The Coin Lodged in the Fish’s Gill – The Lord’s Omni-attributes
Transcript of Matthew Message #50…
Matthew 17:24-27; let me try to get this whole section in perspective for you, and then we’ll try to continue where we left off in our study last time. We’re studying chapter 16:21-chapter 25, the third great section in the book of Matthew. We call this section “the nature of the kingdom”, and the nature of the kingdom in its simplicity is a spiritual kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world, and has to do with the heart and the spirit and the inner man, and all through this section he calls attention to the fact that we’re not dealing with externals, and we’re not just dealing with forms, with rituals and the outside. Rather, we’re dealing with the heart. In a beautiful way chapter 17 of Matthew gives us the heart and core of this spiritual kingdom and gives us the pith and the marrow, the very nerve center, the essence of what spirituality is.
There are three stories in chapter 17, and each of those stories lays down a great life principle which gives us the very life blood of what it means to be spiritual. We’ve already looked at two of them, and now we’ll look at the third. The first story is in verses 1-8, the transfiguration, and that teaches us that the essence of spirituality is seeing Jesus glorified. You can’t get beyond that. Only those who by the Spirit of God have gotten beyond the historical Jesus, beyond flesh and blood, and His life and ministry and teaching and miracles and parables and facts concerning His death, burial and resurrection, those who have gotten beyond the flesh, Son of Man, foster son of Joseph, carpenter, Nazarene, only those who have been able by the Spirit of God in their hearts to see the inner truth of God, are spiritual. They aren’t just learning a bunch of facts and memorizing a bunch of scriptures. It’s not only seeing Jesus, but seeing Jesus glorified. That’s the transfiguration.
Last time we looked at verses 14-23, the story of the healing of the demon possessed boy, and we learned the second essential of spirituality, and we summarized it in these words, “Trusting Jesus unreservedly.” Remember that Jesus uses this illustration in verse 21, “This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” The principle of prayer is laying hold of God. That’s the idea of prayer; just grabbing God, and clinging to Him. The principle of fasting is letting go of the world. It’s illustrated by the denial of a meal or two, but the principle is letting go. When my heart lays hold of God and lets go of what it wants, that’s the principle, then I’ll begin to live in power, and not, as the story says, in the anemic faith that only moves mountains. That’s how he develops it there. It’s little faith that moves mountains, and not a big faith. That’s not enough to give you victory over sin; mountain moving faith. I pity people who settle for mountain moving faith. That’s not a goal. Don’t go after that.
That brings us to the third story. If you want to know what living spiritually means, it’s not only seeing Jesus glorified, not only trusting Him unreservedly, so that you live wholly and let go of everything else, that kind of an unreserved total surrender, but also the principle illustrated in verses 24-27, the miracle of the coin that was lodged in the fish’s gill. “Then when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two drachma tax came to Peter, “Does not your teacher pay the two drachma tax?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ Then when He came into the house Jesus spoke to him first saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom did the kings of earth collect customs or poll tax? From their sons or from strangers?’ And upon Him saying from strangers, Jesus said to him, ‘Consequently, the sons are exempt, but lest we give them offense, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a stager. Take that and give it to them for you and for me.’”
Let me begin by telling you that these four verses have caused a lot of problems to many of the commentators. Only four verses, but have they thrown a wrench into the machinery of man’s thinking, especially the destructive critics. Some people think that because no miracle is actually mentioned here, that no miracle actually took place. They say in the other cases it would say that Peter went out and did as Jesus said and found it even as He said. But here you don’t have the record of the actual miracle. You don’t see Peter going out fishing and catching this fish. Some people say that proves that didn’t really happen. I like what the Lutheran theologian R. C. Lensky had to say about that, “Matthew does not need to elaborate, but he has the right to assume some intelligence on the part of his readers.” I think Lensky is right. Somebody with intelligence is going to read this and say that there must have been a miracle that followed that up. The reason people try to destroy the miraculous in this passage is because on the surface it’s out of character for our Lord Jesus. In other words, if this miracle actually did take place, they say, then this would be the only miracle Jesus ever did to meet a need that He had. All the other miracles are to meet other peoples’ needs, and this would be the only one that He ever did on His own behalf, and they say that is out of character for Him.
This temple tax depending upon which commentary’s read, would equal about thirty cents in our money, and up to a dollar and a half of our money. They say that this is a trivial thing. Jesus isn’t going to do a miracle like that, they say, for thirty cents, or for Him and Peter sixty cents. Even if you go on the outside, a buck and a half a piece, or three bucks. He’s not going to do a mighty miracle like this just for three dollars. They say that this is unworthy of Christ. His miracles were sparked by compassion in His heart. He worked His miracles for the suffering, for the needy, for those who were in pain. They say that there is no message of love in this miracle, no faith is required for this miracle, and it’s all for a trivial end, and for a cheap tax.
Some people try to weave it another way. They say that it doesn’t say there’s going to be a coin lodged in the fish’s mouth. That’s just a figurative way of saying, “Go fishing, catch a fish, and sell it, and you’ll find that it’s worth exactly what you need. When you sell the fish you’ll get a stager for it, and it will be equal to four drachma, enough to pay the tax.” I don’t need to clear my throat when I reject all that kind of handling of this precious book. There’s a tremendous miracle here, and if you understand the context, if you see what is going on in the passage, you’ll not only see that a wonderful miracle took place, but you’ll see how that miracle was designed by the Holy Spirit of God to lay down the great principles of life, the essence of spirituality. I trust the Lord will grace us all as we go through this. We might see Him and lay hold of those great principles that are illustrated here.
Here is how I’d like to look at this passage with you. First I’d like to offer what I think is the key to the passage, and then I’d like to give a little background and put it into the setting, so that you might be able to understand what was going on at this time. Then I’ll try to isolate the principle and state it in simple words for you, and then as God gives us grace, we’ll try to apply it a little bit, and make it practical in our own lives. Pray for me as we go through this that the Lord will give us eyes to see it.
Let me suggest a key, a suggestion, that I think will help us get into the real meaning of these four verses. I believe this whole story is understood because it revolves around Peter. If you understand him as the key, Jesus is not dealing with the tax collectors here. He’s not dealing with the scribes at this point. He’s not dealing with the Pharisees or other church leaders. He’s dealing with his own, with the disciples, with Peter. This takes place about six months before our Lord Jesus was to die upon the cross. At this point He began explaining to them His death. Notice chapter 16:21, “From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed and raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord, this shall never happen to You.’” From that time, that is about six months before He died, He began to instruct His disciples privately. He took them aside, and began to lay out the facts of His death. Peter had a hard time with the cross; with the message of the cross.
Peter had already confessed, “Thou art the Christ; the Son of the Living God,” and he was commended for his confession, but Peter was Peter, and the Lord is dealing with him here. Something took place in his life that I’ll show you. God used this miracle to set it straight. He’s teaching him, and training him, and He’s disciple-ing His disciple. Very patiently He is working with the Apostle Peter, and I believe that the real miracle of this passage is not understood apart from that truth of the marvelous way Jesus was dealing with his own. By the way, He still does that. I don’t know where you’d be tonight apart from the patient dealing of God in your life. I’m so glad that He still does it, and that He is still patient with His own. If we’re going to understand it, we must see where Peter was in his life, and understand what was going on in that great heart of his. His view at that point of the Lord Jesus – Peter is the key to this passage. I’m going to attempt to interpret this as it affected Peter, and as God used this to enculturate him in his own ways, in his own precepts. First, let me give you a little background.
Matthew 17:24, what is this tax, this two drachma tax that’s mentioned? Jesus’ answer in this little parable, he mentions two kinds of taxes. It depends upon which translation you have, but there was the custom tax, and there was the tribute tax. The custom tax had to do with things; a tax on material things; on goods and wares. The tribute tax had to do with people. That’s when they took their census, and every person was required to pay a tax. If you take two translations and put them together you end up with these two words. The custom tax was also called a “toll tax” and the tribute tax was also called a “poll tax”. So you had the toll tax and the poll tax. The toll tax was for things, and the poll tax was for people.
The purpose of the toll tax and poll tax was to keep the government functioning and running. Things haven’t changed much since that day. The tax mentioned in verse 24 was neither the toll tax or the poll tax. It had nothing to do with either one of those. That’s Jesus’ illustration, and not His point. It was not a tax on things and it was not a tax on people. The tax in verse 24 was a religious tax, not a civil tax. In other words, when these men or man came to Peter and asked for the tax money, he was not a Roman official and wasn’t collecting for the government. This wasn’t a government taxing them. These people were working for the temple. This was a temple tax; a church tax. It was used to support the priests and the temple. They used that money to buy the daily sacrifices that they offered in the morning and evening sacrifice; at 9 in the morning and at 3 every afternoon. They used it to buy wood, and to buy salt, and to buy incense, and to buy candles, and to keep all the utensils clean, and used it for the priests. That’s what that tax was.
Though it wasn’t a government tax, I won’t say the government kept their fingers altogether off because you know how the government is. Moses was the first one that started the tax, and you can read about it in Exodus 30, if you want to. In Exodus 30, when God through Moses gave this temple tax, it was voluntary. You didn’t have to pay it. It wasn’t a duty or an obligation. It was voluntary, and only Israelite men over twenty were solicited to pay the tax. But there was a lot of pride in the Jews, and they didn’t have any trouble with this tax, especially since it was so cheap. They enjoyed paying it because they loved their temple, and it was their offering to God. They didn’t have to do it, but they felt patriotic in doing it. Matter of fact, if you said to a Jew, “This is voluntary. Are you going to pay the temple tax?” They would say, “Of course I am. What do you think I am? A heathen? I’m going to support my local temple. We’re supposed to do that.”
They didn’t enjoy the poll tax or the toll tax because the Jews don’t like when they had to pay tax to a human government. They felt like they were slaves, “Imagine God’s people having to pay taxes to a government of the world!” They hated that. That’s where you read about all the tax collectors; but that’s government tax and civil tax. They rebelled against it because that was an evidence they were in subjection; and they were under the heal of a foreign government, and God hadn’t ordained that for them. So, they were resisted that and didn’t like that. The temple tax they had no problem with that at all. This wasn’t a tribute to Rome. This was for God, for the Lord for His temple. I say the government didn’t take their fingers out of that. When Jerusalem was finally destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, the Roman government actually took over the tax. It was no longer voluntary. Now they had to pay it. It was no longer thirty cents either. It was raised to a very oppressive figure, and now it was even used to build heathen temples after that. So, the government did finally get into it. But at this point, chapter 17, you’ve got to understand what is going on. Remember that this tax he’s talking about is the voluntary temple tax. It had nothing to do with the civil government. Jesus used the civil government, as He always did. He used the kingdom of earth to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. He illustrated what they knew in order to teach what they didn’t know. So, He was going to teach them spiritual things through the kingdom of earth. Don’t mix that up and make that a political tax.
I don’t think anything will actually be gained for our hearts, for our profit, going into the different coins that are used; what is a drachma, a stater, and all the rest. One is a Greek coin and one is a Roman coin. One stater equals four drachma. What you need to know is that the exact need was provided in the stater. That was a Roman coin and it was exactly what was needed, but you don’t need to go into all of that background of the coins. It did it and I wish I didn’t. I wasted my time.
Let me try to get the scene and what was happening here, into your mind, and then when we get down to the principle it will make a lot more sense. Notice verse 24, “When they had come to Capernaum…” The Lord Jesus had four places that were closely associated with His name. I think you’ll recognize them right off. One was Bethlehem, and that was because He was born there. The next was Galilee. He was called a Galilean. Palestine was actually divided into three provinces; Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Galilee was up in the north. It was just a big province. The other two places were cities in Galilee. One was the city of Nazareth, sometimes called the boyhood town of our Lord Jesus. The last one was Capernaum, which was also a city in Galilee. When Jesus started His ministry He moved to Capernaum. Actually, that’s where He lived and spent most of His time during His ministry.
Some people get confused because they don’t really know where He lived. Some passages say that He’s a Galilean, and some say that He was Jesus of Nazareth, and others says that His city was Capernaum. It’s really very easy. He was born in Bethlehem, He was raised in Nazareth, and when He started His ministry He moved to Capernaum, and that’s where He lived. I call attention to that because of verse 24. He now comes back to Capernaum. As far as the record goes, this is the last time He’ll step into Capernaum. Even though he’s lived there and saw many, many wonderful things there, He comes back, on this occasion, and He doesn’t even stay a full day. He comes back to Capernaum for the last time, six months before His death. In this place He had healed the Centurion’s servant, healed Peter’s mother in law, Peter and John lived in Capernaum, he had healed here the paralytic, and here He had cast out demons, and here it brought the little child before them to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. That great passage in John 6 on the bread of life was delivered at Capernaum.
It was a very precious place, but it had broken Jesus’ heart. Jesus finally had to curse the place. In Matthew 11:23, “”You, Capernaum, you’ll not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend into hell, into Hades, for is the mighty miracles that were done here were done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.’” And He shook the dust off His feet and walked out of His city, that which was called His own city. He had been there several months before. Matthew records in chapter 15, and the only things that came of it, and you’ll see how it ties in here with this passage. Peter said, “The Pharisees were very offended at what you just said.” At that point He said, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted, it shall be rooted up. They are blind guides of the blind. Leave them alone.”
Well, now He’s back. He returns to this city of Capernaum for the last time. He will not see this city again. He’s going from here to the cross. There’s six months left to His life, and He comes back for one day. According to Mark 9:30, He didn’t even want anybody to know that He’s back, “And He was unwilling for anyone to know, for He was teaching His disciples.” He was beginning to pour out His heart about the cross. He was beginning to tell them that He had to die. It was a private time, and He wanted to be alone with His disciples. He didn’t want anybody to know that He was back there. He wanted to slip in and out without anybody knowing. But somebody spotted and recognized Peter, and that’s why we have this story. That gives you the background. This is what was going on. He was just bearing His heart with His disciples, telling them about the events that were going to take place.
It’s not really fair to read more into the question than this man asked. I don’t know if it was a trick question, or they were trying to find another occasion to trap the Lord Jesus into coming down. Maybe they were, but we can’t be certain. Maybe they were just curious and they had the responsibility of collecting the tax and they felt responsible to ask him, “Is your Master going to pay the tax?” Maybe they had a high view of Jesus, instead of a low view. The priests were exempt from the temple tax, and they may have viewed Him as a priest, “Is your Master exempt? Does He pay or doesn’t He? I don’t know if He’s a priest or not.” We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say why they asked. It just says that they asked. There were many reasons they could have asked. He and His disciples were sort of vagabonds. They were going from place to place. Maybe they weren’t sure whether He had paid the temple tax or not. Maybe he paid at the office, or someplace else. Whatever the reason, they asked the question, and the whole story begins to revolve around Peter’s answer.
According to the record (poor Peter – he can get into it no matter what he does, and this time he only says one word. All he said was “yes”). And that was the occasion for this whole thing. Around that one word comes one of the most tremendous miracles in all of the Bible. All Peter said was “yes” and the whole sky just started to fall in, as you’ll see. He never dreamed in a million years what that affirmation, what that “yes” would mean in his life. “Does your Teacher not pay the two drachma tax?” And he said “yes”. Why did he say “yes”. Again, we can’t read into him, either. We can’t read his heart. Was it because Jesus was accustomed to paying the tax, and he said, “I know he did last year, and I know He’s used to doing this, and maybe He’s going to do it again – Yes!” Was it because Peter knew that Jesus was law abiding. He said that He hadn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill. Or maybe He’s just embarrassed. Imagine Jesus being delinquent in paying His tax. Every true blooded patriotic Jew paid the temple tax. Jesus had a reputation and maybe Peter just wanted to defend that reputation. Of course, the Lord Jesus was always going against the tide anyway. He had recently said some very un-fond things of these religious leaders. He had some burning remarks for the Pharisees and the scribes. He had already once in His ministry cleansed the temple. Maybe He didn’t want to support the temple anymore. Maybe He was against all that it stood for at this time. So, maybe Peter was on the spot. “Does your Master pay the temple tax? Does He? Maybe he just spoke off the top of his head, “Yes, sure, of course.” Or maybe it’s something bigger.
I think we can get a little bit into the heart of what was Peter’s “yes” by the very unusual and tremendous response Jesus gave to that “yes”. I’m sure it was far deeper than any of those things I’ve suggested or mentioned. Jesus was about to teach His disciples something. You talk about a graduate course in theology. He’s going to have it now. The Lord is going to teach Peter something wonderful, something very wonderful about what it means to be spiritual, and the essence and the nature of the kingdom. It is something that we better learn, or we’re going to abort very early in our Christian lives.
I wonder what Peter would have done. I wonder if he would have told Jesus. See, he didn’t have a chance to tell Jesus. I wonder if he would have come in and said, “Master, you won’t believe this, but on the way out there somebody recognized me. I know you want to keep this whole thing a secret, but great day, they recognized me, and somebody said, “Do you pay the temple tax,”? and I said, “Yes.” That would have been the easiest way. Or maybe Peter was just going to go in the house and go upstairs into his dresser drawer and take out sixty cents and pay it himself. Why bother Jesus with such a trivial matter. “If they want sixty cents, alright, get him off my back. I’ll pay it.” We don’t know and we never will, because Peter, when he walked in the door, Jesus started to speak. If Peter was trying to keep it a secret, it was all over now. Jesus knew all about it. He wasn’t even out there in the street. He wasn’t even there when that man was talking to him. Somehow He knew all about it. It was no secret to Him. He had heard the question, and had heard Peter say “yes”.
Look at verse 25, “And he said ‘yes’. And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying,” (see how the Holy Spirit calls attention to that?). He just walked into the house and didn’t have time to say anything, and the Lord Jesus spoke to him first. One translation says, “Jesus anticipated him saying.” KJV says, “Prevented him.” That’s the old use of the word “prevent”. It means “to perceive or come before”. The same word is used in Thessalonians, “Those who are dead shall not prevent those who are alive,”; proceed. It’s the same word. But Peter was one of the most surprised men in all of the world. He walks in, and the answer that Jesus gives shows that there is a real problem going on in Peter’s heart.
Verse 25, “He said ‘yes’. And when he came into the house Jesus spoke to him first saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of earth collect customs or poll tax? From their sons, or from strangers?” Jesus begins to home in on Peter’s heart, even though it’s out, and he had given his ‘yes’. And now He begins to use a human illustration; the civil governments; the governments of the earth. “Think about a royal family, Peter. How do they live?” “Well, they live on tax money.” “That’s right, Peter. Where do they get their tax money? Does the king tax his children? Is that where they get it? From their own family? Does the king go to his wife and say, ‘Our kids have to live. I’m going to give you a tax.’” He says, “No, that’s not how it happens. That would be like one hand taxing the other hand; one hand paying the other hand. No, that’s not how it happens. The king lives on taxes, but not taxes that come from his own family; it’s taxes that come from the subjects of the king; from strangers from outside the family.”
Verse 26, Peter gives the right answer, “From strangers.” Then Jesus adds, “When the sons are exempt, then are the children of the king free.” Jesus’ point is this. If on the level of earth the king’s family, the king and his family, his sons, are free from taxes, I want to ask you about this temple tax, Peter. Who is supported by that?” I can hear Peter say, “That’s for God. Temple tax is the Lord’s. The whole purpose of the temple is for the worship of God; to worship the Lord of heaven, the king of heaven, all of its services and all of its ministries, and all of its furniture, and all of its functions. They’re all pictures. It all points to God. It’s for the support of the true and living God.” “Well, Peter, if the tax is for the king, if the temple tax is for the Lord, and I’m His Son, then I’m free. I’m exempt. I don’t owe the temple tax, because I’m a member of the King’s family. You told them ‘yes’. You’ve got to think again. I don’t have to pay that, Peter.” Jesus was showing Peter that He was exempt and that He owed nothing, that He didn’t even have to pay one cent of that thirty cents toward the temple tax. As the King, and as the King’s Son He was free, and there wasn’t anyone with any divine right who could levy a tax against Christ. He was the unique Son of the King. He’s greater than the temple. He is the temple. He owes nothing.
Why does the Lord Jesus bring this up? All this is background. Stay with me in the donkey work, and I think you’ll enjoy the principle. Why does he bring all of this up? Now we are going to get to the heart of the incident. He didn’t bring this up because there was no money in the bag, in the treasury bag. I think if they had gone to Judas who was the treasurer and said, “Do you have any money in the bag?” I think he could have come up with thirty cents. I have the idea there was enough in the bag; maybe not, the way Judas was. But I don’t believe that the Lord Jesus does this miracle because He’s compelled by poverty, and that He’s in some sort of financial straits. He had money all over the place. He had plenty of money. I don’t think there was any real need in the temple, either, that this donation was so important and so necessary. That’s not why He does it. He does this miracle, and that’s why some of commentators have missed it. He does this miracle, not to meet His need. He has no need, but to meet a very different kind of a need; in the heart of Peter. He’s about to minister and meet Peter’s need, with this tremendous miracle.
Peter needed to see something, and the Lord Jesus uses this occasion to open his eyes again that he had let slip away. Let’s go back one more time, and then we’ll home in on the principle. Peter had made a great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” When Jesus heard that, finally, after all of His ministry, He was so excited that He said, “That’s right, Peter. Flesh and blood did not reveal that to you, but My Father who is heaven. You are a rock, Peter. I’m going to give you the keys to the kingdom. You’ve got it, and you’ve begun to see, and begun to understand that it comes from God. You got to see it because of the revelation, because God quickened your heart. You are beginning to see who I am, Peter. I’m the King of heaven, and I’m the King’s Son. I’m the object of worship. I’m the temple, and I’m the reason for which the temple exists.”
Remember what happened just before this? Peter had just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration. Once again, He saw the Lord in all of His glory. He had such a lofty view of Christ. He had seen Him so brilliant and so radiant. Then verses 24-27, and this is the occasion for this miracle. Peter, somehow, lost His view of Christ. Somehow He let it slip away, and all of the royal dignity and all the glorious prerogatives of Jesus began to fade. And when he said, “yes”, that revealed his heart. That showed what he was thinking. It was a very hasty answer, and it was very presumptuous, because that “yes” dragged Jesus down. That “yes” brought Christ down from His great glory. It revealed through that “yes” that he was thinking as a human again; on the level of earth, in the flesh. In one breath he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and the next breath he said, “Yes, Christ is a good Jew, and He’s going to pay whatever He owes to the temple. Of course He is.” He was thinking on the level of earth. “Yes, He owes; yes, He’s patriotic; yes, He’s a good Hebrew. He’ll do His duty. He’ll do His part in support of the temple. He’s the same as every other Israeli over twenty years old. He knows. Don’t worry about it. He’ll pay.” Jesus is about to reaffirm in Peter’s heart how great He really is, and at the same time He great humbles Peter. That pretty much sets the scene. Let me give you the principle, and then see if we can apply it in our hearts..
How may I be spiritual? The transfiguration says I must see Jesus glorified. The healing of the lunatic teaches that I must trust Him unreservedly. And now He lays down another principle. Let me state it for you and then try to illustrate it, and may God give us eyes to see it. I’d like to summarize it in these words – the essence of all spirituality is the all sufficiency of Jesus. If I’m not trusting His all sufficiency, if I’m not seeing Him as God’s everything, then I can’t be spiritual. It’s so easy to sing, “He’s all I need, He’s all I need, Jesus is all I need, He’s all I need, all I ever need, Jesus is all I need.” Until I’ve viewed Him, and until we begin to rest in Him as our all sufficiency… If you’re going to be spiritual and enjoy the Lord and walk in union with Him, it’s only when Christ fills up the whole landscape of our life as the One that is all sufficient, that we’ll have true rest in our souls. Only when He becomes all sufficient, will we have an undisturbed peace. You say that a lot of things can come in and disturb the rest. There can be sorrow and pressure and conflict and confusion and all kinds of perplexities, ups and downs, and sickness and sorrow, and all kinds of trials and temptations. You get the Christian who has understood that Christ is his all sufficiency, and those things will not affect his rest. You find someone who sees Christ as his all sufficiency, and they’ll still abide in the Lord and rest, no matter what happens.
Most Christians haven’t seen Christ as all sufficient. They don’t have a full Christ. There’s all kinds of reasons. They might have a legal mind, and they might have sat under some real bad teaching. Or they might have a morbid conscience, or they might have some unholy attraction to this sinful world that’s passing away so soon, or they might have some kind of reserve of surrender, and they are holding back from the Lord, but until you see Jesus glorified, until you trust Him unreservedly, and until He becomes the object of your heart’s affection, your all sufficiency, everything else spiritual comes from that. Until that happens you can’t be spiritual.
Let me illustrate it. I believe this miracle gives three answers to this question, “How does this miracle reveal Christ in His all sufficiency?” One; this miracle shows that He is all sufficient to meet my every need. Those aren’t just words. May God burn every one into our heart! When you read this, it looks like overkill. You say, “Christ in me will meet my every need. Alright, give me a Bible example.” Well, He met the need here for thirty cents. “Come on you can’t tell me that Christ meets my every need, you’ll have to do a little better than that. That doesn’t give me much encouragement. It would have been a wonderful miracle if Jesus had said to Peter, ‘Peter, I want you to go outside and go for a walk, but pay attention where you walk, and look down, because you are going to find a coin.” That would have been a mighty miracle. We’ve seen things like that. We’ve found coins on the ground, or a dollar on the ground, or twenty dollars, or more. That would have been a wonderful miracle. But it looks like Jesus is going out of His way, and I don’t know how to say this, I speak as a fool, to be divine in providing this thirty cents. He’s overdoing it. He’s not going to do some piddily miracle to provide thirty cents. He’s going all out to show all of His glory. It’s amazing to read this thing.
In this miracle, He doesn’t always do this in His other miracles, but here He seems to call attention to His omni-attributes, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence. He knows everything. How did Jesus know that Peter was even questioned about the tax? He knows everything. How did Jesus know that somebody dropped the silver stater in the water. Was it a fisherman? Was it a soldier on the dock? How did Jesus know that? And how did He know a fish swallowed it, and how did He know that it was lodged in the mouth or gill of the fish? Suppose Jesus had said to Peter, “Go into one of your boats, and cast a net into the sea, and you’ll have a great catch, and in the mouth of one of those fish you’ll find what you need to pay the temple tax.” That would have been a marvelous, marvelous miracle, but He didn’t say that. Instead in verse 27, “Go to the sea, throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up.” Do you see anything marvelous in that? Look at what Christ knows. He knows where Peter will throw in his line, and He knows when, and He knows which fish will be there when he throws in his line, and He knows that fish will be hungry, also, and bite at Peter’s worm. You see, it’s even more than omniscience. It’s omnipresence.
How did Jesus know that Peter talked to the tax collector? See, He was out there. That’s how He knew. Some commentators believe that Jesus actually created this fish on the spot and created the silver stater in his mouth. The way things are going here it wouldn’t surprise me if He did that, but let’s just take the idea that the fish came by the coin in a natural way, and somebody dropped it in the water. How could Jesus be so sure that the first fish that bit Peter’s hook would be the one with the stater? Don’t be afraid to say this, and don’t be afraid to believe it. Christ was there underneath the water with the fish. That’s how He knew it. He’s omnipresent. Jesus is everywhere.
I love to compare this to Matthew 14 where the Lord Jesus walked on the water. Jesus was perfectly at home on top of the water, and Jesus was perfectly at home here underneath the water. He’s omnipresent. On Sunday morning I was reading some of the Psalms and I came to Psalm 135:5&6. I’d already been studying this about the fish. Listen to this verse, “I know that the Lord is great. Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven, on earth, in the seas, and in all the deeps.” Isn’t that marvelous. You see, you wouldn’t expect for the need of thirty cents that Jesus was go so far. Jesus goes all out, the same as to say, “I’m sufficient to meet that need. I’ll show myself strong in all of My omni-attributes toward you. I’m all knowing and I’ll help you. I’m everywhere. I can meet your need. I’m all powerful. I can control the whole universe to cater to you and to your needs. I’ll control that little fish and I’ll lead it right up to Peter’s hook.”
Do you get the impact of this? May God gives us eyes to see it. When you read verses 24-27, the things that hits you is this, that wasn’t even a need. It was so trivial and so small and so insignificant, and it was voluntary. He didn’t have to pay it. It wasn’t a need. It’s not a need if you don’t need it. They didn’t need it. It was so small, that if they did need it, it wouldn’t be a big need; only thirty cents. But they didn’t even need it. Here is a situation adding up to less than a dollar, which was even required, and look at the pains our Lord Jesus goes to, to show how all sufficient He is, for something so trivial, and something you don’t even need.
May I ask you, brothers and sisters in Christ, if He’ll do His omni- attributes for something so small, that it isn’t really a need, what will He do for you when you have a need? I tell you, this is a marvelous miracle showing the all-sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ. Will He come through when it’s important, if He comes through when it’s not important? If He’s so faithful when it’s so small and insignificant. Can you trust Him? Is He enough? Are His unlimited attributes enough for you? I believe if He’d go through all of this, when it wasn’t even a need, He was just underscoring how gracious He is to meet us when we’re in need.
Peter lost sight of how great Jesus was, and Jesus is quickly bringing him back to the place that he sees His glory again. Peter is about to learn that Jesus doesn’t owe anybody anything. Don’t be surprised within the sovereignty of God, the Lord engineers your path and your circumstances to a place where nothing but the omni-attributes of God will do you any good. Don’t be surprised at that. The Lord has a passion in His heart that people would know Him as all sufficient. He wants you to see and feel your need of Him as all-sufficient, so He’ll bring you into situations where only He is enough.
When a loved one dies, if you are seeing Jesus as your all-sufficient one, there is no vacant chair at the table. Christ is in that chair. He’s all-sufficient for every need. When you are bewildered and you are confused, and you can’t think one thought in a row, when you get frustrated, or lonely, you are cast back on the all-sufficiency of Christ. He constantly brings us to helplessness because it crowds us to Christ. Don’t despise it when He weakens you. Every forward step in weakness is a forward step in the knowledge of God, and in the knowledge of His word. This miracle teaches that Christ is all-sufficient to meet every need. If you can trust Him for thirty cents that you don’t need, then you can trust Him for a life partner. If you can trust Him for your place in this program of redemption, right now God is preparing the people that you will minister to in the future through you. Right now God is preparing you for the people for whom you will minister in the future. Is He enough? Is His all-sufficiency all you need? Somebody you can trust in? You can trust Him for victory.
Sometimes my head swims when I read books about victory. I think I was far less defeated when I was a stranger to the truths on victory, than after I read all those fancy books all about victory. When I look away to Jesus and I begin to see Him again as my all-sufficiency, I begin to enjoy victory again. God hasn’t called me to counsel you, or anyone else on what it means to have victory. He’s only called me to point you to the One who is all sufficient. And when you look to Him who is all sufficient in simple childlike faith, you’ll find Him all sufficient, and He’ll meet all of your needs. He uses divine power, as I said, to do this, then we can trust Him to your ministry, and for your job, and for your school, and for your health, and for your fellowship, and for your family, and for your bills, and for your spiritual needs. You can trust Him for everything. That’s what He’s laying down here.
Before I leave that first point, that He’s all sufficient to meet every need, let me make two practical comments about it, and then we’ll move on. In this context, Peter went fishing. I suspect that if it were Paul, He would have found the coin in the flap of a tent, as he went out to make tents. I suspect that if was Luke, he would have found the coin in some way connected with medicine, because he was a doctor. Peter was a fisherman, and when Christ provided for Peter, he sent him to work. Do you see the impact of that? Do you see what he’s saying? That’s your job; fisherman. Okay, go fishing. That didn’t rule out a miracle, especially in these days when it’s hard to get a job. But sometimes He provides through your sweat. That’s still Him providing.
The second thing is that His all sufficiency provides only what’s needed. There is no surplus here. There’s no extra; nothing to stash in the reserve, nothing for the bank. As a general rule, you’ll find the Lord will keep you slim. As a general rule you’ll find that God will provide what you need when you need it, as you need it, and no more, or else you’ll trust the reservoir. He constantly dries up the human resevoirs, in order, as Elijah, we might learn that when the brook dries up, God doesn’t dry up, and He can be trusted.
Why this miracle? Not only to show the all sufficiency of Christ to meet every need, but notice verse 26. Consequently the sons are exempt. This miracle also teaches us what real freedom is. “Then are the freedom free,” He says. Why did Jesus pay this temple tax at all? In verse 27 He tells you, “Lest we give them offense.” He paid it, not because He wasn’t free, but He waved His rights of exemption in order that He might not cause human beings to stumble. That’s why He did it. His freedom expressed itself in voluntarily submitting to bonds from which He was already freed. Of course, the cross is the great illustration of this. He was exempt from the cross, being sinless, but He submitted to it for others.
He knew people wouldn’t understand why He didn’t pay the temple tax. He knows how man is. He is going to misconstrue our liberty with all kinds of false ideas. He’s going to accuse him of indifference. “He didn’t pay the temple tax; he hates the temple. He doesn’t love the service of God. He’s covetous, and he just wants to keep the money for himself. He’s stingy. He doesn’t love God, and he doesn’t love the priests. He’s radical. He’s going against the tide.” So, the Lord Jesus, as He always does, exercised loving-hearted forbearance toward those who are weak. He didn’t want anyone to stumble. He didn’t have to do it. He chose to do it.
I believe one of the great truths that this passage underscores is this; that the King’s children owe nothing. They are exempt from everything. The King’s children are free. They don’t owe anybody anything. But as you understand that freedom, you see that real freedom lays down its rights for other rights. We don’t have rules and we don’t have duties and we don’t have obligations. We owe nothing. We’re the King’s children. We’re free; God has made us free and He’s paid all we owe, so that we’re free. But to avoid offense, we exercise loving hearted forbearance. I used to be confused about this. I used to think, “I’m free; I’m free in Christ. I’ll lay down my rights for others.” And then as soon as I laid them down, I was back in bondage again. What kind of freedom was that? I don’t enjoy laying down my rights for others, and it’s no fun.
This season coming up is a good illustration of this. I don’t know how you are, and I’m not trying to change you, but I have sort of a hard time with Christmas. I know I’m free, but if I don’t fall in with the tradition, I’m going to cause some offense. So, I’ll go visiting and I’ll exchange gifts, and I’ll see relatives that don’t like me. I’ll send Christmas cards. I have the right not to do those things, see. But I’ll cause offense, so I’ll do them. Usually I drag through Christmas saying, “I’m free. I don’t have to do this.” Where is the freedom? If I’m free, where is the joy when I lay down my rights? I believe that’s why God illustrated it this way. You don’t have joy when you lay down your rights, apart from a mighty miracle of God. I think that’s why the whole thing is in the context of a miracle. Peter laid down his rights, and Christ revealed His glory. You see, the freedom is seeing Christ. There’s your joy, and when you lay down your rights and your eyes are filled with the glory of Christ, that’s where the joy comes in. I need a miracle.
One final thing and then we’ll be done. This miracle also was designed to greatly humble Peter. When you see the all sufficiency of Christ, as you go on in spirituality, don’t go looking inside, because you are going to end up with morbid introspection. All this idea of discovering yourself and examining yourself, and searching your heart, is all off centered. Don’t even begin to do that. “Search me, oh God, and know my heart.” Let God do the searching and He’ll show you when you are ready for it. Otherwise, it will drive you to a building or a bridge. It’s pollution down there, and it’s a terrible thing down there.
Remember, Peter is the great fisherman. He was a commercial fisherman. According to the Bible he had a crew. According to the Bible he had several boats. He had great nets. It’s not an accident that this is the only time in the New Testament that we read about fishing with a hook. It’s not mentioned any place else in the Bible. I can picture in my mind’s eye Peter, the commercial fisherman, sitting on a rock with a pole and a line and a hook waiting for his bobber to bob. Just picture Peter sitting there, and see the disciples come, “Hey, Peter, how is it going?” “It’s alright.” “What are you doing?” “Fishing.” “With a hook?” “Well, yay, it was getting boring on the big boats, you know, with all those fish and all.” Picture him catching one.
Some commentators get the idea that this was a good big fish. I don’t know. Great big fish swallow other big fish. I have a feeling this was a little tiny fish that couldn’t even swallow a coin, and it got lodged in his gill. Again, I picture Peter sitting there. I can’t prove that. I don’t have to prove it, but I picture Peter sitting there fishing, and Peter the fisherman fishing with a hook, and I have a feeling he caught some little tiny fish, and then to add insult to injury, “What are you doing now, Peter?” “Shut up! I’m looking for something.” “Well, what are you looking for, Peter?” What a thrill it must have thrilled his heart when he opened the mouth of that fish, and he found a silver stater. How he was used of Christ, and at that moment was exalted. Does He pay the temple tax; does He owe the temple tax? And out of that little “yes” comes this great revelation of Christ. “My God supplies all of my needs.” Look what He goes through; look how He provides, and what a joy. “It’s such a bondage to lay down your rights.” He laid down his rights. What a joy was his when he paid that temple tax. I can just see Him handing that tax collector this silver stater. Down deep in his heart he knew where it came from. He knew how God had given it to him. That man would never know, and he wouldn’t understand if Peter began to explain to him, so he just keeps it inside, and he goes through his perfunctional duties, and he goes through the obligations, and lays down his rights for the sake of others, and exercises loving hearted forbearance, and all the time Christ is revealing Himself, bringing a supernatural joy and filling his whole heart and the landscape of his life with His own dear person; with His lovely Presence; that sweet fellowship
I suggest chapter 17 lays down the heart and core of spiritual living; seeing Jesus glorified, trusting Jesus unreservedly, and resting in Christ as all sufficient, to provide my every need, no matter how slight or how great that need may be. Then we’ll learn freedom. Then you’ll see the glory of God. May God teach us these things!
We’re going to be celebrating what man calls Thanksgiving tomorrow. If God begins to write these things in your heart, we have so much to be thankful for. Let’s trust that God will teach us these things, and show us His Son.
Our Father, we do thank You, again not for our understanding of this passage, but for all that You know it means. Work it in our hearts. Show us the glory of our all sufficient Christ, we pray. Teach us how to be spiritual. We ask this in the all prevailing name of our Lord Jesus. Amen