Scripture Reference: Matthew 17:24-27
Togetherness With ChristDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 3, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
Our greatest need is to have faith in a Christ who can and will supply our needs. Jesus is Lord over our circumstances, He knows what’s in our hearts, and because He is Lord over all, He is the only One able to meet our needs.
The topic is Togetherness with Christ. We’re studying the life of Peter, and do you remember that when Peter decided to follow Jesus, he had to leave the fishing business? And now the question that undoubtedly was in the back of his mind was this: Without the fishing business to depend upon for an income, will I be able to depend on Christ to meet my needs? That’s the kind of question that missionaries sometimes ask. “If I’m willing to leave the homeland and go to another country, is God going to follow me, and will all of my needs and my cares be taken care of?
We feel the same way, too, don’t we? Some of you are without jobs. Some of you are going through times of physical difficulty. You are in emotional and spiritual turmoil because of broken relationships. And so you ask yourself this question. Is Christ able to meet my need? Is He really that dependable?
Well, I want you to take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 17 where we have a remarkable story. It’s one that I’ve never preached on before, and I’m going to read it to you, and then make a couple of introductory comments, and we will see its relevance to Christ meeting our needs.
It says, beginning in verse 24: “When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the (two-drachma) tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?’ And when he said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast 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 me and for yourself.’”
Now in order for us to understand this passage we must see that Jesus did do a remarkable miracle. You know there are some liberals who read this and they say, “You know that’s not possible that Jesus did this. This seems too odd.” And so liberals interpret it by saying that Peter went to get a fish, and after he caught the fish he sold the fish and then he took the stader or the shekel and then paid the tax. That’s a liberal interpretation but I don’t accept it. It sounds too fishy. (laughter)
There’s something else in the text here that I need to explain before we begin to really dig into it and that is that there are different kinds of money that are found in the Bible. For example, here it talks about the two-drachma tax. To make it simple, think of a drachma as being a quarter because it was the responsibility of each person in Israel to give two drachmas, which make half a shekel, to the work of the sanctuary and to sacrifices. This was not a civil tax. This was a religious tax that was used.
And then let me make one other comment. My translation says in verse 27, “You will find a stader.” I think the King James says a shekel. A shekel and a stader are the same. And remember it takes four drachmas to make a shekel, so that in total, they were giving four drachmas, of course, because each of them gave two, and it all comes out as one shekel or one stader. Now that was perfectly clear, wasn’t it?
This is indeed a very interesting passage. When I told my wife I was going to speak on it she said, taking the words almost out of my mouth, “How in the world are you going to come up with a message on that?” Well, today we’re going to do that.
Let’s look at what this passage of Scripture tells us about Jesus Christ. First of all, Christ is Lord over our circumstances. You say, “Well, where do you find that in the text?” Notice first of all that Jesus Christ is indirectly spoken of as being a king, which we know He was. Look at his question to Peter. He says, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or a poll tax – from their sons or from strangers?” Christ was saying, “Peter, actually I wouldn’t have to pay this tax. Kings don’t pay taxes. Why should I pay a tax to the Temple when I am, in point of fact, Lord of the Temple?” And so Jesus Christ is presented here as being the King. He is King and therefore He is Lord over all of our circumstances, not only because of who He is but also because of what He knows.
You know, we read passages like this so quickly that we miss the import. But do you notice that in this passage we see that Jesus Christ knew ahead of time what Peter had done, and also, because of His omniscience, was able to respond in kind? Peter is asked outside the house by someone who came to collect taxes, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” Peter very quickly said, “Yes.” It’s one of the shortest answers in the entire Bible that Peter ever gave. And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first. Before Peter could even explain the situation Jesus is already asking a question, which shows that He knew the conversation that had gone on outside. Christ knows.
My friend, today I want you to know that Jesus knows the inward parts of your heart, just like He knew what was at the bottom of the sea - that shekel. He knows also what is at the bottom of our hearts where eyes never penetrate. He knows us just that well.
Scientists tell us that the same elements that make up the stars make up the human body. It’s understandable because it is the same creator. And it says in Psalm 147: “You count the stars and You heal the brokenhearted.” That’s an interesting juxtaposition of verses. Yes, Jesus Christ counts the stars, and He also counts the number of hairs on our head, which for many of us is becoming less and less of a problem for Him to do, by the way. But Jesus knows us intimately.
Perhaps you are a child here today. I want you to know that Jesus at one time was a child. You teenagers, with your desires and with your ambition and with your idealism, you wonder if Jesus knows what you are going through. Jesus at one time was a teenager. Jesus also was an adult, and when the time comes for us to die, we can be assured that He Himself has gone already behind that curtain because He is one who has had all of these experiences of life.
Christ knows your circumstances. He knows your boss. He knows your landlord. He knows your marriage partner. He knows the things that are said. He knows the things that are not said, the things that are revealed and the things that are hidden. Jesus is Lord of circumstances.
But secondly I want you to notice that Jesus clearly is Lord of nature. In the creation account in the Old Testament, you remember the Lord said to Adam, “I am giving you dominion over the beast of the field, over the fowl of the air and over the fish.” Now Jesus exercised authority over all those realms, and a whole lot more beside. We know that Jesus had authority over animals when He rode down the Mount of Olives on what we call Palm Sunday. He did it on an animal – a colt that had not yet been broken. No one had ever sat on that colt. And yet the colt obeyed Him and went all the way down the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. We know that Jesus had the power and the authority to control the birds. Do you remember the night that Peter betrayed Him? Jesus, in effect, said to all the roosters in Jerusalem, “Do not crow. Be quiet.” And then when Peter denied the Lord three times, He said to a rooster, “All right! It’s time now! You can do it.”
You see, Christ has authority over the whole realm of the animals, and most assuredly He has authority over fish, as seen many times in the New Testament. I want you to notice how His authority over nature is actually directed in three different ways in this passage.
First of all, He directed someone to lose this shekel – this stader. We don’t know whether it was a child walking along the shore, or whether it was someone who was in a boat who accidentally lost this coin. The very fact that they didn’t go after it and find it, that in itself is a miracle. And Jesus just allowed that coin to fall where He knew it needed to fall for His purposes. So there was direction there.
There was another kind of direction, and that was that He had to direct the fish to find the particular coin. No other coin would do. It had to be a coin that was exactly one shekel because that’s what our Lord needed, so we can imagine that as the fish was swimming through the Sea of Galilee, and this coin began to find its way down, either as it was falling the fish went to catch it, or else when it arrived on the bottom the fish saw this very shiny substance and thought that he would go for some food. And he went and he found the coin lodged in his gullet, and there was nothing that he could do about it. And he began to swim with this load inside of him. Jesus directed that.
Now, if that isn’t enough, there’s a third kind of direction, and that is the Lord had to direct that particular fish to that particular hook. It had to be done. Now there were thousands of fish in the Sea of Galilee, and what Jesus had to do was to have Peter at the right place at the right time with the right fish, and all the other fish would have to look at Peter’s hook and say, “No deal.” But there would be one fish that would say, “I like what I see.”
Now can’t you just imagine Peter on the shores of Galilee, near Capernaum where this happened? A group of boys gather around him and say, “Aren’t you Simon Peter? You used to fish with nets.” “Yes, but I no longer do that because I’ve decided to follow Christ. I now just fish with a hook.” And then Peter says, “Now you guys watch because the first fish that I catch…” That’s what the text says. I’m not making this up. It says, “Take the first fish that comes up.” So Peter says, “The first fish that I catch is going to have a shekel lodged in its mouth.” The kids can’t believe this.
He throws the hook at random, brings the fish up, and there’s the shekel. And these boys have their eyes just as wide as saucers and say, “Peter, please tell us what bait you use,” because they think they’d like to do the same thing.
What a miracle – just the miracle of timing! But He’s God! He is King! He is King over circumstances. He is King over nature. He is King over all the earth. “All authority has been given unto Me in heaven and on earth.” Why should we find it hard to believe this story if Jesus Christ is God? God can direct fish wherever He wants them to be.
Isn’t it interesting that whenever Peter fished in obedience to Christ, he always caught something? In Luke 5 that we looked at several weeks ago, do you remember they were toiling all night and they couldn’t find anything, and then Jesus said, “Cast into the deep”? And they went and they cast the nets into the deep, and they almost broke because of the number of fish.
In John 21 – a passage that we will be looking at several weeks from now – they were toiling all night, and Jesus said, “Do you have any meat?” And they said, “No.” And He said, “Cast the net on the right side and you will find.” And I can almost hear them saying, “This is ludicrous. We have been toiling all night. We have been casting the net on the right side. Why should we do it?” Well, a good reason is because Jesus said you should do it.
And so because Christ said it, do you remember that the Bible says that net went into the water and there were 153 fish that they caught in that net? Here again, he’s fishing in obedience to Christ, and Christ makes his fishing profitable.
Those of you who are in businesses, those of you who work in factories or maybe you own a factory, or you own a business, or you are involved, I want you to know this. When you give your occupation wholly and totally to God and leave it to Him as to whether or not it will be profitable, you will have the opportunity to prove the faithfulness, the reliability and the total care of God for His people. And we can see this in this passage of Scripture with clarity. Jesus is Lord over circumstances and Lord over nature.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I want you to see that Jesus is Peter’s Lord. That most assuredly is true, but there’s something very beautiful in this passage. We know that Christ is Lord of His people. But in this case, Jesus is not only a Lord. He becomes one of Peter’s partners. The text says, “Go and catch that 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.”
Now notice that Jesus didn’t have two fish so that there would be two coins, or four fish so that there would be four drachmas – in all four quarters. One coin was sufficient. Each person had to give a half shekel. And so what Jesus did in saying, “This one coin is for you, Peter, and for Me,” was He was becoming Peter’s partner – partner in ministry, partner even in economics, a partner in the common experiences of life that all of us face. Jesus Christ was linking Himself to his servant, Peter.
Now let me ask you why He was doing this. Well, first of all, He was doing it for Peter’s sake. That’s why God meets our needs. It’s first of all for our sake. After all, Peter needed some money, and because he was following Jesus he didn’t have any, and so Jesus used this very special miracle to help Peter. And you see, Christ does that so that our faith might be increased, and so that we might see His faithfulness. And His ability to meet our needs becomes the basis upon which we worship Him and thank Him and give Him glory for His faithfulness.
Yes, He does it for our sake. He also does it for His own sake. He said, “Take it and give it to them for you and for Me.” It says in Psalm 23: “You lead us in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake.” For Your name’s sake! What’s so beautiful is that here we see the need of Peter and the glory of Christ because Christ is always glorified when He meets the needs of His people. We see the need of people and the glory of Christ, coming together, linked together in this experience, and those two things are linked together in our experience with the Lord as well.
Why does God take care of His own? It’s for our sake as well as for His sake. But it’s also for the sake of others. You see, Jesus said to Peter, “Really I would not have to pay this tax because I am exempt.” Verse 27: “But lest we give them offense,” He said, “go ahead and do it.” He said, “I don’t want the people to think that somehow we are not playing by the rules. Technically I wouldn’t have to but there are some things that I will do that I am not under obligation to do, but I want the people in Jerusalem and those who serve the tabernacle to think well of Me and My followers, and not give them any reason to stumble, and therefore, go ahead and pay it.”
And by the way, that’s another reason why God meets our needs. Believe it or not, God wants us to look good in the presence of the world. By looking good I mean so that we can handle the ups and the downs, the turbulence, the misunderstandings of life much better than the world is able to, because God pours grace and love and strength into our souls. He meets our need and there is togetherness as we walk through life.
I think of Jesus as He was there being tempted in the wilderness, and in that temptation, you remember the wild beasts were there, and Christ was going through a tremendous battle with Satan. And I can almost hear Him say, “This is for Me that I might give glory, and that I might do the will of God.” But then He says to us, “It is also for you that I do this.”
And then I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He sweat, as it were, drops of blood with all of that agony and convulsion of spirit as He anticipated the cross. And He looks at us through tear-stained eyes and says, “I do this for Me, but also for you.”
I think of the ascension. Jesus Christ is taken to the summit of the Mount of Olives, and there He goes to heaven. And the angels say, “This same Jesus who ascended into heaven will in like manner come as you have seen Him go into heaven.” And Jesus says, in effect, “I’m doing this for Me, but I’m also doing this for you. I am not only your Lord. I am also your brother.” That’s why the book of Hebrews says that He is not ashamed to call us His brothers because no matter where we walk, no matter where we go, we are never alone. He is always with us. And some day in eternity when we worship Him forever and ever, the Bible says that we shall be heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, and we shall reign with Him together. Co-regency, co-reigning forever and ever! “For Me,” He will say, “but also for thee, because we are together in this.”
You say today, “Pastor Lutzer, you don’t understand the hurt in my heart,” and I don’t. But I want you to know that if you are looking for a bottom line in this message, and I always like to have one, it is simply this: The greatest need that you and I will ever face is not what we generally think our greatest need is. Our greatest need is not for money. Our greatest need is not even for better relationships. Our greatest need is not even for good health, though God knows how desperately we need that. But we have a need that is even greater. We have the need to have faith in a Christ who will supply our needs, linked together with Him for thee and for Me.
Years later Peter grew to become a very mature man, and he wrote the books of 1 and 2 Peter, and he wrote these wonderful words. He says, “Casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you.” He really, really does care for you.
Some of you may have bitterness in your heart that you have to give up. Did you know that your greatest need is for faith? One of the reasons that we do not give those things up is because we think to ourselves that justice rests upon our shoulders, and we are not willing to commit our justice and our case to God. From the beginning of the New Testament to the end of the New Testament the whole theme is “have faith in God.” Believe that He will be with you. He will never leave you or forsake you, and as He asks you to be obedient, He will give to you and to me the grace to be obedient because we are in it together.
Let me ask you this question. Have you believed on Christ personally for yourself? Have you received Him, because when Jesus went to that cross for us, that cross was a sacrifice for sinners that those who believe in Him would be saved? And when you do that you come under the umbrella of His protection, the umbrella of His special care, and He’s with you together to the end.
Our Father, today we pray that You might take these words as they have been spoken, and that You might use them in our lives for mutual encouragement. We pray that everyone may know that whatever dark tunnel they are passing through, they are not going through that tunnel alone. Whatever experience comes to them, no matter how explosive, no matter how fearful, You never abandon us, but we become partakers of Christ, sharing the very same life and fellowship. Encourage Your people today, we pray, and give them strength. And help all of us to love You more and to believe You. In Your name we pray, Amen.