Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is Just Jesus, Week 64, Matthew, Part 62. Today Pastor G covers Matthew 17:24-27. Peter AGAIN fails to recognize and understand the true Divinity of Jesus. Jesus AGAIN gently teaches and corrects the disciples. Jesus also makes a point about not offending the governing powers of the world. Finally, to help Peter keep his word, Jesus produces a very unusual miracle after He first prophesies that it will happen.
Welcome to week 64 of our Just Jesus series. This is Matthew Part 62. Last week we saw Jesus revealing His true nature and His glory in an event we call The Transfiguration. Peter, James and John, like Moses and Elijah, did not have to die before seeing God’s glory. In spite of this miraculous experience, the three disciples still didn’t understand what was going on. Peter’s words showed us he thought this was Elijah appearing to give the nod to Jesus as the conquering king Messiah everyone was expecting and wanting Jesus to be. Jesus has to explain to them, AGAIN, that this is not yet that time. The same Spirit which gave Elijah his wisdom and power (the Holy Spirit) was also speaking through John the Baptist. In that way, John (with the same Spirit as Elijah) had already introduced Him as the Suffering Servant Messiah at His baptism.
We also talked about a demon-possessed man with epilepsy that the disciples were unable to heal, even though Jesus had given them His power and His authority to do just that, way back in Matthew 10. Jesus tells them they were not able to do it because they have no faith – no faith in Him and no faith in the promise He made to them that He had given them His power and authority. Jesus also again, told the disciples, in detail, about His impending death and resurrection and they were grieved, clearly not believing Jesus’ promise that He would rise again. That’s where we left off last week. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today, would you give me some encouragement by saying or typing HIT ME WIT’ IT G! I’M READY! Awesome! Mahalo. Let’s get into it.
24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” ~ Matthew 17:24
Anybody here pay the two-drachma tax? Would you say that with me? It’s kind of fun. Everybody TWO DRACHMA TAX. The Temple tax was a tax paid by Israelites and Levites which went towards the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a half-shekel or two drachmas a year per person. A good rule of thumb to put it into today’s world is it was meant to be about two days pay for the average worker. (Minimum wage times 16 hours.) Traditionally, priests were exempt from the tax. Simon Peter, I think, got a little defensive and stuck up for Jesus. I can’t prove it but I think the tone Peter used was “YEEEEEEES!” Jesus doesn’t witness this conversation with Peter but we see His omniscience at work when He speaks to Peter about it even before Peter brings it up. Matthew uses the Greek word prophthanó which means to anticipate or to get a head start. Look at verse 25.
25 [Peter] 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 the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” ~ Matthew 17:25
It’s not an accident that Jesus uses Peter’s “old name” here. It was just the last chapter when Jesus gave Simon the new name of Petros because he had just correctly proclaimed the Petra – the bedrock truth of Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Son of God. Peter, in his famous (back and forth, faith/not faith, understanding/not understanding, gets it/clearly doesn’t get it) habit, immediately tried to rebuke Jesus and tell Him God was forbidding Jesus from doing what He planned to do. Remember, Jesus called Peter, Satan when he did that. He told Peter he was being a skandalidzo, a stumbling block, to Him.
He was tempting Him to disobey the Father’s will just like Satan did. Remember that? If you remember that will you say or type I REMEMBER! Now, Peter, once again, misunderstands who Jesus is and what Jesus is and is not required to do and Peter, once again, presumes to speak for Jesus. He promises these tax collectors that Jesus will, of course, pay the temple tax. Jesus returns to Peter’s previous name, subtly indicating that Peter, unlike when he earlier called Jesus Messiah and Son of God, is NOT getting it right now. Jesus, knowing what Peter just did outside the house says …
“What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” ~ Matthew 17:25b
26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. ~ Matthew 17:25-26
Jesus, the Messiah, and Son of God, the Prophet of Prophets, the Priest of all Priests, the King of all Kings, the object of worship for all those worshiping at the Temple – He IS GOD – Peter seems to have forgotten this AGAIN. Why should Jesus pay the temple tax? Jesus takes it a step further. The disciples, as followers of Jesus, have been adopted into the family of God and they are priests of the New Covenant as well. The Apostle Paul talks about this as well in Galatians 3:23-26
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. ~ Galatians 3:23-26
and again in Galatians 4:6-7 6
Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. ~ Matthew 17:6-7
Jesus says the sons are exempt. However, Simon has already spoken for Jesus and told the collectors to expect a tax payment from Him. So, Jesus continues.
27 However, so that we do not offend them … ~ Matthew 17:27a
Let’s stop there for a second. Jesus is about to tell Simon to go pay the tax for Jesus and for Himself. He’s going to tell Simon to go get that coin in a very bizarre way in a minute but let’s talk about this part of the verse first. Technically, Jesus and the adopted sons of God, all priests, are exempt from paying this tax. However, Jesus says, so that we do not offend them, since you were the one who promised we pay it Peter, let’s go ahead and pay the tax for the two of us anyway. This Greek word we translate as offend here is again a familiar word. We just talked about it a minute ago. We studied it a couple of weeks ago when Jesus rebuked Simon Peter for rebuking Him. It is the word Skandalidzo. Remember that word? If you still remember it would you say or type I REMEMBER!
Again, it means to cause to stumble or to give offense or to put a snare in the way of someone, to trip them up in their walk. I think, again, this is a subtle reminder from Jesus to Simon Peter that he is, once again, speaking on behalf of Jesus, when he is not authorized or even qualified to do so. Just as Jesus told Peter not to tempt Him to sin, He is saying the same thing about this tax issue. Since Peter has already made this promise, we need to keep it. We don’t want to tempt them to sin, we don’t want to trip them up in their opinion of Jesus or what we are trying to accomplish here. That could cause damage to the kingdom.
Paul, as he did in Galatians that we looked at a few minutes ago, likewise, fleshes this idea of Jesus’ out for us as well. Sure, maybe you aren’t required by God to do this, but you should do it anyway. Look at 1 Corinthians 8:9 and 12.
9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.… 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 8:9,12
When we put both Jesus’ words and Paul’s words on this subject together we have a better understanding of why Paul also tells us we are to obey the law of the land. Look at Romans 13:1-7. Paul writes:
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. ~ Romans 13:1-7
Incidentally, this is why, as a church, we have strictly obeyed the Governor’s and Mayor’s COVID laws and policies. Someone wrote me a couple of weeks ago and basically said “In such and such a church in Waikoloa, no one is wearing masks and they are packed every Sunday. Your church requires masks and is almost empty. What do you think the difference is?” I answered that I could not speak to the policies of such and such church, but as for our church, when our leadership prayed about our policies, we felt compelled to keep everyone as safe as possible, treating one another as more important than ourselves and we felt compelled to obey the word of God in Romans 13. Churches have not been singled out or oppressed by these rules so we should obey them as God commands us through Paul. We see the wisdom in this as Hawai’i County is once again experiencing community spread and posting very high COVID positivity rates.
We, of course, understand there is a greater law to be faithful to God if there is a disparity between what God calls us to do and what the government tells us to do. If they demand we renounce Christ for example we should resist and disobey the government. Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow in worship to a 90-foot tall idol constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. There’s a great old Russ Taff song about this
[Pastor G Sings] Ninety feet tall and nine feet wide – Solid gold – It must be a god, they were told – When you hear the music play – Fall on your knees and begin to pray – They were told – But when the trumpet sounded – and the whole world bowed – Three men stood there all alone – They said – Not gonna bow to your idols – We won’t bow, oh no – Not gonna bow to your idols – We won’t bow down, oh no.
So listen, if our government commands us to worship a 90-foot idol I think we should 100% disobey, being willing to be thrown into a furnace just like those three men were. On the other hand, if our government says, pay your taxes that have been legally put into effect? We should pay our taxes. If our government says the best medical science we have available to us says it is beneficial to wear masks and distance as much as possible in a large group to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable, so we are requiring all citizens to follow that law? We should 100% absolutely obey and follow that guidance. If the government says only Christians have to wear masks and distance then, of course, we should rebel against that type of discriminatory law. It’s always been very simple and obvious to me. Of course, there are cases where Christians should rebel against the government. If we are being persecuted, singled out or mistreated for our faith or being required to do something that goes against our faith or dishonors God? Rebel! Wearing a mask and distancing like every other citizen is being asked to do? That’s not a reason to rebel or offend. Paying your taxes like everyone else? That’s not a reason to rebel or offend either.
That’s the big idea of what both Paul and Jesus are teaching here. Let’s get back to Jesus and the Temple Tax. He tells Simon Peter, technically, as God, I’m exempt from paying taxes to maintain the center of the worship of … ME. And, Simon, as God’s sons and priests, you are exempt. But hey, this is NOT a big deal. It’s just a mask…. Oops. I mean, it’s just 2 drachmas, half-a-shekel for crying out loud. Let’s not make a big deal out of this. Let’s just pay the tax. Jesus says:
27 However, so that we do not offend them 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 shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” ~ Matthew 17:27
This is that bizarre way Jesus tells Peter to go get the coin I referred to earlier. This is another of those really bizarre miracles of the Bible. Those of you who attend in person or online on Wednesday nights know, we talked recently on a Wednesday night about the prophet Elisha making an iron axehead float. That was weird too. Healing lepers we get. Helping lame walk, blind see, deaf hear, we get it. Make an axehead float? Huh? Catch a fish with a coin in its mouth? What? We’ve already seen Jesus multiply fish and bread right before everyone’s eyes. We’ve already seen Jesus turn water into wine. Certainly, He could have just created the coin and handed it to Peter. Or, even more simply, He could have had Judas pull a coin out of the treasury the disciples had from donations of their supporters and Jesus’ followers.
Why in the world does Jesus decide to provide this coin, to cover the temple tax for Himself and for Peter, in this very bizarre way? Okay Peter, here’s how we’re going to handle this. You go fishing. Catch a fish. Open its mouth and that’s where the coin you need will be. It reminds me of the magicians who make someone sign a playing card and then later in the act they cut open an orange that was on the other side of the room and BOOM – the card is inside. TA DAH! Why does Jesus tell Peter to do this? There are numerous theories. Some commentators think it is just a metaphor and it didn’t literally happen the way Matthew describes it. I think it did. I think this is yet another lesson, by Jesus, for Simon Peter, to again try to get it through Simon Peter’s thick head, who Jesus actually is. For whatever reason, making him catch a ton of fish all at once didn’t do it. Making wine from water didn’t do it. Healing people of every known ailment, including demon possession, didn’t do it. Raising people from the dead didn’t do it. Walking on the water and calming the weather didn’t do it.
Even being transfigured in front of Peter like a big shimmering ball of shekinah glory didn’t do it. Even hearing God’s voice on at least one occasion, possibly two, calling Jesus His son and commanding Simon Peter to “LISTEN TO HIM!” didn’t do it. Simon Peter keeps flip-flopping on who he seems to think Jesus is, whether he thinks of Him as man or as Son of God. And, even when Simon Peter and the other disciples called Jesus the Son of God, they clearly didn’t mean it the same way Jesus does. Jesus IS God! He and the Father are ONE! He is God in the flesh. They don’t get it. They just don’t get it. It’s not until after His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the eventual filling by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that they seem to finally, finally, get it. Still, Jesus loves giving them lessons about it. He’s about to prove He is God again to Simon Peter. Though, we know, because we’ve read the rest of the story, not even this miracle will be enough to finally make it click for Simon Peter.
In making the one and only fish Simon Peter catches produce a coin in its mouth … imagine the odds of that by the way. Every bookie in Vegas would take that action. I want to put $20 down on the first fish Simon Peter catches will have a coin in its mouth. Uhhhhh, that’s impossible! You’ve got a bet! Imagine how far those odds go when you specify it has to be a stater coin, a coin worth 4 drachma, the exact amount Simon Peter needed to pay for his own tax and Jesus’ tax that he promised as well. Crazy impossible right? Never going to randomly happen. Not in a billion billions of tries. No way. So, listen. Don’t miss this. Listen. Jesus’ miracle includes His omniscience – knowing the fish would yield the exact coin Simon Peter needed, but also the miracle includes the purpose and pleasure of His will—which all creation obeys. Jesus created that coin in the mouth of the fish and then guided that single fish out of multiple schools in the lake to be the first one caught on Peter’s hook.
Jesus, God in the flesh, the Lord of Creation, controls all things, even the fish of the sea and the gold and silver of the world. He created all of it and He can control all of it. The apostle John wrote in John 1:3 3
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. ~ John 1:3
and Paul confirms this as well in Colossians 1:16
16 For ]by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. ~ Colossians 1:16
Jesus, using His divine power and authority, again does something that is clearly impossible. He makes a completely random fish produce the exact amount of silver coil to pay the Temple tax for Himself and Peter. This miracle was to again prove to Peter (and the other disciples) what they clearly had a difficult time consistently believing. Jesus is the omnipotent Son of God who created and controls all of creation. It wasn’t a trick. It wasn’t slight of hand. It wasn’t an illusion. It wasn’t a metaphor. He really did it and it really happened. He did it to illustrate a point to Simon Peter, and subsequently to all of us who follow Him as well. Again, who do we say Jesus is? Based on all of this evidence, who do we say that Jesus is? He is clearly God. He is clearly the Lord of all creation. What should our response be? We should worship Him! We should glorify Him and enjoy Him forever! Amen? Yay God?
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~