I pray that you are not only informed but transformed as we continue to read through Matthew’s gospel. In today’s reading Jesus tells a parable about the workers that are paid equally, predicts his death a third time, teaches about serving others and then we read about him healing a blind beggar.
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF THE WORKERS PAID EQUALLY / 20:1-16
20:1-2 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.”NRSV This parable further explains Jesus’ words in 19:30 (indicated by the repetition of that verse in 20:16). It explains the “first and last” saying by focusing on the landowner’s generosity (God’s gracious love) in welcoming everyone into his field.
Jesus further clarified the membership rules of the kingdom of heaven—entrance is by God’s grace alone. In this parable, God is the landowner, believers are the laborers, and the vineyard is the kingdom of heaven. This parable speaks especially to those who feel superior because of heritage or favored position, to those who feel superior because they have spent so much time with Christ, and to new believers so as to reassure them of God’s grace.
The landowner went out early in the morning to find some laborers. The workday went from sunup to sundown, so this “early morning” hour was about six o’clock. These laborers agreed to work for the usual daily wage (usually a denarius). Bosses and managers should not overlook the fact that laborers had a fair role in the negotiation of wages at the beginning of this story. Owners do not hire workers on a “take it or leave it” basis here. They talk, and as the day’s work begins, both sides are pleased with the terms.
Fair bargaining today means that Christian managers talk with labor at a table where both sides recognize mutual interests, needs, and expectations. When the talk is done, both sides should say, “Good deal, let’s get to work.”
20:3-4 “When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.”NRSV The landowner went out about nine o’clock and hired more workers who were standing idle in the marketplace. (Some versions say “the third hour.” The day was divided from sunrise to sunset into twelve hours, so the third hour would be about nine o’clock in the morning; the eleventh hour, mentioned in 20:6, would be five o’clock in the afternoon.) Why the landowner went out and continued hiring people is not explained and is not essential to the point of Jesus’ parable. Evidently the landowner needed workers. The marketplace was the public square of the city where most of the business was done. Unemployed laborers could stay there waiting for an opportunity to work. If there was a lot of work to do, they might work right up until sunset, but never beyond, for there would be no light in the fields. So each successive group of laborers worked for less time than the group hired previously. The landowner promised to pay this second group of laborers whatever is right—which they probably considered would be the appropriate fraction of the denarius that matched the amount of time they worked.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WORK-LESS|
|How quickly the workers forgot their condition when the landowner found them! None of the “shifts” were found looking for work. Instead, they were standing idle in the marketplace. The landowner approached them with an opportunity. He called; they answered. The original condition of the workers strengthens the point Jesus made. He gave the invitation to people who were doing nothing.|
|Apart from God’s gracious call, life has no ultimate purpose. Before we become servants of Christ, our lives account for little more than standing around in the marketplace. The world passes by, and we’re going nowhere. But God finds us idle and offers us work. His love makes contact and gives purpose and direction. Tell someone today about the difference God made in your life when he gave you purpose, direction, and a destination.|
20:5-7 “When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.'”NRSV The landowner went out and hired three more groups of workers: some at noon, some at three o’clock, and some at five o’clock. Whether these people were idle (which is a later addition) truly because no one had hired them or because they were lazy is an unknown detail and is not important for Jesus’ meaning in this parable. If people didn’t work, they would likely go hungry. So the landowner hired these people as well. They were willing to work, even for that last hour which they thought would not earn them much money at all.
20:8-10 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'”NIV At evening (referring to sunset), the workers were called to collect the day’s wages, which was required by Jewish law so that the poor would not go hungry (see Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15). The landowner purposely asked that the last ones hired get paid first. This is not a normal reaction; it would have surprised the workers and it surely surprised Jesus’ listeners. So “when those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.”NRSV When those who worked less time received a full day’s wage, the laborers who had worked throughout the day expected to get paid more than that, even though the daily wage was what they had agreed upon when they were hired (20:2). Certainly those listening to the parable expected the same thing, although all would wonder at the astuteness of a businessman who would pay a full day’s wage to laborers who had worked only an hour.
|LIFE APPLICATION – RIGHTS|
|The workers grumbled, and we can identify with them. They have a strong point. It’s a commonplace principle: more work, more pay; less work, less pay. It nears the status of a right that a worker may fairly claim—the right to a wage commensurate with the market value of one’s work. Jesus’ point, however, is that in God’s kingdom, grace supersedes rights.|
|Grace rewards generously, according to the goodwill of the giver. Rights claim what’s fair. Grace mixes workers together, young and old, bright and slow, veteran and novice, breaking down social distinctions. Rights tend to keep people in their “rightful” slot. Grace means the kingdom includes many joyful surprises.|
|If God’s rewards were based on rights, we’d all worry about collecting “Brownie points”—the focus would be on me and my work. Because God rewards on the basis of grace, we can keep our focus on Jesus and faithful service to him. Be confident of God’s good and generous judgment.|
20:11-12 “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'”NIV Everyone who had been hired during the day received the same—the daily wage. The laborers who had worked all day in the hot sun received what they had agreed upon. They began to grumble against the landowner, not because he hadn’t kept his bargain with them, but because he had been generous to everyone else. They thought it wasn’t fair that those who had worked only one hour received the same amount of pay as (were made equal to) those who had borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.
|LIFE APPLICATION – THE DIGNITY OF PARTICIPATION|
|The loving father allows his child to push against the mower handle while Dad makes it move. Alone, the child could not budge the machine. Alone, the father would finish the work much sooner. But this father has a greater purpose than simply mowing grass. He also desires to help his child grow. The landowner in Jesus’ parable had more than grapes to harvest. He also wanted to practice generosity. He went looking for harvesters.|
|Grace cannot be rightly defined as God doing it all for us. That would simply display divine power. Rather, God’s grace evokes wonder and growth in us as we recognize that he does it all with us! Our participation is never essential, but it is real! God doesn’t need us. Working in and through us slows the divine plan to a snail’s pace. But therein lies God’s grace! Submitting to Christ’s lordship requires that we admit that we can’t do it by ourselves. Nor can we claim that the final results are due to our efforts. But we have participated. In fact, the deeper our commitment to working with the Father, the greater our awareness of how much God does. Ask God to multiply your efforts to serve him.|
20:13-15 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.'”NRSV While the laborers did not address the landowner with any respectful title, the landowner responded to one of them as friend. He pointed out that he had not done wrong by these laborers who had worked hard all day; he had paid them the agreed amount. Besides, he added, “‘Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'”NIV Obviously, the landowner could pay whatever he chose as long as he cheated no one—it was his own money. So what was the real problem? The early workers were envious that the landowner had been generous with everyone else.
In this parable, Jesus pointed out that salvation is not earned, but given freely only because of God’s great generosity, which goes far beyond our human ideas of what is fair. The message of the parable is that God’s loving mercy accepts the lowest member of society on an equal footing with the elite. This parable may have been addressed in the presence of the religious leaders who “grumbled” because Jesus chose the “lowly” disciples and spent time with those considered unclean and sinful (Luke 15:1-2). Those who come to God—regardless of social strata, age, material wealth, or heritage, and no matter when in life they come—will all be accepted by him on an equal footing. All will receive their inheritance in the kingdom of heaven—no one will get less than what they expect, and some may receive more. Such generosity, such grace, ought to cause all believers great joy—no one should be in the corner grumbling.
|LIFE APPLICATION – REVERSED ORDER|
|Jesus repeated a principle that is recorded in 19:30. There he used it to respond to the disciples’ amazement that wealth was not a gauge of acceptance with God. Here he said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” as the moral of the parable of the workers (20:1-15). Clearly, Christ rejects the widely accepted notion: “first come, first served.” Why? Here are three possible reasons:|
|1. God isn’t impressed by our achievements. The workers did no more than they were asked to do. The landowner gave them work they did not merit and fulfilled his promise. Those who worked all day were not cheated. Those who worked an hour had no reason to brag. The idea that God “owes” us something is wrong. Instead of complaining, we should be grateful that God seldom gives us what we deserve.|
|2. God rejects our comparisons. To understand our sinfulness, we should examine our tendency toward discontent and ungratefulness. Like children, we demand equal treatment when we think that we have received less than others. Yet we are rarely concerned for others when we’re ahead of them. Like the landowner, however, God holds us to our agreement. God keeps his promises. Comparing ourselves to others will not help our defense when we stand before God.|
|3. God’s rewards are his domain. The landowner held the right to be generous to whomever he desired. If we are not astonished at God’s grace toward us, we will miss it completely.|
|Are there areas of ungratefulness in your life? Use this list to remind yourself of what God has done for you.|
20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”NIV The reversal noted in these words (and in 19:30) points out the differences between this life and life in the kingdom. Many people we don’t expect to see in the kingdom will be there. The criminal who repented as he was dying (Luke 23:40-43) will be there, along with people who have believed and served God for many years. The Jews were promised the kingdom first, but the Gentile believers will share the kingdom along with them. God offers his kingdom to all kinds of people everywhere. God’s grace accepts the world’s outcasts. No one has a claim to God’s generosity; it is by his grace alone. No one has a claim to position in the kingdom; God will make the appointments—the last and first cannot be earned, bought, or bargained for (see 20:20-23).
JESUS PREDICTS HIS DEATH THE THIRD TIME /20:17-19
20:17-19 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.”NIV Jesus and the disciples continued toward Jerusalem. Jesus led the way, determined to go to the city where he knew he would die (see also Luke 9:51). Going “up to Jerusalem” refers to the ascent of the land toward the city that sat on the highest point around. Anyone walking toward Jerusalem went “up” in elevation.
|LIFE APPLICATION – DENIAL|
|More than once, Jesus described the horror of his final hours to his disciples. They reacted in different ways: confusion, fear, questions. They refused to accept what would have helped them understand—Jesus told them he would die. They chose denial rather than facing the truth.|
|On the one hand, Jesus’ words leave us no doubt: God surrendered to death intentionally. He planned our salvation, then carried it out. He knew what he was doing all along the way. We may wonder why God doesn’t tell us more specifically about the future. He knows we would waste the knowledge by denial or outright rejection. After all, that’s what we do with the reality of our own death. We studiously avoid thinking about it. Consequently, we seldom arrive at death prepared or confident. Are you prepared to die? Do the people closest to you know what you think about death? Have you told them what you expect beyond that doorway? Your words may provide your friends with a powerful reason to consider Christ.|
Jesus had just spoken to them about facing persecution and had told them of his impending death twice before (see 16:21 and 17:22, 23 for the first two times). However, this is the first mention of it occurring in Jerusalem itself, of the involvement of Gentiles, and of his death coming by crucifixion (see below). Jesus clearly explained what would happen to him, but the disciples didn’t really grasp what he was saying. Certainly they did not want to believe that he might die. Jesus said he was the Messiah, but they thought the Messiah would be a conquering king. Instead, Jesus clearly explained that he, the Son of Man, the human being who was also the Messiah, God’s Son, would be betrayed (someone who had loved him would turn on him) to the Jewish leaders—the chief priests and the teachers of the law.
|LIFE APPLICATION – REALITY CHECK|
|Crowds were following Jesus, people were singing his praises, miracles were happening, and now Jesus and the disciples were heading for Jerusalem. Time for a reality check: The purpose of this trip was to suffer and die, then to rise from the dead. These predictions greatly disturbed the disciples who had every reason to expect a triumphant Jerusalem appearance by their Master.|
|We need reality checks, too. The Christian life is mostly identifying with our suffering Savior, mostly misunderstanding from religious leadership and hostility from secular power, mostly everything the world counts as a loss. True, some Christians achieve wealth, prestige, status, and influence. But those cases are abnormal. Most Christians experience the suffering side of faith and never receive an honorary degree from an honorable Christian school to which they have given a truckload of cash.|
|We should strive not for honors, but to be faithful followers of Jesus, wherever he leads. The road heading for Jerusalem may have looked to the disciples like a royal highway, but Jesus’ royalty is signaled by a crown of thorns.|
“They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”NIV The Sanhedrin (or Jewish supreme court comprised of the Jewish leaders) would condemn Jesus to die. But because Israel was occupied territory, they had to submit to Rome’s authority in cases of capital punishment. They could punish lesser crimes, but only Rome could execute an offender. Thus, the Jewish leaders could condemn Jesus, but they had to turn him over to the Gentiles in order to have him executed. “The Gentiles” refers primarily to Pilate, the Roman governor, who represented Rome in Palestine. The Gentile Romans would show great contempt for their prisoner, mocking and flogging him before killing him.
Jesus added that on the third day he would rise again, but the disciples heard only his words about death. Because Jesus often spoke in parables, the disciples may have thought that his words on death and resurrection were another parable they weren’t astute enough to understand. The Gospel records of Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection show that these events were God’s plan from the beginning and not accidents. The prophets had predicted what would happen to Jesus (see, for example, Psalm 22:6-8; Isaiah 50:6; 52:13-53:12).
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT SERVING OTHERS / 20:20-28
Matthew created a dual contrast by including Jesus’ comment on his impending death between the section on rewards and eternal life and the request from the mother of James and John. The consistent misunderstanding represents a pattern of response to Jesus. He shattered the expectations and interpretations of others. Who could deny the characteristic boldness of a mother in regard to her children? Jesus responded to her request without rebuke. His words read like a gracious correction. “You do not know what you are asking,” he said. How often do our prayers evoke the same response from God? We hardly ever know what we’re asking. Fortunately, God isn’t bound by our requests. He lovingly edits our prayers. So, ask what you will today for yourself and for others, but remember that God will always do what is best.
20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him.NRSV As the disciples followed Jesus toward Jerusalem, they realized that something was about to happen; they certainly hoped Jesus would be inaugurating his kingdom. The disciples knew Jesus believed he would die—he had told them three times. What was to become of his kingdom? Who would be in charge after his death? Among themselves, the disciples were arguing about this issue. Then Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (who were James and John, 4:21), came to ask a favor of Jesus. She was apparently among Jesus’ regular followers who were “disciples” but not part of the Twelve. She was at the cross when Jesus was crucified (27:56). Some have suggested that she was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thus, she and her sons may have hoped that, as Jesus’ cousins, their close family relationship would lend weight to their request.
James and John were brothers who, along with Peter, made up the inner circle of disciples (17:1). Mark records that James and John came with the request. There is no contradiction in the accounts—mother and sons agreed in this request for honored places in Christ’s kingdom, and James and John were present because they directly answered Jesus’ question in 20:22.
The mother of James and John came to Jesus, kneeling before him. She worshiped Jesus, but her real motive was to get something from him. Too often this happens in our churches and in our lives. We play religious games, expecting God to give us something in return. True worship, however, adores and praises Christ for who he is and for what he has done.
20:21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”NRSV The mother of these disciples, due to their close family relationship with Jesus and her sons’ close fellowship with him in his “inner circle,” may have felt that she had a right to make the request that her two sons would sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom. Jesus had already promised “thrones” (although the disciples may have misconstrued the meaning) when he said that the twelve disciples would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28 niv). In ancient royal courts, the persons chosen to sit at the right and left hands of the king were the most powerful people in the kingdom. James and John’s mother wanted her sons to sit beside Christ in his glory—these were the most honored places in the kingdom. They all understood that Jesus would have a kingdom; they understood that Jesus would be glorified (James and John had seen the Transfiguration, although they had not told anyone about it, as Jesus had commanded); and they approached him as loyal subjects to their king. However, until after the Resurrection, none of them fully understood that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world; it was not centered in palaces and thrones, but in the hearts and lives of his followers.
The mother of James and John asked Jesus to give her sons special positions in his kingdom. Parents naturally want to see their children promoted and honored, but this desire is dangerous if it causes them to lose sight of God’s specific will for their children. God may have different work in mind—not as glamorous but just as important. Thus parents’ desires for their children’s advancement must be held in check as they pray that God’s will be done in their children’s lives.
20:22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”NRSV Jesus responded to Salome (and through her to James and John who were apparently present, for they directly answered Jesus’ question) that in making such a self-centered request, they did not know what they were asking. To request positions of highest honor meant also to request deep suffering, for they could not have one without the other. Jesus had been teaching the concept of glory through suffering since 16:21-28, but the disciples still did not understand. Jesus asked first if they were able to drink the cup that he would drink. The verb tense in Greek indicates an event that has not yet occurred but is so certain that it can be spoken of as already having happened. The “cup” to which Jesus referred is the same “cup” that he would mention in his prayer in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (26:39 niv). It is the cup of suffering that he would have to drink in order to accomplish salvation for sinners. Jesus would not only endure horrible physical pain, but he would also bear the wrath of God’s punishment for sin, causing him to be abandoned by God for a time (27:46).
Jesus’ “cup” of suffering was unique, for it had a unique purpose, and only he could drink the particular “cup” that would accomplish salvation. Jesus was asking James and John if they were ready to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. James and John replied confidently to Jesus’ question. They answered that they were able to drink the cup and be baptized with Jesus. Their answer may not have revealed bravado or pride as much as it showed their willingness to follow Jesus whatever the cost, to fight the battle that was before them. As loyal followers, they hoped to receive honor along with Jesus when he would establish his kingdom; however, their desertion of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane revealed how unready they really were for what this “cup” entailed (26:56).
|LIFE APPLICATION – FIRST AND LAST CUP|
|The deaths of James and John were dramatic answers to Jesus’ question, “Can you drink my cup?” James was first among the apostolic martyrs. His brother outlasted them all and died an exile. Each of their “cups” had its own difficulty. James’s cup came with shocking suddenness; John’s with wearisome waiting. Each drank from Jesus’ cup in his time.|
|The gift of salvation is priceless and free, but the way of discipleship isn’t painless or easy. Life will test our commitment to Christ. Those closest to us will face their own challenges in following Jesus. Far greater benefit will be gained by encouraging one another than by wondering who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Look for a brother or sister in Christ you can encourage today.|
20:23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”NIV James and John said they were willing to “drink the cup,” that is, to face any trial for Christ. Jesus replied that they would be called upon to do so: James died as a martyr—he was put to death by the sword (Acts 12:2); John lived through many years of persecution before being forced to live the last years of his life in exile on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).
Although Jesus knew that these two disciples would face great suffering, this still did not mean that he would grant their request for great honor. Suffering is the price of greatness, but it is the price required to follow Christ at all. They would follow and they would suffer, but they would not thereby sit at his right and left in the kingdom. Jesus would not make that decision; instead, those places were reserved for those for whom they have been prepared by my Father. This statement, that God already knew who would gain those places of great honor, reveals that God is omniscient (all-knowing).
Jesus’ words reveal that, although he will distribute eternal rewards (2 Timothy 4:8), he will do so according to the Father’s decisions. Jesus showed by this statement that he was under the authority of the Father, who alone makes the decisions about leadership in heaven. Such rewards are not granted as favors. They are reserved for those whom God selects.
Jesus didn’t ridicule James and John for asking, but he denied their request. We can feel free to ask God for anything, but our requests may be denied. God wants to give us what is best for us, not merely what we want.
20:24-25 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.”NIV The other ten disciples were indignant that James and John had tried to use their relationship with Jesus to grab the top positions. Why such anger? Probably because all the disciples desired honor in the kingdom. Perhaps Peter, his temper getting the best of him, led the indignant ten disciples, for he had been the third with James and John in the group closest to Jesus. This probably seemed like a real slight to him. The disciples’ attitudes degenerated into pure jealousy and rivalry.
Jesus immediately corrected their attitudes, for they would never accomplish the mission to which he had called them if they did not love and serve one another, working together for the sake of the kingdom. So he patiently called his disciples together and explained to them the difference between the kingdoms they saw in the world and God’s kingdom, which they had not yet experienced.
The Gentile kingdoms (an obvious example being the Roman empire) have rulers and high officials who lord it over people, exercising authority and demanding submission (see 1 Peter 5:1-3). These Jews knew how very unpleasant it was to live under Rome’s oppression. Jesus was delicately saying that the disciples were acting no better than the despised Gentiles and their rulers. In Gentile kingdoms, people’s greatness depended on their social standing or family name. But Jesus explained that his kingdom would be like nothing they had ever experienced.
20:26-28 “It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”NRSV In a sentence, Jesus taught the essence of true greatness: Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant. Greatness is determined by servanthood. The true leader places his or her needs last, as Jesus exemplified in his life and in his death.
|Being a “servant” did not mean occupying a servile position; rather, it meant having an attitude of life that freely attended to others’ needs without expecting or demanding anything in return.||You won’t know what it’s like to be a servant until you’ve been treated like one.
Seeking honor, respect, and the attention of others runs contrary to Jesus’ requirements for his servants. An attitude of service brings true greatness in God’s kingdom. Jesus described leadership from a new perspective. Instead of using people, we are to serve them. Jesus’ mission was to serve others and to give his life away. A real leader has a servant’s heart. Servant leaders appreciate others’ worth and realize that they’re not above any job.
Jesus’ kingdom had already begun right there in that group of twelve disciples, but the kingdom was not set up with some who could lord it over others. Instead, the greatest person would be the servant of all. Jesus used the imagery of both a household “servant” and a “slave” to demonstrate what a servant attitude looked like. The Old Testament often spoke of submission and service, but it usually referred to a person’s relationship with God. Jesus applied the concept of the servant attitude to a person’s relationship to other people. In so doing, he transformed the ethics of the ancient world. The Greeks considered humility to be the lowest virtue; Jesus made it the highest.
What did this mean for the disciples? A real leader has a servant’s heart, willingly helping out others as needed. Servant leaders appreciate others’ worth and realize that they’re not above any job. They work together, not trying to gain positions of status or authority. They don’t keep count of who did what or why. They aren’t jealous of someone else’s gifts, but gladly fulfill their duties. Only with such an attitude would the disciples be able to carry out the mission of sharing the gospel across the world.
“Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”NRSV Why should the disciples have to be willing to serve? Because their Master set the example. Jesus explained that he came not to be served but to serve. Again Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. Jesus was the Son of God, but his glory was hidden in the form of a servant who would pay the ultimate price to serve others: he would give his life. Paul later wrote
- Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 niv)
Jesus’ mission was to serve—ultimately by giving his life in order to save sinful humanity. His life wasn’t “taken”; he “gave” it by offering it up as a sacrifice for people’s sins. A ransom was the price paid to release a slave from bondage. Jesus paid a ransom for us, and the demanded price was his life. The Greek word translated “for” (anti) includes the idea of substitution. The concept of substitutionary atonement did not begin with Paul’s writings, but with Jesus. Here and in the words of institution in the Last Supper, Jesus showed awareness of his death as substitution.
Jesus took our place; he died the death we deserved. Peter later wrote that the payment was not in silver or gold, but “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19 niv). That payment freed us from our slavery to sin. The disciples thought that Jesus’ life and power would save them from Rome; Jesus said his death would save them from sin, an even greater slavery than Rome’s. Jesus told his disciples often that he had to die, but here he told them why—to redeem all (the word “many” does not mean “quite a few,” but “all”) people from the bondage of sin and death. “Many” is a term used in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53:11-12) to refer to the covenant community, the elect who will inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words that he would give his “one” life for “all” people may allude to Isaiah 53:11-12 (see also Romans 5:19). Because Jesus willingly took the lowest place, God gave him the highest seat in God’s kingdom. All who repent and believe can come to him.
|LIFE APPLICATION – RANSOM|
|The concept of Jesus as our substitute creates strong aversion in the modern mind. Some would rather define salvation as an optional lifestyle chosen from enlightened self-interest (that is, neither Christ’s work nor our response to it has any ultimate significance; equally good help can be found elsewhere). Others opt for a universalism that avoids accountability for sin by saying that ultimately everyone will be saved. Each of these views guts the gospel by making sin and eternity irrelevant. Ransom, however, speaks bluntly of hopelessness, necessity, and sin. By definition, ransom must be done for us. The God who ransoms doesn’t save out of whim; God declares us valuable by paying the highest price. But some refuse the ransom offer. They remain in slavery, even when told that a way out has been provided by the death of Jesus on the cross. Don’t neglect Jesus’ offer to be your ransom! And if you have accepted his offer, don’t recoil from presenting it to others, even when they seem unreceptive.|
JESUS HEALS A BLIND BEGGAR / 20:29-34
20:29-31 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”NRSV Jesus and the disciples were on the way out of Jericho, continuing southward toward Jerusalem. The Old Testament city of Jericho had been destroyed by the Israelites (Joshua 6:20), but during Herod the Great’s rule over Palestine, he had rebuilt the city (about a mile south of the original city) as a site for his winter palace. Jericho was a popular and wealthy resort city, not far from the Jordan River, about eighteen miles northeast of Jerusalem.
As usual, a large crowd followed him, probably made up of Jews on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Matthew recorded that there were two blind men, while Mark and Luke mentioned only one. This is probably the same event, but Mark and Luke singled out the more vocal of the two men. Mark gave his name, Bartimaeus, an Aramaic name meaning son of Timaeus. These two blind men were sitting by the roadside. In ancient times, blind people (and others with infirmities that made them unable to work) had no other option but to beg. So they sat and waited along the roads near cities because that was where they were able to contact the most people. Jericho, with its fairly wealthy inhabitants, was a popular location for beggars. Medical help was not available for their problems, and people tended to ignore their obligation to care for the needy (Leviticus 25:35-38). Thus, beggars had little hope of escaping their way of life.
The blind men could not see, but they heard that Jesus of Nazareth was at the head of the approaching crowd. In order to be heard above the din, they shouted for Jesus’ attention. They had undoubtedly heard that Jesus had healed many (including blind people—see 9:29-31), and they hoped that Jesus would have mercy on them and heal their eyes. There were no healings of the blind in the Old Testament; the Jews believed that such a miracle would be a sign that the messianic age had begun (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5).
The men called Jesus Lord and Son of David because they, along with all Jews, knew that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David (see Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6). The fact that they called Jesus “Son of David” showed that they recognized Jesus as the Messiah, for this was a key name for the Messiah. These blind beggars could “see” that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, while so many who witnessed Jesus’ miracles were blind to his identity, refusing to open their eyes to the truth. Seeing with one’s eyes doesn’t guarantee seeing with the heart.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SHOUT IT LOUDER|
|There’s much to admire in people who go against the grain, who stand against the crowd, who “shout it louder” when they’re told to “keep quiet over there.” The crowd wants these beggars to behave like respectable beggars: quiet, passive, unobtrusive. But these two would not be silenced.|
|If you are searching for faith, wondering about Jesus, thinking about commitment—don’t let the crowd keep you quiet. God will answer your prayers, and when that happens (when the clarity and power of the gospel starts to move inside your heart and head), shout for all you’re worth!|
|When you’re searching for truth, don’t settle for anything less. Passive people take the crowd’s advice. Finders keep yelling until they get answers.|
The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!”NRSV The crowd tried to get the men to be quiet.
|It was most natural for the people, even Jesus’ disciples, to attempt to shield Jesus from being harassed by beggars. But this only caused the men to shout even more loudly. They kept on crying out in an attempt to gain Jesus’ attention. And it worked.||Genuine charity is of such a nature that it is constantly hungering and thirsting after the glory of God and the salvation of all men, even of those who are strangers to us.
20:32-33 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”NIV Although Jesus was concerned about the coming events in Jerusalem, he demonstrated what he had just told the disciples about service (20:26-28) by stopping to care for the blind men. Blindness was considered a curse from God for sin (John 9:2), but such an idea did not hinder Jesus.
Because Jesus probably knew what the men wanted, his question was not to gain information, but to allow them to specify their need and, in the process, to declare their faith that Jesus could meet that need. “Lord,” they called him again, “we want our sight.” These words literally mean “we want to recover our sight,” indicating that they had at one time been able to see.
|LIFE APPLICATION – COMPASSION|
|“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. Of course, blind men want their sight. Or do they? Jesus frequently asked seemingly obvious questions. They invite a second look.|
|Could the blind men have answered otherwise? “We want to come with you to Jerusalem,” or “Please tell these people to be kinder to us,” or “We would like a cup of water.” Even obvious questions have a place. They help us clarify our thinking. They can transform general desires into specific requests. The blind men simply stated their greatest need. Jesus’ compassion was stirred by their directness. Such moments must have been joyful ones for Jesus.|
|Jesus healed numerous blind people. His actions underscored a role he expressed most clearly in John 9:39, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind” (nrsv). Faced with Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” what is your response? Ask him for the great desires of your heart. He is the King; his resources are beyond your imagination. How recently have we called out to God for mercy?|
20:34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.NIV The result of the blind men’s request was that they received their sight. Jesus had made them well. The restoring of sight led to discipleship, for they then followed Jesus; that is, they remained with the crowd that followed Jesus to Jerusalem. It could also mean that they followed Jesus as disciples.
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.