Matthew 17:24-27 – FISHING FOR A MIRACLE
There will always be those who confront you with their questioning cynicism to test your faith. They will cast a baited hook of guilt into the lake of obligation. They will seek to get a bite by putting a tariff on your beliefs and haul you in to support their cause, taxing the sacred parts of your soul with their questions and political manipulation.
Somehow Jesus always anticipates them. He knows ahead of time what they are thinking and asks questions that give perspective to the real matters of the heart.
The Tax Collectors come to the door and ask Peter if Jesus intends to pay His Temple tax. They are testing Him.
Peter says spontaneously “Yes, of course” but he wonders if God is taxed! Peter goes into the house to speak to Jesus about this but before he has a chance, Jesus asks him a question which takes him by surprise. Had Jesus somehow heard the conversation at the door? Are the Tax Collectors still there, listening to His response… ?
“What do you think, Simon?” He asks. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their own sons or from others?” (Matthew 17:25 NIV). What has this got to do with Kings? Why did Jesus ask this question?
“They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replies.
“Well, then,” Jesus says, “the sons are free!”
Applying this argument to the Temple tax goes something like this: God is the King of the Temple. God as King doesn’t charge His Son Temple Tax? Jesus, as God’s Son, is exempt from the tax (Matthew 17:26).
That makes sense. There is no obligation for Jesus to give us anything. But Jesus wants to go an extra mile. Surprisingly, despite being the Son of the King, in grace, He offers to pay, for us. It is not because of obligation that He offers to pay, but from a place of freedom that God provides. This is the principle of grace.
“But so that we may not offend them, …” He says. Not yet anyway. Soon offence would come but not now. Romans 9:33 (NASB) says that Jesus would become “a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
“… so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” (Matthew 17:27 NIV).
Is Jesus simply exaggerating a point and asking Peter to go fishing for a couple of days and pay the tax from the proceeds of the catch? I don’t think so. In an act of faith, the Temple tax was paid for the forgiveness of sins (Exodus 30:13-20), so that Israelis could enter the Temple pardoned and accepted by God; a new, fresh start. But here God pays the price for our sins.
This is a miracle from a fishing expedition that speaks of God’s grace in paying the price for our purification? The coin is a picture of what Jesus would do in dying for our sins.
Jesus tells Peter to go fishing. Strange fishing expedition. Is He serious? Go fishing? I wonder if Peter invited the tax collectors to go fishing with him. They don’t seem to be standing at the door waiting. Why go to all this trouble to get tax from a fish? A large silver coin in a fish.
Jesus said He would make them fishermen of men, not of coins to pay their tax, yet this story for Matthew, the ex-tax collector is bursting with significance. He knew the power of grace and provision from Jesus as Saviour and Lord. This story pictured once again his own journey in finding God’s grace.
Peter baits the hook, and the line is cast. With unusual patience, Peter waits. A group of tax collectors, who have curiously followed at a distance are confused and amazed, because, when the line is suddenly taut and he hauls in a fish, they can see the silver coin as the fish gasps for air.
The fish is prepared for eating, the coin is given to the astonished tax collectors and a lesson in grace is forever imprinted on Matthew’s heart as the story is recounted. Jesus pays Peter’s debt in full. He would soon pay Peter’s eternal debt on a cross.
The other disciples go fishing that day. Any excuse to go fishing. Is this an offshore tax haven? They decide to take a net. But not one coin is retrieved from any fish for a net return on the tax they had paid. But they eat well that day and reflect on the marvelous provision and forgiveness of God. God invites you to go fishing for such a miracle as this.