Matthew chapter 17

“However, we don’t want to offend them, 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 coin. Take the coin and pay the tax for both of us. – Vs 27 (NLT)

I love this story. It seems like such a disconnect from the rest of the chapter and, at first glance, doesn’t see to be any more than an interesting little side story. But I think it reveals so much about Jesus. Peter is confronted by some Temple representatives who collect the annual tax for the upkeep and support of the Temple. They want to know if Jesus, as Peter’s teacher or rabbi, pays the tax. They seem to be inferring that He hasn’t. Peter, probably defensively, assures them that Jesus has paid the tax. But the reality is, according to the rest of the story, Jesus had not yet paid the tax. Peter had lied. So when he entered the house, he was going to talk to Jesus about the matter. He had put his neck on the line and told these officials that Jesus had paid the tax. Now Peter had to get Jesus to make good in his (Peter’s) promise.

But before Peter could bring up the matter, Jesus asks him an interesting question: “From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” (Vs 25 – NASB). Peter quickly answers, “From strangers.” Jesus point seems to be that the sons of the king are exempt from the tax. In that one small statement, Jesus communicates a lot about Himself. He once again affirms His deity and His unique position as the Son of God. He is the exempt one. As the Son of God, Jesus was not personally obligated to pay for the support of God’s house, because being God, it was His Temple.

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. – Malachi 3:1

Jesus wasn’t just another rabbi. He wasn’t just some itinerant teacher roaming the countryside. He was the Son of God. It was His Temple. It was His house. He did not have to pay a tax to support His own house. I think the magnitude of this statement escaped Peter at the moment. But I am sure that he reflected on this exchange once Jesus had resurrected. He would have recalled what Jesus had said. But for now, he was probably still wondering how they were going to pay the tax. He wasn’t about to go to these officials and tell them that Jesus was exempt because He was the Son of God. Not only would they laugh at him, they would probably arrest them both. But Jesus knew what Peter was thinking and gently gave Peter some instructions for coming up with the tax money. Now these were some strange instructions. “Go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a coin. Take the coin and pay the tax for both of us.” Can’t you just see Peter’s face? “You want me to do what?” Matthew is kind enough not to give us Peter’s response. But we assume that Peter did as the Lord commanded him and it all happened just like Jesus said it would. He caught the fish, opened its mouth, and there was the coin. A single shekel, but enough to cover not only Jesus’ tax, but Peter’s as well.

This is probably my favorite part of the story. Jesus, as the Son of God, wasn’t obligated to pay this tax, but He did. He said His reason for doing so was to not offend these officials. But I think He was covering for Peter. Peter had told these men that Jesus had already paid the tax. Now Jesus made it a reality. He didn’t have to, but He did. It reminds me that Jesus didn’t have to come to earth, but He did. He didn’t have to take on human flesh, but He did. He didn’t have to die as a sinner, but He did. He didn’t have to pay my debt, but He did. Jesus paid Peter’s debt. He met Peter’s obligation. Why did He choose to get the coin from the mouth of a fish? I have no idea. Maybe it was a visual lesson for Peter, the fisherman. Jesus could have handed Peter a shekel. He could have told him to pick up the nearest rock and there he would find the coin. But instead, He sends Peter the fisherman to go fish. To go do what he had done every day of his life for years. But this time, things were different. Instead of a net, he was to use a line and a hook. This wasn’t about quantity, but a single fish. The very first fish. This was going to be a miracle. It reminds me of the first time that Peter had met Jesus. Peter was fishing and had not had much luck. They had been fishing all day and had caught nothing. So Jesus tells them to go back out to the deep water and let down their nets for a catch. When they did, they caught so many fish that it began to sink their boat. This time Jesus sent Peter to get one single fish. Once again, Jesus had provided a catch and He had proven who He was. The first time, Peter’s response was to follow Jesus. We are not given Peter’s response this time. But I have the feeling that Peter was blown away by what happened. When he caught that fish and found the coin, he was amazed once again. Jesus really was the Son of God. He really was the owner of the Temple. He was really was above having to pay the tax. Yet He paid it willingly.

Father, it amazes me that Your Son was willing to come to earth, live as a human being, suffer at the hands of men, and die a sinner’s death, even though He didn’t deserve it. He did all this, even though He didn’t have to. He did it willingly. And all for me. He didn’t have to pay that tax, but He did. He didn’t have to die for me, but He did. And I can’t thank You both enough. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org