Text: Matthew 20
Event(s): The parable of the workers in the vineyard; Jesus predicts His death and resurrection; Greatness is serving; Two blind men receive their sight
Matthew 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” “The starting word “for” in this chapter indicates this is a continuation of the conversation that was taking place in Chapter 19. Remember, we left off with Peter asking about rewards, and Jesus goes on to teach that God does reward us, but explains that rewards in the kingdom can and will look different from our standard of “fairness.”
Jesus could already see where Peter was going. Peter was starting to add it all up in his head, trying to figure out what his reward in heaven would be like. “We’ve left it all, Jesus!” And just like when the disciples came back and were going on and on about how they had healed people and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, but Jesus reminded them what was really important, namely that their names were written in the book of life, here, Jesus draws their attention to what really matters. Again, this is a parable of the kingdom and the thing that matters most is not the works we do, it’s the fact that people have been drawn into the vineyard. The reward, eternal life, is the best reward of all and all those who come to the kingdom receive it – even if they come late in life. Serving is important, as in this chapter we will later see and God does reward us – both in this life an in eternity. But in this parable, Jesus is first emphasizing a right attitude in service.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 NKJV
Matthew 20:3 “and saw others standing idle in the marketplace” The word “idle” means barren, useless, inactive. The workers were focused on their wages, but oh the joy in seeing that these men were moved from a place of idleness to usefulness!
Matthew 20:17-19 “the Son of Man will be betrayed…” Have you noticed, as we have been reading through the Gospels chronologically, that this is the third time Jesus predicted His death and resurrection to His disciples? The first time was in Matthew 16:21, when Peter rebuked Jesus for saying such things. The second time was in Matthew 17:22,23 and still the disciples didn’t understand what He meant (though it does say they were sorrowful.) Here, the most graphic of all three in explaining His suffering – this was the first time He mentioned specifically His crucifixion. According to the account in Luke, they still didn’t understand what He meant. “This saying was hidden from them.” Suffering and messiahship seemed so incompatible to them that the disciples couldn’t make the connection between the two. Knowing they didn’t understand this, it seems that much more foolish that in the passage to come, James & John would proclaim that yes, they could drink from His cup. They had no idea what that would even mean.
Today’s Takeaway: True greatness is not measured in promotion but in terms of service – yet not in the act of serving itself, rather in the heart that motivates what we do. I love how one commentary puts it: Jesus proceeded to contrast greatness in the pagan Gentile world with greatness in His kingdom. He did not criticize the abuse of power that is so common in pagan governments. Rather, He explained that the power structure that exists in pagan governments would be absent in His kingdom. In pagan governments, people who promote themselves over others often get positions of leadership. However, in Jesus’ kingdom, those who place themselves under others will get those positions. In pagan governments, individuals are great who have others serving them, but in Jesus’ kingdom, those who serve others will be great. To make His point even clearer, Jesus used “servant” (Gr. diakonos) in verse 26, and then “slave” (Gr. doulos) in verse 27.
My takeaway today is just to make sure that the motives that drive my service always come from a love for God which overflows into a love for people. I keep it in front of me – to remember why I do what I do, and Who I’m doing it for. If and when this starts to get out of balance, I find my heart can start to become like the workers in today’s parable – looking at what everyone else is getting as opposed to resting in the goodness of my Father. That only steals my joy and distorts my focus. I already know “whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) I trust His nature and His character and His goodness in my life. And I also know that in the end, we will all be able to declare: “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just.” (Rev 16:7 NLT) So, I shall keep the main thing the main thing.
Additional (optional) reading: The parallel accounts of these events may be found in Mark 10:32-45 and in Luke 18:31-43