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New Testament Coins and Their Lessons (2)

J Voisey, Cardiff

The Didrachma and the Stater

Knowing the truth and not causing offence (Mt 17.24-27)

The didrachma ("tribute money") was a coin worth two drachmas, and the equivalent of the half-shekel every male Jew from twenty years old paid for the upkeep of the temple (Ex 30.11-16). It is good to remember that belonging to the people of God brings responsibility as well as privilege. It was not a burdensome or irksome requirement; every one gave the same and it was to be given willingly because God desired it. We could not have ransomed ourselves, the Lord Jesus Christ has done that for us and we are now the Lord’s and gladly pay Him this small tribute.

When the collectors of the tribute half-shekel came to Peter, he impetuously confirmed that the Lord would pay it. Always Jesus did everything the law required. Peter needed instruction. He had not fully understood the full impact of his own great confession at Caesarea Philippi, when he said to Jesus, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16.13-17). The Lord points out to Peter that because He is the Son of God, then, like the children of earthly kings who only required tribute from strangers and not their own children, He too is free from the requirement of the half-shekel. We should never be resentful of the Saviour drawing our attention to something we have overlooked or imperfectly understood.

Notwithstanding, the Lord would not cause offence to those who are not fully understanding, and He told Peter he would find a piece of money, a stater, worth two didrachma, and so one full shekel, in a fish’s mouth. He could give that to the collectors as payment for Himself and for Peter. The miracle of the stater is a reminder that if we desire to honour the Lord, He will make it possible. We should always avoid giving offence, and this is the principle which guided Paul when he dealt with the perplexing and disputed problem of whether the Lord’s people should eat meat offered to idols (2 Cor 6.3).

Judas’ 30 pieces of silver: nothing gained but so much lost (Mt 26.14-16; 27.3-5)

We are not told the actual currency, but never has money been so tainted as the thirty pieces of silver, nor a name so repudiated as that of Judas Iscariot. Another disciple who bore the name Judas has his name distunguished - "not Iscariot" - when he is mentioned (Jn 14.22).

Judas Iscariot was not without natural ability and he had the potential to be a good disciple, but he could not rise to the challenges and he was lost.

It would appear that Mary’s wonderful devotion to the Lord at Bethany set a standard he could not attain. He criticised her and suggested that what she had done was a waste, and that the money lavished so lovingly upon the Saviour could have been better used and, for example, given to the poor, although we know his concern for the poor was false.

Some of the other disciples sided with Judas, and we should always be careful lest we lead others into sinful thoughts or are ourselves taken in when we hear such comments as Judas made. It was at Bethany that Judas decided to betray the Saviour: "Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests and said unto them, What will ye give me…?". Satan had entered his heart. We can only recoil with horror, disgust, and pity for such a man.

He agreed a very low price. The chief priests quickly summed up his character, and offered him a pitiful reward for his treachery. Although Judas rejoined the disciples, there is something very poignant about what took place in the upper room; the whispered conversation with Jesus and his abrupt leaving, "and it was night" (Jn 13.26-30). The awful night of a soul bound for perdition.

There is also the significant statement that when they came to take Jesus, "Judas…stood with them" (Jn 18.5). His kisses were not those of a true friend, but "the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Prov 27.6).

Judas did repent but shed no tears. He regretted what he had done but could not bring himself to make open confession to the Lord. When he returned those thirty pieces of silver, the chief priests were not a bit interested, nor mindful of his torment: "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood". And they said, "What is that to us? see thou to that". And he went and hanged himself, and his only memorial was a cemetery in a field robbed of its earth for burying strangers (Acts 1.18). So little did he gain. So much did he lose.

Fifty thousand pieces of silver: the triumph of the gospel (Acts 19.10-20)

The book of Acts is a fascinating record of the growth and geographical expansion of the Church, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ephesus was a city much given to the occult. The people of God were warned to keep clear of such things, but for those who knew not God it fulfilled, or they thought it fulfilled, a spiritual need. There was a significant trade in silver models of the shrine of Diana, of which Ephesus was the proud guardian, and probably there was a trade too in spells and incantations and such like things. Some disreputable wandering Jews found Ephesus a good place in which to practise their exorcism skills, and Paul himself was given special powers because of the strength of the evil in the city. Handkerchiefs and artisans’ aprons from Paul were used to cure diseases and expel evil spirits.

When the gospel came to Ephesus it was with power. There was much blessing, and in two years of fruitful labour "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks", and so the Saviour’s name was magnified.

Many of those who had believed came forward to confess and repudiate their involvement in the practice of the "curious arts", and they brought their books to be publicly burnt. This is the best thing to do with pernicious literature which impedes or withstands the truth.

As the books were burning on the bonfire, someone calculated their value to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. A huge sum by any measurement, and at today’s prices certainly amounting to many thousands of pounds in our money. It made a deep impression and marked another turning point in the progress of the gospel. "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."

We live in days when the progress of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ seems to be slow, but in every age the challenge is the same for us. The gospel was making inroads, its preachers were turning the world upside down (Acts 17.6), and the worship of false gods undermined. "This Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that there be no gods which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth."

Let us not be fainthearted; it is the same gospel we preach. The fame of the believers in Rome was talked about everywhere (Rom 1.8), and they were even in Caesar’s household (Phil 4.22). The Philippians shone out their testimony (Phil 2.15). The gospel that came to Colosse was reaching into and bearing fruit in all the world (Col 1.6). So be encouraged. "The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save" (Is 59.1).



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