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X. Ministry on the Way to Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1–20:34)

19:1-3 After a time of performing miraculous healings, Jesus was approached by the Pharisees with a theological question. However, they weren’t interested in having a sincere discussion; they wanted to test him. They asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds? (19:3). In other words, can a man quit his marriage when he gets tired of his wife? Is it OK for a couple to get divorced for “irreconcilable differences”?

19:25-27 The disciples were shocked, asking, Then who can be saved? (19:25). Jesus reminded them that the impossible is possible for God (19:26). He is able to overrule harmful attachments in our lives when we place our faith in him. Peter, ever the bold disciple, reminded Jesus that they had left everything to follow him (19:27). Peter himself had set aside his perhaps prosperous fishing business (see 4:18-20). So what will there be for us? (19:27)—that is, “What’s the payoff for our commitment to you?”

19:28-29 Jesus assured his disciples that in the renewal of all things—that is, during his millennial reign—they would hold positions of authority, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (19:28). Moreover, this is true of everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for Jesus’s sake. Thus, all Christians who truly identify with Christ and forsake worldly gain to obtain heavenly gain through serving him, will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life (19:29). To “inherit eternal life” is not only to enter eternal life but also to receive its benefits.

19:30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first means there will be a great reversal in the kingdom. Many who are viewed as successful in this world will be paupers there, while many of the paupers in this world will be granted greater authority in the kingdom. So don’t let earthly success or worldly gain prevent you from sacrificing as necessary to serve the Lord in light of the rewards to be received in the world to come.

20:1-9 In 20:1-16, Jesus told a parable about a landowner and the laborers who work in his vineyard. Early one morning, he hired a group of workers for a denarius—one day’s wage (20:1-2). Later that day, he obtained some more workers without giving them a contract but simply promising to pay them what was right (20:3-4). He did the same thing several more times, even hiring a group at five o’clock (20:5-7). When the day was done, he paid everyone the same amount, starting with the last and ending with the first (20:8-9).

20:10-16 Those hired in the morning were upset because those hired late in the day received the same pay (20:10-12). They felt they’d been treated unjustly, but the vineyard owner insisted he had treated them fairly. He’d paid them what was promised. However, while he had been fair with them, he had been generous with others (20:13-15). He asked, Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? . . . The last will be first, and the first last (20:15-16).

Through this story Jesus was teaching that God is both fair and generous. We should rejoice when God is gracious toward others and not resent it. While the Jews expected better treatment from God because of their background as God’s people, the Gentiles would be objects of his compassion as well.

20:17-19 Jesus predicted for the third time his suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day (20:18-19; see 16:21; 17:22-23). He wanted his disciples to understand it as his mission—the reason he had come. And this would be the basis for their future ministry and message. When Paul later summed up the gospel, this was what it was all about (see 1 Cor 15:3-4).

20:20-21 Christian discipleship is to be expressed by humbly identifying with Jesus Christ and serving others, but the disciples still hadn’t learned this lesson. It seems that after hearing Jesus’s promise that they would “sit on twelve thrones” in the messianic age (19:28), two of the disciples tried to work out an even better deal for themselves. The mother of Zebedee’s sons, James and John, asked Jesus to let her boys sit on his right and left in his kingdom (20:20-21).

Now, in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 10:35-45), he describes John and James asking Jesus. It appears, then, that this request was their idea, and their mother was simply asking on their behalf. Also, it’s important to understand that the seats to the right and left of a king were reserved for those in positions of special authority. The New Testament describes Jesus sitting at God’s right hand (see Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1: Heb 1:3; 8:1; 1 Pet 3:22).

20:22-23 The disciples were a lot like many of us. The brothers’ request suggests they wanted privilege and power without service and commitment. Jesus knew they didn’t understand what they were asking: Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink? By this he meant the suffering he was about to endure. They said they could, and Jesus agreed that they would. James would be martyred (see Acts 12:1-2), and John would experience exile (see Rev 1:9). But the seats at Jesus’s right and left are reserved for those sovereignly appointed by his Father.

20:24-27 When the other ten disciples heard this discussion, they became indignant with the two brothers (20:24). Maybe this was righteous indignation. Or maybe they were simply upset that they didn’t come up with the same idea first! Regardless, Jesus saw it as another opportunity to teach about discipleship.

Among the Gentiles, people in positions of authority lord it over others and act as tyrants (20:25). But there is a fundamental difference in how the church is to view power and authority: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (20:26). In the dog-eat-dog world of earthly success, you reach greatness by stepping on others. In the kingdom of God, you reach greatness by serving others in love.

Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke their desire to be great (“Whoever wants to become great”; 20:26). Sometimes people think being a Christian means having no aspirations, but Jesus didn’t condemn the aspiration for greatness. Rather, he condemned the worldly method for achieving it. So dream big. Ask God how you can use your skills and talents to make the biggest possible kingdom impact. But realize that when it comes to the people of God, servants—not celebrities—are on top.

20:28 God’s Son didn’t merely demand servanthood, he demonstrated it: [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. God exalted Jesus and gave him the name above all names, but Jesus attained this greatness by humbling himself as a servant and suffering unto death to save others (see Phil 2:5-11). The Son of God chose the way of sacrificial service, so why would you expect a different path for yourself?

20:29-34 As Jesus traveled from Jericho to Jerusalem, two blind men sitting by the road began crying out, Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David! (20:29-30). Clearly, these men recognized his messianic authority, and with that authority came the supernatural right to heal. So though the crowd told them to keep quiet, they wouldn’t be distracted (20:31). No one could keep them from Jesus. When he asked them what they wanted, they displayed bold faith by requesting their sight (20:32-33). Jesus healed them, and they followed him (20:34).

Don’t let others keep you from crying out to the Lord either. Pursue him until you hear a word from him, in spite of voices that try to keep you quiet. And when he comes through, follow him in even deeper faith and greater service.

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