing we need to understand is the Jewish attitude toward tax collectors in first century Jewish society had little to do with a general dislike of taxes today.
      1. With us, we do not like giving our money to our government.
      2. With Jewish society in Palestine, there was much more involved.

  2. Why did the Jews in Palestine dislike paying taxes so much?
    1. The first thing is that the tax collectors mentioned in the gospels were not collecting taxes for the Jewish state, but for the Roman Empire.
      1. Their taxes were not going to support a Jewish cause, or Jewish society, or to help the nation of Israel--they were supporting a gentile government and occupation force.
      2. It is very difficult for us to understand how offensive it was to Jewish people to support a gentile empire.
        1. Their intense desire was for Rome to leave them alone, to get their troops out of their country, and to let them govern Israel as they wished.
        2. Jewish law always had been very generous in Jews helping Jews, and in Jewish society taking care of its own.
        3. Consider just the first 11 verses of Deuteronomy 15.
          Deuteronomy 15:1-11, "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord's remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' "
      3. Note: that was to be the Jewish attitude toward Jewish people in the society.
      4. To give support to gentiles who are hostile toward the Jewish people of Palestine was quite another matter!

  3. Second, there was a radical sect within first century Jewish people who regarded any kind of support to a government other that Israel as an act of treason toward God.
    1. They were known as Zealots.
      1. In their view, the only One who has the right to rule Israel was God.
      2. To support an idolatrous empire to supplant God's rule in Israel was a rejection of God, an act of treason against Israel!
      3. They were so convinced this was absolute truth that they felt it was an act of faith in God to kill a tax collector!
    2. To them, giving money to tax collectors was a religious issue to be dealt with through an act of faith in God!
      1. They realized that the average Jew was helpless when he was assessed by a tax collector.
      2. They also realized that their responsibility was to express contempt when they were convinced they could escape.

  4. Third, the Roman system for collecting taxes lent itself to excess, exploitation, and corruption.
    1. Consider the structure.
      1. The Roman government "bid out" the right to collect taxes in a region of the empire.
        1. The Roman government would say, "We need X revenue from this region of the empire."
        2. Wealthy people would bid on the right to collect taxes in that region.
        3. Anything they collected above the government's demand was their profit.
      2. These regional collectors often would hire managers in specific districts of the region (like Zacchaeus).
        1. The man would have a specific sum he must collect in the district.
        2. Anything he collected above that sum was his.
      3. Often these managers would hire local people in the district to do the actual collecting.
        1. It was their job actually to collect the amount assigned by their manager.
        2. If they collected more than the manager requested, the amount they collected above what was required was theirs.
      4. It does not take a genius to see that the system lent itself to opportunity for abuse.
    2. This is not to suggest that every tax collector was dishonest, but it acknowledges that tax collectors were commonly associated with dishonesty.
      1. First, they were considered "unclean" by the "faithful" in Jewish society because they had unacceptable forms of contact with gentile people.
      2. Second, they were regarded to be thieves because they were often fraudulent and extortioners.
      3. The common attitude toward tax collectors easily is seen in the way they are referred to.
        1. Often in the gospels the Pharisees associated them with sinners: "Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (see Matthew 9:10-13)
        2. At times the chief priests and elders denounced them by associating them with prostitutes: Jesus noted that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom before the chief priests and elders did. (See Matthew 21:31)

  5. Keeping in mind the contempt that faithful Jewish society had toward local Jews who collect taxes for the Roman Empire, consider these matters.
    1. Consider the "unthinkable lesson" Jesus gave in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
      1. Briefly review this "prayer story."
      2. The Pharisee would symbolize the ultimate righteous man in their society.
      3. The tax collector would symbolize the ultimate unrighteous man in their society.
      4. The end result was the exact opposite of what that religious society expected: God heard the prayer of the tax collector, not the Pharisee; God forgave the tax collector, not the Pharisee.
      5. Jesus' point was incredible!
    2. Consider the "unthinkable lesson" Jesus taught in his visit to the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).
      1. Briefly relate the story about Jesus' visit.
      2. Of all the homes in Jericho to visit, why go to the chief tax collector's home?
        1. To bring salvation to Zacchaeus!
        2. As a Jew, he had every right to hear Jesus!
      3. Jesus desire to "seek and save the lost" was incredible!

  6. Jesus had contact with Jewish tax collectors, which was forbidden!
    1. Jesus called Matthew (a personal invitation!) to follow him and selected him to be one of the twelve (Matthew 9:9).
    2. Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors (Luke 5:29-32).
    3. Jesus used a tax collector to teach a God value (Luke 18:9-14).
    4. Jesus visited Zacchaeus (19:1-10)

  7. When tax collectors followed Jesus as a disciple, did they continue to be fraudulent people who extorted others?
    1. No! Jesus pursued them as the lost!
      1. Accepting him meant transformation, a commitment to change!
      2. His love for them changed them!
    2. That is a difficult, hard lesson for us to learn.
      1. We are more prone to seek people we like instead of seeking people Jesus died to save.
      2. We find it hard to believe people can redirect their lives.
      3. We find it difficult to call people to change by leading the way in changing our lives.

May our attitudes not be kindred to the attitudes of the Pharisees. May our attitudes be committed to transformation, and may our willingness to change give hope to those who need Jesus!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 4 July 2004

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