Audio / Video Today’s reading is Matthew 20 There are billions of people living on earth today. Those of us who live in developed countries have millions of signals clamoring for our attention. Phone calls, text messages, emails, social media, ...
There are billions of people living on earth today. Those of us who live in developed countries have millions of signals clamoring for our attention. Phone calls, text messages, emails, social media, billboards, websites, tv shows, radio shows, books, magazines, newspapers, and, of course, other people in real life around us all insist that we stop whatever we’re doing and pay attention to them.
Getting attention is important. You won’t experience love without someone else’s attention, but you also won’t find a job or get promoted or generate new leads for your business or find new friends without getting others to pay attention to you.
And, once you have someone’s attention, the message you convey is, “Choose me! I’m great” or “I’m more helpful” or “I’m better” in some way than the person you have now. This kind of self-selling is essential to moving up in the world.
We might be tempted to think that it is necessary to sell ourselves to God, too.
After all, there are billions of people in the world and many of them are trying to get his attention. Once we’ve trusted Christ, we still may be tempted to promote ourselves within his church either to gain notoriety for ourself or our cause or to try to earn God’s favor. James and John (“the sons of Zebedee” in verse 20, see Mark 10:35) tried this. They even enlisted the help of their mother to get Jesus’ attention. And they came with a big ask: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“Make us your vice-regents, Jesus. That’s all we’re asking for.”
Talk about self-promotion.
Jesus responded by alluding to the cost of following him, namely to “drink the cup I am going to drink” (v. 22). Without knowing at all what he meant, they affirmed their ability to do the job in verse 23.
Jesus knew that they would indeed suffer just as he would suffer, but he declined to appoint them to the positions they wanted (v. 23).
Their request, however, miffed the other disciples and created a teaching moment for Jesus. He agreed that the way of this world is a way of self-promotion and heavy-handed authority (v. 25) but taught that this approach was inappropriate and backward in his kingdom (v. 26a). Instead of promoting ourselves, Jesus commanded us to humble ourselves. He told us that the way to advance in his kingdom was to take on the role of a slave (v. 27). When we act this way, we mirror the servant’s heart of Christ himself who acted as a slave and sacrificed his life to save us (v. 28).
We are disciples of Jesus, but we have different gifts, different callings, different opportunities and responsibilities. Living like a servant, then, means different things for each one of us.
But Christ’s command to live this way should be the motivation behind what we do and the goal for whatever we do. Think about your life–your family, our church, your workplace, and everything else.
What does it look like to be a servant for the Lord Jesus Christ in your life?
People in our culture sometimes say, “Jesus never talked about homosexuality.” Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that in 2012*.
Technically, that statement is true. Jesus did not directly condemn homosexuality the way he did unlawful divorce (v. 9) and a number of other things.
But, notice here in Matthew 19 what Jesus said when he was asked about divorce (v. 3). He could have said, “Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator… said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”
In other words, Jesus could have started his quotation of Genesis with Genesis 2:24, the verse that directly speaks to marriage. BUT, instead, he first quoted Genesis 1:27 in verse 4: “…at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’”. Jesus framed his answer on divorce with a biblical understanding of marriage and he quoted from two different chapters in Genesis to frame that biblical understanding of marriage.
Why did he do that?
One reason was to preserve the biblical definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Humanity was created in male and female counterparts so that by coming together as one flesh (v. 5, Gen 2:24) they could glorify their creator by enjoying godly sexuality and by creating children together.
Divorce destroys God’s intention for marriage (v. 6). That was Jesus’s point and why he quoted from Genesis in his answer. He acknowledged that divorce was “permitted” (v. 8) in some situations but that, in most instances, it is just a legalized form of adultery (v. 9).
Same-sex relationships–whether legal or not–also violate the Creator’s intentions for marriage and, unlike divorce, there are no exceptions allowed anywhere in scripture.
All kinds of sexual relationships are considered acceptable in our culture but that cultural acceptance do not change God’s infallible Word. Most people on earth are or could be tempted by some form of sexual sin whether premarital sex, adulterous sex, homosexual attraction or sex, lust, and so on. As Christians, we should obey God’s instructions and plead for his grace and mercy, not label as good what God calls sin.
Matthew 18 opened by telling us that the disciples asked Jesus a question: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1).
There are no dumb questions because only people can be dumb; questions cannot. But this question came close to being a dumb one.
It was so foolish and backward that Christ didn’t even try to answer it. Instead, he reframed the issue.
As the disciples stood there in a circle waiting for his answer, Christ called a child over and put that child in the middle of the circle. Then he told them, you won’t even get IN to the kingdom of heaven unless you lower your estimation of yourself spiritually to the level of a child (vv. 3-4).
Why was a child a good object lesson for true faith that saves?
A child is completely dependent on his/her parents. Our kids need us to provide them with food and shelter, they need us to tell them when to go to bed and when to get up. They need us to teach them (or put them where they will be taught) about language and math and science but also about how to tie their shoes. Although children can be skeptical and argue with us at times, for the most part they believe that their parents are a trustworthy source of information that is necessary to life.
Did Peter believe he was the greatest disciple? Andrew? John? Judas?
What a joke; the only one who can be called great in heaven is God. The rest of us depend completely on him for everything, starting with the right to enter heaven in the first place.
And, to advance in the kingdom of heaven, we must maintain a childlike spirit of trust and dependence on God along with a healthy sense of our own weakness and inadequacy before our perfect creator.
God’s Law required Jewish men to pay a flat tax at every census “for the service of the tent of meeting” (v. 16 of Ex 30:11-16). By the time of Jesus, this tax had become an annual fee required of every man in Israel between twenty and fifty years old.
So, the tax we read about here in Matthew 17:24-27 was not a Roman tax but fee paid for the ongoing ministry of the temple. Every good Jewish man paid it as part of his faithfulness to God in obedience to God’s law.
This is why Peter answered so quickly and confidently when he was asked if Jesus paid the temple tax (vv. 24-25). Other men might be tax-cheats and religious deadbeats but Peter was certain Jesus wasn’t among them.
It turned out, however, that Peter spoke out of turn. If you were an Über driver, you would not charge your kids if you drove them to school even though you charge everyone else for a ride. That would just be weird and stupid.
Likewise, Jesus did not pay that temple tax because he’s the Son of God (v. 5). There was no need for him to pay his Father for admission into their “house” (vv. 25b-26).
Peter had just witnessed Christ’s transfiguration (vv. 1-8) so he could have–should have–reasoned his way to the right conclusion. But, because of what Peter said, Jesus HAD to pay the tax now; otherwise, he’d appear to be deceptive and this situation would have caused stumbling (“offense,” v. 27) to those who had asked the question.
Because Peter is the one who put Jesus on the hook for the taxes, he could have taken responsibility to pay Jesus’s tax himself. Christ could have insisted that Peter do so for the same reason. “Learn your lesson, Peter.”
Instead, Jesus told Peter how to perform a miracle that would pay both Jesus’s and Peter’s tax (v. 27).
This story demonstrates the implications of two truths in this passage:
One is that Jesus is the Son of God as the transfiguration demonstrated (vv. 1-8, esp. v. 5). The implication of that truth is that the temple belongs to him so he doesn’t need to pay for it.
A second implication grows out of verses 22-23. There Jesus predicted his death. That passage did not explain that his death would cover the disciples’s sin obligation before God but we know that was the purpose of it. Here, Jesus takes on the obligation of Peter, providing for his temple tax as well as the one Peter’s quick mouth obligated Jesus to pay (v. 27). Instead of making Peter pay these obligations himself, Jesus provided payment for Peter’s obligations to God if Peter believed and did what Jesus told him to do (v. 27).
This is a simple illustration of what Christ has done for all of us. We not only are obligated to serve and worship God but we incur greater obligation to him every time we speak untruthful words or do evil things. Yet Christ provides the means to cover all our obligations to a holy and perfect God.
Here is one other truth to think about from this passage: How confident are we that the things we say are true or false based on our faith-relationship with God? When people ask us if:
…a loving God would send people to hell?
…would God ever disapprove of two people loving each other, even if they are the same sex or one is already married or a guy and girl want to live together without getting married?
…if Christianity is the only way to God or could a sincere adherent to another religion who never heard the gospel be saved?
…or any other of a long list of questions
…do we give scriptural answers to these questions? Or, do we answer off the cuff on God’s behalf like Peter did?
What about if someone asks whether all infants who die go to heaven or not or whether Jesus would vote for a certain presidential candidate or not. Do you speak your answer confidently like Peter did in verse 24 or do you talk through the scriptural principles with the person who asked you?
We are often too quick with our words, too confident about our answers. There are biblical principles that apply to any question in the previous paragraph and many others. I’m not at all saying that we can’t give a good answer to those questions because, of course, we can.
Instead, I’m asking you to consider your words. Do you speak for God recklessly like Peter did in verse 24? Is there a better way to handle the question of unbelievers?
Problems–they’re part of life, but nobody wants them.
At the end of Matthew 16, Jesus told the disciples that big problems awaited him in Jerusalem. In verse 21 he told the disciples that he would “suffer many things… and… be killed.” He told them that he “must” (2x) do these things. That expression “must” indicates that this is what God had willed for him.
When Peter rebuked Jesus in verse 22, Jesus returned an even more intense rebuke (v. 23), calling him Satan.
Then Jesus went on to say that all disciples “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v. 24). This does not mean dying for your own sins but that the followers of Christ will suffer just as Christ himself suffered.
Within the problems you and I face in life are lessons about following Jesus. The main lesson we need to learn in every problem is self denial (v. 24, “deny themselves”). The anger or fear or frustration you feel about your problems rises from a sense of entitlement. “This shouldn’t have happened to me,” we think. “It’s not right!”
Jesus could have said that when he went to the cross and he would have been 100% correct. But God’s will compelled him to face these problems for our salvation.
And, like all master-disciple situations, it is our turn to do what the master did–to suffer (even unjustly) but be faithful according to the will of God.
Are you facing any problems today? Will you persevere through them, keeping your faith despite the pain, praising God and looking to him for help?