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Day 245 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Matthew.
Matthew 19 – The rich young man asked a question of ultimate importance: he wanted to have eternal life, and wanted to know how this was possible. He assumed that he had to do something, and that Jesus would know what that something was. But Jesus immediately shifted the conversation from what an individual must do to have eternal life to the God who gives eternal life. Jesus’ question encouraged the young man to think about the relationship between Jesus and God, and if the man had been paying attention to Jesus’ ministry, it would have been natural for him to conclude that Jesus was God, and that to “enter the kingdom of heaven”, or to “enter life”, he should follow Jesus.
One crucial element of the man’s life, however, hindered him from following Jesus, and Jesus wanted to help him identify that hindrance. If the man wanted to enter life, he had to keep the commandments, and these begin with, “You shall have no other gods before me.” But Jesus bypassed this first commandment, the other three that go with it (Exodus 20:3–11), and the tenth commandment, “you shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). Instead, he moved immediately to the commandments that concern one’s relationship to other people (Exodus 20:12–16; summarized in Leviticus 19:18).
The man thought that he had kept all these commandments, but correctly understood that he still lacked something. He lacked the one “good deed” (literally, “good thing”) from which all other good things flow: a heartfelt devotion to God. To put his obedience to commandments five through nine in their proper place (and perhaps to understand why he had not obeyed the tenth commandment), the rich man had to first follow the great and first commandment, loving God above all else. Obedience to that commandment involves a commitment to follow Jesus as life’s highest priority. God does not call all people everywhere to give everything they have to the poor, but he does call all to put nothing above loyalty to Him. And in the example of this young man, God reminds us all to examine whether we have depended on anything more than Jesus for our satisfaction and hope.
Matt. 19:23–30 Throughout Matthew, Jesus has identified greed as a hindrance to embracing the gospel (6:19–34; 13:22; 15:5–6), and, in contrast, a willingness to give up everything to follow Him as a sign of true discipleship (19:20, 22, 27; 13:44–46). A rich person can enter the kingdom of God only with difficulty, because riches can so easily take the place of God in one’s life. This is why, when Jesus talked about the impossibility of serving two masters (6:24), the two masters in view were God and money. Placing money before God explains why the Pharisees thought up loopholes in the law about honoring one’s parents, in order to keep their own money (15:5–6). It is why the tenants in Jesus’ parable imagined that they would inherit the vineyard if they killed the vineyard owner’s son (21:38). It is why Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (26:15; see also John 12:6).
Money easily offers tangible forms of security and prestige that are incompatible with dependence upon God’s grace. It is not merely a neutral tool that can be used for good or ill but something that adopts almost personal characteristics and demands one’s service (Matthew 6:24), a powerful force that tends to pull people away from God. Jesus recognized that the best way for one to control money rather than to be controlled by it was to give it away. For the follower of Jesus, this giving should be done with the specific purpose of helping the needy (19:21, 27–30). And it is done in the powerful, happy motivation of what Jesus has done for us needy sinners.
How are you a channel for financial resources or those in need?
Matthew 20 – The Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke of Israel as God’s vineyard (Isaiah 5:1–7; 27:2–11; Jeremiah 12:10–11). Thus, when Jesus spoke of a landowner hiring idle day-laborers for His vineyard, His listeners probably would have thought of God urging individuals—perhaps especially those on the margins of society—to join His people (Matthew 8:1–17; 9:10–13, 20–22, 32–34; 11:5; 12:9–14; 15:21–31; 17:14–21). This parable demonstrates that God’s criterion for becoming a part of His people is very different from the criteria of the unbelieving world for acceptance into the ranks of the powerful and successful.
The world’s way of thinking was well illustrated by the disciples’ response to Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man: if rich people can only enter God’s kingdom with difficulty, then who can be saved (19:25)? Surely the rich deserve to be included, runs the logic, so if entering the kingdom is difficult even for them, then how can the rest of us be saved? Jesus’ answer implies that entry into the kingdom and salvation are impossible for anyone on the basis of their own efforts, but God alone makes it possible (19:26).
Here, in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, we learn that God makes entry into His kingdom possible for all types of people, with no distinction on the basis of their abilities, efforts, or social standing. Joining the people of God, entering the kingdom, and experiencing salvation come by God’s power, through His grace, apart from anything that can be done to earn them. Because of this, many whom the unbelieving world’s system of values would assign to the lowest place in any system of government or culture will occupy the highest place when God fully establishes His rule. This is the logic of the gospel.
The two “sons of Zebedee” (James and John; 4:21), their mother, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples were still, at this point in their discipleship, substantially under the influence of the unbelieving world’s system of values. They did not understand what Jesus had taught in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Positions of leadership in God’s kingdom belong to those who have been so transformed by the grace of God that they are willing to be despised and even persecuted by the unbelieving world and are willing to lead by serving others rather than being served by them.
Believers serve and forgive one another not to earn prestige or God’s favor for themselves, but because they have experienced God’s selfless love and forgiveness through their union with Jesus. God’s compassionate character is clear in the Old Testament (Exodus 2:23–25; 34:6–7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:1–14; Joel 2:12–14; Jonah 4:2) but appears preeminently in Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry (Philippians 2:1–11; Galatians 6:2–3; Ephesians 4:32–5:2; Colossians 2:13).
How are you experiencing God’s unconditional love and allowing that to flow through you to those around you?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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