Key Verse: Matthew 17:26
Big Idea: God’s children have freedom, but God gives us the resources to go beyond what is required of us.
Matthew 17 is a big chapter. Jesus is transfigured, casts out a demon and promises that if the disciples have faith like a mustard seed, they will be able to move mountains. Throughout the course of the year, we will look at each of these things, but today we are focused on something unique to Matthew: the paying of the temple tax. Every free Jewish man was required to pay an annual tax of two denarii (each worth a day of manual labor) for the maintenance of the temple, in addition to their tithes and Roman taxes.
Some tax collectors came to Peter and asked something like: “Your master pays the temple tax, doesn’t he?” Peter, without consulting with Jesus, said “Of course!” When he returned to the house, Jesus, showing supernatural knowledge, asked him a question about whether princes needed to pay taxes or not. Of course, it was the other people who had to pay taxes, not the royal household. Jesus, as God’s Son, is then exempt from paying the temple tax, but to prevent being a stumbling block to the tax collectors, Jesus will make a payment. God’s children are free from certain man made regulations, but we are not exempt from the debts of love. Rather than stand up for His rights on principle, Jesus stands up for the tax collectors on compassion.
But Jesus and the apostles were not rich. They travelled from place to place, dependent on the kindness of the people they reached. They did not have an abundance of money to cover this tax. But Jesus announces that Peter is to go fishing and will find a single fish with enough money in its mouth to cover Jesus’ tax and (in a comic twist) Peter’s too. To try and put this into perspective, a day laborer today might expect to make $100 to $120. The temple tax would be something like $250. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing, and he will find a fish with a $500 bill in its mouth.
God expects us to go beyond what can rightly be demanded of us, but He also is the one who provides us with the resources we need to do it. Peter and Jesus would pay a tax they did not owe for the sake of the tax collectors, but would do it through a miraculous provision of a valuable coin in the mouth of a fish. When we trust God, He supplies all of our needs.
Discussion idea: Have you ever had an opportunity to choose between what you had to do and what you could do?
Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of love that Jesus had, that we will go above and beyond what we must do, for the sake of the gospel.