Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Matthew 20

June 5th, 2011 by Vic

June 5, 2011

Matthew 20

“Great Grace for Undeserved”


What does it mean when you repeat yourself?  What does it mean when you say the same thing two or three times?  Jesus repeatedly predicted His coming crucifixion.  He also repeats Himself in today’s study.  Look at Matthew 19:30, 20:16, and 20:25-28.  Jesus knew that this would be a hard lesson for us to learn.  He was demonstrating the power of love, but the disciples had always been satisfied with external motivation.


In 19:27 Peter asked what he was going to get out of following Jesus.  In 20:21 James and John were positioning themselves for external glory as the world had taught them.  They were planning for the future.


Between these two questions, Jesus tells us a story about a landowner that hired laborers and sent them into his vineyard.

Matthew 20:1-16

The world tells us to compare ourselves with others around us.  We take tests written by men who expect us to measure up to their phantom ideal.  The attitudes of the disciples and the laborers in this story have a similar mentality.  They compare themselves with others and question the one they are serving.  Who do we think we are?  Do we want to understand what God is doing in the world or do we want to know what’s in it for us?  Do we want to know our place in eternity?  Do we want to know God’s plan for our lives?   We say we love, but do we still get jealous when the other person succeeds?


This story identifies several poor men who get up early in the morning and go to the market with all their tools to find a job.  The migrant worker’s bus is there.  The owner of the vineyard is offering everyone a denarius for a day’s work.  This was the minimum wage for a soldier.  These men needed the money to feed their family and there are no other offers for employment so they go to the field.


As the day progresses the owner is anxious to finish the harvest.  Maybe he realizes the weather is changing or a flock of crows is nearby.  For some reason he returns several times to the marketplace to solicit more workers for the field.  As one of the workers you just keep working away, happy that more help has arrived.  You wonder what these latecomers will be paid.


At the end of the day, the laborers line up for their pay.  The latecomers are paid first.  You are amazed when they receive a denarius.  You start thinking.  You start getting greedy.  You start thinking of what you will do with the extra money.  You can feel the extra coins in your pocket already.


Then fear grips your heart as the second group also receives the denarius.  Your anxiety grows as all the workers receive the same pay.  Now you are angry.  You start murmuring against the good owner.  When you are given your denarius, you say what you think.  “It’s not fair.  There is no justice.  I worked in the hot sun and wind all day.  You have made them equal to us.”  Jealousy eats away at you like leprosy in the OT.  Remember Miriam murmuring against her brother Moses?


Read 20:13-15

This owner represents God.  This story is about God’s grace.  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes shall not perish, but have eternal life.  Whether a person serves the Lord all his life or accepts Jesus as Lord on his deathbed, all receive eternal life.  The 12 disciples represent the 1st in the harvest field.


Heaven is offered to all equally.  It makes no difference how old you are.  It makes no difference how long you have been a Christian.  But a selfish attitude can rob you of joy.  The disciples had committed themselves to following Jesus first, before many others.  Did they understand that this story was about them?


Look at the context of this parable.  Look back at 19:23-30.  God’s ways are not our ways.  The rich man will have trouble getting into heaven if he depends on his riches.  The poor man will have trouble if he depends on the labor of his hands.  The disciples are hearing that many outcasts will receive eternal life just like they will.  God has made them equal to us.


Most of us are willing to work hard and endure great deprivation if we are sure we will be recognized and rewarded more than those who have been less diligent.


Some people have served God all their lives.  Some people are like the thief on the cross next to Jesus who confessed his sins at the last moment of his life.  Both receive eternal life.  My mind has trouble with that.  It does not compute.  God loves you just as much as He loves me.  Is that fair?


This parable teaches us about the heart of God.  None of us really earns it.  God’s love, grace and mercy are offered as free gifts.  If we are willing to trust and obey, we will find that contentment is great gain.


The teaching that follows reveals to us a little about the heart of the disciples.  Were they jealous because God was generous?  They will be in a short time.  If you want to be great, learn to be a servant.  Learn to rejoice that the other men were able to receive a day’s wage to feed their families.  Rejoice that God is gracious and merciful.


Your income, your status, and your time of labor do not in any way indicate your value to God.


Jesus calls us to work in His kingdom.  He will be just and gracious.


The last one called may be the first one to receive their reward.  Those regarded by others as not worth hiring are shown grace and given enough to feed their family for a day.


The story does not tell us why some workers had been standing around all day and no one hired them (6)?  These were probably workers that no one else wanted or they had been fired from an earlier job.  Maybe they finished and earlier job.  Maybe they were not qualified for a job or couldn’t keep a job.  And yet the landowner “made them equal to us” (12).  Do you suppose that Publicans and sinners may receive eternal life just like you?  Do you suppose the last in the world’s opinion may receive a first class seat?  Do you suppose the rich may find it hard to even get a coach seat?  Jesus calls whosoever will to live in His kingdom.  A lot about external rewards I do not understand, but I know God is just and gracious.


This landowner was different than you would expect.  Do you suppose God may not satisfy your expectations of justice?  Does He define justice using your definition?  Have you noticed how quickly jealousy appears when you feel you have been unjustly treated?  Do you understand why it is important that you rejoice with those that rejoice so you can weep with those who weep?


Kingdom rewards do not function according to your standard of justice, but they depend solely on God’s sovereign grace.  God’s grace makes some who are last first.  This story is about the goodness and mercy of God.  The story is really about God.  It underlines the disciples’ poor understanding reflected in their question in 19:27, “What’s in it for us?”  Jesus set the example.


Read 20:17-19

For the 3rd time Jesus predicts his suffering and death.  Did Jesus say this with a smile on His face?   The Bible says He was anointed with joy and gladness.  Is that why the disciples did not catch the seriousness of Jesus’ prediction?  The disciples seem preoccupied with external rewards.  While Jesus demonstrates humility, the disciples compete for first place.


Jesus is on the way up to Jerusalem.  There was going to be a confrontation with the leaders.  The disciples were expecting Jesus to inaugurate His kingdom.  This was the time.  The mother of James and John (Salome) was expecting Jesus to enter Jerusalem with great power.


3 times Jesus has predicted His death so that all will know that His fate in Jerusalem will be no tragic accident of history but the outworking of God’s saving purposes for humanity.  The crucifixion is not some hastily drawn up plan.  The crucifixion was not a result of the disciples’ stupidity or their lack of foresight or their poor planning or their lack of power.  The crucifixion was not caused by a mistake that Jesus made.  The crucifixion was the plan of God.


Read 20:20-28

Jesus had just promised the disciples that they would sit on thrones.  Then He predicted His crucifixion.  The disciples want to change the subject.  James and John have something else on their minds.  They are trying to get the kingdom of God organized.  They wanted to get their bid in right away for the best thrones.  Their mother (maybe the sister of Mary the aunt of Jesus), kneels down so she can get something from Jesus.  Why do we worship Jesus?  Do we come to church to get something or to bring a sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:15)?  Do we test and see how generous God is?  Do we always ask for just a little more?


Despite Jesus’ repeated predictions of his passion, two disciples and their mother are still thinking about privilege, status, and power.  Jesus had promised them they would sit on thrones, but they wanted the best thrones.  Despite all the talking about service and servanthood, they had not processed it in their thinking.  They were too busy to think about what Jesus had been saying.


The sons of Zebedee are like us.  They are slow learners.  They had not taken the time to think about what God was doing.  They were still thinking greatness is defined visibly.  It is hard to change our family worldview.  We assume that the way our parents see the world is the right way to see the world.  The disciples demonstrate that they have not understood Jesus’ teaching about the first being last.  They did not understand that true greatness is reached only through service and self-sacrifice.


When is the last time you found a quiet place and meditated on the Word of God?  God sent Jesus to show us how He sees the world.  Have you wondered about God’s worldview?  How does God see your world?


Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking.  They are asking the wrong question.  To be identified with Jesus is to suffer and die.  God is in control of Jesus’ death and also determines who will receive honor in His kingdom.  Jesus is only doing His Father’s will, not using His authority to do His own thing and set up His own kingdom.  Jesus’ authority is derived authority.


The disciples were thinking about the world’s values.  They wanted personal authority.  The terms ruler and slave are polar opposites in this world, but in God’s kingdom greatness is in servanthood.  Anyone who wants to be great must be the servant.  This world says a great man is one who controls others.  The kingdom reverses that assumption and asks how many have you helped?  The Jews were expecting a raging Lion of Judah and Jesus came as the gentle Lamb of God.


Read 20:29-34

The prophets said the Messiah was to come and give sight to the blind.  These blind men had probably memorized all those Scriptures.  The masses of people were also talking about a Messiah.  It is not difficult to imagine the eager anticipation of the crowd concerning Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and the confrontation between Jesus and the Romans that was sure to take place there.  But Jesus wanted them to see God’s plan and not just an earthly conquest.  Jesus stops the parade.  He takes time to demonstrate His compassion and desire to give sight to the blind.


Scholars feel there were thousands of people following Jesus at this time.  This may have been like the riots in Cairo, Tripoli, and Damascus.  The masses wanted to overthrow the government.   They were in a hurry.  Jesus stopped.  There was an interruption in the celebration parade.  The agenda of the masses was interrupted.


A couple blind men heard that Jesus was walking by.  They had heard that He may be the Messiah and Isaiah had said that the Messiah as the Son of David would come and restore the sight to the blind.  The crowds only wanted to get Jesus to Jerusalem.  They were anxious for the confrontation.  They wanted freedom and glory.   They had lost their compassion.  They were in too big a hurry to be part of something grand and glorious and they were missing the important.  We resemble that.


The blind men sensed a window of opportunity.  This was the chance of a lifetime.  Their fathers and mothers had told them about the coming Messiah.  The blind men believed in the power of the Son of David.  Maybe this is the One.  So when the crowd told them to shut up they only shouted a little louder.  Jesus heard their cry for mercy out on the edge of the crowd.  The crowd was too involved with the glory to be troubled by compassion.


The crowd’s rebuke of the blind men had no effect except to increase their fervency.  They were not about to be silenced.


This miracle confirms the identity of Jesus as the Messiah.  He gives sight to the blind as He is on His way to provide sight to the spiritually blind.  His goal was so much more important than the expectations of the crowd.  His death and resurrection was so much more important than giving sight to a couple blind men.  But not for Him.  He had compassion.  Even on the way to the cross, He will not let the cry of the needy go unheard.  Jesus is concerned about you.  He is calling for you.


The blind men are freed from their darkness just like all mankind can be freed from spiritual darkness if they call on Jesus as Lord.  He will provide deliverance to all humanity from a much greater darkness.


I do not know where you are in this story.  But I do know that Jesus can heal your blindness.  Jesus will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.  Jesus has said the pure in heart will see God in everything.  They will walk in the light of God’s reality, not the world’s phantom reality.


Are you having trouble seeing God and spiritual reality in your life?  Confess your sins and let Him forgive you and cleanse your heart so you can see how God is actively working in your life.  Let God open your eyes to the beauty of His kingdom.  He is calling you.  In this noisy world He hears your cry and invites you to come.


Open our eyes Lord.  We have a window of opportunity and we want to see Jesus.

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