The Free, The Fish, The Faith

Matthew 17:24—27
24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? 25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”

Just like that the scene is over. It starts, develops and ends in four verses. But within these verses is an interesting account that is overlooked often times.

I want to examine three huge things:
Christ’s omniscience in this miracle
Christ’s overwhelming humility
Christ’s outstanding provision

Hopefully then, I can explain how this applies to our life today.

Let’s get a picture of the scene, first.
According to verse 24, here we have Jesus and His disciples. They’ve just experienced the transfiguration of Jesus and have to this point seen some awesome things accomplished.

Now they’ve arrived at Capernaum. This is a famous biblical city for a number of reasons.

This seems to be the city that Jesus first began His ministry in and spent time there. (Matthew 4:13, 17)

In fact, this city was called Jesus’ own city. (Matthew 9:1)

It also appears that Peter had a house here. (Matthew 8:5, 14)

The city had many wondrous things done in it by the Lord but remained unrepentant. (Matthew 11:23)

That said, Jesus knew this city well. Peter knew the city well and even lived here at one point. Here they are visiting again. Peter goes out and meets whoever is collecting this tribute or a double-drachma tax. These were not the publicans or roman tax gatherers. Whoever it was, they were asking if Christ was going to pay the temple tax.

It seems that over time, Exodus 30:12—14 became a fixed thing. Every year a half shekel should be paid by every Israelite 20 and over, except women, children, and servants, towards helping the necessary charges of the temple service.

1. Christ’s omniscience in this miracle
Verse 24—Does not your master pay this tax? This was a searching question, to me it seems like a probing and poking question.  Almost as if they’re looking for something to pin on Him. Something they can run and tell on that He’s not doing. “Doesn’t your master claim to be the Son of God? Then why shouldn’t he pay the tax to the Temple? Isn’t that His Father’s house?”

V25—All Peter says is yes. He doesn’t get into a lengthy conversation about how they’ve been traveling around, blah blah blah. He just answers quickly. Without consulting his Master, or even letting him know of the demand, Peter answered yes. Jesus may have paid the rate in former years, and might be confidently supposed to be ready to do so again.

I cannot help but think there may be another feeling that caused the quick reply, and made him pledge Jesus to the payment. Maybe he had fear in his heart caused by Christ’s warning and prophecy that He would be killed shortly. This made him anxious to live at peace with all men to this end.

As much as he could, Peter would shield his Master from the day prophesied; remember one chapter earlier he opposed this greatly. (Matthew 16:23) And as they came to take Christ away in Matthew 26, Peter cuts off the ear of a man!

So, thinking only of present safety, forgetting or willfully ignoring Christ’s position, he answered hastily, “Yes,” for Jesus.

I don’t know what’s going through Peter’s mind right now exactly. But I know what probably would have been going through mine:

“We’ve been on the road, we’re broke, we’re tired. Now they’re bugging us for this tax and we haven’t even been here. Jesus just said He was going to be killed. How am I going to handle this one? Do I ask Him? Do I ignore it? Do we have to pay it, technically? As long as Jesus pays it there won’t be trouble. That’s what I want.”

I say that because we can relate to Peter so well. And although He’d seen so many miracles and awesome things, he sure had his moments. I mean the guy forsook Christ three times even after Christ warned him he would. Peter was probably wondering what they were going to do about this. The rest of the verse seems to cover that.

Jesus prevented him. Or it could read, He spoke first. Behold, the omniscience of Jesus who knows men’s hearts even as the Son of Man!

“Peter, I heard your heart. I know that troubled you. I always hear your heart. But hold up, God is here. Jesus, the Son of Man, the Sinless Son of God, is present with you.”

I guess Peter forgets this. We all do. We forget that God hears our thoughts and hearts and intents.

Jesus asks him a question. Not because He doesn’t know the answer but because He is showing Peter who’s in control. Here’s Peter who had just answered for Jesus, coming in to talk to the Lord about this but Jesus speaks first. Jesus asks who pays taxes. The king’s children or the people of the land?

V26—Strangers, people of the land, Peter answers. “Then are the children free,” Christ says. Wonder if Peter then realized what he’d done? He’d just answered for Jesus, now Christ implies “I am the Son of God, as you, Peter, have acknowledged before; this tax is for the house and service of God, whose Son I am; therefore I am free from the obligation of paying it; it cannot be required that I should pay tribute to my Father.”

Oh, Peter. Foot in mouth. Oh, me. I see myself in this.

Moreover, if this was indeed a tribute toward the atonement or ransom for souls, why would Christ need to pay it? His soul didn’t need paying for! He was sinless!

See, Peter had forgotten just truly who Jesus was.
Therefore, Jesus mercifully showed forth His God-attributes as a reminder to Peter.

2. The overwhelming humility of Christ
V27—The very Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords does not need to pay this tax. But see His humility: “notwithstanding/however/nevertheless so that we do not offend them, I’ll pay this.”

Here is the second person of the Trinity, who took equal part in the very creation of the world, agreeing to pay a tax that goes towards His Father’s house – which is His very house! This is the One by whom the very structure of our universe is held together by the Word of His power. He who makes the sun to rise and set, who controls the hurricanes and the winds and comets and the stars… The Son of Man, Son of God who OWNS EVERYTHING and has ALL WEALTH AND WISDOM AND RICHES…

This is who is going to pay this tribute tax.

If that wasn’t enough, what’s the account say here?
 “Peter, go and do this and you’ll find a coin that will pay for us.”

Jesus, who owed no man anything, the One to whom ALL things are due unto, doesn’t have a shekel to pay this tribute. This is the poorest of the poor. Even the widow had a mite to put in, be it her last, she still had it. Jesus didn’t not have any money to pay this tribute. That is poverty. He says earlier that “foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Our Savior had no place to lay His head. He didn’t have a penny. It’s heartbreaking to me. He was so poor. He gave up everything for us. He accounted it all worth losing to save His people. If your soul cannot say amen to that you are not saved.

That is humility. No one else has come close.

3. The outstanding provision of Christ
There was a need. Christ would pay this tax so that there would be no fuss over Him not doing it. He would pay it to ensure that He was fulfilling all righteousness. He would pay it to show that He loved His Father’s house. The need was a double drachma. They had no money. What happens?.

Go fishing!

Here’s Peter-the fisherman-Lord, I’ve never seen a coin in a fish’s mouth ever. EVER.
It also seems that Peter, like most big fishing rigs nowadays still do, used nets.

Look at Luke 5.
This wasn’t the first time Jesus had told Peter to catch some fish.
Here he is at the same lake again. But this time Jesus tells him to use a hook.

“Seriously, Jesus I’ve never seen a fish with money in it’s mouth. But I remember what you did here before. So I’ll go.”

Do you see the sovereignty of God here?
Jesus knew that the fish was in this body of water.
Jesus knew that this fish was to be hooked.
He knew it was to be the first fish.
And He knew it would have the EXACT payment for the both of them for this tribute.

But think about this:
way before that, God had ordained this fish be born.
He had ordained at some point to never let this fish be caught by another fisherman.
He had ordained someone to drop or throw money into the water one day!
He’d made this fish see it and swallow it!
Then He directed it to Peter’s hook when the fish was made willing by God!

Don’t miss this miracle. This is an incredible miracle made from everyday things!!!

Some might ask why did He only provide enough for Him and Peter? Peter’s house was here and so he was liable to pay it, lawfully. Christ did it out of a heart of mercy and pureness. The rest of the disciples, we must assume, had already paid or weren’t of this area.

Our lives today and this miracle
Just like that, the Scriptures go silent about it and move on to the next thought.
Someone has said this silence to be very profound in Scripture.
It is the total closure and completion of what was said.

It doesn’t have to say that Peter went out and did it. The Scriptures are true and it must be taken that it did happen just as the Word says. These are not fables and stories. These are real events.

I say that to say this: if you desire to see the Lord work in your life in these ways, you have to believe that these things truly happened. There’s nothing fictitious about this account.

Yes, it’s odd. But it’s odd that God would save us; that one moment we hate God, the next we’re broken and see ourselves undone then the next we have a new Spirit and love dwelling in us!

That’s a much wilder story than a fish with a coin!

Let’s take this story and make it real in our own lives
Christ knows what’s going on in our life. He knows what we say and what we think. He knows what our needs are. We need to consult Him. He is the Son of God and has authority over all things. Go to Him when faced with moments like this.
Christ’s humility must be a reminder to us. Some may be called unto great poverty. Take heart, Christ was there. But He holds all riches and we are the joint-heirs with Him of such an inheritance.

Christ’s provisions are constantly being worked because He knows all and humbled Himself to know exactly how we live as humans.

However, don’t neglect our responsibilities: Peter had to go fishing.
Jesus didn’t make the money fall from the sky, He didn’t have Peter do something different. He took his everyday job and caused a blessing from it.

Jesus may give us a similar task: take this job, have this surgery, go to this place, talk to these people. As He asks we must go in faith. When we do there will be blessing and reward, not in the mouth of the supply, but in the act of being supplied.

Peter went fishing and caught that first fish and that fish had the shekel in it’s mouth.
So sure, the tax was paid, but do you really think Peter was caught up in the fact it was paid?

He was blessed that the Lord had used him to perform such a wondrous thing!
Don’t miss this: God caused the miracle but Jesus USED Peter to perform it.
He used an everyday kind of thing to bring about teaching and blessing.

There are everyday miracles all round us;
We won’t all do spectacular things or even great things, not even big things for the Lord.
I may never witness to a single soul in Japan or Mongolia or Scotland.
I will probably never smuggle Bibles across hostile Chinese borders.
I might never trek my way through a humid jungle in Africa to preach to a tribe of people who have never heard of the Bible.
I may never preach a message at a revival where 50 or 100 people are saved in a week.

But the reality is, God can perform something incredible in our lives every day, if we’ll just pray and look for it.
Lord, give me some time to talk to him.
Father, put me alone in a car with that guy.
Cause that lady to ask me a question.
Father, give me discernment while driving.
Show me something as I open up the Scriptures.

Our mundane and daily life is more important to the cause of Christ than hiking into the Himalayas of Nepal for a day to teach. I’m not diminishing the need there. It’s about the life we’ve been given right now.

Our life—whether we use it or waste—that’s what matters. And God has made ways for all of us to live in such a way that we can look to Him for supply.

The blessing isn’t the fish or even the coin in the fish’s mouth, though we can praise Him for both…

The blessing and reward is in the fact that He used us to do so.

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