Peter, like several of Jesus’ disciples, was a fisherman by trade. He was also a Jew, as was Jesus. This meant they both lived under the Jewish system of rules associated with the legal, moral, and ceremonial code. One of the rules stated that each person over the age of 20 was to pay an annual tax for the support of the temple. Because the Jewish leaders were always trying to find some reason to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing, they approached Peter (Jesus’ right hand man) to ask him about the tax:
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 17:24-28 (TNIV)
Now, this passage can be dissected and analyzed in many different ways. Jesus’ statement about the children being exempt from the taxes levied by kings is in reference to the idea that Jesus was/is God’s beloved Son; in fact he was God incarnate. Technically and legally, Jesus was exempt from taxes imposed by any earthly system of government. But, in order not to give unnecessary reasons for the Jews to accuse Him of wrongdoing, Jesus told Peter it was best for Him and Peter to pay the tax.
The most basic truth to be gained from this story is one of supernatural provision. The fish Jesus told Peter to snag with a hook was divinely appointed to carry, in its mouth, a coin that was exactly the amount needed to cover the cost of the tax for Peter and Jesus. Not more, not less, but exactly the right amount. Isn’t that amazing?! Imagine Peter’s surprise when he followed Jesus’ instructions and pulled the fish out of the lake. How do you suppose he felt when he pried open that fish’s mouth and there was the coin?! (As a side note, Jesus frequently amazed Peter and the disciples by using their fishing trade to prove His divinity. See Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14)
Have you ever experienced God’s miraculous provision? My wife, Donna, and I have had several opportunities to praise God for supplying our needs in ways that were beyond coincidental. I recall a time early in our marriage when we discovered, much to our surprise (and shock and dismay!) that Donna was pregnant. We lived in Lexington, Kentucky and had just over-extended ourselves by purchasing an old house that we could only afford because the owners and Donna’s father helped us with financing, and because the upstairs had been converted to a one bedroom apartment. We could rent out the apartment to help with the payments. We were excited about the prospect of being parents, but we had no idea how our meager incomes could support us, a house, and a baby.
Not long after we shared our news with family and friends, Donna’s mother came from Ohio to visit. In her trunk was an old crib she had purchased for $10 at a yard sale. But the crib was in poor condition, the springs were bent and rusty, and all the hardware was missing. The mattress was musty smelling and stained. The crib was, basically, four beat up sides (I remember one of the vertical slats on one side was missing) that were bolted together from which the old springs were hung. We thanked her for thinking of us and put the crib out in our dilapidated garage.
A few months later Donna was taking me to work (I don’t remember why we only had one car available at the time). It was trash pickup day in the neighborhood through which we were driving. Now you’ve got to understand that this was Lexington, Kentucky, and it was an acceptable practice for passersby to rummage through other people’s curbside trash and take anything they found useful. As we drove by one pile I noticed what appeared to be a perfectly good set of springs for a baby crib. Donna stopped the car, and I jumped out to investigate. The springs were in great shape, and neatly piled next to the springs was all the hardware our crib was missing, including the lower horozontal metal rails and the chrome bars that allowed the sides of the crib to slide up and down. We marveled at the possibility that this might make for a complete and functioning baby crib.
After I got home from work, I wrestled the old crib out of the garage and matched the hardware up to the crib. Not only was it all the right size, but the holes in the crib ends were in exactly the right positions for the rails and for the chrome bars! With the exception of the mattress, a few screws, and 4 little springs we now had a complete crib! I fashioned a new slat out of a scrap piece of wood, applied some white paint, and marveled at God’s supernatural provision. I think it was, again, Donna’s mom who purchased a new mattress for us. Our crib served us well through all three of our boys’ infant lives.
Only God could arrange for a coin, in exactly the right denomination, to be in a fish’s mouth at just the right time. And only God (through Donna’s mom and through unsuspecting neighbors) could make sure that exactly the right parts would come together from two different states to form a complete crib for the children of His believing and needy children.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
(Philippians 4:19-20 ESV)