Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 7
March 19, 2006
12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
1901 ASV Translation:
12 And there came also publicans to be baptized, and they said unto him, Teacher, what must we do?
13 And he said unto them, Extort no more than that which is appointed you.
- I. Luke's Focus Upon the "Tax Collectors" [9 of 21 uses in the New Testament are found in Luke].
- A. According to Matthew 5:46-47, the "publicans" were commonly understood to be on the lowest rung of "those who do what is right" (i.e., one would never expect it of them) -- see also Matthew 21:31 and Luke 7:34.
- 1. The "system" of tax gathering was "tiered". At the top was a person living in Rome who paid the Roman government a set fee for the legal right to "tax" a defined territory. In the middle was a person who actually lived in the defined territory who oversaw the gathering of the taxes for the person in Rome. At the bottom of the rung was the actual tax-gatherer who did the work of collecting the taxes in the territory. There had to have been a lot of "slop" in the gears because every level was able to profit significantly -- i.e., to "set" the amount of the taxes that were to be collected.
- 2. The potential for enormous abuse was "built-in" and the people who were involved in the process were morally "low-lifes"--so the abuse was "automatic".
- B. Luke's next reference to a publican (after the one in our current study) is in 5:27 where Jesus calls "Levi" to follow Him.
- C. In 7:29 Luke deliberately highlights the "publicans" as among those who "heard Jesus" and "justified God"...with no other specific group identified.
- D. In Luke 18:10-14 we find Luke's clearest declaration of what it takes to be "justified", and he deliberately pits the "Pharisee" against the "publican"...and announces that God will not reject the humble (no matter how bad they have been) and will not accept the proud (no matter how good they have been).
- II. Luke's "Point" in Using the "Tax Collectors".
- A. He says of them that they "came to be baptized".
- 1. This is a declaration that they "embraced" the message of "forgiveness upon repentance".
- 2. This is also a declaration that they "embraced" the message of the "snakiness of man" as the foundation for seeking forgiveness.
- B. He uses them, as a group, because they are the front line of Rome's exercise of the "fang".
- 1. The "snakiness" of man is a doctrine of man's penchant for "life by the fang".
- 2. "Life by the fang" presupposes, and depends heavily upon, the presence of a "poison" that has the ability to destroy.
- 3. Tax monies were the very life blood of Rome's empire...they made all of Rome's exercise of the "fang" possible.
- 4. As the life blood, money represents the "poison" and, for that cause, the tax collectors became living representatives of the "poison of the fangs".
- a. Technically, it is not "money" that "poisons" men; it is, rather, men's attitude toward money.
- b. It is man's attitude toward money that gives "snakes" the power to dominate. [In the early days of the abortion wars, protestors made a big deal out of being willing to go to jail for a few days -- temporarily frustrating the opposition -- but it was not long before suits were put into place that took "money" away from the protestors -- and the impact was pretty swift.]
- c. Thus, the "poison" of Rome was the universal bondage of man to the impression of the power of money.
- C. He highlights them because he intends to unveil the idolatry of covetousness.
- 1. Those closest to the poison are the most aware of the power it contains.
- a. It is not the "taxed" who are most aware: they simply gripe about having their money taken away from them, being completely unaware that their griping is a manifestation of how poisoned they are.
- b. It is the "tax-ers" who "understand" because they see, all day every day, just how powerful money is in its grip on people.
- 2. Those who are most aware are also those who have been most deeply poisoned by it.
- 3. Those most deeply poisoned are often those who see with the greatest clarity just how wicked it is for people to be "poisoned"...thus generating "repentance" as a means of escape.
- D. He records John's command: "Do nothing more than what has been appointed to you."
- 1. John does not command them to forsake their jobs.
- 2. John does command them to do their jobs as it has been "appointed" to them.
- a. This means establishing a legitimate value of the taxable item(s).
- b. This means scaling back one's own appetite for wealth. [Illustration: tree cutters and stump removers who decided to gouge when the hurricanes came. They could have grown both wealthy and retained their good reputations, but they decided to simply grow extremely wealthy.]