Matthew devotional guide #5 Matt 20:1-23:6

Matthew devotional guide #5 Matt 20:1-23:6 February 25, 2022

Monday: Read Matt 20:1-34

The Parable of the Workers in the field has been widely debated. We have a couple of textual clues that may assist us. First, the last verse of the parable (16) is a repetition of 19:30. This inclusio suggests that the Parable illustrates Jesus’ assertion that “the first will be last.” Since 19:30 appears to be a response to Peter’s statement that the disciples have left everything to follow Jesus, it may be that the Parable serves to remind the disciples that just because they left everything and have been following Jesus longer, they are not “greater” in the Kingdom than others.

As in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus again informs the 12 what is awaiting Him in Jerusalem. In doing so, Jesus and the cross serve as a model of what servant leadership in the kingdom of God looks like.

That this seems to be the case is supported by the fact that the next story is James and John’s request to sit on the right and the left of Jesus when He is enthroned. The request brings Jesus’ response that the “first among you shall be your slave” (27).

The request of the brothers (See Mark 10: week 3 of Mark devotional guide) demonstrates that they still do not understand the nature of the kingdom of God. They still think that Jesus is going to rule like others and they want to share that power. Jesus explains that in the kingdom of God one rules by dying for the sake of the other (27-28; see 17-19).

Two blind men respond to Jesus that “we want our eyes opened” (33). In doing so, they are presented as the model of discipleship. Unlike the rich young man (19:16-26) and the disciples (20-28), they have known what being excluded is like and are not concerned with gaining power. They simply want what every disciple should want: “to see!”

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • The rich young ruler was distracted by his possessions and the disciples were lured by power, what keeps you from “seeing” more deeply? Is it fear, comfort, insecurity, pride, money, power, lust, or something else? Search deeply and ask the Lord to “open your eyes.”

Tuesday: Read Matt 21:1-22

Jesus enters Jerusalem. We see in this story Jesus’ bold, public proclamation that He is the king. If we look at the episode carefully, however, we see that it is shrouded in caution. Jesus is publicly being hailed as king, but He is doing so fully aware that it may not be received well by those in power. This is why Jesus has pre-arranged matters. He somewhat secretively informs two disciples (which two we are not told) about the arrangements and where to find the donkeys. Just as there were two blind men (20:29-34), Matthew notes that there were two donkeys.

In accord with Matthew’s objectives, he notes that Jesus’ entrance on a donkey was to fulfill Scripture (4-5). The donkey is not necessarily a statement of humility as so commonly regarded in popular teaching. After all, Solomon rode a donkey when he was being crowned king (1 Kings 1:32-40). Instead, the donkey indicates that Jesus will rule with a different kind of power.

As we proceed throughout this section it is significant to note the distinction Matthew consistently makes between the religious leaders and the people (see 45-46). The people are receiving Him. Though some are unsure who He is (10). Others conclude that He is a prophet (11). Those who profess Jesus are deemed, “children” (16). They stand in marked contrast to the leaders (those in power) who “became indignant” (15).

The temple cleansing reminds us of Israel’s role and those in power’s failure to accomplish it: “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (13; Isa 56:7)—interestingly, Matt omits the end of this verse, which states that it is for “all peoples.”

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • The failure of those in power to welcome others into the worship of Jesus is contrasted with the “children.” Begin to ask yourself/selves what beliefs or practices you have that hinder others from gaining justice.
  • As we enter the Passion narrative, begin to reflect more each day what sacrificial dying for the other looks like for you.

Wednesday: Read Matt 21:23-22:14

Throughout today’s reading Matthew intensifies Jesus’ concern for the “other.” In the Parable of the Two Sons (28-32), Matthew notes that the one who does the Father’s will is the true child of God. For Jesus, it is the outcasts, those who are deemed socially inferior, and those who are excluded by the religious leaders as foreigners, who are doing the Father’s will and being welcomed into the community.

The Parable of the Landowner (33-44) reinforces Matthew’s message. Namely, those whom God has given power and privilege to know that kingdom have a responsibility to do the Father’s will and sacrificially love the other and welcome them in. Failure to do so will result in losing the kingdom (43).

Because those who were originally given the land and power (33-44) have failed in their responsibilities toward the “other” they “were not worthy” (22:8) to enter the feast. Thus, the land and power will be given to others who will produce fruit (21:43).

The Parable of the Marriage Feast illustrates Jesus’ call to go into the “highways” and invite those who had been excluded.

Note: it is the king’s responsibility to make sure all who attend the feast as dressed properly. The one without “wedding clothes” (22:12) is likely the person who refused to wear the king’s clothing.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • If there is something this section stresses it is the fact that those who are entering the kingdom are not the ones we would have expected. Instead, it is the “harlots and the tax-gatherers” (21:31). When we look at the Church in the West today, we need to ask ourselves, “What sort of people have we deemed ‘outsiders’—those who are unworthy of receiving justice and being welcomed into the community—for which Jesus might rebuke us?”
  • Jesus’ kingdom is “upside-down.” This is widely acknowledged today. Yet, I am not convinced that most western Christians understand what it means—I don’t know that I know what it means! It means that power is to be given away for the sake of others. It means that love is extended to those on the margins. For too many Christians today it means that we simply need to be humble—which results in a self-centered focus (“am I being humble”?). For Jesus, it seems to mean that we should deny ourselves. Think about or discuss with others how we may have missed the mark on what Jesus is announcing?

Thursday: Read Matt 22:15-46

Those in power now challenge Jesus. Each of which now asks Jesus a question in order to “trap” Him (15).

NB: Popular Christianity wants us to read Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders as though it is a struggle over what true “piety” looks like. Jesus, instead, challenges them on what true “power” looks like. The nations rule for the sake of their own well-being. Jesus rules for the sake of the other, for whom He lays down His life.

The question of taxes affirms that the conflict with Jesus and the religious leaders is about power. Their question is not simply a tough question to trip Jesus up. It is a question about who is your Lord? Taxes are a pre-eminent means of maintaining power and keeping the oppressed under oppression. Jesus points out that the religious leaders have succumbed to this power. They have benefitted from Roman power. The fact that they have a coin with an inscription indicating Caesar as “son of God, high priest” in their pocket proves the point!

Jesus’ “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (21) must be understood as a revolutionary call. God is sovereign and not Caesar. In other words, Jesus is saying, “God is the only.” Jesus’ call to revolution, however, is not the kind of revolutionary call that they were wanting. For Jesus, revolution does not come through violent means but by total obedience to God. And for Jesus, revolution includes the nations.

The question regarding marriage and the resurrection by the Sadducees is also about power. The Sadducees benefitted the most from Roman rule. For Jesus, Resurrection means insurrection against Rome because it means the revival of the Jewish nation (Ezek 37:1-28), and the overthrow of Rome. Since Jesus came to fulfill the promises to Abraham that he will be a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:1-3), this means that the laws that were meant to maintain ethnic identities are no longer relevant. And, since the new creation has no death, the law about maintaining a family line upon death is not necessary.

The Pharisees’ question about the greatest commandment (34-40) and Jesus’ riddle about David calling the Messiah “Lord” (41-46) were addressed in week 3 of the Gospel of Mark devotional and on the Determinetruth podcast of Sept 21, 2021.

To briefly reiterate what we noted in Mark, I would remind us that the question of which commandment is the greatest does not appear to be a trick question. Every Jewish child knows from the time he/she can talk that the great commandment is Deut 6:4-9 (the Shema): the Lord is One and He alone is worthy of worship. Then, why were they asking Jesus this question? They were likely asking to see if Jesus was claiming to be that One God who is worthy of worship? Jesus answers them, by means of a question about David (41-47) and in a manner they didn’t understand.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Again, we are confronted with the desire to have power and to maintain it. They wanted to “trap” Jesus because He threatened their power and was not offering a kingdom that allowed them to maintain their power. Perhaps our prayer should be “Lord, we want our eyes opened” (20:33). How does power impact your day? How does it impact your church—include yourself in this assessment.
  • What would happen if you carried out Jesus’ kind of power? Are you willing to live with such consequences?

Friday Read Matt 23:1-36

Our conviction that the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders was about power comes to a head in Jesus’ words in 23:1-36. Matthew opens this chapter by noting that Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees because they sought honor/power but did not use it for the well-being of others (2-7).

For Jesus, we are all family (8) and the “greatest among you shall be your servant” (11).

In a series of eight[2] “woes” (13, 14, 15, 16-22, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28, 29-36), which correspond to the eight beatitudes (5:3-9), Jesus condemns the religious leaders for their failure to fulfill their task of being a light to the nations. Note how the eight woes highlight the issues of power and servant leadership for the sake of the other:

1st: they shut off the kingdom from others

2nd: they devour widow’s houses

3rd: they failed to make converts throughout the world

4th: they valued money over others

5th: they neglected justice and mercy—which the poor and the disadvantaged need

6th: they have robbed others and indulged—which means they stole from the poor and had excess while the poor went without

7th: as a result, they are dead

8th: they do what dead people do and persecute those who call out their unjust ways—which is precisely what they are going to do to Jesus

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • NT Wright, in his commentary on Matthew notes, “Anyone who thinks that these failings are confined to one religion, culture, or group should look at their own society, and at their own church and think again. . . . We should not read this as merely a denunciation of someone else! That’s halfway to committing the very mistake that’s being attacked” (Wright, Matthew for Everyone, 104-07). Perhaps this week’s devotional has overly stressed the point of power. Or perhaps this week’s devotional has helped us capture Jesus’ concern for power and how it is used. What are your thoughts?

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[1] This guide is meant to be done either as a group study over the course of 2-6 meetings or as a private devotion

[2] There may only be seven “woes” here as there is some uncertainty regarding the authenticity of 23:14. That there were eight beatitudes (5:3-9) suggests that there are eight “woes.”

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, as has two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 32 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD (Westminster Theological Seminary) in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including: Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications. You can read more about the author here.

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