The $100,000 Coin

The $100,000 Coin

Matthew 17:24-27

Dr. Jim Denison

Frank Wallis of Mountain Home, Arkansas was having a bad week.

He had just declared personal bankruptcy, and wondered what his future held. He went to his bank to buy a roll of the new $1 coins, in hopes that they might be worth something one day. He had no idea what he had.

One of them had the new Sacagawea dollar emblem on the back, as it should, but a quarter’s George Washington on the front, which it shouldn’t. It turns out that this mistake is the first in the 208-year history of the United States mint. Original estimates placed the value of the coin at $100,000.

Unfortunately for Mr. Wallis, three other so-called “mules” have surfaced, reducing the value of the first to a mere $41,395, the winning bid on eBay recently. For a dollar coin.

What single coin could be more valuable? How about a coin worth 78 cents today? It is the single most precious coin in all of history. Let me show you why, and why this little coin matters so much for your life and mine today.

Finding wealth in strange places

Come with Jesus and his disciples back to Capernaum, the fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has been living here in the home of Simon Peter for the last three years of his public ministry.

You know how it is to be gone from home for a while—the bills are waiting. In this case, the bill collectors themselves were waiting.

From glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to bill collectors. How true this is to life.

So our text says, “the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?'” (v. 24).

Since the time of Moses the people had paid this tax to support the upkeep of the Tabernacle, then Solomon’s Temple, and now Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem.

They contributed what the Greek calls “the two drachmas.” The “drachma” was a Jewish half-shekel, more than two days’ wages. Two of these were nearly a week’s work. This was given by the Jewish people annually as the “temple tax.” In Jesus’ day it was voluntary, and especially not required of the rabbis. So the tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus intends to pay it.

What was their interest? Interest, literally. They exchanged the money of the people into the necessary temple coinage, at interest and profit to themselves. Some estimates range as high as $45,000 that these people made every year.

And so they have come during the Jewish month Adar, or March, as they did every year. Jesus and his disciples have returned home to find them waiting. Peter jumps ahead, as he does so often, when asked if Jesus pays this tax: “Yes, he does.”

Now we find our first miracle: Jesus knows Peter’s mind: “When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak” (v. 25).

Being the master teacher, he seizes this teachable moment: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”

The logic of Jesus’ question is obvious: no ruler taxes his own family. Kings and their children don’t pay taxes—they receive them.

Peter is right: “From others” (v. 26). “Then [emphatic in the Greek] the sons are exempt,” Jesus confirms.

But Jesus doesn’t choose to offend the religious people just yet. A successful man chooses his problems.

So verse 27: “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line.” Return to the Sea of Galilee, and use your professional fishing skills. Throw out a line, literally a “hook.” This is the only time this kind of fishing is mentioned in the New Testament.

Why a hook? One fish could not possibly bring enough money to pay this tax. So we find the second miracle: Peter does it. He obeys Jesus. Even though it makes no sense.

With this result: “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.” This is the third miracle in the story. What are the chances that someone would throw a coin worth two week’s work into the Sea of Galilee? That a fish would swallow it, and then Peter would catch that very fish, on that very day? A miracle, indeed.

Now, what does this ancient event say to us today?

Is your God too small?

First, it’s a surprise. This is not the god anyone in Jesus’ day expected.

In his world people worshipped a variety of gods, none of whom were relevant to their daily lives and needs: the Roman emperor, the gods of Greek myths among them. Others have worshipped Buddha or sought his enlightenment, or Hindu gods, or the Muslim Allah. But none of them would intervene in our daily lives and meet our daily needs like this.

Nor is this the god of popular American culture. J. B. Phillips’ classic little book, Your God Is Too Small, lists succinctly the kinds of deities Americans recognize today. Here are their self-explanatory titles—see how many of them you recognize: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” Meek-and-Mild,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Pale Galilean,” “Projected Image” (with Freudian implications).

Again, none of them would meet a practical need like this one.

Most Americans would identify God with the collectors taking money for the Temple, not with the One who gave it miraculously and mercifully. Most see the church as an institution, irrelevant to our daily needs, always wanting “another name, another dollar.” God is removed, abstract, or personal and subjective—whatever or whoever you want to worship is fine with us.

75% of those who claim a faith in America do not think theirs is the only way to God; only 25% even think their faith is the best faith. God is whatever you want him to be. That’s what most Americans think. Most Americans are wrong.