After Jesus and His disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “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 children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, 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.” (Matthew 17:24-27, NIV)
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This miracle is so unthinkable.
It is oddly similar to that moment when you reached into the pocket of a newly bought, second-hand jacket, and pulled out ten bucks...right?
But what pulls at the strings of my heart is how much deeper this story goes.
Here is Jesus and His twelve followers, entering into the town of Capernaum again. This is the hometown of Peter and his family, so we can expect that he is the one housing these twelve other men.
And in a typical fashion, a tax collector from the temple approaches Peter.
By customs of the Jewish law, every Jew older than 20 was to pay a temple tax. It was designated to keep the temple clean, steady, and well-maintained. And from what we can gather, neither Jesus nor Peter had paid their sum.
But what catches my eye is the reason to why this tax was originally commanded... We find it in the book of Exodus:
“This is what each one who is registered shall give: half a shekel (two-drachma) according to the shekel of the sanctuary, half a shekel as an offering to the LORD. Each one who is registered from twenty years old and upward, shall give the LORD’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less when you bring this offering to the LORD to make atonement for your lives.” (Exodus 30:13-15, NRSV)
In other words, the original purpose of this tax was to provide Jews with another way of receiving continual atonement for their sins. Their consistent payment renewed the Lord’s favor upon their sinful souls.
So now we flash forward to this scene: A tax collector asking for the atoning payment from Jesus... do you see something odd about this request?
Jesus, being fully God and fully man; Jesus, being without blemish and without sin, had no need to pay a tax for His soul. He is already righteous.
And we quickly see Jesus stating this Himself.
He asks Peter if kings of the earth collect taxes from their children. The obvious answer is “No” - their taxes are put in place for the people of the kingdom and the outer world, leaving their heirs exempt.
In rationalizing with the tax collectors request, Jesus was highlighting what Peter already knew: “I am the Son of God and heir to the Kingdom of Heaven - I am exempt from this ‘atoning’ tax.”
Yet what Jesus does next is completely amazing. In order to not cause an offense, He chooses to humble Himself and pay the penalty in full. In our godly humility, we are called - like Jesus - to sacrifice our “rights” in this earth for the sake of others.
It is this same principle that Paul will later write to the Romans: “But resolve, instead, to never place a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” (Romans 14:13, NRSV)
And in submitting to the religious authorities, Jesus pays the penalty anyways. He sacrifices His right - His kingship - to pay this wage. Does this sound familiar at all?
You see, what separates this miracle from the exciting “ten dollar find” in your jacket pocket is it’s clear portrayal of the Gospel.
As an heir to the throne of God - as God, Himself - Jesus came. And in recognizing a needed payment for the souls of many, He chose to fulfill it Himself. Despite His righteousness, He would pay the payment of a sinner. Despite His Lordship, He would offer the wages of a man.
Here, it was two-drachma. But later, it would be death on a cross.
And to make this foreshadowing even clearer, Jesus chooses to pay the taxes in a miraculous way.
He could have used their money bag. He could have told Peter to use his own money for the both of them. But instead, He does something so unimaginable; so extraordinary. He divinely places the payment in a fish.
It is as if He is saying, “Today, I will use a fish to deliver My miraculous payment. But soon, I will use a cross and a tomb.” Both instances take something common and mix in the divine.
And the final piece of the Gospel is what comes next: He tells Peter to join in. In fact, the coin found in the fish would not just cover Jesus, but it would also be exactly enough for Peter to be covered as well.
Jesus invites Peter to be atoned for in such an awesome way; but first he must listen to, follow, and obey Jesus’ seemingly crazy command.
And the cross is no different. Jesus’ death and resurrection did not just “account for His life,” it also covers anyone who - like Peter - listens, follows, and obeys all that He commands.
Today, let us realize the pure and untainted beauty of the gospel. As people who have received salvation from Jesus’ miracle on the cross, let us live accordingly. I challenge you to take some time and remind your heart of our humble Savior and His sacrificial payment.
All praise be to Him.
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Greg, Declare Glory