Archive for November, 2014

Matthew 17:24-27 – FISHING FOR A MIRACLE

Coin Fish. Created by Ross Cochrane.

Coin Fish. © Created by Ross Cochrane.

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.  

Pastor Ross

MATTHEW 17:24 – JESUS AND TAXES

Fish Coin by Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

Fish Coin by Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

Because of His nomadic lifestyle, the request is made after He arrives at Capernaum. Strange that He should be asked to give. But then every male over twenty is expected to contribute about two days pay per year (half a shekel, a Greek slater, a Roman denarius). Only once, in the days of Nehemiah the Builder, when the people were poor, has it been one third of a shekel (Nehemiah 10:32).

Perhaps it is because Matthew’s background was as a tax collector that this story stays in his mind. By the time he writes his gospel the emperor Vespasian had destroyed the Temple (AD 70) and defiled this sacred offering by using it to rebuild the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

But on this day you can still hear the religious leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees, arguing in the streets as to whether the payment of this silver coin was voluntary or compulsory. It didn’t matter much because as the announcement is made in all the towns of Israel; tax collectors asking for the payment, it is with a sense of nationalistic duty that each man gives to support the running of the Sanctuary.

Like a subscription or a membership fee that enables them to appropriate the use of the Great Temple, it pays for animals, incense, wine, flour and oil and priests. It pays for the sacrifices made each night and morning and is given freely, salted with that sense of historical obligation. Exodus 30:13-20 (NLT) says it is to be given in silver “… as a sacred offering to the Lord. … to purify your lives, making you right with Him, … ransom money … for the care of the Tabernacle.” 

It is not unusual that “the collectors of the Temple tax” make enquiries as to Jesus paying. That is their responsibility after all (Matthew 17:24). It brings into the temple treasury a lot of money. But why are they reluctant to go directly to Jesus? Instead they come to Peter and ask him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” Are they trying to accuse Jesus of being a Temple-tax-evader?

In an act of faith the tax was paid for the forgiveness of sins, so that they could enter the Temple forgiven and accepted by God; a new, fresh start.

Why would Jesus need to pay? Jesus had no sin for which He needed forgiveness. The Temple tax payment is a picture of what He would do for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT) says “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”   

As the treasurer of the group (John 13:29), it is expected that Judas be responsible for paying the tax for all of them. This year Jesus chooses a different approach.

Soon Judas would throw 30 pieces of silver down in the Temple (Matthew 27:5) trying to retract his treachery, enough to pay for a lifetime of Temple Taxes, but he would hang himself before being purified by the sacrifice of Jesus.

This time the tax is given miraculously as an act of grace, a picture of Forgiveness. Jesus is the price; not earned or worked for and totally undeserved. He gives voluntarily in every way to pay for our sins. Jesus will pay the full price and He is the once and for all sacrifice. He will contribute His life for them. And for you. Grace unearned. 

Pastor Ross

Galatians 3:28-29 – FREEDOM FROM THE ENEMY WITHIN

The Prison Within. By Ross Cochrane using MorgueFiles.com, FilterForge.organd Paint.net.

The Prison Within. By Ross Cochrane using MorgueFiles.com, FilterForge.organd Paint.net.

He is a little man with an enormous smile and such wise, almond shaped, sad eyes. His unkempt hair makes him Einstein-like in appearance. His beard troubles his face, defining his features making this fragile soul appear more secure.

As a cadet in 1939 Raoul was subjected to anti-semitism in Poland. His discouragement and hurt went deep and he made a decision never to call himself Polish again. He joined a youth Zionist organization.

John 1:10-11 (NLT) says Jesus was familiar with discrimination and rejection. “He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him.” In Luke 22:37 (NLT) says that prophetically “He was counted among the rebels.” 

As World War 2 loomed, Jews were placed in an internment camp. But Raoul escaped. Many of his friends who remained would die during the holocaust as the German army advanced. Thinking he was safe after liberation on 22 January 1945, and still refusing to call himself Polish, Raoul was again imprisoned for saying he was a Jew, this time by the Russians.

Now Raoul, at the age of 91, resides in an Aged Care Facility. He has dementia. Once again there are locked doors which remind him of the internment camps during WW2 and he dreams of escaping, just as he escaped the holocaust. He says that in the internment camps at least he had hope of freedom and now he refuses to resign himself to a life behind locked doors.

In our conversation always seems to revolve around his imprisonment. I try to help Raoul accept his accommodation as his home. One day as we were talking about being imprisoned, I told Raoul that it appeared to me that he was truly imprisoned, but not because of the locked doors. When he inquired as to how this could be, I said that he was not free on the inside. He had real difficulty with the concept of inner freedom.

Jesus spoke of imprisonment and freedom on the inside to a Jewish audience in John 8:32-47 (NLT). He said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. … So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” Romans 8:2 (NLT) says “And because you belong to Him (Jesus), the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” 

Knowing the power of forgiveness and inward freedom from the tyranny of sin, when Paul spent time in a Roman prison he was able to say, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NASB). In Philippians 4:11-13 (NASB) he says “… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

True freedom is not freedom from authority. It comes when we change allegiances to the One who has designed us. 1 Peter 2:16 (NLT) says “For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.” Romans 6:17-18 (NLT) says “Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.”

Raoul and I often talk about the differences between Jews and Gentiles, but for followers of Christ “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” Galatians 3:28-29 (NLT). Colossians 3:11 (NLT) says “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us.” 

In Acts 26:22-23 (NLT) it is clear that this message of the Messiah is extended to all who will receive Him. “I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen — that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to JEWS AND GENTILES alike.” 

In Acts 3:12-26 (NLT) at Pentecost Peter addressed a crowd of people who have gathered in Jerusalem from all over the ancient world, “… Repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. … For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants ALL the families on earth will be blessed….’” Acts 4:11-12 (NLT) goes on to say “For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

Pastor Ross