Matthew 20:28b A Ransom For Many.

Jesus just finished teaching on servant leadership, brought on by a request from the mother of James and John that they be by his side as first among equals. However, greatness in leadership is not to lord it over others but to serve. To this end the Son came, and the one word that summarizes his great person and work of redemption is ‘ransom’. This is a truly loaded term, understood by any with a knowledge of the scriptures and even beyond them. In his life of coming to serve (Cf. Lk. 22:27), it should be noted firstly that he gave himself to this, it was not forced upon him, nor was his life taken against his will. “He gave His life.” Secondly, he could have given many things, but the one thing needful for sinners was life in place of death, the due penalty for sin.

Isaiah wrote about this coming Servant in his famous gospel passage of 53:10-11.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;

He has put Him to grief.

When You make His soul an offering for sin,

He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,

And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.

By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,

For He shall bear their iniquities.

Thirdly, these words show that only a fellow man could be an acceptable ransom, but also only God could himself bear iniquities.

A fourth point here should also not escape notice, and that is that he would be a ransom for ‘many’, not ‘all’. This expresses the same thought noted earlier, that “many are called, but few are chosen (v. 16). Fifthly, it is in offering himself as a ransom for many that he justifies the many (Cf. Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 5:15-18). This leaves us finally with the word ransom itself. “This term refers to the price paid to deliver someone from slavery or imprisonment. The price of freedom from sin and condemnation is Jesus’ life, given for us (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Since the elect are ransomed from the wrath of God, the ransom was offered to God Himself. Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath (v. 23), not for His own sins; but as the means of ransoming many.” (NGSB 1539)*

*“Ransom. A price paid to free the guilty from a sentence (Ex. 21:30), or debtors from their debt (Ex. 30:12; cf. Is. 53:10).” (NGSB 1584)

Matthew 20:20-28a Servant Leadership.

Matthew 20:20-28a Servant Leadership.

Apparently James and John, the sons of Zebedee (4:21; 10:2), didn’t think it was appropriate to ask for the positions at Jesus’ side themselves, so it is their mother who asks (Cf. Mk. 10:35-45). Kneeling down before Jesus conveyed humility and respect, but the question was contrary to the posture (v. 20). Essentially, by asking that they be first at his side in his kingdom, they were asking that they might have the most prominent places of rule (v. 21). This reign is that which he would possess upon his ascension as the Son of Man, and “sits on the throne of His glory (19:28). Jesus would enter upon this reign by first suffering and being crucified – the cup and the baptism referred to here (v. 22 Cf. Lk. 22:42; 12:50). James and John said that they were willing, and Jesus indicated that they would suffer a similar end, but as to the position occupied by others in his messianic kingdom he stated that this “is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father” (v. 23 Cf. Acts 12:2).

This whole discussion displeased the other twelve (v. 24 Cf. Mk. 10:41), but it also revealed what was essentially a pagan view of leadership, namely “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them” (v. 25). Instead, greatness in Jesus kingdom would be marked by the attitude and ministry of a servant (v. 26). Anyone seeking to be first among equals, needed to serve as a slave (v. 27), “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (v. 28a). It is the humble who will be exalted (23:11-12). This is the second time this issue arose, so that the first time obviously was not enough to put it to rest (18:1-5). On that other occasion they were told that they needed the humility of a child, those who know their utter need and trust implicitly in others. Peter reiterates this principle of leadership in the church when he instructs the overseers or bishops to not be “as lords” over those entrusted to them, but to serve as under shepherds (I Pet.5:3).

Matthew 20:17-19 Jesus Predicts His Death And Resurrection A Third Time.

Matthew 20:17-19 Jesus Predicts His Death And Resurrection A Third Time.

This is the third time that Jesus predicted his coming death and resurrection (Cf. 16:21-23; 17:22-23; Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Lk. 9:22, (44); 18:31; 24:46). Perhaps, being repeated on three separate occasions, as we see later with Paul, Jesus wanted to testify to the surety of what was to take place (Cf. II Cor. 13:1). On the first occasion Jesus spoke of going to Jerusalem (16:21), and on the second occasion “while they were staying in Galilee” (17:22). Now he and the twelve are “going up to Jerusalem” (v. 17). In the second prediction and here, he refers to himself as ‘the Son of Man’ who “will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death” (v. 18). This no doubt looks back to Daniel (7:13-14). His accusers were identified from the beginning, Matthew including the elders at 16:21.

It is the apostate Judaic leadership that carry the prosecution. It is they, through the pagan civil authorities, who will condemn him to death, after delivering “Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify” (v. 19a). The innocent One who came not “to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17), would be condemned for the salvation of many (Cf. Rom. 8:34). It is precisely through Jesus death and resurrection that there can be no charge laid against the elect, no condemnation for those who put their faith in him, he who now also intercedes for us. The resurrection, rising again on the third day, is the imprimatur for the gospel’s proclamation. With the resurrection, the Father declares the absolute acceptance of the once for all sacrifice of the Son (Heb. 9:12; 10:10 Cf. Zech. 3:9).

Matthew 20:1-16 The Owner, Steward, Workers, And Vineyard.

Matthew 20:1-16 The Owner, Steward, Workers, And Vineyard.

The metaphor of a vineyard here is doubtless meant to call to remembrance passages like Isaiah 5 that refer to God’s OT covenant people Israel as his vineyard (Cf. The labourers here would be the many prophets and other ministers of the word whom the LORD God sent to them to labour that the LORD might have fruit among them to his glory. There were some who preached the word from the very beginning of their covenant life up to the coming of Jesus the Messiah. There were some of the religious leaders who balked at the idea that Jesus and his rag tag of apostles would actually be numbered with these ministers, as they no doubt thought that they were (vv. 1-14). However, as Jesus stated, it was completely lawful for him to reward his servants as he saw fit (v. 15a). The reality was, some of them were in fact evil, and opposed Jesus because he was good. Ultimately it comes down to one thing and one thing only – the predestinating election of God. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 16 Cf. 19:30; 22:14) The LORD had called many through his servants across the centuries, but ultimately only the chosen can respond in faith.

Isaiah 5 (II) Judgment On The Beloved’s Vineyard.

Isaiah 5 (II) Judgment On The Beloved’s Vineyard.

Israel was often likened unto the covenant LORD’s vineyard. Prominent in this regard is the song of the Beloved’s vineyard as seen at Isaiah 5. “He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes.” (v. 2c) The Beloved had the vineyard but now the one whose Beloved he was, sits in judgment on the vineyard. He did everything for the vineyard, and yet the result was only wild grapes, therefore judgment was coming (vv. 3-6). “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel. And the men of Judah are his pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.” (v. 7).

The good fruit was supposed to be acts of justice and righteousness, but instead they were consumed with the accumulation of riches (v. 8). For this they would suffer loss, so that the once fruitful (actual) vineyard, would yield only a tenth (vv. 9-10). Was this symbolic of their failure to tithe a tenth, and thus to have something for the poor of the land? They consumed in excess, feasting in drunkenness (vv. 11-12). For this reason they would go into captivity, “because they have no knowledge” (v. 13). Let us not think that this was a matter of works from those who only had head knowledge. Rather, it was their faulty knowledge which showed itself in their acts.

Some would go to Sheol, and some would be humbled (vv. 14-15), but “the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness. Then the lambs shall feed in their pasture, and in the waste places of the fat ones strangers shall eat.” (v. 17) There were lambs in the covenant community who would be blessed, while the goats within the covenant would be cursed. There would also be strangers to the covenant LORD who would be blessed and numbered among his lambs. The apostates thought that the LORD of the covenant was not the sovereign Lord of history who acts for his own glory, and therefore they walked in their sin (vv. 18-19).

The covenant woes are for those who reject the knowledge of the LORD and call good evil and evil good to justify themselves, and to also justify the wicked for a bribe (vv.20-23). Make no mistake, they specifically “rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (v. 24). It was against the apostates among his covenanted people that his anger was aroused (v. 25). The LORD will call for the nations from afar to be his instruments of judgment against his people for destruction and exile (vv. 26-30). It is the Holy One of Israel who would give these nations the strength they needed for this awesome task.

Matthew 19:23-30 With God All Things Are Possible.

Matthew 19:23-30 With God All Things Are Possible.

It has been suggested by some that the eye of a needle was a gateway coming into a city where a camel had to bow down to get through. However, there appears to be no actual proof of this. It can be taken at face value that Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point that it is impossible for a rich man, by himself to enter the kingdom of God (vv. 23-24). The response from the disciples is peculiar. It could be that they considered wealth to be a sign of God’s acceptance and approval. Or they may have thought that somehow the rich could buy their way into the kingdom. In either case, the point is it is not possible for any person to earn or buy their way in, “but with God all things are possible” (vv. 25-26 Cf. Jer. 32:17).

In the previous passage, the young man walked away sorrowful because Jesus in effect asked him to repent of his covetousness and the trust he had put in his riches (v. 22). The 10th commandment is the downfall of all. Peter replies that they had left all to follow him. Therefore what would they have (v. 27 Cf. Dt. 33:9)? It should not be lost that this commitment on the part of the disciples was because of the God who made this possible, and though they had left all to follow Jesus, they would be blessed with rule and riches (v. 29 Cf. Mk. 10:29-30). The “regeneration” appears to be when Jesus would ascend, since it would be “when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory” (v. 28 Cf. Lk. 22:28-30).

The ultimate prize for those destined to reign in the kingdom with Jesus is the promise of eternal life. This is achieved not by one’s keeping of the commandments, which is impossible apart from God (vv. 16-22). Riches also are no sign or guarantee of the possession of this life, nor can it be bought. It is made possible by being a free gift of God. Those who think they should be first will be last (v. 30 Cf. Lk. 13:30). “Positions of honor or prestige in this life by no means assure heavenly approval; indeed, often the reverse will be true. Similarly, as the following parable illustrates (20:1-16), length of earthly labor may not correspond to one’s heavenly reward” (NGSB 1538).

Matthew 19:16-22 God Is Good, And We Are Sinners.

Matthew 19:16-22 God Is Good, And We Are Sinners.

From a man he perceived to be simply a good teacher, one asked what good he must do to live forever (v. 16 Cf. Mk. 10:17-30). Jesus’ initial response was to get at the most important issue raised, and that was his understanding of who Jesus was. The address to Jesus as being good, led Jesus to point out that he was in effect confessing his deity, although this was not something that appears to be in this man’s thinking at this point (v. 17a Cf. Mk. 10:18). Jesus then addressed his question directly, and like the record in Mark, this question of how one might live forever focused on those laws that Jesus himself encapsulated in the second great commandment, namely to love one’s neighbour as one’s self (vv. 17b-19), with the exception that Mark adds ‘Do not defraud” (Mk 10:19).*

One might suppose that there is no treatment here of what has come to be called the first table of the law, namely the first four having to do with one’s relationship to God. However, the man’s address, and Jesus’ response show that he failed on all counts in his understanding and keeping of the first four, by his misunderstanding of Jesus as being merely a good teacher. If he had understood the most basic attribute of God as his goodness, he then would have thought differently of his basic understanding of who God is, and with this, who Jesus really was. Nahum made clear that the covenant LORD alone is good (1:7), as the rest of the Hebrew scriptures bear witness (Cf. Pss. 25:8; 100:5; Jer. 33:11; Lam. 3:25).

The thought of the covenant LORD’s goodness is the one attribute which begins the antiphonal liturgy of Psalm 136, where the repeated testimony of the congregation is “His mercy endures forever.” (Cf. II Chr. 5:13; Ez. 3:11).** It is in fact mercy which this man needed. Besides his poor theology, he also did not understand the law or his own sinful condition. The very fact that he asks Jesus which laws he must keep to live forever, showed that he did not understand the scope of the law’s demand. As James put it, “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10 Cf. Lev. 18:5; Gal. 3:10-12). Well, this man stumbled at the first four, and as we will see, like Paul, on the 10th as well (Rom. 7:7).

“Christ instances in the commandments of the second table, as being more known, and better understood by this young man; “thou knowest the commandments”; that is, the following ones he mentions: and besides the argument runs strong from the lesser to the greater, which is implied, that if the commands of the second table, which respect the neighbour, are necessary to be observed, then much more those which concern God himself; and if men fail short in keeping the lesser commands, it can hardly be thought they should be perfect in the observance of greater ones; and so consequently, and which is our Lord’s drift, eternal life is never to be obtained by the works of the law.” (Gill’s Commentary)

Therefore, besides falling short on the first four commandments, the man also appears to have fallen short on the tenth, with its omission being symbolical of this great omission in the man’s life. It is this internal aspect of the law that colours all the others. It is often thought that Jesus brought forward something new in this respect, but he was really simply expounding on this role and effect of the 10th. This commandment is the judgment upon all men which encapsulates the breaking of all the others, for it goes to the core of man’s total depravity (Cf. Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21; Rom. 3:20). This is the perfection that all lack (vv. 20-21). Ultimately it is our pride in thinking we can earn eternal life  that must be repented of (v. 22).

*“Mark 10:19. The commandments of the second table enumerated are expressed by subjunctives with μὴ, instead of future indicatives with οὐ. While Mt. has the supernumerary, “love thy neighbour,” Mk. has μὴ ἀποστερήαῃς, which probably has in view the humane law in Deuteronomy 24:14-15, against oppressing or withholding wages from a hired servant; a more specific form of the precept: love thy neighbour as thyself, and a most apposite reminder of duty as addressed to a wealthy man, doubtless an extensive employer of labour. It should be rung in the ears of all would-be Christians, in similar social position, in our time: defraud not, underpay not.” (Expositor’s Greek Testament)

 “Defraud not] The word thus rendered occurs in 1 Corinthians 6:7-81 Corinthians 7:51 Timothy 6:5James 5:4. It means deprive none of what is theirs, and has been thought to sum up the four Commandments which precede.” (Cambridge Bible)

**“This psalm is an antiphonal liturgy with the memorable refrain, “His mercy endures forever.” A priest or soloist would chant the first part of a verse, and the congregation would respond with the refrain. Performance of the liturgy must have been powerful and moving, as the priest added example to example of God’s praise.” (NGSB 906)

Matthew 19:13-15 Little Children Are Covenantally Blessed.

Matthew 19:13-15 Little Children Are Covenantally Blessed.

By blessing the little children before him, Jesus was stating in no uncertain terms that they were included in the covenant. When the disciples asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus called a little child to him and said, “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18:3-4). The adjective ‘little’ is very important. We must all have the humility of a little child, those who realize their utter dependence on God for their salvation. Parents or guardians brought these little ones to Jesus in faith, not because they were sick, but because they wanted his covenantal blessing upon them, to put his hands on them and to pray for them (v. 13). Therefore, woe to those who would bar little ones from all the blessings of the covenant. As Jesus stated earlier. Any who would cause one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better if a millstone were tied around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea (18:6).

Matthew 19:10-12 Marriage Is Inviolable, And Not For Everyone.

Matthew 19:10-12 Marriage Is Inviolable, And Not For Everyone.

By returning to marriage as a creation ordinance, a covenantal bond not to be broken but for infidelity, the disciples surmised that it was better not to marry (v. 10 Cf. vv. 1-9). However, rather than discourage this thought, Jesus states that marriage is in fact not meant for everyone. Some are eunuchs from birth, some from the action of others, or some as their own choice (vv. 11-12). The point is marriage is not for everyone, and the word of God is clear for those contemplating marriage, that it is to be inviolable.

Matthew 19:1-9 Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage.

Matthew 19:1-9 Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage.

Jesus and his disciples continued to travel beyond Judea, and multitudes gathered and many were healed (vv. 1-2 Cf. Mk. 10:1-12). The Pharisees then approached Jesus and asked him if it was “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason” (v. 3). “The Pharisees’ question may reflect the opinion of Hillel, a rabbi who allowed divorce for the slightest reasons on the basis of Deut. 24:1-4. He was opposed by another teacher, Shammai, who regarded only gross indecency as proper grounds. Jesus’ answer transcends this debate about Deuteronomy and returns to the order of creation by God. Jesus views divorce as a fundamental denial of God’s created order and the nature of marriage” (NGSB 1537).

It is rightly thought that some subsequent revelation alters previous legislative demands in the scriptures, but it is not always acknowledged that some subsequent legislation, in this case in the second law or Deuteronomy, as containing legislation that departed from the creation ideal, making allowance as it did for the adverse effects of the fall. Marriage, as Jesus points out, was a creation ordinance, that which God declared as very good (vv. 4-6 Cf. Gen. 1:27; 2:24, 31; 5:2; Mal. 2:14-16). Paul also reiterated this ordinance (I Cor. 6:16; 7:2; Eph. 5:31). Moses did indeed issue a command where a certificate was required (Dt. 24:1-4), but as Jesus stated, it was done because of the hardness of men’s hearts (v. 7 Cf. I Cor. 7:10).

As Matthew also pointed out earlier, not only did Jesus here return to the creation ordinance, he also modified this law as well (v. 8 Cf. 5:31-32; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18). “Hearing Jesus’ view of marriage, the Pharisees thought they could set Him against Moses. But Jesus shows that Moses in Deut. 24:1-4 was not giving a justification for divorce, but making provisions in the event of divorce. Deut. 24:1-4 consists of a long introductory conditional statement (“and it happens”), ending with the prohibition for a man to remarry a woman he had earlier divorced. A hardness of heart with respect to marriage and divorce is specifically restrained by this case law” (NGSB 1537). Here Jesus makes allowance only for adultery (v. 9).