a kingdom, a coin, and a kick in the butt
I think I get it now. I have always been perplexed by Jesus’ solution to Peter’s conviction to pay up on the temple tax. What God has shown me in my study and meditation is that once again, there are two kingdoms to contrast. So many of Jesus’ teachings that we read in the gospels bring light to our confusion over the kingdom of God. And we realize that His kingdom is very much in opposition to the way the world system operates.
Go with me to Capernaum where we find Jesus confronting Peter’s quick “yes” to the question, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17: 24-27) I detect some intimidation from the religious leaders posing the question; they were always seeking a way to entrap Jesus in some wrongdoing that would invalidate His ministry. But I don’t expect the commonly bold Peter to so easily cave to this enforced religious system. After all, in recent days, he had been participating in the supernatural work of the kingdom of God. He had experienced the divine and abundant provision of bread for crowds of 4000 and 5000 when only a few loaves were available! He had seen the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and the demon possessed delivered! He was among the few on a mountain when Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His soon-coming departure! Peter was right in the midst of the kingdom work of God.
But in one moment of seeking to gain man’s approval, Peter states that His Master does pay the temple tax. Jesus quickly has his friend realize that He is not a part of that system. He says, “… the kings of the earth collect…taxes from…others….the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17:25).
And this is where a lesson is learned the hard way… So that Peter could be a man of his word, and so that the religious leaders were not offended, Jesus sends the disciple away to secure the funds needed for the temple tax. In essence, if Peter is going to succumb to the operations of the world system, then he must return to it for the necessary provision. Peter is told to go cast a line in the lake, catch a fish, open its mouth to extract a coin in the exact amount needed for two men’s temple tax, and deliver it to the religious leaders.
Did this really happen? Yes! Jesus could have produced the coin from within His sleeve as a magician does, but that wasn’t the point! Neither was it the point to pay the tax for 11 other disciples. The heart of the matter is that Peter forgot he was no longer a part of the world’s system. In showing his mistaken willingness to honor the world system above the kingdom of God, he now had a lesson to learn. And the most effective way to teach Peter a lesson, was to send him back to the profession he had before he met Christ. He went back to handling fish for income. He went back to striving in his own strength to produce results. He went back to the realm of sufficiency.
How long was Peter on the bank of a lake that day? I really do not know. This could have been a one-hour ordeal or a twelve-hour ordeal. But we do know that according to the Scripture, Jesus went right on with the work of the ministry. He began teaching his remaining disciples who were eager to learn more about the kingdom of heaven. Where was Peter, the man who loved to be in the midst of things? He was at the lake casting a line. I think Peter was giving himself a swift kick-in-the-butt! Once again, he had blown it.
How does this message apply to you and me? Those of us who are in ministry have abandoned the notion to please man according to the operating system of the world. We now participate in the kingdom of heaven where we see the reality of heaven expanded upon the earth. We walk according to God’s ways as He reveals them to us in His Word and in the Spirit’s leading.
But in one moment, if we take our eyes off of our Heavenly Father in order to appease man, we will separate ourselves from the work of the ministry of Christ and find, like Peter, that we are forced to strive to produce something sufficient. Think about it: do we really want to vacate the working of a supernatural God in and through us? Do we really want to rely instead on the old way of doing things?
If you are feeling burdened and tapped out, without direction or wondering where the passion that you once had for ministry went to, allow this to serve as a warning. Perhaps somewhere along the way, you said a quick “yes” to someone in the religious establishment. Perhaps you too presumed participation without actually hearing from God on the matter. Or maybe there is greater value placed on the world’s system than on God’s ways. Not all is lost. Receive your correction and go about the steps necessary to re-prioritize. Seek the Lord’s guidance in the Word. He will never mislead you. Every step we take in alignment with the Spirit leads us more greatly into the reality of the kingdom of heaven. I don’t want to miss any of it- do you?