Peter just shook his head.  That was all they wanted was money.  Couldn’t they see the bigger picture?  That there was more at stake than just money.  They had just arrived back in town, and before they could even get settled, the church was there with its hand out.  Well, it wasn’t actually the church, but close enough.  They wanted to know if Jesus had paid his share of the temple tax for the year.  Well, I don’t think Peter knew, so he did what most of us would do, he bluffed.  “Of course, he has. What type of pagan do you think he is?”

So here we are in week last of our Stewardship month, or as some like to call it Money Month“, and our theme this year has been “Overflow.” 

Last week Pastor Deborah spoke on the Miracle of giving and the overflow that happened with the story of the Loaves and Fishes. The week before that, I spoke on the overflow that came from the Macedonian churches as they gave to assist the church in Jerusalem.

And now you can all breathe a sigh of relief.  Money month is almost over.

For those who are visiting with us or new to Cornerstone, this is an annual event.  Each Spring I take the opportunity to teach the theology of stewardship, which is a fancy way of saying we look at what the Bible says about money, what got, how we get it and what we do with it after we get it.  The nice thing is that means I won’t ambush you about money throughout the year. 

And we culminate Money Month with an event we call Step Up Cornerstone, which happens today, and we will be talking more about that later in the service. 

Sometimes pastors choose not to speak about money in church, maybe in hopes that somehow their people will learn about it on their own, perhaps by osmosis. 

Or maybe it’s because they feel that talking about money is too personal or too obtrusive. but Jesus talked a lot about money. He talked about the way people make it and what they do with it after they have it. 

And because money is talked about in the scriptures, and because Jesus seemed to attach a great deal of importance to it, to the point of linking it to our eternities it is something that needs to be addressed. And we can’t just ignore it because it bothers some people and offends other people.

Seriously, what would happen if every preacher prepared his messages in an effort not to offend or bother anyone?  You might as well open fortune cookies.

But let’s go back to the scripture that was read earlier.

Matthew 17:24 On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”

The temple tax was laid out 1400 years before this story in Exodus 30:12. 

You see, the tax had been established when the people of Israel were still in the wilderness, and its purpose was to provide for the upkeep and maintenance of the tabernacle, which was like a portable temple where the high priests performed the required sacrifices.  And while the average Israelite probably never thought about it there would have been considerable expense in maintaining the Tabernacle.

Traditionally there has been the tithe, or the one-tenth given to the Lord began back with Abraham and continued throughout his family and descendants.  However, the people now were escaped slaves, wandering through the desert in search of the land that had been promised them, thus the name “The Promised Land.” 

And as escaped slaves wandering through the desert in search of the land that had been promised them, they had very limited earning power. As a matter of fact, they had no earning power.  Therefore 10% of nothing was nothing, and nothing wasn’t enough to maintain the tabernacle. 

What the people did have, though, was the accumulated savings that they had brought with them. And so, a tax was levied on them, one half of a Shekel.  This wasn’t a paltry sum in that day, but if they were going to maintain a place of worship, then a sacrifice was needed, and they would have to give beyond what was easy.

Once the people of Israel reached the Promised Land, the tithe was reinstated because now the people were farming, fishing and conducting business, and the ten percent they gave back to God, notice that I said gave back because the presumption of the Jews was that all things came from God. 

Interesting comment, don’t you think? The ten percent they gave back to God would pay for the ministry of the tabernacle and, later the temple, would provide for the priests and all the other expenses that go with worshipping God.

Now I’m sure that there were those in Israel who felt that they should be able to worship God for nothing, and while that is a neat thought, it wasn’t all that realistic.  The temple was a costly place to run.  There were the daily morning and evening sacrifices which each involved a year-old lamb.  Along with the lamb were offered wine and flour, and oil.  The incense that was burned every day had to be bought and prepared. 

The temple itself was filled with costly hangings, not out of vanity but because it was seen as a way to tell God, “This is how much we value you.” The robes the priest and high priests wore had to be maintained, and the priests had families to support, so they had to draw a salary.  And so, God’s temple was supported by God’s people, novel thought.

Even after the tithe was reintroduced, though, the temple tax continued to be paid, and unlike the civil tax, which was paid with some grumbling, this one was usually paid quite willingly and was almost seen as a patriotic exercise as it remembered the people’s deliverance from Egypt.

And so the tax continued to be collected for fourteen hundred years until this story was recorded.  The tax continued to be collected until the temple was destroyed by the armies of Rome in 70 AD, and at that time, the Roman Emperor Vespasian decreed that the temple tax should still be collected and used to finance the temple of Jupiter in Rome.

However, by the time of Jesus, not everyone was happy paying taxes.  As a matter of fact, some nationalists and zealots refused to pay the taxes as long as Jerusalem was occupied by a foreign army, in this case, the Roman Army.  And so, the tax had become an issue of religious commitment vs. national commitment.

The real question was whether those who questioned Peter were really interested in getting the temple tax or if they were setting Jesus up.  

Did they want their half a shekel, which was the equivalent of two days of labour or were they testing Peter to find out where Christ’s loyalties lay? 

We will never know, but we do know that probably the reason that Peter was asked was that he owned the house that Christ was staying in, at least that’s a pretty fair assumption seeing we are told elsewhere in the Gospels that is where Jesus stayed when he was in Capernaum.  We do know that this story probably happened right around this time of year because the tax was collected on the first of the month, Adar, which is March on our calendar. 

And so, when Peter was asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” (Notice how the question was formed in the negative?) Peter immediately states, “Of course he does.” And then he went to ask Jesus if he had paid the temple tax.  But even before Peter can open his mouth to ask, Jesus begins to teach him.

“Say, Peter, what do you think, who do kings tax, their own family or commoners?”  

Jesus knew that answer, and Peter knew the answer.

If you are wondering how that works today, if you lived in the UK and your mother passed away and left you an estate valued at more than £325,000, you would be required to pay a 40% inheritance tax.  King Charles was exempt from that. However, he does voluntarily pay income tax, but technically he doesn’t have to.

And so, Peter responds, “Well, that is a dumb question. The reason that Kings charged taxes was to help support their families,” And Jesus said, “That’s my point exactly, the King’s children are free.”  You understand what he was saying at this point, right?  The tax was for the temple, and time and time again, the temple is referred to in the Bible as the House of God.    

1 Chronicles 9:26 The four chief gatekeepers, all Levites, were trusted officials, for they were responsible for the rooms and treasuries at the house of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:1 As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God.

1 Chronicles 6:48 Their fellow Levites were appointed to various other tasks in the Tabernacle, the house of God.

So, the tax was for the temple, the temple was the house of God, you still with me? 

Ok, do you remember in Luke chapter 2, Mary and Joseph have taken 12-year-old Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover?  And on the way back to Nazareth, they realize they’ve forgotten Jesus back in the big city.  And they rush back and discover that he is in the temple, confounding the priests with his knowledge.  And do you remember what he told his parents?  No?  It’s spelled out in Luke 2:49 “But why did you need to search?” Jesus asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Ahhhh!

What about when Jesus returns to Jerusalem as an adult, and he enters the temple to find merchants and money changers who have filled the outer courts and have turned the temple into a carnival-like event. 

Do you remember what he said as he turned the tables upside down, freed animals, and scattered coins across the pavement?  John 2:16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”  Ahhhh!

What Jesus was asking was: “Should I pay tax to support my Father’s house?” And then just as quickly he said, “But let’s not offend them, let’s pay the tax.” 

And that’s where the story gets really interesting because Jesus tells Peter to go down to the lake, throw a line in the water and catch a fish.  I’m sure that Peter is thinking, “Ok, I come to tell him about the tax, and he tells me to go fishing.” But Jesus wasn’t finished, “and as soon as you catch a fish, open its mouth, and there will be a coin that will be enough to pay the temple tax for both of us.”

Cool.  But the story ends there. It doesn’t tell us that Peter goes fishing, catches a fish and finds a coin in its mouth, and it doesn’t tell us that Peter went fishing and caught a fish and there wasn’t a coin in its mouth.  And it doesn’t tell us that Peter went fishing and caught nothing but a cold.  It doesn’t even tell us that Peter didn’t go fishing at all. It just stops.

Another one of those heaven questions, right?

So, what do we learn?

1) Church Has Always and Will Always Cost Something.  It would be really nice to think that God’s church would never have to worry about money.  But that’s not the way it is.  As long as the church is on this earth, there will be expenses.  There will always be cost for the physical building. In our case it’s the mortgage and utilities, snowplowing and lawn mowing etc.  If you own a house, you know that it’s not free.  And as long as we have a staff, there will be salaries that have to be paid. 

I bet you thought I worked for nothing, right?  Wrong.  The Guptills have to eat, need a place to sleep and have to have a car to drive, just like real people. 

And so, as much as I’d like to work for nothing, it’s not going to happen.  And the neat thing is the Bible says I don’t have to.  1 Timothy 5:17-18 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.   For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” 

And even though Cornerstone Wesleyan Church doesn’t have all the fancy tapestries and altars that the temple had, we do have video projectors and computers, pianos and drums and sound systems and all the other things that are part of the worship experience today, and they all cost money.

Then as I already mentioned, there are mortgage payments, utilities, material for children’s church, licensing fees for the music, not to mention the governments share and the denominations share, and toilet paper, let’s not forget the toilet paper. So, understand that when I preach about money it’s just a statement of reality. 

2) God’s People Are Called to Respond to the Need

And just as 2000 years ago, God expected his people to provide for his house and those who minister there, he still expects it today.  When the tax for the temple was first established and then when the tithe was used for the temple, it wasn’t expected to come from the Amorites or the Hittites, or the Jaborites.  No, it was expected to come from the Israelites.  They were God’s people, and they were expected as part of their remembrance and thanksgiving to God to provide for his house. 

When Jesus walked the earth, the reason they approached Peter about the temple tax was that he was a Jew, and it was still up to the Jews to support the temple. 

It wasn’t up to the Romans or the Samaritans, or the Greeks; it was up to God’s people to provide the funding for God’s house.

And in 2023, the story remains the same it’s not up to the Government to fund churches, nor is it up to those who never attend Church. It’s up to God’s people.  It’s not an admission charge, and it’s not a tip for good service. It’s acknowledging that God is our God and that we are his people, and sometimes it’s giving beyond what was easy.

And you may have noticed that we don’t do fundraising in the church for the general fund. There are no raffles, no bingo, and no bean suppers. We just have an offering box in the back, just like they had in the temple. Remember Mark 12:41-42 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts.   Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. 

You know the story, and how when Jesus saw what had happened said Mark 12:43-44 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions.   For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”  

Jesus was confident that God would supply all His needs—in both amazing and ordinary ways.

3) God Has Already Provided.  There has been a lot of debate through the years over just how the story ended.  Some folks maintain that Peter did what Jesus asked him to do, that he went down to the lake, threw his line into the water, caught a fish, found a coin, and paid the taxes. 

That would be cool, and it could have happened.  But the bible doesn’t tell us it did happen.  Most people can tell of a time when God miraculously provided for them. And he does that. It might not be as dramatic as finding a coin in a fish’s mouth, but money has come from an unexpected source, and your need was met, someone offered to fix your car for nothing, your neighbour was replacing their appliances, and gave you their old ones which worked, and you were able to replace your fridge that didn’t.

There is another school of thought that says that wasn’t what Jesus really meant.  Don’t you love it when people say, “What the Bible really means is”? 

Just a hint on communications here doesn’t have anything to do with the sermon but consider it a bonus.  “If you always find yourself saying, “In other words.”  Start using other words.”  That was free.

Back to the message, some people think that Jesus was just telling Peter that he could find what he needed in his work. Peter was a fisherman, just as his father had been a fisherman. And Jesus was saying, “Peter, you have the ability to pay the tax. Go catch a fish and sell it, and it will be like you found the money in its mouth.” 

And while that isn’t what Jesus said to Peter, it sounds like something that Jesus would say. He had an incredible sense of humour and irony. If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t read the gospels lately and listened as Jesus drew word pictures about blind men leading blind men, about camels leaping through the eyes of needles and a man straining a little fly out of his glass of water and then drinking a huge hairy two-humped camel without noticing.  Don’t try to turn Jesus into an always serious, never laughing humourless individual.  Because that wasn’t who he was.

Back to the sermon.

How often has God provided for us and for the church through who we are? We say, “where would we ever find the money to give to the church?”  

For seven of the first ten years that our church was around, I worked outside the church to keep it afloat.  For five of those years, I was a freelance writer for half a dozen magazines.  You might have read my stuff long before you started coming to Cornerstone.  So, when we needed to cut expenses, and I was wondering where we could do that, Jesus said, “Denn go to your computer and open Microsoft Word, and if windows doesn’t freeze up, then you will find a dollar there.”

And Angela teaches piano, and so Jesus says to her, “Angela go to your piano and lift the lid, and there you will find the money.”   And for a mechanic, he might say, “Lift the hood of that car,” and for someone in the insurance business, he might say open that actuary table.

And while Jesus commended the widow for giving out of her poverty, if we were honest, that isn’t what Jesus is calling us to do.  I’ve heard people say that the church shouldn’t ask for money.  And I agree that the church shouldn’t have to ask for money. 

But I’m coming at it from a different direction than they are.  They mean that the church should never do anything, never attempt to change anything never have an impact on the world.  As a matter of fact, what they mean is that the church shouldn’t exist. 

What I mean is that if everyone who is a part of God’s church did what God called them to do financially, our concern wouldn’t be where to get the money but where to spend the money.

And so where are you at this morning?  This is the third week in a row I’ve spoken about stewardship in my message, although it probably seems like the thirtieth week. 

And perhaps you’ve asked, “God, where will it come from?”  And my question is, where is God telling you to look?

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