Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 3

Matthew 21:33 – Hear another parable.  There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.

Jesus goes on to give yet another parable.  It has at least two purposes.  What do you suppose they are?  Think about your answer as we examine this passage.     

The parable starts by saying there was a master or proprietor of an estate.  This means that he had the legal right or exclusive title to everything in that estate.  He is the owner of it all, whether or not it is actually in his possession. 

This owner goes to an incredible amount of time and effort to create an amazing vineyard.  He plants only the choicest of vines. 

He encloses the vineyard with a fence.  This is probably not a fence like you and I typically think of.  Often in this part of the world ‘fences’ are actually hedges of thick, thorny plants.  These were more effective in keeping raiders out than the common wooden or metal fences we use today.   

The tower was a very large, tall edifice.  We would think of it as a guard tower.  From this position, the keeper of the vineyard could see trouble coming from a long way off.  He would be able to protect the vineyard from anything that wanted to destroy or ravage the crops.  This (along with the thorny hedge) was more than sufficient to protect the crop from thieves and animals.

This particular vineyard also contains a winepress.  Back in this time, a winepress had two parts.  There was a large receptacle cut into the rocky side of a hill.  This is where the ripe grapes were placed.  The receptacle had a trough leading to a vat.  A man would climb into the receptacle and tread the grapes with his feet.  As he crushed them, the juice would flow into the vat. 

This was often referred to as ‘treading the grapes’.  The person who did so would often stain their clothing with grape juice, which sometimes gave the appearance of being covered in blood.   

All things considered, we see that no expense was spared by the owner in creating this vineyard.  He did not ‘cut any corners’ or leave anything out.  It was an amazing, valuable, top-of-the-line operation. 

At this point, the owner leases the vineyard to some people.

There were commonly three different types of leases back then.  In the first type, the lessees received a portion or a percentage of the produce for their payment.  For instance, they might get 75% of the crop while the owner gets 25%. 

A second type of lease was where the lessee simply paid a monetary fee to the owner at the time of the contract, and then kept all of the harvest.  

The third type was where the lessee was required to give the owner a certain, specific amount of the harvest first, while they kept whatever was left over.  For example, they owner might want 1000 bushels of grapes.  The lessee must give him this first as payment, then they would keep whatever was harvested over and above that amount.

Such leases could be entered into for a single year (season) or for life.  In some cases, they could even be hereditary (the lease could be passed from father to son).  In this parable, the third type of lease seems to be indicated.  But regardless of which type of lease was used, the master is still the owner and as such, he will expect a harvest or payment of some kind.  

 And so, leaving them in charge, the owner departs on a journey to a far country.

Matthew 21:34 – When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.  

The owner was not making an unreasonable or unexpected request.  It had been established from the beginning of the lease, that payment would be due. 

So let’s begin to unravel the meaning of this parable. 

Who is the owner or master?

If you said ‘God’, you are correct.

What does the vineyard represent? Why?

The vineyard represents God’s chosen people. At that time, the vineyard consisted exclusively of the nation of Israel. Clearly, God had specifically ‘cultivated’ this nation as his own people. He had plans to bless and prosper them; thus he expected a great harvest from his vineyard. God valued them highly just as the master valued his vineyard.

The vineyard represents God’s chosen people.  At that time, the vineyard consisted exclusively of the nation of Israel.  Clearly, God had specifically ‘cultivated’ this nation as his own people.  He had plans to bless and prosper them; thus he expected a great harvest from his vineyard.  God valued them highly just as the master valued his vineyard. 

Jesus may be using Isaiah 5:1-7 as the basis for his parable. 

Isaiah 5:1-2 –  Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved regarding his vineyard. My well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill: And he dug it, and gathered out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress in it: and he expected that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

Who are the tenants or lessees of the vineyard?

They are the religious leaders of Israel – the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sanhedrin and formerly the kings.

God had called and charged these leaders with the care of his people.  They were to work among God’s vineyard (people) by watering (teaching), pruning (correcting and calling to repentance), fertilizing (preparing them to receive the Messiah), etc.  In short, they were to take care of the people in such a way that they produced spiritual fruit for God.

What was the purpose of the hedge of thorns and the watchtower?

These represent the means of protection that God established for the people. The religious leaders were to keep watch over the people; they were responsible for manning the watch tower.

They should have sounded an alarm when they saw idolatry creeping into the vineyard.  They should have sounded an alarm when the Jews intermarried with the Canaanites.  They should have sounded an alarm when the kings made treaties with Egypt.  They should have noticed when the people drifted further and further into works of the law, instead of relationship with God.   

In short, they should have seen the attacks of Satan coming in the distance and provided spiritual guidance/protection for the nation.  But they didn’t.  They failed in their duty to be a watchman over the nation.  In fact, they were the number one cause of the people going astray!

The hedge that surrounded the vineyard/nation was maintained by God, as long as they remained true to him.  However, when the people rebelled against God, he allowed the hedge to fail and Israel’s enemies ravaged her.

Matthew 21:35-36 – And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  Again he sent other servants, more than the first.  And they did the same to them.  

This part of the parable tells us one of the main reasons why Jesus gave this parable, at this time, in this place.  Who are the servants?  What is the reason for the parable?

The servants represent the true prophets and messengers of God.  God sent the nation of Israel prophet after prophet; warning after warning as he tried to get them to remain true to him.  He did everything he could do to bring them to a place of maturity where they could produce spiritual fruit.  But the leaders of Israel did not embrace the messengers of God.  Time after time, they rejected, humiliated and killed them.

Isaiah 5:3-4 – And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes? 

This was acutely true at the time when Jesus gave this parable.  God had sent John the Baptist to testify to the coming of the Messiah.  Yet, the rulers rejected both him and his ministry.   They were in rebellion to God, just as the tenants were in rebellion to the master of the vineyard.  Just as the tenants had set themselves up as the dictators of the vineyard, so had the religious leaders set themselves up as dictators over Israel, seizing power, adoration, authority and glory that did not belong to them.  They wanted to usurp God’s authority and be the masters of Israel!

Sadly, the fault did not lie completely with the leaders.  The Jewish nation as a whole had often rejected the prophets of God as well. 

So, once again, Jesus is being merciful specifically to the religious leaders that are confronting him, and more generally, the whole nation.  Instead of rejecting them forever, he warns them about their rebellion and gives them another chance to repent and turn from their sin. 

Matthew 21:37 – Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

In the parable, who is the Son of the master?

Of course you are correct! It is Jesus!

Please keep in mind that the parables have limits.  Each and every circumstance in a parable does not exactly translate to a spiritual truth.  In this case, God was not in any way ignorant of the fact that Jesus was going to be rejected and crucified by men.  Clearly, God knew this from the beginning.  So don’t be confused by the attitude of the master in the parable.  The rebellion of the Jewish nation (particularly the religious leaders) is the main focus of the parable.  

Matthew 21:38-39 – But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’   And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Obviously, this is a prophetic declaration about Jesus’ imminent crucifixion. Here we find the second reason for the parable. Did you find it?

Jesus once again prophesies his own crucifixion by the Jews. Remember, he has recently ridden into the city and accepted praises from the people extolling him as the Messiah. If he suddenly dies without any warning, the faith of the people will crumble. They will think they have been deceived. However, when Jesus prophesies his own death, it reveals his divinity and assures the people that this was all part of his master plan. They have not been deceived; he is the Messiah he claims to be.

Matthew 21:40 – When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?

Here, Jesus asks the rulers to be involved in the parable.  Using their own wisdom and knowledge, he asks them how the tenants of the vineyard should be judged.  At this point, one can only surmise that they did not recognize themselves as the tenants!

Matthew 21:41 – They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

The Jews themselves bear witness that the punishment they are about to endure is a just and righteous one.  They have approved/affirmed their own judgment!    

Isaiah 5:5-6 – And now; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be eaten up; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down:  And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor dug; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

Thus, God would very soon take leadership the ‘vineyard’ away from the Jews and give control of it to the Gentiles, who would honor God by producing fruit.  Clearly, the Gentiles have been the main herald of the gospel message for most of this dispensation.

Not only that, but God also changed the nature or makeup of the vineyard.  It was no longer exclusively made up of Jews.  God choose to graft the Gentiles into his vineyard/kingdom as well (Romans chapter 11)!  

What a very great honor and privilege for you and I!  We have the opportunity to expand and tend to the vineyard of God (the church).  How are you contributing to this great work?

Matthew 21:42 – Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Here Jesus makes his case another way, this time with a building metaphor.  He makes reference to Psalms 118:22:

Psalm 118:22 – The stone which the builders rejected has become the head stone of the corner.

Jesus as the cornerstone of the church is a much used metaphor in the New Testament (Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:7, etc). 

The cornerstone is a block of great importance when constructing a building because it is the thing that binds together the sides of the building.  Thus, Jesus is the chief cornerstone that binds the church (Jews and Gentiles) together. 

The cornerstone is also the foundation upon which the building rests. So Jesus is also the foundation of the kingdom of God.

The chief priests and religious leaders were the general contractors of God’s original building, the Jewish nation.  But the building was doomed to fail, because it did not have the correct foundation; the Jews rejected Christ as the cornerstone (Matthew 7:24-27).  They would not allow him a place in their edifice.  They cast him aside as being unfit for their plans.

But mankind’s plans cannot negate the plans and purposes of God!  The Jews mistakenly thought that since they were God’s chosen people, God would not have a church if they were cut off.  They did not realize that when God uses mankind to bear his name and reflect his glory it is not because God needs them, or is beholden to them.  It is because he wants to bless them and have relationship with them.  However, if they are unwilling to partner with God, he will move on.  Remember, if people keep silent, the very rocks will cry out in praise to God!  

The Jew’s rejection of Christ did not adversely affect God one little bit.  However, it did have an effect upon the Jewish nation.  Through their rejection of Christ, they brought judgment upon themselves and their nation.

This is a frightful truth.  If God did not spare the Jewish nation when they rejected him, how can the United States of America escape judgment?  We have certainly rejected Jesus as blatantly as the Jews of old!  We need to pray for repentance for our nation, don’t you agree?

As a side note, consider this:  the Jews had no doubt read this scripture (Psalms 118) plenty of times.  The problem was that they failed to meditate on it.  Meditation is what takes ‘head knowledge’ and makes it ‘heart knowledge’.  Do you meditate on the scriptures, or just read them?

Matthew 21:43 – Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

The Jews were punished by the destruction of their temple and their beloved city of Jerusalem in AD 70.  It would be a very long time indeed before the Jews had a nation again!

But the saddest part of their punishment was that the privilege of trusting in Christ and spreading the gospel message was taken from them.  As we already mentioned, this blessing would now be given to a nation who would bring forth its fruits – the Gentiles. 

Matthew 21:44 – And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.

The Jews were unable to accept Jesus as the Messiah.  In other words, they ‘stumbled’ on this truth.  It threw them for a loop.  It tripped them up, and they ‘fell’ on the stone/doctrine of Christ.  This caused them (the nation) to be broken.  We have already discussed how the nation was judged.  It was indeed broken into pieces and the people scattered!

However, there is an even worse judgment set aside for the people who have the cornerstone fall on them and crush them.  This represents the people who reject Jesus as the Messiah after he has been raised from the dead and glorified. 

Jesus is the cornerstone.

We can understand the Jews being confused, because they were the first generation to deal with the idea of Jesus as the Son of God.  But now, there is no excuse for anyone to reject Christ.  His message has been proclaimed worldwide.  The scriptures are available in practically every language in every nation.  The Holy Spirit is actively at work on this planet, convicting men of sin and drawing them to Christ.  There are innumerable witnesses to the grace and mercy of God. 

So we see that whoever opposes Christ after he is exalted and the Holy Spirit is poured out, and the full revelation of the gospel is known, will bring upon himself unavoidable destruction and eternal damnation.  [Don’t be that guy!]

Matthew 21:45-46 – When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.  And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Suddenly, the dull minds of the religious leaders comprehend that Jesus is pronouncing judgment against them!  They suddenly realize that they are the unfit tenants and the murderers of the master’s son.  They are the builders that rejected the chief cornerstone. 

They are so enraged at this, they would have violently seized Jesus and killed him, but they were restrained by their knowledge that the crowd would never allow it.  Jesus was surrounded by his own disciples and an admiring crowd.  Thus, the leaders must fall back once again to treachery and strategy in their efforts to discredit or kill Jesus.

How sad that the message of mercy that Jesus speaks to them only incites anger and hatred in their hearts.  Because of the hardness of their hearts, they are driven further and further from God, rather than closer to him.  

Let me offer you some encouragement: 

In my opinion, there is clear evidence that our nation has rejected Jesus as Lord just as surely as the Jews did back in the time of Christ. 

If this is the case, how long will it be before the stone falls and crushes us?  There is still time to repent and change.  But I believe it will take a true effort on the part of the church.  We need to be more holy and righteous.  We need to be different than the world.  I encourage you to spend time in true prayer and repentance for our nation!

Let me offer you some relief:

All throughout this chapter, we see the mercy of God.  God could have just struck down all the Jews because of their unbelief and rejection of his Son, but he didn’t.  He patiently allowed each person to make a decision.  I am sure that some of those who rejected him in the beginning had a change of heart later on, and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  

Perhaps you have some people in your family who have rejected Christ.  I know I do, and it can be very troubling to think that they might be lost for eternity.  But let me offer you some relief – there is still hope.  Until they die or Jesus returns, they still have time to repent.  So pray for them, and continue to be a witness for Christ in both word and action.  

Let me offer you some strength:

God has called each one of us to be workers in his kingdom.  Some encourage, some have prayer ministries, some minister to the needy, some preach, some teach, some give, etc.  What has God called you to do?  Whatever it is, be sure to do it with all your strength!  Be faithful and committed to the task that Jesus has assigned to you.  God sees your service in his vineyard and he will one day return for you, bringing his reward with him!

Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 2

Matthew 21:18 – In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry.

The main events of Matthew chapter 21 are also recorded in Mark chapter 11.  When we read the two narratives, it seems like there is a time discrepancy, but there really is not.  The difference is in the method of recording events. 

In Western culture, it is our practice to always relate events in chronological order (This happened first, followed by that, etc).  However, in the Middle Eastern culture, that is not the case.  Events are often grouped together if the author thinks they are most important or related in some way.  This is the case with Matthew chapter 21. 

So Matthew is grouping relevant events together, but we are reading them with the belief that they are listed chronologically.  This leaves us with the impression that on Sunday Jesus made his triumphal entry and immediately cleansed the temple before departing to Bethany for the night.  Then, on his way to Jerusalem Monday morning, he cursed the fig tree and within seconds, the disciples noticed that it was dead/dying.  While the events are all true, this is probably not the actual timeline in which they occurred.   

If we want to see a chronological account, we need to look at Mark chapter 11.  There Mark tells us that Jesus made his triumphal entry on Sunday.  After healing and teaching in the temple that day, he returned back to Bethany.  On Monday morning, he returned to Jerusalem and cursed the fig tree on his way to cleansing the temple.  That night, they returned to Bethany (or at least left Jerusalem). Tuesday morning, on their way into the city, the disciples noticed that the fig tree was withered away, and this opens up the door for Jesus to teach them about faith and prayer.

Matthew 21:19 – And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves.  And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” and the fig tree withered at once.

This tree was at the side of the public roadway.  Therefore, it was community property and anyone travelling on the road could eat the fruit. 

So, imagine you are walking down the road.  It is very early in the morning, probably before 6 am.  You are hungry.  [Sadly, there is no indication that coffee was available!]  Your eye naturally focuses on what is in the distance.  You spot a certain fig tree, standing out from all the rest.  While the other trees are bare and appear dormant, this one is in full leaf, appearing healthy, robust and luxuriant.  By its appearance, the tree gives you a hope or promise of fruit.  Naturally, you head straight for it, only to find… nothing.  Absolutely nothing!  

How would you feel if this happened to you?  Would you feel like you were cheated or deceived?  How would you express your anger or disappointment?   

When Jesus sees that there is no fruit, he pronounces judgment on the tree.  This does not mean that he lost his temper and yelled/cursed in a fit of rage.  He simply spoke to the tree, sentencing it to perpetual barrenness.  Does this seem odd to you?  Why would Jesus do such a thing?

Think of it this way – instead of telling a parable with words, Jesus was demonstrating a parable with his actions.  If that is the case, what is the parable and what is its meaning?

The obvious first answer is that the fig tree represents the nation of Israel.  Israel was separate or distinct from the other nations (trees) around it.  While other nations were spiritually bare or dormant, Israel was full of ‘leaves’ that indicated outward devotion to God.  Indeed, Israel had the law/covenant, the prophets, the promises, the rituals and the sacrifices.  For all appearances, she was profoundly religious. 

That outward devotion gave the appearance of a people/nation that was healthy, vibrant and luxuriant.  Any nation like that would obviously contain fruits of righteousness and salvation, right?  

But we find that underneath all that outward devotion, Israel was spiritually fruitless and barren.  She had replaced her relationship to God with works.  Having rejected the Messiah, she had nothing to give anyone in need of spiritual sustenance/food.  Therefore, Jesus pronounced a judgment on her.  She will henceforth be spiritually withered and barren. 

The somewhat less obvious meaning of this parable is that it applies to us.  That’s right. It applies to you and I!  In fact, this parable is a solemn warning to every Christian!

Religious activity can be divided into two groups – leaves and fruit:

  • Leaves are showy forms of religious activity while fruit is true inward change.
  • Leaves are head knowledge, while fruit is heart knowledge. 
  • Leaves are ‘works’ while fruit is relationship. 
  • Leaves offer the sinner a false promise of spiritual reconciliation to God via self righteousness, while a believer with true fruit is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. 
  • Leaves are nothing more than hay, wood and stubble which will burn up in the fires of testing and trial.  Fruit is like gold and silver, which the fire of adversity refines.

The ‘leaves’ of religious works may fool people, but they won’t fool God.  So…what kind of tree are you?

Matthew 21:20 – When the disciples saw it, they marveled saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 

Jesus is now in the last week of his life on earth.  During the last three years, his disciples had seen literally hundreds if not thousands of miracles.  The lame/crippled were walking.  The blind could once again see and the deaf could hear.  Evil spirits were cast out of people and the dead were raised to life.  Storms were stilled with just a word.  Food was multiplied to feed thousands of people. 

After seeing all of these astonishing miracles, you wouldn’t think the disciples would be amazed by a dead tree, but they are.  They are so amazed they actually asked Jesus how he pulled this off.   

Matthew 21:21 -22 – And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

In Jewish culture, ‘moving a mountain’ or ‘plucking up a mountain by the roots’  was a proverbial expression that denotes overcoming the greatest of difficulties or solving the greatest perplexities.

Jesus is telling his disciples that nothing is impossible with God.  No difficulty is too hard for God to overcome.  No problem is so perplexing that God cannot solve it.  What God has promised shall certainly be performed, when we ask in faith, believing that God will act on our behalf. 

This is an amazing promise directly from Jesus and it is available to every believer in Christ.   There’s just one problem – we seldom experience it in our own lives.  For most of us, it is a promise that remains just that – a promise and not a reality.

If you attend the Kipton Community Church or watch it online, you know that this is a topic that Pastor Lee has spoken about recently.  He is leading our fellowship on a journey to discover why we don’t see this promise come to pass more often in our lives.

I certainly don’t have all the answers to this question.  However, this is a good opportunity for us to look at some basic principles in our study of this topic.  

In these verses, Jesus mentions prayer, faith and believing (not doubting). 

Prayer:   As a Christian, you are familiar with prayer.  Prayer is speaking to God.  During prayer we ask God to move on our behalf.  We take time to praise and worship him.  We allow time and opportunity for him to speak back to us.  Because each of us is a unique individual, our prayers will also be unique.  Don’t worry so much about that – God loves variety!  The main point I want to emphasize here is that prayer is talking to God.

This means that talking your problems over with your mom or your best friend is not prayer.  Spending your entire day mulling over a problem is not prayer.  Placing your problems on social media and getting feedback or support from all your followers is not prayer.  Getting advice from a professional of some kind is not prayer.

Sadly, we sometimes tend to substitute these things for true prayer. Why is that?

One reason might be that deep down, we don’t believe prayer really works.  I admit this sounds shocking at first, but just pause and think about this with me. 

  • If we really believed in the power of prayer, then prayer would be our first response to trouble, not our last resort. 
  • If we really believed in the power of prayer, we would spend a good amount of time praying.  But how many Christians have trouble praying for even 30 minutes a day? 
  • If we really believed in the power of prayer, we would spend more time praying and interceding for lost souls than we do trying to find the latest gimmick to get people in the church doors.
  •  If we really believed in the power of prayer, we would cover everything we do in prayer, rather than relying on our own abilities.

I propose that many Christians aren’t able to see mountains moved in their lives because they simply have a poor prayer life.  You may certainly disagree with me, but you have to at least admit that this is a possibility.

The good news is that you can strengthen/improve your prayer life.  The more time you spend in prayer, the more comfortable you become.  The more you praise him, the more faith rises up within you.  The more time you spend with God, the better you will hear him speak back to you.   I encourage you to take an honest account of your prayer life and see what you can do to improve it.  

Faith:  Faith, like prayer, is a huge topic.  We could discuss different aspects of faith every day for a year and not run out of things to talk about. However, today we are focusing on the topic of faith as it relates to mountain moving prayers.

The main point I want to emphasize here is that faith cannot stand alone; it is dependent upon a framework of promise. 

For instance, have you ever prayed and asked God for healing?  What gave you the assurance/confidence/faith that God would heal you?  Because he promised that he would, right? 

Exodus 15:26 – …I am the Lord that heals you.

Isaiah 53:5 – But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.     

So when we pray for healing, we exhibit faith in God’s promise to heal us.  We have confidence that God will do as he promised and we will be healed.

Do you need wisdom?  In the scriptures, God promises us that he will give us wisdom when we ask:

James 1:5 – If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

So when you pray, you can have faith that God will grant you wisdom if you ask for it, because he has promised to do so.

The opposite is also true.  Have you ever prayed to win the lottery?  How did that work out for you?  Why didn’t God answer that prayer?  One reason (there may be others) is that there is no scriptural basis for expecting God to give you the winning power ball numbers.  He never promised to do that.    

So, in order to pray in faith and move mountains, your prayer must be resting on a promise of God.  This means you must know what the scriptures say; you must be reading the Word of God so that you know what he has promised. 

Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.    

Reading and meditating on the scriptures produces faith in what God has promised. 

Let me ask you this – Is it possible that some Christians don’t have answers to mountain moving prayers because they are ignorant of the promises contained in the Bible?  Do we have some vague idea of what we think God has said, or do we know for sure?  Can we quote it exactly?  Do we spend time absorbing and meditating on the word?  If not, we will certainly not experience answers to mountain moving prayers.

Believing:   The main thing I want to emphasize here is that “believing” is a state of heart and mind which allows us to receive the answer to our prayer.  It includes humility, hope, and dependence on God alone.  We must not only believe that God CAN move mountains for us, but that he WILL do it, and he will do it FOR US. 

Let’s suppose that your car is in the repair shop.  You ask your best friend to give you a ride to work.  Do you believe that they will do so?  Of course you do!  Why do you believe them?  Because of the relationship you have with them.  You have trusted them many times in the past.  They are reliable.  There is no doubt that you can trust them this time too.  If your friend says they will pick you up, you know/believe they will.

It is the same with God.  If your relationship is close, it will be easy for you to believe that God will honor his promises, and you can easily receive the answer to your prayer.  If your relationship is cold or distant, it will be hard for you to believe and hard for you to receive.

So let me ask you this – Is it possible that Christians don’t receive answers to mountain moving prayers because we don’t believe?  Is it possible that we don’t believe because our relationship with God is not as close as it could be?

Again, I would like to reiterate that I do not have all the answers as to why we don’t routinely experience answers to mountain moving prayers in our lives. 

What I do know is that faith, belief and prayer are required in order for God to do the impossible for you (or through you).  So we can start by examining these three basic aspects of our lives and making changes where needed.

Once we have the basics firmly in place, we can then examine other factors that hinder our prayers.  These include things like asking according to God’s will, harboring unforgiveness, God’s timing, man’s free will, etc.       

Matthew 21:23 – And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

In the time of Christ, the position of teacher/instructor of the law was conferred upon a man by the scribes, with the approval of the Sanhedrin.  This was done after years of careful study under a teacher endorsed and recognized by them.  After the training period, the new teacher went through a solemn ceremony in which he was given a key to the room in the temple that contained the law.  This was an outward symbol that he had the right to interpret the law and to teach. 

Here we find Jesus back in the temple, teaching the people without the approval of the scribes.  As we have seen throughout the book of Matthew, this infuriates the religious leaders because it undermines the false authority and positions of power they have worked so hard to build for themselves.  

Many times they have tried to debate doctrine with Jesus, but he always proves them wrong and they wind up looking foolish in front of the people.  They have even tried to cleverly (or so they thought) trap him, but again in every instance his divine wisdom puts them to shame.

They are further infuriated that Jesus ‘went over their heads’ when he cast the traders out of the temple.  After all, they were the keepers of the temple, not Jesus! If they approved of the traders, what right did he have to cast them out?  And worst of all, Jesus openly accepted the acclamations of the people that he was the Messiah.  This was something they just could not tolerate!  

So in this instance, they try a new tactic to discredit Jesus.  They raise doubts about his calling and commission.  They demand to know who he had trained under, and who endorsed him as teacher.

Now, had they done this with the motivation of honestly seeking the truth, it wouldn’t have been a bad thing.  Any man who began to meddle with the honor of the priesthood or the prophetic office had better be appointed by God.  How much more one who claimed the title of Messiah!

However, their motivation is something quite different.  They earnestly desire to put Jesus to death, and they want to do it according to the law.  So they are searching for any infraction or breach of the law which would allow them to discredit and kill Jesus.  This is why they call his commission into question.

Matthew 21:24 – Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.

Jesus was not under any obligation to answer their questions.  His works, his teaching and his fulfillment of prophesy all confirmed that he was the Messiah, commissioned by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As the Son of God, they had no right to question him, and Jesus would not submit to their authority.

Matthew 21:25-26 – The baptism of John, from where did it come?  From heaven or from man?”  And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?”   But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd for they all hold that John was a prophet.

Now the religious leaders have a problem.  If they acknowledge John’s mission to be the forerunner of the Messiah, it would obligate them to acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, exactly as he claimed to be.  John testified more than once that Jesus was the Messiah.

John 1:29 – The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  

However if they deny John’s authority they feared that the crowd would stone them.  The common people believed that John was a prophet sent by God.  Great numbers of them had submitted to his baptism.  And his death did not hurt his reputation one bit – he was held in high esteem long after Herod removed his head from his shoulders.  

Matthew 21:27 – So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”  And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

The only safe answer for these petty tyrants is not to answer!  What great lengths the leaders go to in making themselves spiritually blind, deaf and dumb!  

Matthew 21:28-29 – What do you think?  A man had two sons.  And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.

Jesus now gives this very short parable in order that the religious leaders might feel some conviction about their attitudes and actions.  If they will allow themselves to be convicted, it will lead them to repentance.

The first son seems to be wicked for he refuses to go and work for his father.  This son represents the publicans and harlots who were the ‘wicked sinners’ of that day. 

At first they refused to do the work that God requires of them.  However, upon hearing Christ’s message and seeing his miracles, they repented and believed.  In the words of the parable, they ‘changed their mind and went’. 

Matthew 21:30 – And he went to the other son and said the same.  And he answered, “I go, sir,’ but did not go. 

The second son is represented as a hypocrite, who says the right thing, but does another.  This clearly represents the Jewish leaders.  They gave lip service to the father (God), but did not do as he asked of them. 

They pretended to have great concern for the church as if they were its faithful and honest guardians.  But in reality, they obstinately opposed Christ, denied his miracles and eventually lobbied to have him crucified.

Matthew 21:31 – Which of the two did the will of his father?  They said, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

Thus, the worst and vilest sinners entered the kingdom of God before the religious leaders because they had no illusions about their spiritual state.  They did not trust in their own righteousness; they were sinners and they admitted it.  Thus, they were open to conviction and repentance, which lead to eternal life.   

However, the proud religious leaders continued to rely on their own righteousness.  They were blinded by vain hope and confidence in their own works.  They refused to be convicted of sin, and were thus unable to come to repentance.  They forfeited eternal life. 

Matthew 21:32 – For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

When John preached the message of repentance, the publicans and prostitutes embraced his message.  Their hearts were prepared to receive salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  They found eternal life and reconciliation to God.   

Sadly, the religious leaders witnessed this, yet they were not provoked to jealously by it.  In fact, they were completely unmoved by the life altering changes that the gospel produced in their Jewish brothers and sisters.

We can only hope that this parable stuck in the minds of the religious leaders and eventually produced some repentance. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:  Today’s lesson involves some teaching about answered prayer.  Prayer is a vast and wonderful topic of study and discussion. In fact so much has been written about it, you probably couldn’t even read it all in your lifetime! 

Don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of material out there.  The best way to find answers to prayer is to get alone with God.  I strongly encourage you to spend time with God in prayer.  Just do what seems natural to you.  God greatly desires to fellowship with you, and he will meet you there.  If you are not receiving answers to mounting moving prayers, ask God to reveal the problem to you.   

Let me offer you some relief:  Jesus tells us that the vilest sinners were eligible to come into the kingdom of heaven, once they repented.  Maybe you were like that at one time.  But this should give you some relief – there was nothing that was so bad that it could not be forgiven by the blood of Christ. 

You can be sure that the enemy, Satan, will try to bring your past up as often as possible.  He is trying to make you feel guilty and ashamed.  If he can do that, he will affect your relationship with God, and possibly halt your ministry.  Don’t fall into that trap!  Once you are forgiven, your past becomes a testimony to the power and grace of God!  So don’t be ashamed of where you came from.  

Let me offer you some strength:  This lesson speaks about bearing fruits of righteousness.  And it is true that all Christians should bear fruit.  But keep in mind that in the natural realm, fruit does not suddenly spring up overnight.  It starts out small, then grows and matures slowly over time. 

What fruit is the Holy Spirit growing in your life?  Don’t be impatient or don’t be frustrated if progress is sometimes slow.  The Holy Spirit will continue to mold you into the image of Christ until he returns, or calls you home!

Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 1

Matthew 21:1 – Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples…

Jesus and the twelve are heading to Jerusalem from Jericho, a distance of about 19 miles.  Obviously, this took multiple days.  What do you think they talked about while walking all those miles?  I am sure they spoke of ordinary things like the weather, and current events.  Maybe they joked a bit or sung some songs.  In between, I am sure that Jesus shared spiritual wisdom and truth with them, and they had a chance to ask him questions. 

On the surface, that sounds amazing – walking along with Jesus for a few hours, just fellowshipping and asking questions. You might be tempted to envy the disciples, but before you do, consider this: You actually have it better than the disciples, because Jesus is with you ALL of the time and you can speak to him at any moment!

So don’t wait! Begin to speak to him right now, and develop a spiritual ear to hear him answer you!

Most of this 19 mile journey was either through desert or woods filled with caves and rocks.  It was indeed a fit place for robbers to ambush people (Luke 10:30).

Let’s talk about the Mount of Olives (or Olivet) for a moment.  We find it mentioned a great deal in scripture.  It is named for the obvious reason – an abundance of olive trees grew there.  This place was located about a ‘Sabbath day’s journey’ (2 miles) from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12).  On the west side of this mountain was the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39).  On the eastern side were the villages of Bethphage and Bethany. 

What do you remember about Bethany?

The name means ‘house of unripe figs’.   It was the hometown of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1).  Since Mary and Martha lived with their brother Lazarus, it was their home too.  It was also the place where Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive oil of spikenard against the day of his death (John 12:1-7).

The Mount of Olives is about 700 feet high and overlooks the city of Jerusalem.  From its summit, nearly the entire city of Jerusalem can be seen. 

Now that we have an idea of their physical location, let’s consider the social climate that Jesus and the 12 are walking into. 

The religious leaders now openly despise Jesus.  In fact, they are looking for a way to arrest him (John 11:57).  Meanwhile, the masses of common people support Jesus.  His popularity is at its all time high.  They believe (incorrectly) that he will immediately set up a new kingdom, defeat the Romans and take power for himself.  God is using the influence of the common people to keep Jesus safe from the religious leaders.  The threat of their revolt is the only thing keeping the Pharisees in line (Matthew 21:26). 

Now the great feast of Passover is imminent.  Jews from all over the known world are flooding Jerusalem; the city is bursting with people.  What do you suppose is on the minds and lips of all those Jews? Right – Jesus!  Is he the Messiah?  Will he soon take over Jerusalem?  What about the Romans?

Speaking of the Romans, all of these additional people were a nightmare for them, because they were charged with keeping order in the city.  And they were not a bit afraid to use the most violent and brutal tactics to keep the peace.

From man’s perspective, Jerusalem seems like a powder keg that could blow up at any moment! No doubt Satan is there trying his best to light the fuse! He is rejoicing because he thinks he is on the verge of annihilating the Messiah.

But from God’s perspective, everything is happening exactly according to his specifications and plans.  Heaven is also rejoicing, because the salvation of man is about to be legally completed!  The kingdom of the Messiah is coming to pass!  Mankind will soon be reunited with the Father! 

What about your life?  Does your situation seem like a ‘powder keg’?  Things have changed drastically in the last few months, haven’t they?  Make sure you are looking at things from God’s perspective.  He is still on the throne.  He is still watching over his word to perform it.  You have not been lost in the shuffle of world events.  God neither slumbers nor sleeps; he is keeping guard over you right now, just as he always has!

Matthew 21:2 – saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Untie them and bring them to me.”

Why did Jesus choose to ride on a donkey instead of a horse? 

At that time, there were few horses in Jerusalem, and the ones that were present were chiefly used for war.  Men seldom if ever used horses in common life.  Instead, they used donkeys, mules and camels. 

To ride on a horse was an emblem of war.  To ride on a donkey or mule was an emblem of peace.  How interesting that during Jesus’ first coming, he rides the donkey of peace, but during his second return to earth, he rides a horse of war (Revelation 19:11)!

Donkeys and mules were the mode of transportation used by kings and princes during times of peace.  It was a mark of rank and dignity to ride in that manner (Judges 10:1-4, I Samuel 25:20).  When King Solomon rode to his inauguration, he rode a mule (1 Kings 1:33), which was the appropriate way in which a king should ride.  It was in no way a sign of poverty or degradation.  Thus, it was fitting for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  When doing so, he was acknowledging himself as king to the world.  

Matthew 21:3 – “If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

Jesus once again displays his divinity by knowing about the existence of the colt, its exact circumstance and location, as well as the response of the owners. 

The disciples are not to rent this beast or to ask permission to borrow it.  They were to claim the right to use it for the service of a King.  

Matthew 21:4-5 – This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

Now we see the exact reason why he rode into Jerusalem in the first place, instead of just walking there as he had done his whole life. 

It was to fulfill an ancient prophesy, found in Zechariah 9:9.  The Jews universally applied this prophesy to the Messiah and no other.  This was a plain, straightforward, literal fulfillment of an ancient prophesy, and it clearly declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  

Zechariah 9:9 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.

And yet, he was not the Messiah that they expected.  His entrance into Jerusalem has been called the Triumphal Entry of Christ.  But it was not a fleshly or earthly triumph.  It was a triumph of humility over pride and ambition; a triumph of meekness and gentleness over rage and malice.  Jesus comes full of kindness and compassion to deliver himself up to those who were plotting his destruction!  The king enters the city to be cruelly abused and murdered by his own subjects, and to make his death a ransom for the souls of mankind!

Matthew 21:6 – The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.

I find this verse interesting for what it doesn’t say.  There is no mention of delay.  The disciples responded immediately. There is no mention of discussion.  They did exactly what Jesus asked them to do.  There was no whining or complaining.  They did not require a full and detailed explanation of the purpose behind the command. 

Basically, they just did as Jesus asked them to do, and their endeavor met with success.  What a great example for us!  

Matthew 21:7 – They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

The scriptures are very specific that this colt had never before been ridden (Mark 11:2, Luke 19:30).  Therefore, it would not have a saddle.  So it makes sense that the disciples would take off their outer garments and put them on the colt as a kind of substitute for the saddle. 

Whether they knew it or not, this action had a greater significance.  

Back in 2 Kings 9, we find the story of Jehu being anointed as king.  At the time, he was a commander in the army.  Then one day, at the behest of Elisha (who was under direct orders from God), one of the prophets ran to find Jehu, called him into an inner room by himself, anointed him as king, then fled the scene.  Immediately afterward, when his men found out what had happened, every man took his garment and spread it under Jehu at the top of the steps then blew the trumpets saying, “Jehu is king” (2 Kings 9:13).

So laying down your outer garment was the custom in ancient Israel whenever they found that God had anointed a man to be their king.  And this was the exact thing that took place when Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on that colt!  

Matthew 21:8 – Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

Although it was certainly not the intention of the disciples, the multitude followed their example by casting tree branches in the road before Jesus.  This was the way in which ancient conquerors and princes were often honored.  Casting flowers, garlands or evergreens before a warrior returning from victory or a king entering into his kingdom was a common way of expressing joy and triumph.  (The famous historian Josephus says that King Agrippa was received this way as he entered into Jerusalem). 

Interestingly, John 12:13 tells us that the tree branches were actually Palm branches. The palm was an emblem of joy and victory used and recognized by the Roman soldiers as well as the Jews. For both groups, it was an emblem of peace.

So we find the common, obscure multitudes revering Christ as King.  God often uses the common or insignificant people of this world to do his bidding (1 Corinthians chapter 1).  I don’t know about you, but that is good news for me!   

Some scholars feel that the Holy Spirit moved on the crowds and prompted them to do this.  Others feel that the people did it believing that Jesus was going to rise to power and claim an earthly kingdom immediately after (if not during) the current Passover festival.  Regardless, the group was clearly proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Messiah.    

Matthew 21:9 – And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

Let’s examine the praise that the crowd now offers to Christ.

Hosanna:  This word literally means ‘save now’ or ‘save, we beseech thee’.  The word was always spoken in an emphatic manner, with deep emotion behind it.  It was used as a plea by the common people to have the king redress their grievances and give them relief from oppression (See 2 Samuel 14:4, 2 Kings 6:26 and especially Psalms 118:25.  The 118th Psalm was used as a hymn in the celebration of the Passover meal and the Feast of Tabernacles). 

In this instance, the Jews are literally asking Jesus to relive them from the oppression of their enemies.  Although the Jews did not understand it at the time, Jesus will do that by granting them relief from their sins. 

Son of David:  This is a well known Jewish title used to mean Messiah.  It was never given to prophets or other holy men of God.  This was the term used by the blind men in Matthew 20. 

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord:  To come in the name of the Lord means to come in God’s authority; to be commissioned by God to reveal his will.  This was another phrase the Jews used in connection with the Messiah. 

Hosanna in the highest:  This was essentially a prayer to the supreme God meaning ‘Save now, you who dwell in the highest heaven’.  They were asking for the utmost degree of salvation and deliverance to be granted to them.

By openly asserting his claim as Messiah (by riding the colt) and passively accepting the accolades of the Jews (the laying down of garments/branches and the praises), Jesus is accepting their acknowledgement of him as their King.

It is no coincidence that this revelation comes only days before his death.  Had he revealed himself this way any sooner, the people would have taken him by force and tried to make him an earthly king. 

Matthew 21:10-11 – And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

His entry into Jerusalem was a great and unusual event.  It was not something done in secret.  The whole city was talking about it.

Therefore, all the religious leaders (Scribes, Pharisees and priests) could not have been ignorant of it.  Their reaction to it revealed the pride and malice hidden in their hearts.  They rejected Jesus as the Messiah, choosing to worship their religious rituals instead.

Then we have the devoted followers of Jesus, praising him and acknowledging him as Messiah and King. 

There were also multitudes of people that exhibited careless indifference.  They are completely unaware of who Christ is, and they are clearly not among his followers. He is just a spectacle to them!

Are not all three of these groups still present today?  Jesus has devoted followers like you and I, who willingly extol him as King.  There are those who hate Jesus because they have rejected him in favor of a false god/idol, and there are always those who are indifferent to their own spiritual life and have no interest in the gospel message.

Matthew 21:12 – And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

Matthew does not specify the exact day that this event took place.  Because of the way he narrates his gospel, it looks as if this event took place on the same day as the triumphal entry, however, the gospel of Mark clearly states that this event took place on the day following the triumphal entry.

What temple is being referred to in this passage? 

As you recall, Israel started out with a tabernacle, which was a movable building made of cloth, bases and poles which they tore down and then put back up as they wandered through the wilderness.

Later, after the monarchy had been established, King David desired to make a permanent ‘house’ or temple for God.  All throughout his life he gathered materials for this building.  Finally, a magnificent structure was built by David’s son and successor, King Solomon (1 Kings 6:1).  Eventually, this amazing building was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar when he conquered Judah in 586 BC. This was the first temple, also referred to as Solomon’s temple.

Many years later, the temple was rebuilt (by order of Cyrus) after the Babylonian captivity. The project was spearheaded by Zerubbabel. [You can read the details in Ezra and Nehemiah.] It was eventually completed, but the building was vastly inferior and diminished in beauty and size as compared to Solomon’s temple. Nevertheless, this was the second temple. It was often defiled and abused during the wars of the Jews and in time, it fell into a state of disrepair.

During the time of Christ, Herod the Great, who was a very unpopular ruler among the Jews, wanted to do something to court their favor.  So, about 16 years before Christ he started a huge temple rebuilding project.  He did not raze the whole thing to the ground at once.  Instead, he removed and replaced one section at a time, until there was an entirely new building.  This new structure greatly surpassed the original second temple in size and magnificence.  Because it was not completely torn down and replaced, but technically ‘remodeled’, the Jews still referred to this as the second temple, or Herod’s temple.

So the temple Jesus cleanses in the gospel of Matthew is the second temple, or Herod’s temple.  Eventually, it too would be utterly destroyed by the Romans, in 70 AD.  Currently, there is no national temple of God in the Jewish nation.  However, we know that a third one will eventually be built, because it is mentioned in the book of Daniel, in regard to end time events (Daniel chapters 11 and 12).

Herod’s temple consisted not only of the actual temple; it also had many separate courts, rooms, storage places and chambers.  It appears that one of these outer courts had gradually become a market for buying and selling things related temple sacrifices. 

To some degree, it made sense to have a ‘temple store’ of some kind.  In fact, this market was endorsed by the religious leaders.  Many people who came to the temple in Jerusalem were coming from a hundred or more miles away.  It was much easier to buy a goat, lamb, oil, salt, etc once you got there, rather than bringing them from home. 

However, these temple merchants had become very corrupt.  They sold inferior animals that should never have been used as sacrifices, and they significantly over charged the people who bought them.  They were making a mockery of the sacred sacrifices while enriching their own bank accounts.  This kind of a thing should never have had a place in the temple or any of its courts. 

Therefore, with zeal and force, Jesus violently removes this abomination from his Father’s house.

Matthew 21:13 – He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Jesus loosely refers to two Old Testament passages here, Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.  If you have a moment, be sure to read Isaiah 56:6-7.  It speaks of the admittance of the Gentiles into the house of God, saying ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people’. 

Jesus correctly viewed the temple as the temple of God, not the temple of Herod or the temple of the Jews.  He showed reverence for the house of his Father.  Jesus saw the holiness and purpose of the temple; it was the sacred dwelling place of God on earth.  It was the place where humans could have communion with God.

The temple had strayed from its original purpose – prayer and the true worship of God – to become something profane.  It was corrupt and fraudulent.  It needed to be reformed. 

Many scholars see this as a picture of the church.   

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Each one of us must be purified so that we are an acceptable ‘temple’ to God.  Sometimes things that are worldly or unholy creep into our lives.  It may start out as something very small or insignificant, but it can grow to be something deadly to our spiritual man. 

We should be diligent to examine ourselves and get rid of anything in our lives that does not glorify God, or enhance our mission of praise and worship to God.  Every person must examine their own personal holiness and make changes as needed.  

Matthew 21:14 – And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.

Having condemned the profane use of the temple, and having cleansed it of its corruption and fraud, Jesus now demonstrates the proper use of the temple.  It is to be a place of prayer and fellowship with God, a place where God manifests his goodness and power by giving sight to the spiritually blind and healing/restoration to the spiritually lame.  It is to be a place of salvation and healing. 

Matthew 21:15 – But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant…

What ‘wonderful’ things did Jesus do?  He accepted the title of King/Messiah, he cleansed and restored the temple to its proper use, and he then healed and set people free.

We expect indignation from the leadership, right?  All throughout the gospel of Matthew we have seen that the Scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders exhibit jealousy towards Jesus. 

They are furious because the gospel negates the power, influence and prestige that they have so carefully cultivated in their lives.  They don’t want Jesus to be the Messiah; they want to find fault with him, so they can retain their earthly positions of power.

They are also furious because Jesus has come in and single handedly purified the temple.  This was something the priests should have done themselves; now they look foolish for not doing it.  Their greed and corruption have been exposed, and they don’t like it.

As always, the healing of people is an affirmation from God that Jesus is his true Son, the Messiah.  None of the people present that day could ever deny that Jesus was the Messiah!  Proof after proof was presented that day.  Prophesy was fulfilled, right in front of their eyes.  Anyone who does not bow to the authority of Jesus at this point is exhibiting outrageous contempt for God!

And yet, these foolish, rebellious men complain that Jesus is accepting praises from children! 

Matthew 21:16 – and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”  And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”

At this point Jesus is in the temple healing people.  He is operating in the power and authority of the Messiah, the Son of God.  He is accepting praise given to the Messiah.  For those who believed, there could be no greater occurrence than this!

But for those that did not believe, there could be no greater outrage.  The unbelieving leaders could not stop what was happening; but in their own way, they confronted Jesus.

When they asked Jesus ‘do you hear what these are saying’, what they were really asking is this:  Do you accept these praises in the sense that they are being given to you?  Did you really enter the temple today claiming to be the expected Christ and Son of God?  Are you claiming to be the long awaited Messiah?  Because if you are not (and we don’t think you are), then you must immediately stop these people from praising you as God! 

Jesus answers them the same way he frequently replied to those who opposed him – with scripture! [See Matt 12:3,5, Matt 19:4, Matt 21:42, etc].  This time he references Psalms 8:2, quoted below in the NIV version of the Bible:

Psalms 8:2 – From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise, because of your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger.

Jesus’ answer was both true and divine.  It did not put him in direct competition with Caesar for a crown, not did it refuse to accept the homage due to him as a true king.  It was the only answer that left his enemies without a foothold against him and yet honored the true faith of his followers.

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from this.  When a controversy arises, maybe we should answer with the scripture, not our own words of wisdom!

Matthew 21:17 – And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Jesus now leaves Jerusalem for the night, but he will be back the next day.  In fact, during these last 6 days of his time on earth, Jesus does not spend any nights in the actual city of Jerusalem.  Each evening he retires to Bethany (about 2 miles away) and then returns to the city each morning. 

He probably stayed at the house of Lazarus.  There, he would have opportunities to pray and be alone, as well as being able to enjoy the support, comfort and company of his close friends.  God granted him a measure of peace and rest before his final sacrifice, which he would not have received in the noisy, overcrowded city, over-run with visitors for the upcoming Passover.

Let me offer you some encouragement and strength:

As we discussed in today’s lesson, Jerusalem seemed like a powder keg just waiting to blow up.  Just one more incident could have caused the whole place to erupt into chaos, or so it seemed.

Sometimes, our current situation appears the same way!  As mankind struggles to find a new normal in light of the COVID 19 crisis, it seems like just ‘one more thing’ could cause our economy, our educational system, our whole way of life to descend into chaos.

But let me offer you a word of encouragement from Psalms 121, which we made reference to in today’s lesson.  This psalm has just 8 verses, but it is extremely comforting and powerful.  PLEASE take two minutes and read the entire thing – you will be glad you did!

In the meantime, let me quote just the last verse:

Psalm 121:8 – The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

Let me reiterate one more time:  you are not just an afterthought to God – you are the apple of his eye!  Your life, as well as the lives of your family/children, have not ‘slipped through the cracks’ of world events. 

The things that you and I perceive to be chaotic are not chaotic to God.  They are all part of His plan.  He has foreseen every circumstance and he controls every outcome.  What the enemy has meant for evil, God will use for your good!  The bible tells us that God knows the end, even from the beginning.  And the entire time he is preserving your movements both now and forevermore, so be encouraged and strengthened in your walk with him! 

Let me offer you some relief:

In today’s lesson, we saw Jesus instruct the disciples to go into a town and get a colt which he needed for his entrance into Jerusalem.  We could summarize that event by saying that Jesus guided them, they followed his leading/instructions, and the outcome was success.  This is a principle that will work for us too. 

Are you worried about how to survive in these troubled times?  Are you spending sleepless nights with an upset stomach wondering what to do?  Well here is some relief:  All you have to do is hear/listen to God’s instruction, and then obey. 

If you let him do the leading, while you concentrate on following, it will relieve a huge part of your fear, anxiety and frustration.  So relax – trust in God and follow where he leads!  He will successfully take you through this time.

Matthew, Chapter 20, Part 2

Matthew 20:20 – Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.

The sons of Zebedee were James and John.  They, along with Peter, were the ‘inner circle’ of the disciples.  These three were with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration.  John was the disciple Jesus loved.  So we find that the sons of Zebedee were very close to Jesus.  

Peter, James and John were the ‘inner circle’

Their mother’s name was Salome.  Although Salome’s husband was deceased, he appears to have left her a wealthy widow.  She was one of the women who followed Jesus and the disciples, supporting them financially (Mark 15:40).  

Salome wants something.  Either she feels very comfortable asking because of her service to Jesus, or she is a very bold woman!  Either way, she approaches Jesus and kneels before him as a sign of respect.

Matthew 20:21 – And he said to her, “What do you want?”  She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

This seems like a strange request because it immediately follows the revelation of Jesus that he will soon suffer a horrible death on the cross.  Who would be asking for honors at a time like that?

However, it may not be that strange when we consider the mindset of James and John.  The brothers (along with many other Jews) believed that once Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, he would immediately set up the kingdom they had long expected. 

According to their timetable, Jesus would die, rise again and take over the world within a week!

The good news is that they had enough faith to believe that Jesus would rise from the dead.  They also had the faith to believe that he would successfully establish his kingdom, even though there was no sign of it at that time. 

The bad news is that their request shows their ignorance and reveals their sinful ambition.  They still believed that Jesus’ kingdom would be an earthly one with great splendor, glory, wealth and power.  They wanted to be the first applicants for the top positions of honor in this new kingdom.

Their ambition also reveals an element of pride.  They feel they are superior to the other disciples, and thus entitled to the highest positions of honor.  After all, aren’t they Jesus’ closest friends?  Hasn’t Jesus already shown them special favor?   

So we see that even the disciples struggled with letting the things of this world go, in order to take hold of heavenly things.  This is an issue that all Christians must constantly deal with. 

We are citizens of heaven, fulfilling a temporary assignment here on earth.  But sometimes, we get so focused on our temporary situation that we start to lay down roots here.  We start to store up treasure here, rather than in heaven.  We start to plan and work to have places of honor here, rather than in heaven.  We want to make our mark on this world, rather than the world to come.  We develop our own agenda for a good life here, rather than embracing the agenda that God has for us.

Even the apostles fell into this pitfall of the enemy.  Is there a way for us to avoid it?

I believe we can circumvent this problem by following the example of Jesus:

Philippians 2:5-7 – Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, … taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death…

Notice that this scripture tells us that Jesus ‘emptied himself’.  In other words, he put all of his human dreams, desires, ambitions, rights, and goals aside.  Once he was emptied of his own desires, there was room for God to fill him with the desires of the Father, through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Because he was committed to fulfilling the will of the Father and not his own will, he was able to face the cross:

Matthew 26:42 – He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, your will be done.

I believe that God wants each of us to do the same thing.  He wants us to empty ourselves by surrendering our plans, goals, dreams and desires to him.  If we are seeking the will of God, and not trying to complete our own agendas, we will not fall into the trap of loving the world and neglecting heaven.  Embracing God’s plan for our lives will ensure that we lay up all of our treasures in our permanent home (heaven), not here on earth.

During the next few days, will you give this idea some consideration?  The Holy Spirit is standing by right now, just waiting for you to empty yourself, so he can fill you with the plans and purposes of God!  

Matthew 20:22 – Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”  They said to him, “We are able.”

Interestingly, Jesus does not respond to Salome, but directly to James and John.  This indicates that the request originated with them, not their mother; she was probably making the request because they asked her to.

Jesus plainly tells the brothers that they don’t understand the full impact of what they are requesting.  James and John are only thinking about the honor and happiness that would belong to them, if they occupied the seats on either side of Jesus.  What they don’t realize is that the path to those seats is filled with trials, suffering and pain.

James and John speedily assure Jesus that they are quite capable of handling any trials or suffering that might come their way – no problem!  They have great confidence in their own strength and ability to endure suffering. 

But as we would expect, those who trust in the flesh always fail.  It was no different for James and John.  Their abject failure is clearly documented in the scriptures.  When Jesus was arrested, they all fled like cowards (Mark 14:30)!  After the death of Jesus, they were hiding in a room together for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).

Yet, in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, we find that James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred.  His death is recorded in Acts 2:12.  He was executed in AD 44 by King Herod Agrippa I of Judea.

Foxe goes on to record this:  “The eminent writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, wrote that when James was being led to his execution his extraordinary courage impressed one of his captors to such a degree that he fell on his knees before the apostle, asked his forgiveness, and confessed that he was a Christian too.  He said that James should not die alone, whereupon they were both beheaded.” [Quote from The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, page 5, published 2001]. 

What about John? While in the city of Ephesus, he was arrested and sent to Rome, where he was cast into a large vessel filled with boiling oil – that did not harm him! As a result, he was banished by the Emperor Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation. Eventually, he was released and returned to Ephesus where he died a natural death in AD 98. He was the only apostle who did not die a violent death.

What could account for the miraculous transformation in James and John?  How do you go from running away at the arrest of Jesus to courageously facing a vat of boiling oil for your faith in Christ?

The difference was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which the disciples received on the Day of Pentecost.  They no longer operated in the strength of their flesh, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 4:31 – And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Have you ever wondered if you would have the strength to stand firm if you had to renounce Christ or die?

The fact is, we have no ability in ourselves (our flesh) to walk this path.  However, if we have been filled with the Holy Spirit, we can rely on his strength and power to give us boldness, even to the point of death.

Matthew 20:23 – He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Jesus reveals that both of these men will ‘drink his cup’ or in other words, they will share in his sufferings.  They will be persecuted for the sake of the gospel. 

However, that suffering does not guarantee them the places of honor they are seeking.

So to answer the original request of James and John, Jesus replies that the seats of honor they are seeking have been prepared for someone specific, and when the time comes, God will give them to the proper people.      

Matthew 20:24 – And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

The reaction of the other 10 disciples reveals what was in their hearts. Their indignation is not a righteous indignation against sin, but a jealousy of rivals.  They were angry because they had the same hidden ambition as James and John!  So all of the disciples have been ‘infected’ with the desire to be honored and esteemed higher than anyone else. 

This is a problem that Jesus is going to have to address.      

Matthew 20:25 – But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”

Jesus does not angrily reprove the disciples, but tenderly and patiently he gives them instruction and revelation about the inner workings of his kingdom.

In the earthly realm, it is customary for kings to exalt their friends or relatives to positions of high honor and authority within their kingdoms.  This was the type of position the disciples desired. 

However, the government of the church (or the kingdom of heaven) is far different.  It is like no other kingdom that has ever existed.  It is founded on humility and brotherly love, which stem from our relationship to Christ.  

Therefore, the positions desired by the disciples simply do not exist in the kingdom of heaven.  All of their ambition and jealously were worthless/meaningless.

 Matthew 20:26-27 – “It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and who ever would be first among you must be your slave,”

The disciples were to be servants to the entire body of Christ.  They were to teach, to comfort, to encourage and to counsel.  They were to labor to bring other believers to a state of spiritual maturity.  This mandate was not just for the disciples. 

All the members of Christ’s kingdom have a duty to serve one another for mutual edification.  If you and I want to be great in Christ’s kingdom, we must:

  • submit to one another (Ephesians 5:18-21)
  • have humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5)
  • bear with one another (Romans 14:13-19)
  • build one another up (Romans 15:1-3)
  • live in harmony with each other (Romans 15:4-6).

So the way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to be humble and serve our brothers/sisters.    

Matthew 20:28 – “…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

As always, our lives should be patterned after our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who provided us with the ultimate examples of:

Humbleness – Jesus has ultimate authority, yet he submitted to his earthly parents.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, yet he relinquished all earthly wealth, humbly depending on others to meet his needs.  He is the head of the church, but never held an office or ruled in the Jewish community.   He deserves all of our respect and admiration, yet he bent down and washed the feet of his own disciples.  Ultimate power belongs to him, yet he submitted to a painful, humiliating death by the hands of his own creation.

Service to others – When Jesus went into a city or town, he healed EVERYONE who came to him.  There were times when he was tired and hungry, but he never turned anyone away.  He came into this world as a man for a specific purpose:  to give his life as a ransom for us all.  What greater act of service is there?        

In light of the example of Christ, how should we live our lives? 

Matthew 20:29-30 – And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him.  And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, the cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to sacrifice himself on the cross.  He will never again pass this way during his time on earth.  For these two men to be on the path that Jesus is walking is no accident – it is a divine appointment! 

This narrative becomes all the more interesting when we realize that blindness in the physical realm is a picture of blindness in the spiritual realm.  All of us have been born blind to spiritual things because of sin.

But our loving heavenly Father did not abandon us to our fate.  He sent his Son Jesus into the world, to heal our spiritual blindness so we can be reconciled to him. 

Luke 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…

Speaking of the Messiah, notice that the two blind men address Jesus as ‘Son of David’.  This was a title that the Jews used to refer exclusively to the Messiah.  So these two men are not requesting help from a prophet or simply a holy man.  They are acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, the person whom God had sent to be the one and only author of salvation. 

Matthew 20:31 – The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Because most of the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, the cries of these men no doubt made many of them angry.  They insist that the men keep silent.

Likewise, whenever a lost soul begins to cry out to Jesus for salvation, the world and the devil join together to try and drown out his cry, or intimidate him into silence.    

If people are trying to deter you from calling out to God for either salvation or deliverance, don’t let them hinder or stop you!  Those who persevere in seeking the Lord will find that their efforts are not in vain.  So do as this man did – appeal to God’s mercy, and cry out until he answers.  Never give up!

Matthew 20:32-33 – And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

Jesus was not going to deny or ignore any man who cried out to him as Savior.  He stopped to speak with them, and grant their request.

In the same way, Jesus never ignores a plea for salvation. He is eagerly watching and waiting for the sinner to cry out, so he can grant their request.

However, I think there might be an ‘elephant in the room’.  Surely, Jesus knows what these men need/want – for their blindness to be healed. Even you and I could figure that one out!  If that is the case, why does Jesus ask them to verbalize their request to him?  Why not just do the obvious – heal their eyes?

The Lord knew the desire of their hearts, but he wanted a verbal confession of their needs and the distinct blessing which they desired, so that all those standing by might acknowledge the miracle.  Indeed, it confirmed for the man himself that God has answered his petition.

Do you see a parallel here with prayer?  God already knows what we have need of before we pray (Matthew 6:8), but he still asks us to bring our requests to him in prayer. 

Philippians 4:6 – Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

We do not make our request to God to inform him of our situation (he already knows it), or to move him to action (faith is what moves God to action).  By praying, we are partnering or cooperating with God in the work which he intends to accomplish in our lives.  We are releasing his mercy, wisdom and power into our hopeless situations.    

As an added bonus, our own faith is further strengthened when we make specific requests to God and then see him answer them in prayer.    

Matthew 20:34 – And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

This is a testimony to the power of God.  Jesus healed the man easily and completely – immediately his eyes were opened.  Thus, he confirmed that he was indeed the Messiah and he revealed the mission for which he was sent – to give salvation to the spiritually blind.  Aren’t you so glad he did!

Let me give you some encouragement:

The disciples wanted places of honor in God’s kingdom.  They did not realize that the kingdom of heaven is made up of those who serve.  What service have you done lately? 

I am positive that in the midst of these uncertain times, there are many, many people out there who could use a word of encouragement and hope.  As a Christian, you carry the author of life with you, wherever you go.  Can we make a special effort this week to encourage those around us?  Why not reach out to a friend or family member you havn’t connected with in a long time?  Your words can make a difference in the life of someone who is scared, desperate or lonely.  So reach out and encourage someone this week!    

Let me give you some relief:

Maybe you’ve put down a few too many roots in this life.  Maybe you forgot that this world is not your home.  Well let me offer you some relief – you’re not the only one! 

This can happen to any of us.  The good news is that once you recognize the problem, you can change the outcome.   Right now, go to our Savior in prayer.  Surrender all of your ‘roots’ to him.  Ask him to fill your heart with His plans and desires; then follow them with all your might.  You will once again be storing up treasures in your permanent home – heaven!  

Let me give you some strength:

We mentioned in this passage that when the apostles encountered times of suffering and trial, their flesh was not strong enough to get them through.  It failed them every time.  However, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they experienced a new level of boldness and confidence. 

Because they were trusting in the Spirit, they were able to stare death in the face and not even flinch.  I encourage you to pray for a renewed anointing of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Tap into the strength and power that God has made available to each and every one of us.  In these days, we certainly need it!

Matthew, Chapter 20, Part 1

Matthew 20:1 – For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

As you may recall, chapter 19 ended with a verse that said, ‘But many who are first will be last, and the last first’.   This was a very unfortunate place to break off the chapter because the parable we find in Matthew 20:1-16 ties in with the events and discussions of chapter 19.

As you recall, Jesus was still dealing with the concept of reward which came about after the rich young ruler refused to give up his worldly riches and follow Jesus.  The specific reward that the young man forfeited was eternal life. Please keep this in mind as we examine this parable.  Other lessons can also be found in this portion of scripture, and we will take a look at some of those too.

Let’s get started.    

In this parable, we find the master or owner of a house who owns a vineyard.  He is in need of workers to tend it.

Early in the morning (6 am), he goes into the market place searching for people to labor in his field. 

Matthew 20:2 – After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

First, we want to note that these workers are not slaves.  Slaves do not have a choice of whether or not to work.  They do not get paid wages for their efforts.

These are hired hands or day laborers who were hired for short term employment.  They would congregate at a particular place (probably close to the city gate) and just wait for someone to come along and offer them a job.  They could be hired for part of a day, a full day or even a bit longer.  These types of workers were always paid daily.

So, in the parable, it appears as though the master found a group of these men first thing in the morning (6 am), offered them the standard rate of pay for a day’s work (a penny), they accepted, and he sent them to work.  So far, so good.

Matthew 20:3 – And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

About 9 am, the owner sees other people standing around the employment office looking for work.  These people are not idle because they are lazy; they were simply unable to be at work until after 6 am.  This was nothing more than a timing issue.

Matthew 20:4 – and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.”

So he sends another group of laborers into the vineyard, but this time, no definite wage is specified.  The owner simply promises that he will treat them fairly.  They accept this arrangement, and (hi-ho, hi-ho) off to work they go!

Matthew 20:5 – So they went.  Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.

All day long, the owner constantly sends more and more workers into his field.  Each time, he agrees to pay them a fair wage without specifying exactly what that would be. 

Matthew 20:6-7 – And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing.  And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?”  They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.”  He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”

The eleventh hour is equal to 5 pm, and the working day ended at 6 pm.  These workers were sent to work only the last hour of the day.

Matthew 20:8 – And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’

Soon, 6 pm rolled around and the work day was over.  Like any group of workers, I imagine that some of them had a great day.  They felt like they had accomplished a lot and were happy.  Some probably encountered problems or difficulties during the day and were just glad to be done!  Some had worked though the heat of the day and were tired/weary, while some had worked only an hour and felt like they could keep going.

Regardless, of how the day unfolded for each individual worker, it was now time to receive payment for their labor.  We note that the master of the house instructs the foreman/steward to pay the workers in a precise manner – the last hired are to be paid first, and the first hired are to be paid last.

Matthew 20:9 – And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.

So the workers that labored for an hour are paid first.  They received the same amount that was promised to the contracted workers who worked 12 hours.  The generosity of the master of the house was incredible!  They were certainly very pleased with what they had been given!

And apparently those standing in line behind them also noted that they had received an entire day’s wages. 

Matthew 20:10 – Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.

So picture this – You are one of the 6 am shift.  You worked all day in the heat.  Your feet are aching; you are tired and sweaty.  You see the people who were hired for one hour being paid a whole penny/whole day’s wages. 

Your mind would begin to jump to conclusions, wouldn’t it? You would assume that if the master paid the later worker a full day’s wage, then surely you would be entitled to more… maybe even double! Forget the contract – suddenly, you want what you feel you deserve!

You are anxious and excited as you make your way up to the payment window.  Eventually it is your turn and you receive (drum roll here)… a penny.  A single penny.  The same amount that you were contracted to be paid, and nothing more!  The same amount that was given to the workers who did not labor as long as you did!  How outrageous!  How unfair! 

Matthew 20:11-12 – And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

Oh, how quickly our attitudes can change!  There is no doubt that at 6 am they considered themselves fortunate to be hired.  They were glad to be going into the vineyard.  They were looking forward to getting paid a penny.  But despite the fact that none of that had changed (in fact, it occurred exactly as they expected it would), they were now unhappy!  How ungrateful and peevish they now seem! 

Matthew 20:13 – But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 

As the owner points out, he had completely fulfilled the contract between himself and the disgruntled workers.  They voluntarily entered into the contract; he fulfilled his end of the bargain.  There were no grounds for appeal or renegotiation.  

Matthew 20:14-15 – Take what belongs to you and go.  I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

The master rebukes the ungrateful workers.  Doesn’t his stuff belong to him alone?  As master, doesn’t he have the authority to use it as he pleases?  Because the master is generous and liberal, does that give the temporary employee a right to be envious or covetous?  Of course not! 

When we read this account, the complainers seem like spoiled children, murmuring that their wages are unfair.  However, in reality, they have nothing to complain about.    

Matthew 20:16 – So the last will be first, and the first last.

How are we to interpret this parable in light of the reward of eternal life?

The parable describes what takes place in the kingdom of heaven, or the gospel dispensation.  As we have already discussed, this period of time began with the public ministry of Jesus and it will end when he returns again to earth. 

So, what was the most mysterious part of the gospel dispensation, in regards to eternal life? 

It is the rejection of the Jews and the acceptance of the Gentiles into the kingdom of Heaven.

Ephesians 3:3-6 – … the mystery was made known to me by revelation as I have written briefly.  When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.  This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

To those of us reading this in the 21st century, this is not a mystery at all.  As long as we have walked the earth, Gentiles have had the opportunity to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven; the same heaven as the Jews.  For us, this is the status quo.

But remember, this parable was spoken before Jesus was crucified and raised to life.  At that time, the Jews despised the Gentiles, calling them ‘dogs’.  They hated everything about the Gentile way of life.  They hated the authority that the Gentiles exercised over them.  The Jews were convinced that the Gentiles would rot in hell forever, which was what they deserved, and the sooner they got it, the better.

When God opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles, there was a major uproar in the church. The Jews were very unhappy, to say the least. They wanted no fellowship with the men they had long despised.

Were it not for the work of the mighty Holy Spirit, the early church would have split into two churches – the Jewish part and the Gentile part.  This is clearly evidenced by numerous New Testament writings.  But, by his great might and wisdom, God combined both the Jews and Gentiles into a single, united body of Christ.  Believers in both groups were entitled to receive eternal life.

So in our parable, the workers who were called at 6 am were the Jews.  The owner (God) made a contract (covenant) with them.  They agreed to labor for a penny a day (eternal life).

Those without a contract are the Gentiles.  God has called them to work in his kingdom, with the promise that he would pay them what was fair.  He chose to give the Gentiles the same wages as the Jews – eternal life.

The first workers in the story (Jews) were unhappy that the late comers (Gentiles) received the same wages (eternal life) as they did. They felt they were being treated unfairly, and they complained about it.

However, God soon put them in their place.  Doesn’t the gift of salvation belong to God alone?  If he, in his sovereignty and grace, chooses to be generous and give it to all men, do the Jews have the right to be angry about that?  Didn’t they receive exactly what was promised to them through the original covenant?  Of course they did!  They have no cause to be angry with God over the salvation of the Gentiles.

It is now easy to see how this relates to chapter 19.  Peter and the other disciples are all excited about receiving the reward that was rejected by the rich young ruler.  This reward was eternal life, and they were happy to get it. 

However, Jesus was using this parable to tell them that the reward of salvation was going to be open to all men, and the Jews were going to be unhappy about it, at least at first.  This is even more evidence that God always intended to give eternal life to Gentiles.  

This is the focal point of the parable.  However, as we mentioned earlier, they are many lessons that can be taken from this portion of scripture.

First, no man can accuse God of being unfair. Everything we have, even the air we are breathing right now, was given to us by him, and we did not deserve any of it! Pouting and complaining about unfairness will not change God’s mind one bit. The person who feels they are being treated unfairly, should pray and ask God to open their eyes to the truth, and help them change their attitude. Be thankful for what God has given you; he knows what is best!

You have to love all of your brothers and sisters in Christ, and be in unity with them.  We are all on the same team, working for the same goal – to see the world won for Christ.  So, let each person do what God has called him to do, and let us labor together, like a body made up of many individual members.

This parable could also be used to demonstrate the truth that people can receive eternal life, regardless of when they surrender to God.  For instance, if a person received Christ as savior at the age of 5, and then spent another 95 years working in his kingdom, he would receive eternal life as his reward.  He would be a ‘6 am’ worker.  A person who accepts Christ on his or her deathbed would be an 11th hour worker.  Like the thief on the cross, he too receives eternal life.

 Matthew 20:17 – And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them,

Jesus is headed up to Jerusalem for the Passover.  He will not only observe this Passover with his disciples, he will also fulfill Passover by giving his life as a ransom for mankind.    

Matthew 20:18-19 – “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.  And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

This is the third time that Jesus has revealed his death to the disciples (once in chapter 16 and once in 17).  Why do you think he does this? 

Because if Jesus tells them in advance, their faith in him as the Messiah will not be shaken when they see him arrested and put to death. 

Notice how very specific/detailed Jesus is about his upcoming death.  He will be delivered to the Sanhedrin, the great religious council of the Jews.  They will condemn him to death, but they have no actual power or authority to carry out capital punishment.  Therefore, they must turn him over to the Gentiles.  Specifically, that would be the Romans, who practice the most horrible of executions – scourging, followed by crucifixion. 

Who but the true Son of God could have given the exact order and details of his own death?   Even though this does not make any sense to them at the present time, the disciples will eventually know and understand that this was all a part of God’s perfect plan. 

This news also brings them a secondary comfort:  if Jesus was telling the truth about his own death and resurrection, then he was also telling the truth about the gift of eternal life that they had just been discussing.

We also notice that Jesus reveals this truth only to the disciples, not the large crowd following him to the city.  This was because the 12 were his chosen witnesses that would later preach the gospel and establish the church.

So let me offer you some encouragement:

For a time, the disciples did not understand the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That scenario did not fit in with their idea of Jesus throwing off the rule of the Gentiles and setting up his own victorious kingdom.

But later, they understood that God was indeed going to fulfill all his promises; just not in the way they expected.  Perhaps this is true in your life too.  Have you been holding onto a promise from God, but things aren’t happening the way you thought they would?  If so, let me give you some encouragement – God always keeps his promises!  So keep your eyes on him, and continue to trust him.  Give him glory and be thankful.  Like the disciples, you will one day look back and see that God was faithful to all that he promised! 

Let me offer you some relief:

This chapter deals a lot with the reward of eternal life.  Now is the time to examine this truth in your own life.  Have you entered into the service of the master yet?  Is your eternal salvation guaranteed?  If not, now is the time to turn from sin and lay hold of the promise of eternal life, by praying and asking Jesus to be Lord and Savior of your life. 

Let me offer you some strength:

The disciples suffered a period of intense upheaval and uncertainty when Jesus was crucified.  We too, are experiencing a time of upheaval and uncertainty, because of the COVID virus.    

What will happen in the future?  Will there be public school or sporting events?  Will the virus run its course or continue to plague the entire world?  Will food, housing and transportation continue to be readily available or can we expect shortages?  What will happen to our jobs?  We can no longer be confident of these answers like we have been in the past. This uncertainty can result in fear and worry.  

But let me offer you some strength – some things are eternal and unchanging!  

God is still in control of the universe, and our lives.  His perfect plan for you cannot be altered by the virus.

God is Jehovah Jireh, our provider.  He is the source of all that we are going to need, including food, shelter and employment.  God is not experiencing any shortages!   

God has guaranteed us eternal life in paradise with him.  Nothing can take that away from you!

God is still interested in gathering souls to himself.  Despite what is happening around us, we must still press forward in winning souls and making disciples of all men.

God guided the disciples through their period of uncertainty.  By his Holy Spirit, he transformed them into powerful witnesses for Christ.  He will do the same thing for you.  Ask the Lord to baptize you in the Holy Spirit and transform you into a powerful witness for him in these last days!

Matthew, Chapter 19, Part 2

Matthew 19:13-15 – Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away.

It was a common custom among the Jews to lay their hands on the heads of the people they prayed for or blessed.  This was an act of dedicating or consecrating that person to God.  In their eyes, the person was now considered the sacred property of God and whatever is solemnly consecrated to God abides under his protection and blessing. 

That being the case, it makes perfect sense that parents who recognized Jesus as either a great prophet or as the Messiah, would want him to bless their children (infants according to Luke 18:15).

This practice was affirmed by Jesus – we have many, many instances where he laid his hands on the sick and healed them (Mark 6:5).  The practice was affirmed once again by the apostles and early church fathers who laid hands on people when healing the sick (Acts 28:8, Mark 16:18), ordaining people into religious office (1 Timothy 5:22, Acts 6:6) and imparting the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, Acts 19:6).

In many Christian churches today (including Kipton), it is still customary to lay hands on people when praying for them.

Because of the culture they grew up in, it seems kind of strange that the disciples rebuked the people who brought their children to Jesus for him to lay hands on them and bless them.  Why would they have reacted that way?

They may have believed that as infants, they were too young to receive any blessing from God.  They may have felt that this was a trivial matter and since Jesus was important, he should not be bothered with it.  It is even possible that they were annoyed at being interrupted during their discussions of marriage and divorce. 

But clearly, Jesus considers the children important.  He not only lays his hands on them, but he once again uses them as a sign for the disciples, reiterating his teaching that true members of the kingdom of heaven possess some of the same traits as children – meekness, humility and the ability to accept teaching (see our study of Matthew chapter 18 for full details).

Matthew 19:16 – And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

The following account, sometimes referred to as ‘the rich young ruler’, is also found in Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30.  We will use details from all three accounts in our study.

Luke tells us that this young man was a ruler – probably of a synagogue or council.  Thus, he was a person of some importance who was probably chosen for his office based on his character and exemplary record.  Many scholars feel that he was a Pharisee.

Mark tells us that this young man came running to Jesus, and knelt before him. This shows that the young man was earnest and very anxious about his situation. Because he was genuinely seeking truth, we can be assured that he will find an answer (Matthew 7:7).

Based on his question to Jesus, we can make the following observations:

  • He believes there is an eternity/afterlife. 
  • He believes that in eternity there will be happiness and life, or misery and death. 
  • He is interested in securing eternal life, and he is ready to perform some good work to earn it.  

His first two assumptions are correct – there is an eternal state and a person will either wind up in heaven (eternal life) or hell (eternal death).

However, his last assumption is very troubling to anyone living in the gospel dispensation, because we understand that we could never keep the law or earn our salvation through works.  We know that the shed blood of Jesus is the only atonement for sin. 

But remember, Jesus has not yet opened the way of salvation through grace.  Therefore, the young man is technically still under the law, which says that a man can be right with God by keeping (never breaking) the Old Testament law. 

Matthew 19:17 – And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.  If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

We have seen verses 16-17 in the English Standard Version of the bible.  Now let’s look at them in the King James Version, which is a bit clearer:

Matthew 19:16-17 – And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

The young man addresses Jesus as “good Master” but Jesus challenges his use of that title.  Take note of his response in verse 17:  “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God”.

Why does Jesus call attention to the man’s use of the word ‘good’? 

It’s because the title “good” means perfection or divinity. Thus, it IS a proper title for God.  However, the young man is not acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah when he calls him good/perfect/divine.  He considers Jesus a teacher or prophet, and uses the title as a form of flattery. 

Jesus is not going to accept this false flattery.  Indeed, he is God and the title ‘good’ is appropriate for him, but only if the rich young man acknowledges him as Messiah, not as just a prophet.

Now remember, the man (who is seeking to be justified by keeping the law) originally asked Jesus what “good work” he must do to be saved.  Since the man wants to be justified through the Law, he must do what the Law requires.  Thus, Jesus answers that the rich young ruler must keep the commandments. 

Jesus is not misleading or tricking this young man.  He is connecting with him at the level the man is currently on.  Soon, Jesus will challenge his belief that he can keep the Law and thus gain eternal life. 

Galatians 2:15-16 – We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Once the man recognizes that he has not kept the entire law, he will understand his need for a savior or Messiah to grant him eternal life through the forgiveness of sin.  As we look at their interaction, we can see that Jesus is preparing him to accept this truth.

Matthew 19:18-19 – He said to him, “Which ones?”  And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In reply to the rich young man’s further inquiry, Jesus directs him to the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 5th commands, found in Exodus 20.  He also includes the summary of them all – love your neighbor as yourself. 

All of the commands that Jesus mentioned deal with mans relationship to other men.  Thus, he compels the rich young ruler to examine his conduct in light of how he treats his fellow man.  Why is this so important?

Because if the rich ruler does not demonstrate perfect love towards his fellow man, then he is not the man he thinks he is.  If he is not the man he thinks he is, then he has not perfectly kept the law.  If he has not kept the law, then he cannot expect to receive eternal life through the law.  He must obtain it another way. 

Thus, if he thoughtfully considers the words of Jesus and is honest with himself, he will see his own shortcomings.  His failure will direct him away from the law and towards the Messiah.  As Paul clearly indicates in Galatians, justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the only path to eternal life.  

Matthew 19:20 – The young man said to him, “All these I have kept.  What do I still lack?”

We can tell from the context of the scripture that the young man is uneasy.  We might say he has a troubled conscience.  He is dissatisfied with himself.  There is a sense of incompleteness; something is missing in his life that will make him content/happy and give him assurance of eternal life.

Interestingly, the ruler honestly believes that he has kept the whole law!  How can he think that?  Well, the young man (who may have been a Pharisee himself) understood the commands as they were taught by the Pharisees.  This means that he was taught to obey the commands in an outward, physical way, rather than inwardly in the mind and heart.  It also means that many of the laws of God had been twisted or cast aside in favor of tradition.

For example, in his eyes, he had never murdered anyone because he had not physically taken a life.  But if he hates another person and desires to kill them, then according to Jesus, he has broken the law.

So up until this point, the young man still does not understand that he has not kept the entire law.  He remains ignorant of his own sin.  He thinks Jesus will give him some new command that will assure him eternal life; he is completely unaware that what he really lacks is a proper understanding of the law.  If he had that, he would know he was a sinner.

Jesus is about to show him his failure.  He does not do this to humiliate or belittle the man.  He does it in love, as an act of mercy, to point him to eternal life.  

Matthew 19:21 – Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 

Finally – here is the answer the young man was seeking! 

You’d think he would be delighted, but he isn’t.  He is devastated.  Why? Because the command to sell his worldly goods swiftly and clearly revealed what was truly in the ruler’s heart – covetousness.

He loved his money more than his Creator or his fellow man.  He was in violation of the 10th commandment.  He could not be saved through the Law! 

As shocking as this revelation was, it was necessary that he come face-to-face with the truth about himself, so that he could embrace salvation through grace, not the law. 

He was presented with a choice – the same choice we are all given.  He could continue to trust in himself and his good works, or he could follow Jesus to eternal life. 

Matthew 19:22 – When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Incredibly, he turned away from Jesus.  In his eyes, the price of salvation was just too high! 

I cannot think of a single situation that could be sadder than this.  I hope that eventually, he was able to accept the truth.  Perhaps he was present on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached; perhaps he was one of the 3000 people who were saved!  Maybe we will find out how his story ended when we get to heaven one day. 

In the meantime, I want to examine another aspect of this story. Based on this scripture, some people have the mistaken notion that Christians must relinquish all of their worldly wealth in order to obtain salvation.

They assume it is proper for all Christians to be poor.  This is not true.  Jesus’ instruction was specific to this one individual.  Its purpose was two-fold: to reveal what was in the man’s heart and to provide him with an opportunity to renounce it or give it up for God.

We see the same principal at work in the Old Testament when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.  Does God call all Christians to sacrifice their sons?  Of course not!  That request was specific to Abraham.  It revealed what was in his heart (inordinate affection for his son) and gave him the chance to give it up for God.  

Matthew 19:23 – And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus uses the ruler’s decision as a teaching moment for the disciples.  He declares that riches make it exceedingly difficult for a person to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Why is that? 

Money itself is actually a neutral thing; it is neither bad nor good.  The problem is that money tends to have a negative effect on the fallen nature of man.  It tends to drive us further away from God, rather than leading us towards him.  For example:

Excessive riches encourage people to love the world, and neglect God.  If a person is busy focusing/concentrating on all the enjoyments and possessions money can buy, there will not be any time left for spiritual things.  This was evident in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:22) where Jesus says that riches choke out the word of God in a person’s life.

The bible teaches us to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’.  Each day we are to look to God for protection, provision and guidance.  He is to be our source for all good things (James 1:17).  However, rich men tend to look to their money as the source of all their daily needs.  Thus, money actually takes the place that rightfully belongs to God, and it becomes an idol. 

The love of money produces pride, selfishness, fraud and oppression in an individual.  Thus, loving money opens up the door to further sin.  

Despite this, Jesus does not say that Christians cannot be wealthy.  Indeed, there are many wealthy Christians who love God and are excellent stewards of the riches that God has placed into their hands.

So let’s be clear – Jesus does not say that it is impossible for rich people to be saved.  He does not say that good Christians are poor. 

Rather, he cautions that the wealthy must be on guard against the sinful effects that money tends produces in an individual.  The love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil.

Matthew 19:24 – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The ‘eye of a needle’ was a very small gate or door used by people on foot. It was accessed at night, after the main city gate was closed.  This door was next to the larger city gate, which was wide enough to allow wagons, animals and everything else to enter the metropolis. 

The term ‘camel’ (or elephant, which is also sometimes used in this Jewish proverb) is simply used to denote something very large. 

So, “a camel going through the eye of a needle” was a common proverb used by the Jews. It denoted anything that was impossible or exceedingly difficult. 

Spiritually speaking, it is exceedingly difficult for the person with great riches to enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Matthew 19:25 – When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

In my opinion, the disciples are astonished at the wrong thing. 

Consider this – poor people also have unique temptations based on being poor.  Their lack of money can cause the same sins that the rich face – greed, selfishness, fraud and oppression.  They too can be totally consumed by the love and pursuit of money.  They too can be guilty of focusing all their attention on the world to the exclusion of God.  They too can be poor stewards of the wealth they possess. 

The state of being poor and the state of being rich can both open up unique doors for sin. 

Matthew 19:26 – But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

So, the astonishing thing in this situation is actually the grace, mercy and provision of Almighty God which allows all sinful human beings (whether rich or poor), to enter into heaven.  Apart from him, we would all be lost!

Matthew 19:27 – Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?”

In essence, Peter is saying that he and the other disciples had done what the rich man could not.  They had left their jobs, their homes, their families and their personal pursuits to follow Jesus.  Their devotion to God superseded everything else in their lives.  

Since Jesus had assured the rich young ruler that he would receive “treasures in heaven” if he forsook all to follow him, Peter now wonders what he and the other disciples could expect as a reward.  

Matthew 19:28 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

How are we to interpret this promise of reward?  Some scholars believe this has a literal interpretation, while some think it should be interpreted spiritually.  They also differ in their understanding of the ‘new world’.   In fact, the interpretations are so diverse, it hardly seems possible that the scholars are all reading the same passage of scripture!

For example, some believe that the ‘new world’ refers to the time when Jesus ascended up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.  In this scenario, the disciples are ‘sitting on thrones’ in the sense that they have authority in the new church.  They are ‘judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ in the sense that they are deciding what shall be permissible in the church and what shall not.  People who hold this view claim that it ties in with Jesus granting them the keys to the kingdom of heaven, back in Matthew 16. 

Some believe that Jesus is referring to his millennial reign on the earth.  They believe that the thrones are literal thrones and that the disciples are given authority to mediate disputes and settle matters of state in that kingdom.

Still others see this as being fulfilled in the eternal kingdom of Christ. 

The one fact that everyone agrees on, is that Jesus does promise a reward to his faithful followers who put him first, giving up their earthly possessions.  As for the rest, time will tell!  

Matthew 19:29 – “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

The disciples are not the only people promised a reward from Jesus.  Any follower of Christ who puts his devotion to God above all else can expect to be rewarded.  Those who willingly give all for the sake of Jesus will not only receive eternal life, but they will also be recompensed in this life as well.    

Matthew 19:30 – “But many who are first will be last and the last first.”

Again, there are different interpretations for the meaning of this verse. 

One is that the ‘first’ are the Jews and the ‘last’ are the Gentiles.  The Jews were chosen as God’s special people.  The words of salvation were first preached to them, but they rejected the Messiah.  Therefore the Gentiles, who were looked upon as dogs, entered into the kingdom of heaven ‘first’ – before the Jews.

Another interpretation is that there will be reversals in the future – those that were poor on the earth (for the sake of the gospel) will be rich in heaven, those who occupied exalted positions on earth will be common in heaven, etc.

Yet another explanation is that verse 30 of chapter 19 is actually the first verse of the parable that begins in chapter 20.  We will examine this idea in our next post.   

Let me offer you some encouragement and relief: 

It looked like the ruler had it all – he was young, he had wealth, he had the respect of his peers and he had importance in his community.  Yet, he clearly felt that his life was missing something.  Down deep in his heart, he knew he had a need to connect with God.

Is it possible that you are feeling the same way right now?  Perhaps you have been attending church regularly and fellowshipping with other Christians, but deep down you know that something is missing in your life, and you need to connect with God.  Like the ruler, you need an assurance of your salvation.

If that is the case, I encourage you to pray the following prayer right now!  Wherever you are, God can hear you and he will respond when you invite him into your heart and life.  And once you get rid of your burden of sin, your relief will be immense!

Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!  Your sin has been atoned for, and you are now ‘connected’ to God.   

Let me offer you some strength:

Jesus assured his disciples that when they put him first, and sacrificed the things of this world for him, he took notice.  He not only takes notice, but he generously rewards his servants for their sacrifice.

Perhaps you, like the disciples, have made some sacrifices for Christ.  It’s possible that the task is a bit more difficult than you thought it would be.  You may be feeling weary right now.  Maybe you have come to the end of your strength, but your journey is not yet complete.

If so, I have good news for you!  God has all the strength you need in order to finish the race you have embarked on. 

Isaiah 40:31 – But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

So keep your eyes on Jesus, and don’t give up!  Your labor will soon be rewarded!

Matthew, Chapter 19, Part 1

Matthew 19:1-2 – Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.   And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Matthew tells us that Jesus left Galilee and made his way to the region of Judea. Although his followers did not realize it at the time, this was the first step in his journey to Jerusalem, where Christ was going to lay down his life on the cross.

At this time his fame was reaching a peak.  Great numbers of people followed him, but not all of them had the same motivation.  Some came to hear the word and receive instruction.  Some came to be healed or delivered.  Some came to see if he would set up a kingdom.  Undoubtedly, some came out of curiosity.  Some, perhaps, came to witness the miraculous.  And some came to ensnare or entrap Jesus!

Matthew 19:3 – And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

The Pharisees (and other religious leaders) were part of the group that followed Jesus in order to discredit him.  Many of their attempts have been noted in the book of Matthew.  As we would expect, each and every time they confront Jesus, they are rebuffed; they cannot fight divine wisdom. 

Despite earlier failures, they are going to make yet another attempt.  This time, they waited until Jesus was with a large crowd (possibly the largest ever).  Thinking that this was the perfect opportunity to cause maximum trouble, they brought up one of the most decisive issues of their day – divorce.

Divorce continues to be a somewhat controversial issue in the church today.  If you are a divorced person reading this post, please rest assured – you are not going to find any condemnation here! 

We took a quick look at this topic back in chapter 5.  Let’s review the controversy that surrounded this issue:

The dispute involves an Old Testament law from Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 24:1 – When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

The Jews had two interpretations of this law.  One group (the school of Hillel) believed that the true meaning of the law was found in the word ‘uncleanness’ and it referred only to adultery.  Therefore, adultery was the only true basis for divorce.

The second group (the school of Sammai) believed that the true meaning of the law was found in the phrase ‘she finds no favor in his eyes’ and interpreted that to mean that if a woman displeased her husband in any way, no matter how trivial, he could give her a certificate of divorce and send her away.  We have historical evidence of just how ridiculous this became – a man could divorce his wife if he did not like her cooking!

Not surprisingly, the second view became very prevalent among the Jews. And once again we find the Jews making the same serious mistake – adhering to the letter of the law, and believing themselves righteous for it, while at the same time completely ignoring their duty to God.

Here in Matthew chapter 19, the scripture clearly tells us that the Jews were not really looking for wisdom.  They were not really searching for truth.  They were trying to ‘test’ or discredit Jesus.

If Jesus sided with the second group (the school of Sammai) the Pharisees would condemn him for contradicting his own teachings (Matthew 5:32).  If he sided with the first group (the school of Hillel), they were ready to charge him with contradicting Moses.  Either way, they thought they had him!

Matthew 19:4 – He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

Notice that both parties were supportive of divorce.  It was the grounds or cause for divorce which caused the arguments between them.

Jesus, in his divine wisdom, does not fall into the trap of using one of the two opinions presented to him as a starting point; both opinions reflect ignorance and corruption of the law of God.

Ignoring man’s conclusions entirely, he draws their attention to the very first marriage union, which shows the original will, intent and purpose of God.

Because God is unchanging, we know that what was done at the very beginning is the pattern we are to follow in every subsequent generation.  Thus, we conclude:  

  • Marriage is an institution appointed by God.  It is the foundation of society.  
  • Marriage is between a man and a woman. 
  • The marriage relationship is a permanent union.  In God’s eyes, death is the only way to break the bond.
  • The marriage union is more intimate and more binding than other human bonds, including paternal or filial relationships. 

Matthew 19:5 – …and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” 

Our translation says “therefore”, but the King James version says “for this cause” which is a better reflection of the true meaning.  In other words, male and female were created for this very purpose – that they might glorify God in a matrimonial connection.  They become ‘one flesh’, forming an indissoluble partnership of life and fortune. 

When God created Eve, he could have made her from the dust of the ground, just as he did with Adam.  But he didn’t.  As you recall, he put Adam to sleep, then took one of his ribs and created Eve (Genesis 2:21).  So, quite literally, the two were one flesh!

William Burkitt’s Expository Notes on the Bible makes an interesting comment on the first marriage:  “…there was no sooner one person, but God divided him into two; and no sooner were there two, but he united them into one.”

Matthew 19:6 – “So they are no longer two but on flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

If God has joined the man and woman together as one, no human law/regulation has the right to separate them.  So, Jesus condemns the Jewish practice of dissolving the marriage bond.  In regards to the Jews of Jesus’ day, this rebuke would also have fallen on the elders who sanctioned the divorce. 

Matthew 19:7-8 – They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”  He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart.  Moses allowed you to divorce you wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The Pharisees are looking for justification of their impure and unholy conduct.  To that end, they offer a rebuttal – Moses commanded/permitted divorces (Deuteronomy 24:1).  And if that was the case, divorce could not be unlawful.

It is interesting that they use the word ‘command’.  Moses did not command it; he made provision for it, or allowed it.  This allowance was based on the fact that Jews were cruel to their unwanted wives and it was better for such a woman to return to her father’s house than to suffer abuse in her current situation. 

Moses also established that the divorce decree could not be a verbal declaration.  It had to be written out by a scribe.  It must become public knowledge.  As such, it could not happen in the heat of the moment.  It required the husband to stop and view the situation more objectively.  It gave him time to ‘cool down’.  The assumption was that this would give an opportunity for the relationship to be reconciled and the divorce dropped. 

Jesus makes it very clear that this allowance was made for man’s wickedness, not because the act of divorce was lawful in God’s eyes.  He once again reiterates that from the beginning, God had sanctioned the union of marriage – between one man and one woman, until death takes one of them away.  This was the law that was to be observed perpetually, throughout all subsequent generations.

Matthew 19:9 – “And I say to you:  whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The gospel of Mark indicates that the public discussion of this issue ended in verse 8.  The rest of this discussion (beginning here) took place more privately, between Jesus and the disciples (Mark 10:10).

Here, emphasis should be placed on the word “I”.  Jesus was God in the flesh; God was saying that the indulgence given by Moses was to cease.  Limitless, groundless divorces (like those granted for bad cooking) were no longer acceptable.  Marriage should be brought back to its original intention and there was only one legitimate cause for divorce – adultery.

So where does all of this leave those of us in the 21st century?   Here is what we can know for sure:

ONE:  The law of marriage has been instituted by God, and He is unchanging:    

Malachi 3:6 – For I am the Lord, I change not…

TWO:  Because God does not change, his mandate for marriage remains the same as it was when he united Adam and Eve – one man and one woman until death parts them, except for the cause of adultery.  (Even in cases of adultery, the bond does not have to be immediately severed; the insulted party may choose to stay in the relationship and try to mend it.)

THREE:  Between the instituting of the marriage law in paradise and the current day, sin has entered the world:

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned –

No surprises there, right? 

FOUR:  Our sinful society is not fully committed to God’s law of marriage.   

In our culture, marriage is kind of like buying a new shirt. You buy it with the understanding that if you don’t like it for any reason, you can always return it. No questions asked.

Likewise, you don’t really need to seriously consider marriage before entering into it, because if you don’t like it for any reason, you can simply divorce.  No questions asked.  This reflects the kind of halfhearted commitment that seems to underlie everything we do. 

For example:

  • If you have a dispute with the people in your church, there is no need to bother working it out.  You can just change churches. 
  • If you don’t like your new boss, there is no need to stay and respect their authority.  You can just change jobs.  
  • If you want the 4-H club to go in one direction, but the assistant leader wants to go in another, there is no need to find a common goal.  You can separate and each go your own way. 
  • If you have a roommate that doesn’t dust and vacuum often enough for your standards, there is no need to modify your expectations.  You can just find a new roommate.

Our culture accepts these halfhearted commitments in nearly all areas, including marriage.  There is no deep, underling commitment to resolve disputes, respect each other, submit to authority, find common goals or make allowances for each other. 

FIVE:  What is acceptable to man, is not acceptable to God.  To the best of their ability, Christians should embrace God’s law of marriage.

Committing to marriage until death is a serious, life altering decision.  It affects every aspect of our lives including our health, our finances, and our freedom to make future choices.  In part, it determines our level of education, where we will live and where we will work.  It will have a profound impact on our ministry in the kingdom of heaven.  And, as if that were not serious enough, marriage is the partnership through which the joys and burdens of children should come. 

In light of this, you might think that marriage is something that should be avoided (the disciples will soon make this assumption).  However, there is more to marriage than just doom and gloom!  When both people are firmly committed to Christ and to each other, they put themselves in a position to discover the unique and endless joys/blessings that God has included in the marriage relationship.   

This does not mean the relationship will be perfect.  Two sinful people cannot produce a marriage that lives up to God’s perfect standard.  Because the individuals are sinful, the marriage will also be subject to the effects of sin.  But the rewards of the relationship are worth the time and effort to make it work. 

SIX:  Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

Sin is like a wedge that seeks to divide and destroy marriages.  This sin can take almost any form including abuse, unfaithfulness, emotional damage, addiction, erosion of trust, lack of love, lying, selfishness, disagreements over money or any one of a thousand other things. 

If you are in a position where sin is threatening to destroy your marriage, there is good news! There are many, many wonderful resources available to Christians who have a division in their marriage. When both parties are committed to Christ and to change, there is hope for restoration.

However, a Christian may find themselves in a situation where staying in the marriage is more damaging than leaving it.  In this case, the marriage bond needs to be cut, so both parties can move forward towards healing.

SEVEN:  As in the breaking of any of God’s laws, there will be forgiveness but also consequences.     

It’s no secret that all of us have broken God’s laws.  Thankfully, if we are repentant, God freely forgives us. 

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 Divorce is a sin (the breaking of God’s law) that can be forgiven, just like any other sin. 

However, we should keep in mind that while God readily forgives us of sin, we still must deal with the consequences of our actions and decisions.  For example, if we steal money from our employer and get caught, God will forgive us.  However, we will still probably be fired from the job.  That incident will remain on our record and it will continue to affect us as we look for other employment.  These are some of the consequences of our actions.   

In the same way, God can and will forgive us for breaking a marriage vow.  But that forgiveness does not negate the consequences associated with our sin.  There could be financial burdens, emotional distress, and/or legal constraints.  If the marriage has children, the consequences of divorce become even greater.

However, it is comforting to know that we can absolutely count on God to walk through all of life’s difficulties with us, even the ones we bring upon ourselves by breaking his laws!

Matthew 19:10 – The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

Isn’t this interesting – in Genesis 2:18, God declares that it is not good for man to be alone (unmarried).  But here in Matthew 19:10, the disciples declare that not only is it good to be unmarried, but it is preferable if you don’t have the right to divorce a wife who does not please you! 

This is a good example of how our fallen nature rebels against restraint of any kind, even when placed upon us by our Lord.  It is also an example of rash and foolish thinking.  Had they stopped to consider all the benefits and blessings of marriage, perhaps they would not have been so quick to cast it off.

Maybe there is a lesson here for us.  Philippians 4:8 instructs us to dwell on things that are pure, lovely and excellent.  So rather than dwelling on the annoying traits of our spouse (which causes division), perhaps we should reflect on their strengths and good qualities (which causes increased love and intimacy).

Matthew 19:11 – But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.”

The disciples jumped to the conclusion that a life of celibacy was best for everyone.  However, Jesus contradicts this conclusion.  He says that this state of abstinence requires a supernatural gift from God. 

Matthew 19:12 – “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Some men have the gift of abstinence from birth, some were forced into abstinence by other men and some have chosen that path in order to devote themselves entirely to service in the kingdom of God. 

In the last instance, Jesus may have been referring to the Essenes, a sect of the Jews that abstained from marriage in order to devote themselves exclusively to religion.  Obviously, they had no children of their own.  They perpetuated their sect by adopting the poor children of others.

However, do not choose that path without great care.  Jesus cautions that this lifestyle should be limited to those few who feel they had the gift to embrace it.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Do you own a car?  Do you perform routine maintenance on your vehicle like changing the oil and giving the engine a tune-up?  If so, your vehicle will run smoother and last much, much longer. 

The same is true for your marriage.  Do you maintain it?  Are you doing things that will build up the relationship you have with your spouse?  This bible study is by no means a practical guide to strengthen your marriage, but there are plenty of resources available for just that purpose.  I strongly encourage you to find these sources and invest time in your marriage.

Let me offer you some relief:

Is it possible that you have gone through the pain of a divorce?  Has your family or your church made you feel like a second class citizen because of it?  Let me offer you some relief – there is no sin that God cannot forgive!  Man may look down on you for failing, but God does not.  He is standing by ready to take that burden of guilt/shame and nail it to the cross.  So let him have it!  Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you!  Let him give you a garment of praise for your spirit of heaviness! 

Let me offer you some strength:

Maybe you find yourself in the midst of a difficult marriage right now.  Perhaps, for whatever reason, your relationship has deteriorated and the future of your marriage is uncertain.  Maybe you feel like giving up.  Before you do, let me give you some strength from the word of God:

Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yea, I will help you; yea, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.  

If your marriage is worth fighting for, then I encourage you to do so!  It may be difficult or exhausting to get your relationship back on track, but God is right there with you.  You don’t have to tackle this in your own strength – he is right there to give you his inexhaustible strength.  He will hold you up as you endeavor to walk in the ways of righteousness. 

Matthew, Chapter 18, Part 2

Matthew 18:21 – Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

In our prior study, we saw that Jesus went into great detail about offences and how we are to resolve them with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Forgiveness is a vital part of dealing with offences.  In fact, God declares that it is mandatory, not optional.  

Forgiveness implies that we will not hate, gossip or entertain thoughts/actions of revenge.  We should be ready to assist the forgiven offender speedily, though we do not have to make them an intimate friend.

It is quite natural that after the teaching on offences, someone would ask Jesus how often forgiveness should occur.  This probably has to do with the Jewish custom that a person should be forgiven as many as 3 times in a day (possibly based on Amos 1:3).  It is likely that Peter, thinking he was being very generous and forgiving, upped that number to 7x per day.

Why did the Jews limit forgiveness to 3x?  The underlying thought was that if you are lenient and forgiving all of the time, that leniency actually induces others to offend you.  In other words, if you are going to easily forgive me each and every time I request it, then why bother to avoid an offence?  I can just do as I please, and my forgiveness is guaranteed!

According to Jewish reasoning, if there is a limit on forgiveness, then people will take it more seriously.

Matthew 18:22 – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Clearly, the thoughts of the Jewish leaders are not the same as God’s thoughts!  

Isaiah 55:9 – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The number 77 is not to be taken literally in this case; it represents unlimited forgiveness.  Thus, Jesus gives the disciples an answer that I am sure they found astonishing – they must forgive an unlimited amount of times!

How would you feel about forgiving someone once a day?  That might not be so bad, right?  But how many of us would be angry and impatient if we had to forgive someone 4 times in a single day? 

What would your reaction be if you had to forgive someone 6 or more times in a day?  Would that person be on your last nerve, so to speak?  Would you be pulling your hair out?  Why, then, does God command us to forgive so freely?

Here’s the deal…unlimited forgiveness is an earthly example of God’s extravagant grace.  Just as there is no limit to the forgiveness of God, there should be no limit to our forgiveness either.  The only true requirement is that the offender is sincerely penitent for his/her actions.

Matthew 18:23 – Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.

In the kingdom of Heaven (the gospel dispensation that began when Jesus revealed himself on earth and which will end with his return to earth), God has made it very plain that he expects us to forgive others.  As an illustration of our duty to do so, Jesus now gives us a somewhat lengthy parable. 

In this parable, the earthly king represents God.

Matthew 18:24 – When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

What do you think of when you hear the word servant?  I tend to think of a lowly job that involves a lot of manual labor and does not pay very well.  However, for reasons we shall soon discover, this servant is probably a satrap. 

Satraps were administrators, not manual laborers.  They were actually very high ranking officials with a lot of authority and prestige in the kingdom. 

The satrap was the supreme judicial authority in his region.  He was also responsible for things like internal security for the king, maintaining the army and collecting taxes.

In our culture, he would serve as judge, chief of police, official recruiter for the armed forces and head of internal revenue service – all rolled into one!  That is one extremely powerful person and I, for one, would not want him as an enemy!  

Now we can understand how a ‘mere servant’ would have access to ten thousand talents of his king’s money.  One of two things probably occurred:

He might have collected taxes and spent some of the money, with the intent of paying it back before he had to turn it over to the king.

Or (more likely), the parable infers that the satrap may have ‘purchased’ the tax debt from the king for a sum of 10 thousand talents.  In this scenario, the taxes of a certain province may have been 15 thousand talents in total.  The servant offers to buy the tax debt from the king for a total of 10 thousand talents.  So he pays (or signs a contract to pay) the king 10 grand, then he sets out to collect the 15 grand that is actually due.  Anything he collects over and above the 10 grand is profit for him.  In this particular case, it appears as though the deadline came, but he did not even collect the ten thousand that he owed his king.  

Funny how some things don’t change…this is the principle that many modern day debt collectors operate on.   They buy the right to collect debts from a company, paying them only a portion of the total debt that is due.  Then, they make a profit by collecting as much of the debt as possible. 

Anyway, according to Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (at the time of his writing), a talent of silver was worth approximately $1519.  At that rate, the servant’s total debt to the king was approximately 15 million dollars!

Eventually, the day of reckoning finally comes and the bottom line is that the servant owes the king A LOT of money – which he cannot pay!

It sounds like the satrap/servant is in a really bad place, doesn’t it?  His situation feels…hopeless, doesn’t it?  Interestingly enough, this is an accurate picture of our spiritual state.  Our debt of sin is just as vast and hopeless as the debt owed by the servant in this story. Every single man, woman and child has sinned against God.  Not only have we broken his laws through our thoughts and actions, we have also violated his law by omitting or failing to do what is right! 

Matthew 18:25 – And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

Under Jewish law, debtors and their families could be sold as servants/slaves until such time as their debt was paid off (Leviticus 25:39-46, 2 Kings 4:1).  In this case, the amount owed is so enormous, the family would never have been set free.

Likewise, the scripture tells us that we are slaves/servants to sin (Romans 6).  God’s justice and holiness require that payment for sin be made in full.  We have no hope of ever being set free by our own efforts; we have no way to pay the debt. 

Matthew 18:26 – So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

The servant realizes the full scope of his situation, and its consequences.  He is in over his head.  He can’t make his payment.  There are no excuses.  He and his family will be condemned to a lifetime of servitude, without any chance of freedom.  He has cursed the future of his whole family line.  His only hope is the mercy of the king.

As he comes into the king’s presence, he humbles himself by bowing before him and confessing that he cannot fulfill his end of the deal.  In his terror and anguish, he begins to promise impossible things – that he will somehow, someway pay his debt.

Just as the servant realized the full scope and consequences of his situation, you and I need to recognize the full scope and consequences of our sin against God.  We are in over our heads.  We can’t atone for our sin and we have no excuse for it either.  We deserve an eternity of punishment. 

Yet, when we fall on our faces before King Jesus and cry out to him for mercy, he has compassion on us.   

Matthew 18:27 – And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

Did you happen to notice the servant’s request? He asks for additional time to repay the debt.  But the great mercy of the king is evident when he not only releases the servant from his legally imposed servitude, but he also completely forgives the debt!  The king gave the servant much, much more than he asked for.  In fact, I don’t think the satrap/servant even considered debt cancellation as a possibility. 

Can you imagine how astonished the man would have been when he heard that pronouncement?  He entered the presence of the king without a single hope, but left with a new lease on life.  What utter and complete joy that man must have felt! 

In this parable, the king did over and above what the servant asked him to do.

Such is the case with our loving and generous heavenly Father!  He has both provided and accepted the blood of his only Son Jesus as payment for our sin.  He has completely and totally forgiven our debt; we have been set free from the bondage of sin. 

As if that were not enough, he makes us his own children.  This makes us co-heirs with Christ Jesus!  But wait – there’s more!  God has also granted us numerous spiritual blessings!

Ephesians 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:   

Like the servant in this story, we should be overwhelmed with thanksgiving and praise for what God has done for us!  Praise his holy name! 

Matthew 18:28 – But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

According to the Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (at the time of his writing), the second servant owed the forgiven servant/satrap just about $14.00.  Yes, that’s right – only fourteen dollars!

Strangely, the forgiven servant shows no mercy.  He begins to violently take hold of the second servant and demand payment of the $14.  One cannot help but wonder – how can a man who has been forgiven of a debt of 15 million dollars, respond with such violence, hate and anger toward someone who owes him so little?  Fourteen dollars won’t fill your gas tank.  It won’t pay your monthly cell phone bill.  It won’t even pay for this years’ Ohio fishing license! 

As I am sure you will agree, the $14 debt can be accurately described as inconsequential.  It becomes even more meaningless when compared to the debt of $15 million! 

Let me ask you this – how would you characterize the actions of the satrap towards his fellow servant?  Outrageous?  How about wicked or cruel?  Could he be accused of injustice?  Do you have even the slightest bit of sympathy for the satrap, or do you think his actions were abominable?  Shall we get the tar and feathers?

Here’s the catch – we often act just as despicable as the satrap!

We have all sinned against God.  We owe a debt of sin that we could never, ever, EVER pay, under any circumstances.  It’s like a $15 million dollar debt.  Yet God has freely forgiven us without limit.

So when someone offends us or sins against us, it’s like a $14 debt.  It’s inconsequential, compared to our debt to God.  Now, I understand that people can be wicked and cruel.  Sometimes, they hurt us or our loved ones very badly.  But even so, God requires us to forgive them.

The good news is that all things are possible with God.  If he has mandated that we forgive others, then it must be possible.  If we seek him, he will help us forgive and he will heal the hurts and pain that we suffered at the hands of someone else.

Matthew 18:29-30 – So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

Sadly, this plea for mercy fell on deaf ears.  Are we also withholding mercy from someone who has hurt us?  Is pride or anger or hurt keeping us from forgiving that person?  Did the offence take place so long ago, that no one really remembers what all the fuss was about?  Do yourself a favor – let that thing go!   

The bible says that we have freely received, and so we should freely give.  Since we have freely received mercy from God, we ought to freely grant mercy to those who sin against us.

Matthew 18:31-32 – When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.’

The king/master does not call the first servant wicked because he had a debt he could not pay, but because of the merciless, unforgiving spirit that he manifested toward his fellow servant.  Don’t be that kind of person! 

Matthew 18:33 – ‘And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Here is the crux of the whole matter:  The first servant received a full and complete pardon for his staggering debt.  How can he not forgive a brother who owes him almost nothing?

Likewise, we have received a full and complete pardon from God for our staggering debt of sin.  How can we not forgive our brother or sister when they sin against us?

Matthew 18:34 – And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

Here we find the consequences of withholding mercy and forgiveness:  the servant finds his own pardon retracted, his entire debt comes crashing back upon him like a tidal wave, and he is delivered to the jailer – forever! 

Matthew 18:35 – So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Are you familiar with the Lord’s prayer?  We probably all are.  Do you recall what it says?

Mark 6:12 – And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

There is no mystery here.  The truth is plain and simple and easy to grasp.  We must forgive our fellow man when he offends or sins against us.

Not only that, but lip service doesn’t count.  You must truly forgive from the heart.  Those who refuse to do so, may justly question whether God has forgiven them.  They can expect the same severity from God which they show to their brothers and sisters.

So let me offer you a little encouragement:

It’s no secret that children imitate their parents.  So I encourage you to be an example of forgiveness to your children.  Teach them the proper way to handle an offense; let them see forgiveness in action.  

Let me offer you some relief:

Are you still carrying around that staggering $15 million dollar debt of sin??  Why? 

God loves you and he wants to set you free.  He gave his son Jesus so that your debt could be forgiven.  Would you like to obtain forgiveness right now?  If so, pray the following prayer.  If you are truly sorry for your sin and you ask Jesus to forgive you, he will!

Dear Jesus,   I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!  You are now part of the family of God!  You will likely need some mentoring in your new walk with Christ.  I suggest two things:  Get a copy of the Bible and begin to read it.  The New Testament book of John is a great place to begin.  The second is to find a local bible based church and attend it.  They can mentor you in your new life in Christ!

Let me offer you some strength:

God will never set you up for failure.  It may seem impossible for you to forgive a certain person.  That is probably true; you may not be able to do so in your own power.  However, with God all things are possible!  With his help, you can get rid of that burden of unforgiveness and find healing. 

I have already posted a three part series specifically on the topic of forgiveness. If this is an issue for you, I strongly encourage you to take the time to look up that three part series and study it. You will find a lot of useful information, as well as practical advice on how to work with God to forgive.

Matthew, Chapter 18, Part 1

Matthew 18:1 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

At the end of chapter 17, we found Jesus paying a tax that he technically did not owe.  Jesus chose to pay the tax so that he would not cause an offence or be a stumbling block to any of the Jews.  In other words, he paid the tax to fulfill all righteousness.  He came to earth as a servant, and paying the tax was an act of service and humility. 

It seems the disciples missed this lesson altogether!  Apparently, it went in one ear and out the other, because we now find them discussing which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and consequently, who would have the best job, the most prestige and the highest salary!

By the kingdom of heaven, the disciples mean the kingdom which they believed Jesus would set up immediately after his resurrection – the kingdom of the Messiah.  As we have discussed in the past, they felt his kingdom would have special magnificence and splendor; it would far surpass the ‘golden age’ of Israel under David and Solomon.  They wanted to know who would have the principle positions and offices in this kingdom.  They had debated this issue amongst themselves, but apparently they couldn’t come to a unanimous conclusion, so they asked Jesus to settle the dispute.

Matthew 18:2-3 – And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The disciples’ question revealed attitudes of pride and ambition as well as the desire for wealth and privilege.  Their minds were clearly focused on this earthly life, and what they might obtain for themselves.

Notice that Jesus says unless you ‘turn’ (your translation may say ‘be converted’), you won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less be an important part of it.  The word for ‘turn’ or ‘converted’ means changed.

The disciples must change their thinking, beginning with their understanding of the kingdom of heaven. It was NOT an earthly kingdom like they were expecting. 

It has a heavenly King, who rules from his throne in the third heaven. His subjects are heavenly minded, laboring for eternal, heavenly treasures. Their country is heaven, though they are pilgrims on this earth for a time. The government of the kingdom of heaven is completely spiritual.

The way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to be humble and to become the servant of others.  To illustrate his point, Jesus draws their attention to a little child.  Little children know nothing about pride, ambition or the desire for wealth.  They are characteristically humble and teachable. 

The disciples must change not only their thinking, but their actions as well. They must do things that are the opposite of the way things are done in the earthly realm.  

Matthew 18:4 – “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

To answer the original question, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the one who does not strive to be first.  The greatest will be the one who is the furthest away from pride and ambition.  The greatest will be the one who serves others.  The greatest will be the one who obeys divine instruction, even if contrary to their own desires. 

There is another point we should consider here.  As Christians we have been converted/turned from sin when we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  But that does not mean that we are perfect.  Like the disciples, we must constantly strive to be holy, as God is holy.  Pride, ambition and greed can pop up in anyone’s life at any time.  If it pops up in yours, get rid of it as quickly as you can; it will only hinder you in your walk with Christ.

Matthew 18:5 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”

The Lord now uses the word ‘child’ as a metaphor for Christians who conduct themselves with humility and meekness, without ambition or greed. 

Child-like Christians are held in the highest esteem by Jesus.  Whatever kindness, favor or respect is shown to them for His sake, he regards as being done to himself. 

The opposite is also true – whatever disrespect or hate is shown towards child-like Christians, Jesus also regards as being done to himself.

Whoever hinders, tempts or puts a stumbling block in the way of a Christian is hindering, tempting or putting a stumbling block in front of Christ!

Matthew 18:6 – But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Those who are humble, meek and without ambition tend to be overpowered and despised by the people of the world.  But Jesus assures us that he takes it very personally when we are mistreated in the world; we have the assurance that he will one day make all things right.

In fact, Jesus makes reference to a custom of the Syrians, Greeks and Romans.  These societies would sometimes execute condemned persons by hanging a weight around their neck (or sometimes rolling them in sheets of lead) and throwing them into the sea to drown them.  There is no record of the Jews ever doing this, but they certainly knew about the practice.

So, having a millstone fastened to the neck and being cast into the sea became a proverb for certain, dreadful and inevitable ruin/death.

Interestingly, we find a parallel to the ultimate end of our great enemy, Satan.  At the end of the age God will bind Satan with heavy chains and cast him into hell – the lake of fire – where he will meet with a certain, dreadful and inevitable ruin/death.  What a fitting end for the one who constantly puts stumbling blocks and temptations in the way of the saints of God!

Matthew 18:7 – “Woe to the world for temptations to sin.  For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

Our translation (the ESV) uses the phrase ‘temptations to sin’, while other translations use the word ‘offences’.  These phrases basically refer to anything that entices/tempts you to do evil.  I feel pretty certain that we are all familiar with temptation (I know I am!), so we don’t need to go into too much depth. 

Speaking in general terms, we observe the following about temptations/offences:

  • They can come from outside yourself (like seeing a scantily clad woman or man). 
  • They can come from inside yourself (envy or pride, for example). 
  • They can include some things that you might not have considered.  For instance, persecution is actually a temptation, because it entices you to turn away from God.
  • They are most often caused by unbelievers.  There will always be people attempting to make others sin.  There will always be those who rejoice when they can lead a Christian astray or cause them to fall.
  • They can also be caused by Christians (including you and me).  If you do something that entices someone else to sin, that is an offence.  For example, if you call someone and ask if they have heard the latest news about so-and-so, you are tempting the other person to gossip.   You would be the source of an offence.
  • They require an accounting.  The depravity and fallen nature of man makes temptation inevitable.  However, this does not remove or reduce the personal responsibility of the person who causes offences, or the person who falls for them.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the nature of offences, it almost causes a sense of hopelessness.  The amount of offences in the world is staggering!  I am willing to bet that we have all fallen for temptations and we have all caused others to be tempted.

No wonder Jesus says, ‘Woe to the world’.  Woe is an expression of sorrow or grief.  Jesus is truly pained by all the offences or temptations that abound in the world.  He is sorry for mankind (the world), because he knows offences/temptations are open doors for Satan to steal, kill and destroy the human race.  All of the horrible suffering that we find in the world is:  

  1. Caused by Satan’s malice
  2. Perpetrated by man’s wickedness
  3. Occurs with God’s permission 

Yes, you read that correctly – God allows us to be tempted and He allows us to tempt others.  In fact, Jesus says that it is necessary that temptations come.  What does he mean by that? 

Jesus does not reveal the answer to that question here in the gospel of Matthew, but the apostle Paul gives us an explanation:

1 Corinthians 11:19 – For there must be factions in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

Paul tells us that God uses temptations for his own divine purposes.  By them the righteous may be tested and purified.  By them, the sheep are separated from the goats.  Remember, each man is given a free will.  He can choose righteousness; he can choose to turn to God and be delivered from temptation:

1 Corinthians 10:13 – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.  

How can we overcome or escape temptation?

One way is through prayer.

Mark 14:38 – Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 

Another way is through the word of God.  When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, he constantly beat Satan back by using the word of God.

Luke 4:3-4 –  And the devil said unto him, If you are the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.  And Jesus answered him, saying, ‘It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’

Being thankful and keeping control our tongue are also good ways to avoid offences/temptations.

Matthew 18:8-9 – “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

This is not the first time Jesus has made this statement.  He also declared in back in Matthew chapter 5.  In case you don’t recall that lesson, let me refresh your memory:  

This seemingly strange statement is really clear and simple, once you take a good look at it.  Let’s begin by looking at the phrase ‘causes you to sin’, or your translation may say ‘offends you’.  The original meaning of this word in the Greek signifies something that is a stumbling block.  A stumbling block is anything in your path that causes you to fall.  In this case, it would mean anything that causes you to fall into sin.

So, what is causing us to fall into sin?  Jesus describes it as either our right eye or our right hand.  Clearly, this is NOT to be taken literally. Cutting off your hand or removing your eye will not free you from sin. 

We often use parts of the body as metaphors. For instance, we use the word ‘heart’ to mean affection or feeling. We use the word ‘bowels’ to mean compassion. We use the word ‘guts’ to mean bravery.

Here, the word ‘eye’ means inward intent or desire to sin, while ‘hand’ refers to the physical act of sinning.  This fits in with the case that Jesus is making about adultery; it entails not only the outward, physical act (hand) but also the inward lust of the mind (eye).

The truth is that the mind and the body work together to sin.  First, the mind conceives the sin.  Then, it considers and thinks about the sin, until it has been firmly rooted and established in the heart.  Once that is done, the evil grows to fruition and the body commits the actual act of sin.  This is why it is vitally important to bring your thoughts into captivity for Christ.

Now the overall meaning of the passage becomes clear.  Anything that causes us to sin (either mentally or physically), needs to be ‘cut off’ or removed from us completely.  It’s that simple.  So keep in mind the warning of Jesus – if you don’t get rid of sin, you could wind up in hell.

Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you, that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

Little ones:  ‘Little one’ refers to one of the meek and humble servants of Christ.  No one is to neglect, injure or afflict them.  They are not to be treated with contempt or distain. Furthermore, as Christians, we should be especially careful not to tempt or give offence to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  

Angels:  This does not necessarily mean that each person has their own guardian angel.  It means that angels, in general, are present in the throne room of God.  They are messengers that do God’s will; they are on constant standby to come to the aid of any Christian when they are instructed by God to do so.

Always see the face of my Father:   This is taken from the custom of earthly monarchs.  To be permitted to see the king’s face continually, meant to have unlimited access to him.  This was a sign of favor, which most people did not enjoy. 

The meaning of this verse is that no one should despise the humble followers of Christ, for God himself watches over them and has powerful servants who are ready to come to their aid, in an instant of time.  This shows the incredible love and concern that God has for those who trust in him.  It speaks of the value he places on each believer.  If God holds each Christian in such high regard, who are we to despise them?

Matthew 18:11 – For the Son of man came to save the lost.

How much does God love you?  Do you ever wonder about that? 

Sometimes, in our earthy relationships, people withhold love from us if we displease or disappoint them.  But I want you to know that GOD IS NOT LIKE THAT! 

God loves you unconditionally.

He loves you when you obey and when you disobey (although he may discipline you).  He loves you when you succeed and when you fail.  He loves you when you are right and when you are wrong.  God’s love for you is never based on your performance.  He loves you unconditionally.  You don’t have to do anything to earn his love.  He loves you period.

Want proof?

God so loved YOU, that he sent Jesus to earth to die for your sin, so that YOU could be reconciled to him!  The creator and ruler of all the universe, agreed to leave the splendor and glory of heaven to become a man for the sole purpose of redeeming YOU. 

Romans 5:8 – God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God values you so highly and cares for you so much, that he has angels standing around his throne, in case you need assistance (Matthew 18:10).

God keeps such a tender watch over you, that he sees every time you get up or sit down.  In fact, he is acquainted with all your habits and he even knows every word that will come out of your mouth before you speak it.  He lays his hand upon you, protecting you from the front and the rear (Psalms 139:1-6)!

God is so full of joy about you, that He rejoices over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

 God loves you so much, that he makes special preparations for you to be with him for eternity (John 14:2-3).

If you need any more proof, just take out your bible and start reading.  God’s love for you is evident from the first page to the last!

Matthew 18:12 – “What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”

In the natural realm, if a shepherd lost a sheep, he would not abandon it; he would go and search for it.

Similarly, God is the great shepherd. If one of his children wanders away (or is cut off from the flock) through offence or temptation, he certainly does not abandon them. He seeks them out in order to restore them back to the flock.

God is very concerned, not only for his entire flock, but for each individual, including you.  The scriptures tell us that Jesus is a good shepherd, and he calls each one of his sheep by name (John 10:3).  This means that Jesus knows YOUR name.  YOU are of great value to him; if you should stray he will seek to gather you back to himself.

Matthew 18:13 –“And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”

God is overjoyed when one of his wandering children has been restored to the flock.  It is safe to assume that whoever offended them, or caused them to fall away because of temptation, will answer to God.

Matthew 18:14 – “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

It is not God’s will that any should perish. This we know. But, I think we might also consider the unspoken implications of this statement: 

It is God’s will that all of his children should be saved.  His will cannot be thwarted, side stepped or cancelled out.  He will see that it is done.  

This applies to every sheep in the flock.  We might be satisfied if 99% of the flock is safe and protected, but not God.  He is only satisfied with 100%. 

Anyone who causes a Christian to fall to temptation or offence, is provoking God by their actions and they will be held accountable for it.

Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

In verses 15-18 Jesus gives us instructions for how to handle offences. 

The term ‘brother’ means another Christian.  Christians are called brothers (and sisters) because we all belong to the same redeemed family and we all have a common Father (God).

To sin against you means to injure you by words or by conduct.  Your character, your property or your person may suffer injury. 

When someone injures/sins against you, it is your responsibility to go to them and seek an explanation. Don’t wait for them to come to you.  This private conversation does two things. 

First, it gives your brother a chance to explain what happened.  Perhaps the incident was all just a big misunderstanding, and a simple conversation can set the matter straight.  If so, both parties can move forward in love and unison. 

Second, if there is a real problem, it gives your brother a chance to acknowledge his (or her) offence and make amends for their wrong doing.  Once amends have been made, we are to forgive and forget.

Third, it gives us a chance to correct them in love, without exposing their mistakes to the world at large. Exposing the fault of another without approaching them first is just wrong.  It makes the rift between the parties even bigger, and it gives the church a bad name in front of unbelievers.

If the other party is receptive to your concerns, the bond between you will continue to be strong and firm.  The offence will be dealt with and have no power to cause further damage to either party or the church.

It’s almost like the offence is a small fire.  Correct handling of the situation is like throwing a bucket of water on the fire.  It is immediately put out, with no further damage done.

Matthew 18:16 – “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

There is always the possibility that the party who has offended you will not repent or acknowledge any wrong doing.  If this is the case, you are to again try to resolve the problem taking with you mature and trusted men/women of influence who can serve as impartial witnesses and give wise council in the situation.

Matthew 18:17 – “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

In the Jewish synagogue there was a council of elders who listened to these kinds of cases.  In your church, the case may go before the pastor and elders.  The goal is for the offender to be admonished and then reformed, so they can stay in the fellowship.

What if no resolution can be found?  Then, as a Christian, you still owe this person goodwill and acts of kindness, which you would show to any unbeliever.  You do not have the right to slander or gossip, and you must forgive.

However, Jesus says that we are to have no religious communion or intimate friendship with him, until he acknowledges his fault.  In other words, don’t set yourself up to receive further injury.  Also, just as a Christian might take a tax collector to justice through the court system, so you would have the right to resolve the matter in public court.

Breaking off religious fellowship with a person does three things.  It keeps the honor and purity of the church intact, avoiding scandals that may reflect back on the body of Christ.  It gives the offender the chance to consider his sin and repent.  And it keeps other members of the church community from falling into the same sins.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

  • If the person repents and submits, they are to be readmitted into fellowship.
  • While this may seem harsh to us, these are the direct orders of Jesus. 
  • It is important for us to take note that these three steps must be taken in order.

Matthew 18:18 – “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This is the second time Jesus has said this to the disciples.  The first time was in Matthew 16:19.   At that time we learned that to bind something was to forbid or refuse it; to loose something was to grant or allow it to be done. 

Back in chapter 16 binding and loosing were given in the context of establishing the doctrine of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles.  This authority has been passed down to every minister of the gospel from then, until now.

In this portion of scripture, binding and loosing are given in the context of church discipline.  The meaning is that if the church reprimands an offender, the court of heaven will support the sentence.  The offender cannot seek justice from heaven, he must resolve the matter here on earth with those of the church who pronounced the sentence.  Once the sinner has repented, he is loosed from his sentence and must be readmitted into church fellowship.  

Although each individual church is different, an occurrence of this nature is probably rare.

Matthew 18:19-20 – “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The Greek word for ‘agree’, means to symphonize or harmonize.  It is a musical term for instruments set to the same key and playing in tune with each other.  When used in the context of prayer, it refers to two or more individuals who have a perfect agreement in hearts, desires, and purposes. 

It implies that just as a number of instruments skillfully played in unison are pleasing to the ears of men, so a number of people united in earnest prayer is highly pleasing to God. 

Anytime the body of Christ meets together in his name for spiritual purposes (including church discipline), he is present. He will guide our councils and quicken our prayers.

Let me repeat that – Jesus has graciously promised to be present whenever his people assemble together in his name, even if there are only two. 

Given this promise, would it benefit us and our church body if more people came to weekly prayer meeting?

Does this promise motivate you to gather together to cover our church in prayer and seek guidance from the Lord for an uncertain future?  What if we sought the Lord for increased gifts of healing or additional spiritual gifts for our body? 

Every day, perhaps even every hour or minute, somewhere in the world two or more believers are gathered together worshipping and praying, experiencing the truth of this promise – that Jesus is also present with them.  This is a very special promise from God.  Don’t take it for granted.  Ask him how you can be a part of it!

So let me offer you some encouragement: 

Has someone offended you?  It seems easy to call a friend and tell them how you were wronged.  It is very easy to get angry and resentful.  You may experience a desire to retaliate.  But none of these things are God’s plan for offences.

I encourage you to apply biblical principles to your dilemma.  First, pray.  Second, meet with that person who offended you in private, or by phone or by a written message.  Tell them that you were offended and give them a chance to make things right. 

Remember, just because someone offended you, it does not give you permission to gossip, revenge or hate.  Satan loves to use offences to bring division to the body of Christ.  Divided, we can be conquered by Satan.  But if we follow the example of Christ, we can maintain love and unity in our local body.

Let me offer you some relief:

Have you ever failed, stumbled or sinned and then wondered if God still loves you?  Be assured, God is totally, completely and hopelessly in love with you! 

His love for you is not dependent on your success.  He does not with hold it when you fail.  So relax!  Continue to draw close to him and allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life.  Keep on working towards holiness and spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, etc).  If you fall, repent; but don’t believe the lie that God has cast you away!  

Let me offer you some strength:   

You are not alone!  There are always other believers in Christ who are willing to pray with you, to stand with you and to believe with you for victory and deliverance.  And Jesus has made a special promise to every believer – when at least two are united in purpose and desire, He is present!  So if you are facing a problem right now, call upon another member of the body to strengthen you by being your prayer partner, and believe that Jesus is with you both!  

Matthew, Chapter 17, Part 2

Matthew 17:14 – And when they came to the crowd a man came up to him and, kneeling before him,

The narrative found in Matthew 17:14-21 is also found in Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-43.  Again, the other gospel writers give us additional details, so we will use all three accounts in our study of this passage.

According to Luke, this event took place on the day following the transfiguration. The crowd/multitude met them as they came down from the mountain.

According to Mark, When Jesus and the three disciples (Peter, James and John) came down from the mountain they not only saw the crowd, but they found the scribes questioning and debating with the remaining disciples.

Mark 9:14 – And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.

What a turn-around! Jesus went from the mount of transfiguration to the work of the devil; from a manifestation of glory to conflict with satanic possession.  He left the comforting company of Moses and Elijah to find conflict with the unbelieving scribes.

Once more he sees the pain, misery and agony of the human race.  He again comes face to face with the very reason that he came into the world – to set us free from the bondages of Satan, and restore us back into relationship with God.

It was probably a scene of mass confusion: the 9 remaining apostles are being confronted by a party of malicious scribes, whose intent was probably to confound or perplex them.  No doubt, the scribes were raking the disciples over the coals for not being able to heal this boy, and they probably insinuated that Jesus couldn’t heal him either. Their ‘questions’ were not true inquiries for truth as much as they were an attempt to discredit the disciples and turn the multitudes away from following Jesus.

 In the midst of this debate, a man from the crowd pushes his way up front and kneels before Jesus.

Matthew 17:15 – said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly.  For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.”

Satan has done the most despicable thing imaginable – he has torn apart an entire household by attacking the child. 

This man’s only son is an epileptic.  This disorder comes upon him and causes seizures which make him fall – sometimes into fire and sometimes into water, leaving him in constant physical danger.  Mark and Luke reveal that during these attacks he foamed at the mouth and gnashed his teeth. The boy was slowly but surely wasting away. 

Can you imagine the utter hopelessness and despair of this boy’s parents?  Can you see them consulting every physician they could afford and hearing that nothing could be done?  Can you imagine the sleepless nights they endured – either waking up as he has a seizure, or lying awake at night wondering how they could help him get cured? 

Yet, for all their worry they are completely unable to help him.  This disease is not just robbing their household of peace and joy, it is causing them terrible grief and anguish.

Soon we will find that the disease of epilepsy is being aggravated by a demonic spirit.   

Matthew 17:16 – “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 

The disciples, who had recently done miracles and cast out devils in their missionary journey, have met with a case that they cannot handle.  Jesus will soon reveal that they were unable to help due to a lack of faith and prayer (and fasting).  While their failure is probably embarrassing and hard to accept, it is going to teach them two very important lessons – humility and dependence on God. 

These lessons have not diminished in importance.  In this age, we still need to learn humility and dependence on our Heavenly Father for all that we do in his kingdom.  The minute we try to do something in our own power, we will fail (just like the disciples).  Jesus reminds us:

John 15:5 – I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 

Covering something in prayer is much better than the best of planning!  This is not to say that we should not plan for our kingdom activities, but sometimes we are all about the planning and we neglect to pray.  When we do, we are relying on our own power, instead of depending on God.

For example, perhaps your church wants to resume a children’s program after the COVID virus.  You can (and should) make plans to bring this about.  However, it is equally important to cover the reopening of the program in prayer.  If God is involved, it will be successful.

Humility is also a key.  You and I both know that God tells us over and over that he hates an attitude of pride.  He will bring it down every time.  But if we stay humble and seek him in prayer, he will bless our plans or better yet, he will reveal HIS plans to us.

Matthew 17:16-17 – “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”   And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?  Bring him here to me.”

Who exactly is Jesus addressing here? Who are the faithless?  

Some scholars believe he is referring to the disciples.  They believe Jesus is chastising the disciples for not using the power and authority he had already given them.  Where was the faith they had exhibited on their missionary journey?

Some think he is referring to the scribes, especially due to the phrase ‘twisted generation’.  The religious leaders are maliciously happy at the failure of the disciples to cure this young man, and are trying to use this incident to discredit the disciples (and Jesus) in front of the crowds. 

Still others feel that his comments have some application to all who were present – the disciples, the scribes and the Jewish people in general.

We may be unsure exactly who Jesus is addressing, but we can be sure of his message – there was a lack of faith. 

Mark 9:20-22 – And they brought the boy to him.  And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.  And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”  And he said, “From childhood…..But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

It is easy to see and feel the desperation of this father.  He is discouraged because reaching out to God by way of the disciples seems like just another dead end.  He is already beaten down by the traumatic effects this disease has taken on his son and his family.  He recalls that this has been going on since his son was very small – in other words, a very long time.  In fact, it seems like it will never end; it seems like there is no cure.  As he focuses on his circumstances, he sinks deeper into a pit of despair.  It is from this place of hopelessness that he cries out “IF you can do anything”.  

Mark 9:23-24 – And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The response of Jesus clearly shows that there is no lack on his part – he has inexhaustible supplies of power and authority to heal this boy.  The problem lies with the father (and previously the disciples).  He does not have the faith needed to grasp and hold onto (claim) the miracle of healing.  True, he has some faith/belief, but as Jesus points out, there is still a well of unbelief in his life.

Jesus does not point this out so he can belittle this man.  He does not point it out and use it as an excuse not to heal the boy.  He points it out so that the man can come to terms with it and rise above it – so that his faith can grow to the point where he can receive the miracle he is seeking from God.

As the man hears Jesus, his spirit is quickened.  He recognizes that he does have faith, but he is still struggling with unbelief.  He cries out to Jesus (aka prayer) and in that minute his faith grows to a point where he can receive the miracle he needs.

Matthew 17:18 – And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.

We find that Jesus had drawn out or stretched the faith of this father to a point where he was able to receive the miracle he needed.  And as soon as that happened, Jesus healed his son.

What lesson can we take away from this biblical example?

I think that many Christians can identify with this earthly father.  Sometimes our loved ones decide to abandon the paths of God in order to experience the things of the world.  As a result, they sometimes get into a place of bondage.  For example, they may become addicted to drugs, or alcohol or find themselves trusting in a false god/religion.  They may wind up in bad or abusive relationships.  They may lose everything they had financially.

Also like the father in this narrative, we will try everything we can to assist our loved one when they are bound by the enemy.  We will have sleepless nights as we worry and we will spend whatever amount of money we have to assist them.  We may try to reason with them.  We may share scripture with them.  But also like the father in this story, our efforts do not always resolve the situation.  Sometimes, they seem to make it worse.

If that is the case, we need to follow the example of this father, and cry out to God for deliverance.

There may be times of discouragement.  There may be times where we feel the situation is hopeless.  There may be times where we see no change and are tempted to give up, thinking that our loved one has been in bondage so long, that things will never change.

If that is where you are today, then take heart!  Jesus assures us that nothing is impossible to the one who believes! 

Resist your unbelief!  Ask Jesus to help you with it.  Speak (out loud) to that situation and declare victory over it.  Speak deliverance over it.  Speak the scriptures over it.  Tell that bondage that it must fall under the authority of Jesus.  By exercising the faith you have, you will cause it to grow and strengthen. Dwell on the scriptures:

Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Spend time with God in prayer; his presence will also increase your faith.

We can leave this part of the narrative with feelings of confidence.  Greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world!  Satan is strong, active and malicious.   But Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all those who come to him.  He can break the bondage of Satan and the bondages of sin and set us free.  And he whom the Son sets free, is free indeed!

So let us not be weary in well doing.  In due season we shall reap, if we faint not!

Matthew 17:19 – Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it our?”

Once the disciples and Jesus retired to a more private place, the disciples ask the obvious question – why couldn’t they heal the boy/cast out the demon?

Remember, Jesus had given them power to cast out devils when they went out in pairs to proclaim the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:8).  I imagine there was great concern that God had taken away their power to work miracles and their authority over demons. This probably gave rise to all kinds of fears, doubts and questions.

But in reality God had not changed his mind at all.  Like the father of the demon possessed boy, they simply lacked faith.  They had some faith, but not enough.  They believed, but not fully.

Matthew 17:20 – He said to them, “Because of your little faith.  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus likens faith to a mustard seed. It starts out very small but quickly grows and expands until it is one of the greatest of all herbs.  Likewise, if we have thriving and increasing faith, we will be able to remove even the biggest of obstacles out of our way (to remove mountains is a proverbial expression which signifies the doing of anything seemingly impossible; overcoming difficulties that seem insurmountable). 

However, the phrase “nothing will be impossible for you” is not as absolute as it sounds.  This promise does not mean that a Christian can acquire any random thing that pops into their mind (like a new truck), as long as they have enough faith.  The thing asked for must be in the will of God and be for our good or the good of the church.

As a Christian matures in their walk with God, our will and our desires should become God’s will and desires for us.  Once we reach that point, then we can receive anything we ask for.

Now is a good time to remind ourselves that even if we have great faith, but we do not have love for our fellow man, we are nothing:

1 Corinthians 13:2 – And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

The purpose of great faith is not to please our own selves or satisfy our own desires.  It is to glorify God and do his work on earth.

Matthew 17:21 – But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.

The text indicates that some demonic powers are stronger than others, and require a greater amount of faith to cast them out.

Jesus tells us that fasting and prayer are essential in these cases.  Fasting helps you to gain control over your flesh.  It produces an inward quietness and calm that makes the mind focus on the things of God.  Prayer takes one into intimate communion with God.  Anytime we are in communion with God, our faith will grow.  So, fasting and prayer combine to assist one in increasing faith.

Matthew 17:22-23 – As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”  And they were greatly distressed.

The closer his crucifixion became, the more often Jesus spoke to the disciples about his death.  He was telling them these things so that they would not be caught off guard when it happened.  By telling them in advance, Jesus showed them that his death was by his own will; they should not lose faith in him when he was crucified. Notice also, that Jesus does not speak of his death without giving the good news that he would also rise again. 

In this particular passage, we notice that the disciples are greatly distressed about this announcement, yet they don’t question him any further on the topic.  Why was that?

They did not want to face that truth, because it did not fit in with their expectations.  They still believed that the time had come for Messiah to be revealed as the conquering king, who would free Israel and set up his reign on earth.  They had been with Jesus and seen all his miracles.  They knew he could easily set up his kingdom right then, and I am sure they hoped he would.  As we know, their belief was certainly true, but they had the timing all wrong – that event is still in the future.

Perhaps some of their thoughts were selfish – they had left everything to follow Jesus.  If he dies, where does that leave them?  They certainly couldn’t go back to the way life was, but how could they move forward without their master?

For these reasons, they did not want to face the fact that Jesus would soon sacrifice himself on the cross.

Matthew 17:24 – When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?”

Matthew now records a very odd incident involving a fish and some tax money.  What is the purpose of this strange event?  What does it teach us? 

First, let’s look at the history of the tax.  Back in the book of Exodus, God instituted a tax on all males age 20 and above (Exodus 30:13-16).  The tax was a half shekel, or about 12 ½ cents in US currency.  The purpose of the tax was to help fund the expenses of the temple for things like animals, wood, incense, flour, salt, etc. 

It was paid yearly, at one of the three great festivals of the Jews – Passover, Feast of tabernacles or Pentecost.  It was even collected from Jews living in foreign countries.

[After the destruction of Jerusalem the Romans ordered the Jews to continue paying the tax, but put it in a fund to rebuild the temple of Jupiter.]

So the question put to Peter by the tax collector was this:  Is your teacher a law abiding Jew?  Will he pay the tax or does he consider himself above the law? 

Matthew 17:25-26 – He said, “Yes.”  And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon?  From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax?  From their sons or from others?  And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.”

Peter, without hesitation, gives the tax man an affirmative answer; of course Jesus pays the tax.  From this we infer that it had always been Jesus’ custom to conform to the regulations of the law.  Peter’s answer was like a commitment to pay.  As he left the tax collector and headed home, he was no doubt wondering how he could bring up this subject to Jesus. 

But when he arrives, Jesus speaks to him first, about the very thing that was on Peter’s mind!

Jesus asks a question regarding the kings of this world.  Do they collect taxes or finance their kingdoms by taking money from their own sons?  Peter correctly answers ‘no’.  Taxes are paid by everyone else, but the king’s own children do not pay. 

So Jesus is actually exempt from the tax for two reasons.

First, God is the creator and owner of the entire universe.  As his Son, Jesus is heir to the whole natural realm and exempt from any tax collected in this life.

The same is true in the kingdom of heaven.  Since Jesus is the Son of God, he is well within his rights not to pay the temple tax.  However, he voluntarily refrains from exercising his rights in this case.  Jesus came to earth as a servant, and he will accept that role until everything he came to do was fulfilled.  His glory and the glory of his kingdom will be revealed at the proper time.  Until then, Jesus submits to earthy authority.   

Matthew 17:27 – “However, not to give offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.  Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Since the vast majority of people do not yet understand that Jesus is the Son of God, it would seem to them that Jesus was breaking the law of God by not paying the temple tax.  So even though Jesus (and Peter) knows that he is exempt from paying the tax, he will pay to fulfill all righteousness.

This serves as an example to us.  We are to pay tribute and taxes as they are due:

Romans 13:7 – Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

God’s children are freed by grace from the slavery of sin, but not from their subjection to magistrates in civil matters.

This passage shows that Christ supported the public worship of God with earthly money.  Now consider this for a moment:  during the time of Jesus, the temple was ‘a den of thieves’ or in other words, a very corrupt place.  Jesus himself chased the money changers out of the temple because they were cheating people.  The temple was also a bastion for the religious leaders (hypocrites) who actively opposed Jesus and his message of the kingdom of heaven.

In our minds, these would be good reasons NOT to support the temple.  However, Christ paid his tribute anyway.  If he supported the temple of his day, who are we not to support our local churches?  

How about that coin in the fish’s mouth?  

Arranging for a coin in the mouth of the fish and knowing that it was there, and knowing that it would be the first fish that Peter caught all demonstrate the divinity of Jesus.  Even the fish of the sea are under God’s ultimate control. 

Miracles require something on our part – Naamen had to dip in the river 7 times, the blind man had to wash the mud off of his eyes, the lame man had to stand, the workers at the wedding had to fill the water pots, and Peter had to go out and catch the fish.  Are you believing for a miracle?  Ask Jesus what part you need to play.

God could just have easily provided an entire bag of money in that fish, but he didn’t.  He provided the exact amount needed.  When we have a lot extra, we begin to trust in ourselves, but when we have just enough, it encourages us to trust God for the next step.  Sometimes God uses our circumstances to keep us close to him.  So if that is you, rejoice!  It’s far, far better to have Jesus as your source than earthly money!

So let me offer you some encouragement:   As we look at the life of Jesus, there can be no doubt that he was concerned about people who were suffering.  That has not changed.  God is still concerned about the souls and needs of hurting people.

The COVID crisis has caused a lot of pain, suffering and uncertainty for many people.  What are we doing to display the love of Christ to them?  Could you and I do with a little bit less, so we can assist someone else who may really be struggling?  Jesus often met the physical needs of people as he shared the gospel message.  Can’t we do the same thing?  As we minister to the material needs we see around us, I encourage you to also share the love of Christ and the peace he brings to your life.

Let me offer you some relief:  The disciples were very distressed when Jesus spoke of his upcoming death and resurrection, because it did not fit into their expectations.  What expectations do you have about the way God should work things out in your life?  Do you worry and fret when things don’t go the way you expected?  If so, let me give you some relief – God has your best interest in mind when he answers your prayers.  Only God knows the beginning from the end, so only he knows what is best for you.  So stop worrying and complaining.  Trust in him and his love for you.  Rejoice in the Lord always, knowing that he works all things out for your good!

Let me offer you some strength:   The 9 disciples found themselves in a situation that seemed to spiral out of control.  They were unable to cast the demon from the boy, and they did not understand why.  They scribes were right there, throwing failure into their faces, while the fickle crowds looked on.  In the midst of all this, Jesus seemed very far away.

Today, as we are still dealing with the COVID19 virus, you too, may feel that things are spiraling out of control.  But you do not need to fear.  This virus was not a surprise to God.  He knew when, what, where, why and how it would happen, before the world ever began.  He knew that you would be alive during this crisis, and he knew how this would impact you and your family.   Know that God is not far away; he is near to each one of us.  God is your shelter in the time of the COVID storm.  So do as the 9 disciples needed to do – have faith in God, and seek him in prayer and fasting.  If your house is built on the solid rock Christ Jesus, no storm of life will be able to wash it away.