Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
And while they were gathering together in Galilee,
Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into
the hands of men; 23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised
on the third day." And they were deeply grieved. 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?" 25 He
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?" 26 When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to
him, "Then the sons are exempt. 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."
There are three reasons why I chose this text for our
consideration this morning.
First is because today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy
Week when we look forward to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and
Easter. Jesus says in verses 22-23, "The Son of Man is going to be
delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He
will be raised on the third day." So the text begins with a
prophecy of the Lord about what will happen in that last week which
we call Holy Week.
Second, there is a conversation between Jesus and Peter that
teaches something wonderful about the freedom that we have as
Christians. Verse 26 ends, "Then the sons are exempt (literally
"free")." I want us to see what this freedom is and what a great
thing it is to have it.
Third, the passage includes a miracle in verse 27, namely, the
coin in the fish's mouth. This shows that Jesus is worthy of our
worship and relates the freedom we have as Christians to the way
God provides for his free children when they willingly act for
love's sake, not under the constraint of law. This applies to the
financial challenge we face in the Gideon Venture and the Isaac
Factor (see the previous three sermons). Or, more personally, it
applies to God's care for you in your situation as a free child of
God. Not that God will always work a miracle to get you out of some
scrape you're in, but that he will work with omnipotent power to
meet all your needs on the path of freedom and love.
So let's start with the second of these reasons and then go to
the third and then end with the first, the prophecy of the death
and resurrection of Jesus.
The Two-Drachma Tax
Verse 24: Jesus and his disciples are in Capernaum, Peter's
hometown (Mark 1:29). Some Jewish people, whose job was to collect
the "two-drachma" temple tax, came to Peter and asked, "Does your
teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" This was not a Roman tax, but
a Jewish tax for the upkeep of the temple. It was based loosely on
Exodus 30:11-16. So these folks were not your unpatriotic tax
collectors that we usually read about who collected for the Romans;
they were the very patriotic supporters of the temple who expected
Israelites throughout the homeland and beyond to take part in
supporting the temple service. So this question ("Does your teacher
not pay the two-drachma tax?") was probably a test to see how
supportive Jesus would be of the temple service in Jerusalem.
Rumors were already circulating that he said disloyal things about
Peter answered in verse 25, "Yes." When he and Jesus were in the
house away from the crowd, Jesus asked Peter (in verse 25b), "What
do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect
customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" So Jesus
is not going to let this go by without a lesson being taught.
He brings up a comparison - an analogy. There are kings on the
earth who run their kingdoms with money raised from taxes. How are
those taxes collected, Jesus asked, from the king's own children or
from the rest of the citizens and inhabitants? The analogy pictures
God as the king and the temple service as the running of his
kingdom and makes a comparison between some people who are the sons
of the king and some who are not the sons of the king.
Who Are the Sons and How Are They Free?
Peter answers Jesus' question in verse 26, "From strangers."
That is, kings collect taxes from the citizens and inhabitants that
are not part of their family. That's the right answer. So "Jesus
said to him, 'Then the sons are exempt (=free).'"
So what is the point Jesus is making? Who are the sons that are
free and how are they free? Verse 27 gives us the decisive clue.
Jesus says to Peter: "However [that is, even though the sons are
free] . . . take that and give it to them for you and Me." In other
words, you are free, Peter, and I am free, but we will pay the
two-drachma temple tax anyway.
So the comparisons are between the kings of the earth and God
and between the king's sons and Jesus with his disciples. Which
raises a question: Who are the "strangers"? Who are the "citizens
and inhabitants" that are not exempt - not free from the temple
Keep in mind here: This temple tax has nothing to do with the
Romans. This is a Jewish tax. So if Jesus makes a distinction
between the sons who are free and another group who are not free,
he is making a distinction within Israel - among two groups of
Jews. This is what John the Baptist did before him. It is what Paul
would do after him. John the Baptist called for Israel to repent
and be a part of a new, true Israel, and not to boast, "We have
Abraham as our father" (Matthew 3:9), as if mere Jewish descent
made one a child of God. Then Paul said in Romans 9:6-8, "Not all
Israel is Israel . .. It is not the children of the flesh who are
the children of God."
So the answer is that the "strangers" - the "citizens and
inhabitants" who are not free are the Jewish people who are
rejecting Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus is the Son of God, and
those who trust him and follow him are sons of God because of their
attachment to Jesus. Matthew 16:15-16: "[Jesus] said to [the
disciples], 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered,
'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And speaking to
his disciples he said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall
be called the sons of God'" (Matthew 5:9).
It's true that Israel was called the son of God in the Old
Testament (Exodus 4:22). So how can Jesus now say that some Jews
are sons of God and free, and some are not sons of God and not
free? The answer is that "sonship" has a new, personal, individual
meaning with Jesus. There was a corporate sonship before, but now
there is a new, personal relationship with God through Jesus
Christ, the Son of God. This new, personal, individual relationship
of sonship through Jesus is what Jesus has in mind when he says,
"the sons are free."
With the coming of Jesus Christ - the one and only divine,
eternal, uncreated Son of God - into the world, a new way of
relating to God is made possible. Now there is the real,
experienced, conscious union with Jesus Christ that no one had
known before the coming of Christ.
It is described in Romans 8:16-17, "The Spirit Himself testifies
with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs
also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." This term,
"fellow heirs with Christ," shows how our sonship is connected to
Christ's. We are sons along with Jesus Christ when we are in
Christ. Not that we are divine, like him, but that we share his
inheritance, just as we share his righteousness (2 Corinthians
That is what Jesus is pointing to here in Matthew 17:26, "The
sons are exempt (free)." Those who are Jesus' disciples are the
true sons of God and are free from the temple tax, and those who
reject him are not the true sons of God and are not free.
But that raises another question: Does this mean that God means
for his temple to be supported by unbelievers? No. That is not the
point. What, then, is the point?
Jesus the True Meeting Place with God
I think the point is twofold. One is that the temple is passing
away and is going to be replaced by Jesus himself as the true
meeting place with God; and the other is that Jesus does not say
that the true children of God don't pay the tax, but only that they
are free not to. In fact, he sends Peter to pay it in verse 27.
The true children of God - the followers of Jesus - are free
because Jesus himself is taking the place of the temple. "I am able
to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days"
(Matthew 26:61). He was referring to his body. Jesus himself was
the new meeting place with God. "Something greater than the temple
is here" (Matthew 12:6). Place was giving way to Person. The sons
are free because the sons are discovering that the age of the
temple in Jerusalem is over. The age of coming to God through Jesus
The other reason Jesus doesn't mean that the temple is to be
supported by unbelievers is that he sends the true children of God
to support the temple, not because they have to support the temple,
but because it might at times be good to for the sake of the
gospel. Verse 27: "However, so that we do not offend them. . . .
Take that and give it to them for you and Me." In other words, you
are free not to pay the tax, but pay it anyway for the sake of not
putting an obstacle in the way of my message.
here's the main point of the passage: Those who trust and
follow Jesus as the Son of God are the true children of God and
are, therefore, free from the old system of temple worship with its
"taxes." This does not mean that we no longer care about the
ministry of worship. It means we come to God through Jesus. And if
there is, incidentally and culturally, a building involved, we are
not forced or coerced to support that building. The sons are
The point of verse 27 (the payment of the "tax") seems to be
this: If you are a child of God, you decide how you will support a
non-essential building (and all of them are now!) not by thinking
of yourself as taxed by God, but by thinking of whether there are
reasons the building will advance the cause of Jesus Christ - which
is not building-oriented, but God-oriented, and kingdom-oriented,
and ministry-oriented, and people-oriented.
A Miracle of Freedom and Provision
Now I turn very briefly to the miracle of the coin in the fish's
mouth and the introductory words of prophecy that Jesus' death is
Verse 27, again: "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." What's the point of the miracle of
the coin in the fish's mouth?
Two things at least.
One is this: If Jesus is bringing the temple to an end for the
true children of God, because "something greater than the temple is
here" (Matthew 12:6), then it is fitting that he show that he is
worthy of our worship. This miracle involves divine power and
wisdom and knowledge. Someone had to be sure that a shekel
(precisely worth four drachmas - two for Jesus and two for Peter)
was dropped in the sea. Someone had to be sure that the fish
scooped it up, but did not swallow it all the way. Someone had to
be sure that the fish that scooped up the coin would be near where
Peter drops his hook in the water. And Someone would have to be
sure that the fish bites Peter's hook, without swallowing the coin,
and stays hooked till he gets the coin. When Jesus says that this
is, in fact, all going to happen just as he says, he shows himself
to be just what Peter confessed him to be: the Son of God worthy of
worship and trust. You don't have to go anywhere or pay anything to
worship God. He has come to you. There he is. Here he is!
The other point of the miracle is that when you act in freedom
and love -not under coercion or constraint - God himself works for
you in ways you would never dream. It's like the feeding of the
five thousand. Jesus says to the disciples who have five loaves and
two fish borrowed from a little boy, "You feed the five thousand."
When they set out to do that (just as when Peter sets out to pay
the temple tax), God causes the five loaves and two fish to become
enough to feed them all. And God causes a coin to be there in a
The point is not that God will always work a miracle to get you
out of some scrape, but that he will do whatever he has to do to
help you pursue the path of freedom and sacrificial love that may
seem impossible to you.
So with regard to Education for Exultation, we could add "The
Fish Factor" or "The Coin Component" to "The Gideon Venture" and
"The Isaac Factor." You are not bound to give, but love may compel
you to give. And if it does, there will be a way -if God is in it,
God will make a way. That's the second point of the miracle. As
Hudson Taylor said, "Depend upon it. God's work, done in God's way,
will never lack for supplies"
The Beginning of Holy Week
The only thing left to say is this: This whole story was
introduced by the omniscient prophecy about the Son of God and Son
of Man in verses 22-23: "The Son of Man is going to be delivered
into the hands of men; (23) and they will kill Him, and He will be
raised on the third day." This sovereign Christ, who governs the
drop of a coin and the path of a fish, has set his face like flint
toward Jerusalem and death. Why? To purchase for us sinners the
glorious things that we have been talking about (Matthew
We can't become the children of God; we are sinners. We don't
deserve to find a coin in a fish's mouth; we deserve to be thrown
into the mouth of hell. We are not free from the condemnation of
the law; we are under the curse of the law -unless the Son of Man
gives himself freely as a substitute for us on the cross and
purchases for us forgiveness from all sin and escape from hell and
freedom from condemnation. And that is what Jesus did. That is what
Holy Week is all about. That is what we need to believe and
embrace, and ponder this week. The foundation of our everlasting
freedom as the children of God is the death of Jesus. All God's
promised help in our lives was bought by the blood of Christ.
Believe this. Cherish it this week. Come and worship and bring a
friend to hear about it next Sunday morning -Easter.