Lessons from Luke: Taxation and the birth of Christ
Last Monday, I announced a new series of articles dealing with the subject of money in the Gospel of Luke. Keep in mind that the book of Luke was a letter written to a rich man by a rich man. Some commentators have said that a major theme of the book of Luke is to expose wealth as an enemy of faith. I know that Luke often mentions money and this is a blog about money, but it is important to note that the book of Luke is not about finance. The book of Luke was written to present Jesus Christ, as God-in-the-Flesh, the Savior of those who believe in Him. My posts in this series are not meant to detract from that truth, but to simply note the times that the subject of finance is mentioned in the book of Luke and how it might relate to our (the GLBL community) development of a biblical view of money.
The first time that money is mentioned is during the account of the birth of Christ that we read in Luke chapter 2:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2:1-5 (ESV)
Jesus’ parents were Galileans who lived in the city of Nazareth in the north, yet his birth occurred in Bethlehem, a city in Judea, the southern part of Palestine. What was the reason for such a change in venue? The answer is taxes. Some translations use the word “census”, some use the word “tax” and the translation that I have chosen here uses the word “registration”. All of those words indicate that the underlying reason for travel at such an awkward stage for a young mother with child was the Roman Empire’s need for funding.
Now, I think that most of us have a general dislike for government taxes, especially big government taxes. I am less begrudging of city and state taxes, but federal taxes seem to be the most abused . . . do not get me started. There might be a few of us who really, really dislike government confiscation of wealth and the resultant squandering of that wealth to the point where we are tempted to become tax scoff-laws or illegally reduce what we owe the IRS. I am tempted to be the first person on that bandwagon.
However, this story brings to mind two other taxation stories that we find in the life of Christ, the first is the scene where Christ tells those in his hearing to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The other story is a discussion of the so-called “temple tax”. Christ was being pressed to pay his fare share of this tax and he famously told Peter to catch a fish and the coin would be found in the fish’s mouth.
The biblical view of taxes, especially the view presented by the life of Christ is one of submission. Here, Joseph and Mary are submitting to taxation by a government who has taken over their own country and the most likely use for those taxes by the Romans was to further expand the borders of the Roman Empire. The temporal, human view of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem was ultimately to fund war!
But God, in His sovereignty has the last laugh – the tax or census or registration in which Mary and Joseph were participating resulted in the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. God bent the power of the Roman Empire to carry out his purposes on the earth. God does not call his children to resist or worry about taxes, but to submit and trust that He is in control and will meet our needs.
Article by Stew
Photo by portableantiquities