Taught By A Fish: Matthew 17:24-27

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Over the past few years of sharing insights that I have found while reading and studying in the gospels, I have realized that when someone is looking for things that are special, significant, relevant, or even relatable, every one of the passages in the gospels has something that is worthy of paying attention to.

However, sometimes while reading a passage, I am inspired on a whole other level than on the surface of what the passage says. The passage and event we are focusing on is one such passage. Found only in Matthew’s gospel, while studying it, I came to the realization that in these four short verses, we have an almost perfect reflection of the salvation plan illustrated in a unique way.

I’m not sure why Matthew was the only one to include this event, but I am glad He did, because without this event, we would miss discovering a powerful lesson that the disciples learned. Let’s read what happened, from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 17 using the New Century Version. Starting in verse 24, Matthew tells us:

24 When Jesus and his followers came to Capernaum, the men who collected the Temple tax came to Peter. They asked, “Does your teacher pay the Temple tax?”

25 Peter answered, “Yes, Jesus pays the tax.”

Peter went into the house, but before he could speak, Jesus said to him, “What do you think? The kings of the earth collect different kinds of taxes. But who pays the taxes—the king’s children or others?”

26 Peter answered, “Other people pay the taxes.”

Jesus said to Peter, “Then the children of the king don’t have to pay taxes. 27 But we don’t want to upset these tax collectors. So go to the lake and fish. After you catch the first fish, open its mouth and you will find a coin. Take that coin and give it to the tax collectors for you and me.”

And this is how this event ends. Part of me wishes for another verse that simply said that Peter did everything that Jesus had instructed him to do and he found it exactly like Jesus had described. But Matthew doesn’t say this. In some ways, like Peter leaving the house and going down to the lake, we must believe that what Jesus described actually happened.

There are plenty of other events in the gospels where Jesus describes an upcoming event or interaction that plays out exactly as He describes. One example is with getting the donkey He rode into Jerusalem on; another is His death and resurrection.

However, even more significant in my mind than taking Jesus’ description to Peter on faith is looking exactly at what is described in this event – and exactly what takes place. But before digging into the passage again, let’s frame how we read this passage by asking ourselves the question, “Who exactly paid the temple tax?”

Some might be quick to point out that it was Peter, for Peter and Jesus, but the coin used to pay the tax didn’t come from Peter’s savings or checking wallet. Instead, it came from somewhere else. What does Jesus instruct Peter to do? Verse 27 tells us that Jesus told Peter to “go to the lake and fish. After you catch the first fish, open its mouth and you will find a coin. Take that coin and give it to the tax collectors for you and me.

Now I am not good at calculating the odds of something, but this instruction is pretty unlikely. First, in order for a fish to get a coin stuck in its mouth, a coin would have to fall into the water somehow. Perhaps this happened days or weeks earlier, and, as a merchant or traveler was crossing the lake, the coin, or perhaps a money bag fell into the lake. This isn’t too unbelievable. It may have even been a moneybag lost during a flash storm as a boat was crossing the lake.

However, next, a fish would then need to find the coin or bag of money and think it was food, and try to eat it. I don’t know much about fish or fishing, but this seems unlikely to happen naturally. I would imagine that fish don’t try to bite more than they can chew, and a coin that is too big to swallow may have fit that bill. But even this is plausible in light of the next thing that would have needed to happen.

Next, that fish would have needed to swim over to the dock where Peter was getting ready to fish at, and be the first fish, with its mouth already full, to think about biting the hook or bait that Peter was using. Of all the fish in the lake, only one fit the description of having a specific coin stuck in its mouth.

When we look at the back-story of what would need to happen in order for Jesus’ description to come true for Peter, we cannot escape the probability that God orchestrated this entire event, and that means that essentially He (God) paid the temple tax.

Now why is this significant? Let’s look earlier at a question in the conversation Jesus has with Peter. Verse 25 describes Jesus’ question to Peter. Jesus asks Peter: “What do you think? The kings of the earth collect different kinds of taxes. But who pays the taxes—the king’s children or others?”

This question is significant because we are all adopted into God’s family, and the temple tax was a requirement to help maintain the temple in Jerusalem. We could call this temple God’s house on earth – because, at least at that time, this is what the purpose of the temple was.

Peter’s answer that other people pay the tax is correct, but this would then mean that Jesus, being part of God’s family, would be exempt from the tax — just after Peter had said that Jesus does pay the tax.

In an instant, Peter realizes that he had spoken incorrectly and had potentially incriminated Jesus. However, Jesus is quick to supply a solution. Peter doesn’t get off without having to do something, but he does get to keep his reputation and his word by delivering the money for the tax he said that Jesus supported.

In this event is a parallel of the entire gospel story. We could summarize it like this: We mess up, God provides a solution. Adam and Eve sinned and infected the entire human race with evil. Jesus came with the solution that He would take our place and our punishment onto Himself. We mess up, God provides a solution. Peter speaks without realizing the implication. Jesus steps in with a solution on how to get the coin to pay what Peter promised would be paid.

In both these cases, God provides the solution when we don’t deserve to be helped. In each case, we can see God’s love for us and how much He cares for us even though we don’t, or even can’t, thank Him enough for what He has done.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Always place God first in your life and lean on Him to help you find solutions to the problems we face. While sometimes it may feel like He is silent, know that He has a solution to every problem, and His solutions will always conclude with you choosing a new life with Him – specifically a new life that leads into an eternal life with Him.

Also, study the Bible to learn more about God and more about Jesus. As you pray, read, and study, look for examples of God’s love and God’s character. While God doesn’t always brush sin aside, we can find grace in every place He steps into history – but don’t take my word for it, pray, read, and study it yourself and discover if I’m correct.

And in addition to everything else, as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 22: Cam discusses a short event that only happens in Matthew’s gospel, and what we can learn from the conversation and instructions that Jesus gave to Peter regarding paying a tax they did not owe.

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