The Coin in the Mouth of the Fish


Paying What We Do Not Owe


Matthew 17:24-27 - And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? 25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee. 


I.    Introduction. 

A.     This is not taxes, but temple tribute. 

1.       Each year, according to the Levitical orders, each male was to give a set amount for the upkeep of the temple. 

a.       It is this tribute that is in question.

b.       This tax is not paid to the heathen emperors, but even if it was, Jesus would pay it. 

2.       Citizens of a country should pay the taxes the leaders of that country establish. 

a.       We are not here to reestablish the government, but to cause moral and religious reformation.

b.       There is no Biblical precedence for not paying taxes, or cheating by not paying taxes that are due to be paid. 

c.       Even if the government uses the money for evil, we are still required by God to obey the laws of the land and pay taxes. 

d.       God will take care of both the evil government, and the evil tax-evader. 

B.     Exodus 30:11-16 gives instructions for paying the temple tribute. 

1.       Every male was to pay half a shekel each year. 

2.       Obedience to paying the tribute reflected atonement for the souls, and protection from the various plagues. 

3.       Tribute is not payment for atonement or protection, but because a person already has atonement and protection. 

4.       It is an offering of thanksgiving and recognition. 

C.     Matthew is the only writer who relates this story.

1.       Perhaps because he is a former tax collector and this situation interests him. 

2.       God would inspire Matthew in this area as he did Luke the physician when he described the healing of the man in Acts 3:7, …immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 


II.    Why did the tribute collectors ask Peter if Jesus paid the tribute? 

A.     They didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. 

1.       Verse 25, Christ asks Peter who pays tribute before Peter brings up the subject. 

a.       The word “prevent” in verse 25 means to “go before”, not hinder as we use the word today. 

b.       The word “strangers” in verse 25 and 26 does not refer to foreigners, but to those who are not the king’s sons. 

c.       When Jesus answers in verse 26 that the children are free, he means the son of the king does not have to pay tribute. 

d.       Because Jesus Christ is the son of God, he is not required to pay the tribute. 

B.     The clear evidence that Christ is the Son of God was denied by the Jews.  (We will look only at Matthew for this evidence.) 

1.       Matthew 16:1-4 – Jesus would give no sign except the sign of the prophet Jonah, which prophet was rejected by the Jews. 

2.       Matthew 16:5-12 – Jesus warned his disciples concerning the false doctrine of the Pharisees. 

3.       Matthew 16:13-20 (especially verse 20). 

a.       Christ has just transferred the authority of preaching the gospel from Israel to the church He established during His personal ministry. 

b.       In verse 20, Christ instructs His apostles not to tell anybody He is the Christ. 

c.       Christ is turning from Israel because of their unbelief.

4.       Matthew 17:1-13 (especially verse 9). 

a.       Christ as the Mount of Transfiguration, instructs His apostles to tell no man about the event until after His resurrection. 

b.       This is because of the hardness of heart of the Israelites. 

c.       Christ is turning from the Jews to the Gentiles.

5.       Matthew 17:22,23 – Christ had just informed his disciples of his soon coming crucifixion and resurrection. They were sad, but did not understand. 

6.       The conclusion to the question is:

a.       the Jews do not believe Jesus is true to the temple, which temple represents the beliefs of the Jewish people. 

b.       They question whether Jesus is even a good Jew, which is revealed to them concerning whether or not he paid the temple tax. 

c.       The fact is that Jesus is true to God, his father, who is God of the temple.

d.       Jesus is a better Jew than any of those who question him. 

e.       A good Jew is one who is true to God, not necessarily true to an earthly temple.


III.    The principal of paying what we do not owe. 

A.     …Then are the children free…

1.       Peter is also a son of God, although in a different aspect than Christ, who is the only begotten Son of God. 

2.       Both are free, neither of them owes tribute, but both will pay. 

B.     Lest we should offend them…

1.       Christ declares He will pay that which he does not owe. 

2.       Not out of guilt, but because there is a greater good to be had in going the extra mile. 

C.     See Matthew 5:38-42. 

1.       What do these verses mean? 

a.       An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth is most often used to describe getting vengeance. 

b.       But, examining the context, could the expression not mean that we will do no more good to unbelievers than we are required to do? 

c.       Verses 40-42 are three examples of doing extra good to those that require a limited amount of good.

2.       Verse 40 – If we are going to be sued at law because a person wants our coat, give him the coat, and offer another along with it. 

a.       The purpose of this is to get our eyes off the coat, which is an earthly possession, and get our eyes on the person suing us, who is eternal. 

b.       The greater good is to help that which is eternal, not to cling to that which is temporary.

3.       Verse 41 – A Roman soldier, in the performance of his duties, had the authority to command various citizens to carry a load the distance of one mile. 

a.       If this would happen to a Christian, then let that Christian stop his earthly endeavors for a while and carry the load two miles instead of one. 

b.       It is true that our time is valuable to us, and we have things to do. 

c.       But the eternal is more important than the temporary.

d.       The soldier has a soul, which will be impressed with Christians and their message. 

e.       As the soldier and the citizen traveled the two miles, there would be some time for talk, and witnessing about eternal things. 

f.        Many employees try to do the least they can do and call that a days work. 

g.       Employers notice this and often reject that employees religion because the employee often doesn’t do a days work, but expects a days pay. 

h.       The greater good is: “go the extra mile” because there are people that never read their Bibles, but see our lives.

4.       Verse 42 – Turn not a borrower away. 

a.       Because the eternal soul is more valuable than all the possessions in this entire world. 

b.       We must see beyond the temporal to the eternal. 


IV.    Conclusion. 

A.     All of these things are hard to do, and definitely go against our sinful nature. 

1.       How can we do all this and continue to feed our families and take care of necessary material things? 

a.       Because we are trusting God to supply those necessary things. 

b.       Jesus didn’t owe the tribute money, but God provided the tribute money from a very unlikely source. 

2.       There are material things we don’t owe, as described in the above verses, but if we follow the advice of Christ, God will provide our living. 

a.       The material things we need for this earthly existence will be provided, often from a very unlikely source.

b.       Matthew 6:19-21 – If we will keep our eyes on eternal things, and not so much on temporary, material things, we will be able to lay up treasure in heaven, and not lay up treasure on this earth.

B.     Why did Christ not want to offend any of these rebellious Jews? 

1.       They didn’t believe in Him! 

a.       Why should He care if they were offended or not? 

b.       Why should we care if unbelievers are offended at us? 

2.       Proof of the unbelief of the Jews is seen in four events that occurred before Matthew 18:24-27.

a.       Matthew 16:13-20 – Transfer of authority from Israel to the church Jesus established.

b.       Matthew 17:1-13 – the transfiguration, which revealed to the apostles that Christ was equal with God.  This event should get the apostles thinking about heaven, and take their minds off this earth.

c.       Matthew 17:14-21 – The demon that the disciples couldn’t cast out, but Jesus could.  This should get the apostles thinking about how powerful Christ is and how much they need His power, and how inadequate their own power is.

d.       Matthew 17:22-23 – Christ begins to tell them He will soon be crucified, a doctrine they don’t understand.

3.       All of these immediately previous events show clearly that Jesus is God.

a.       Jesus is God and is getting ready to leave rebellious Israel and this world. 

b.       Jesus Christ is the head of the temple, but will pay the temple tax because unbelievers don’t yet know who he is, and he will not offend them, therefore casting a stumbling block in front of them. 

C.     The penalty of offending is great.

1.       Matthew 18:6 – It would be better to be drowned in the depths of the sea than offend one of the little ones. 

a.       But you might say, these are not little ones; they are rebellious, Christ rejecting Jews! 

b.       That is correct now, but they will soon be believing Jews and members of the Lord’s church. 

c.       Some of these people will be saved on the Day of Pentecost. 

d.       We never know whom God will save, so we don’t need to be offending anybody. 

2.       Looking at it from the human side, (and this is the only side we can look at it), if Christ didn’t pay the unfair tribute, some of the folks might stumble and reject Christ. 

a.       I know God knows all about that, but as humans, we don’t see into the future, therefore we don’t know who God will save, so should not offend anybody. 

b.       Look at the eternal thing, not the temporal thing.

3.       Christ didn’t let pride stand in His way of obedience. 

a.       Anytime we think or say, “They can’t do that to me!  I won’t let them!” 

b.       It is a pretty clear indication of being prideful. 

D.     The miracle coin. 

1.       Christ did not the 50 cents (in our money) with him. 

a.       Christ healed all that came to him, but he had no money. 

b.       There might have been money in the common treasury, of which Judas was in charge, but Christ did not take money from that for this need. 

2.       Christ had plenty of power to produce that which he did not have. 

a.       Christ could have produced the coin from “thin air”, but he did not. 

b.       Christ could have an angel deliver the coin to him, but he did not. 

c.       Christ had Peter go fishing. 

1.)    In the work of the gospel, God always gives us work to do. 

2.)    Many believe God should work for them, but God says we should work for him. 

d.       The first fish had the coin in his mouth. 

1.)    Peter could not make the fish have a coin in his mouth, but God rewarded him with results when he was obedient. 

2.)    We cannot force any eternal results, but God always give results when we are obedient. 

3.)    If we are not obedient, we will not have results. 

4.)    There is great reward in obedience, but life is better when God gives fruit for our labors. 

e.       There was enough. 

1.)    There will always be enough when we are obedient. 

2.)    Christ could have had the fish produce a whole bagful of coins, but he did not. 

3.)    Christ does not want his followers to trust in their bagful of coins, but to trust him for daily provision. 

4.)    Christ wants us to take care of that which he gives to us, yet not depend on it. 

5.)    Christ made the fish the keeper of that which was necessary, therefore we can have full confidence in making Christ the keeper of that which is necessary for our daily necessities. 

6.)    Christ paid for both himself and Peter, though neither of them were responsible to pay. 

f.        This miracle showed the power of Christ over creatures we cannot see, giving them power to produce that which they (or we) cannot produce. 

3.       There is no Biblical record that Peter obeyed. 

a.       John 4:46-54 – The Nobleman believed Christ healed his son and headed toward home without seeing. 

b.       Matthew 8:5-13 – The Centurion believed Christ healed his servant when Christ said he would. 

c.       There is no Biblical record that Peter obeyed, but I believe it did. 

d.       There is no Biblical record that Peter did not obey. 

e.       It seems apparent that if Christ commanded it, Peter would obey. 

f.        If Christ gives a command to us, it should be apparent that we will obey.