Tonight, we’re going to be looking at one of the least-known of Jesus’ miracles – in fact, one of the least-known of biblical miracles. I wonder if you’ve ever heard this story. Turn to Matthew 17:24-27.
24After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25“Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their own sons or from others?” 26“From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27“But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
How strange is that? Do you remember reading that story? What’s up with the fish? And what is the two-drachma tax? And what does tax exemption have to do with the Kingdom? What’s going on here??!
First, you need some context, before we discover how these verses can speak to us today.
Jesus and His disciples have come to Capernaum. This was one of the ‘home-bases’ for Jesus and His followers. Peter owned a home here, and Jesus was lodging with him while they were in town.
While they were there, some tax collectors came to Peter’s house. But they weren’t tax-collectors like Zacchaeus was a tax-collector. Zacchaeus was a tax-collector on behalf of the Roman invaders, and the Jews all hated men like him. But these tax-collectors were collecting something different. They were collecting a temple-tax – a tax for the upkeep of the temple. We hear about this type of tax first in Exodus 30:11-16:
‘Then the LORD said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted…Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel...This half shekel is an offering to the LORD... Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting.’
So, this tax money didn’t go to the Romans, it went to making sure that the temple service went ahead.
There were, however, some individuals who were excused from paying this tax. Rabbis, for instance, wouldn’t have to pay the temple tax, because they were doing the work of the temple. Presumably another exception would be the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. Even though that wasn’t written, exactly, it just goes without saying.
So, these collectors have heard of Jesus, and wonder who He claims to be. One way to find out is to ask Him about his payment of the temple tax. If He does pay it, He’s not making any great claims to be being special; but if He doesn’t…well, He’s putting Himself above the temple.
So, what’s Jesus going to do?
But they don’t talk to Jesus, they talk to Peter and ask, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Their snappish way of asking the questions shows that they’re expecting some sort of rebellion out of Peter, and out of Jesus. “Him, pay the temple tax?! Absurd! He’s the King of Israel, the Messiah, and God Himself!” Then these collectors would be able to go back and make a case against Him with the teachers of the law.
Instead, Peter – just as forcefully – answers, ‘Yes Jesus does!’
Jesus decides to make this into a teaching lesson for Peter.
“Simon,” Jesus says, “from whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes?”
The two-drachma tax is a well-known religious tax – not a civil tax. But Jesus asks Peter about civil taxes – who has to pay them: The king’s children, or the king’s subjects?
Peter rightly answers that it doesn’t make sense for the children of the king to take what they have – which belongs to their father the king – and give it to the king for the upkeep of the kingdom, because then it would be as if the king were paying himself. Their Father, the king, takes care of His children, they don’t take care of their Father.
“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus says to Simon. They don’t have to pay taxes.
Now, in the same way, it is not the Son of God of has to pay for the upkeep of the Temple of God – He’s exempt, excused!
In our passage for tonight, Jesus wasn’t making this argument with the collectors of the temple-tax because it wasn’t the right time for that confrontation. But behind the scenes, He is reminding Peter of what Peter himself stated just a few chapters ago: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Now, it’s interesting to keep in mind that Jesus wasn’t making this argument on Peter’s behalf, or on the behalf of His other disciples. They weren’t children of God – not yet anyway. But they were about to be.
One of the most beautiful statements Jesus makes is found in John 20:17 – after Jesus has died on the cross for the sins of the world, and risen from the dead, He says to Mary near the gravesite:
“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
No longer are they just servants of God, but now children – sons and daughters of God. Legal heirs. And we are too, if we are followers of Jesus.
Paul says in Romans 8:14-17 “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
And then comes the ‘stranger’ part of the story. Jesus tells Peter to do something, and as he does it, God’s going to show Peter – and us – who takes care of whom. Does Peter take care of God? Or does God take care of Peter?
“Go to the lake, and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch, open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
And, this is presumably what Peter does, and he learns that God will take care of his needs.
The Father Provides
In our passage for tonight we learn one BIG LESSON:
The FATHER Provides for His children.
If you, sitting here tonight, trust Jesus for your eternal salvation, the Bible says that you don’t only have salvation, you have Sonship too. You are a child of God!
Do you know what that means? There is no end to the blessings!
Ephesians 1 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…”
If you are a child of God, you are in Christ, and there are many blessings that come from that new position. Here are just a few:
You have been made alive by Christ;
you have been given a new identity in Christ;
you are loved by God in Christ;
you have deliverance from the deadly curse of sin through Christ;
you have peace with God through Christ;
you have received a new calling in Christ;
you have been given armour for spiritual battle by Christ;
you have freedom from the pull of sin in Christ.
The blessings of God for those that are His are marvellous and wonderful! But one of the greatest blessings we have is God’s promise of provision for us, His children.
Jesus says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
But the provision is not just spiritual – it’s physical as well! David says confidently in Psalm 37 “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
God, the Father of the righteous, provides for His children!
It’s important for us to start remembering this, because we too easily slip into the false thinking that our provision comes from our employer, instead of knowing that our provision comes from God our Father. It is false to think that our provision comes from our employer.
This is a disastrous way of thinking, because it sets us up for all kinds of worry and fear:
What happens if we fall out of favour at work, and our boss decides to fire us, what will become of us? We’ll lose our home; our children will starve!
But who is responsible for you: God in heaven, or your boss?
What happens if our company has a bad few months and retrenchments happen and I’m one of those who get let go? We’ll lose our home; our children will starve!
But who is responsible for you: God in heaven, or your company?
I make these examples extreme because it’s useful for us to recognise just how much we strive in life to keep our heads above water, when it is God our Father’s responsibility to take care of us.
My friends, it is God our Father’s responsibility to take care of us. Not your boss’s; not your husband’s; not your Mom and Dad’s.
I can’t help but feel that part of the reason we’re fighting so hard to keep our bosses happy and our companies going is not because it’s good to work, but because we see them – and not God – as our ultimate providers. But they aren’t. God is, and that can be freeing for us.
Jesus says, “Don’t worry about food and drink, or what you’ll wear. Pagans run after all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness – God will take care of what you need.”
I also can’t help but feel that part of the reason we don’t trust God is because we’re not content with the daily bread God promises to give us. Jesus teaches us to pray, ‘Give us today our daily bread…’ Daily bread is nice, but it’s not a Fortuner; or a Hilux. It’s not a house in a nice neighbourhood. It’s not a holiday to the Drakensburg. It’s not a comfortable retirement, or an expensive education for our kids.
I don’t want what God will give me, because it won’t be as lavish as I would choose for myself, so I’ll keep striving, I’ll keep sweating and toiling, because then I can have not just my daily bread needs met, but my BIG desires met as well.
Don’t you think God cares about your desires??!
Is God poor, that He can’t afford to give you a trip overseas, if that’s your heart-desire?
Is God cheap, that He won’t splash out on getting your kids a good, though expensive education if that’s what He wants for them?
Is God small, that He won’t give you nice things because He wants you to learn to expect less?
What kind of a God do you think you’re serving??!
No! God is RICH and GENEROUS and KIND. Yet we spend our days toiling and fretting, and spend our nights worrying and terrified, so that our days are exhausted and our nights are long and lonely because we don’t trust that God CAN provide, and that He cares enough to do so.
Then let’s look at the intriguing part of this passage: The miracle. I love how Barry called this the Playfulness of God’s Providence.
Just under 2,000 years ago a random fish was born. It was random and unremarkable under all other eyes, but God’s. God had a destiny for that fish. He watched over it as it grew, protected it from bigger fish and birds that would eat it, and delighted in that fish.
Then, one day, a bricklayer was travelling by boat across the sea of Galilee. He loved watching the water, and as he leaned over the side he heard a ker-plunk, and his stater coin – a Greek coin equal to four drachmas, or 2 shekels, fell out of his hand and into the water. Well, there goes his lunch money. He’s disappointed, but has forgotten all about it in 5 minutes.
But God had seen that happen, and in His own way had made it happen. He called His fish – the one He’d chosen – and that fish swam up and grabbed the shiny coin as it sunk down. It carried that coin in its mouth, not swallowing it, all the way to Capernaum and hovered around the edge of the lake, waiting for Peter to throw in his line.
Years ago, I heard a story of a missionary in a remote area whose eyes were getting weaker and weaker. He couldn’t afford glasses, and turned instead to prayer. Two weeks later a box of donations arrived and he set about to unpack it. As he opened the box, there on top was a good-quality pair of glasses. He tried them on – it was like they’d been designed just for him! He couldn’t believe it – He’d told nobody about his need. He immediately called the Church that the box had been sent from and an old man picked up the phone. “How did you know that I needed glasses?” the missionary asked. “Is that where my glasses got to?” the old man replied? “I’d been packing that box of our Church donations, and then afterwards I looked all over the Church for my glasses! When I couldn’t find them, I gave them up to God and figured that I could get another pair anyway, so didn’t worry any more about it.”
The playfulness of God’s providential provision.
2. The Children Obey
What does that mean for us? The Father Provides, and what do we, His children, do? The Children Obey.
Peter went down to that lake, and cast in his line, and that fish that God had appointed grabbed it and handed over the stater coin. But imagine Peter hadn’t gone down? He would have had to pay out of his own pocket. And, he would have missed out on the joy of seeing God’s miraculous provision!
Many of us, because we struggle to trust that our heavenly Father CAN or WOULD provide for us, and WILL give us what’s best, we suffer greatly in life. We sweat and struggle through jobs that pay well but don’t satisfy at all; we fight and argue with people to keep them in line with our plan, instead of surrendering to God’s plan; we walk around frustrated and empty.
And Jesus calls us to stop striving, but to look instead to our heavenly Father for direction.
Your task, brothers and sisters in Christ, is not to survive this life until you die. What a meaningless existence! God has a plan for each of us, just like He had a plan for that fish. But His plan for you is a better one – more remarkable than a plan He’d have for any fish or donkey or animal. God has a plan for our lives – a unique and exciting plan!
It’s a unique plan. The person sitting next to you can’t do it. They haven’t the gifts God has given you for the task He has for you.
It’s an exciting plan, and you’ll learn more about your Father God’s personality and power as you follow this plan.
But this plan won’t be forced upon you. You’re invited to step into the unique plan that God has for you; just as Peter was invited to step into God’s unique plan for him, and I’m invited to step into the unique plan that God has for me.
Stepping into this plan won’t always be easy. Sometimes your Father will tell you to step when you don’t see where your foot’s going to land. Sometimes your Father will tell you to take a path that doesn’t make sense to you, or to those around you. Sometimes your Father will tell you to trust Him and give your last R10 to someone you’ve just met.
This week we heard on the news about a man named Nkosikho Mbele who is a petrol attendant. A woman stopped at his station, but didn’t have much money for petrol, and he gave her an extra R100 from his own pocket so that she wouldn’t find trouble on the highway which he knew was dangerous. When asked why he would do such a kind thing, he said, ‘Ma’am, I am a believer.’ He said, “I want to do what God would want me to do. He put me on this planet for a purpose.”
Stepping into God’s plan for your life sometimes won’t be easy or make sense, but all along the way, He’ll be whispering behind you, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Your work is to take the step, and trust Him.
Jesus is going to tell you to do something, and as you do it, God’s going to show you who takes care of whom. Do you take care of God your Father, or does God your Father take care of you?
And as you step into God’s plan for you, friends, you’ll see remarkable things. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
It is God our Father’s responsibility to take care of us; it is our responsibility to walk in the way God sends us.
Sarah and I trust this with all our hearts. We know that God has said to us, “Go!” and we are going. What an adventure God has in store for us! How will He provide? Right now, I don’t know – but I know that the number of ways He could provide are as vast as His imagination!
Won’t you ask God what adventure He has for you? Won’t you ask God what unique plan He has for your life? Won’t you trust Him to provide for you as you walk in the way He’s called you to?
Before I close, I want to say one last thing.
My aim tonight was to encourage Christians to see that God our Father provides for us, He has always provided for us, and will provide for us.
But that’s not the end of the story. If you’re here tonight and you don’t know if you are a child of God, or you know you’re not; I want to encourage you to make certain. You might think, ‘I don’t need this God stuff; I’ve gotten by just fine up till now and I can become a Christian later.’ Friend, there is no ‘later’, only ‘now’. You might not have another day. It is true that God also graciously provides for those who reject Him, but He won’t always do that. Friend, God does provide for you, but He provides specially and eternally for His children. You can be a part of His family, even tonight, if you’ll surrender your rebellious will to the One who made you. He is ready to receive you, and welcome you as a part of His family. Won’t you turn to Him, and say, “God in heaven, make me Your child, I surrender my life to You.”