dear diary — friday, july 16

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This post is the last in a “dear diary” series from Matthew 20.  The first three:
  • dear diary — 7th day of nisan
  • dear diary — 9th day of nisan
  • dear diary — 10th day of nisan

  • Friday, July 16 — 6:00 am

    Dear Diary,

    I’ve completed my study of Matthew 20:1-28.  I journaled through this portion of the chapter as if I were James, the son of Zebedee.  I enjoyed a great deal creatively working through the text — but more importantly I’ve learned a lot.  The text looks like this in form:

    1. Matthew 20:1-16 — The Parable of the “Unfair” Vineyard Wages
    2. Matthew 20:17-19 — Jesus Predicts His Death
    3. Matthew 20:20-28 — Salome Acts Like the Parent in a Parent-Teacher Conference

    I’m convinced Matthew ordered the events as he did, not necessarily because they happened so close together and in this exact order, but because he uses Jesus’ prediction of his own death as commentary on the stories resting on either side of it.  The vineyard parable makes clear that the last will be first, and the request of the brothers Zebedee (by their mother) gives Jesus the opportunity to teach on becoming great through servanthood.  Between these two stories, Matthew places Jesus’ perfect example of making himself servant, slave, and last of all.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

    The Parable of the “Unfair” Vineyard Wages

    • God seeks and draws workers to him.  It is not our responsibility to “apply.”
    • God is honest and keeps his word.
    • God is extremely gracious and gives us more than we deserve.
    • Salvation is a gift that none of us have earned, and so, it is mercy and grace to each one of us, no matter our prior condition and situation.

    Salome Acts Like a Parent in a Parent-Teacher Conference

    • Human nature seeks a high position.
    • Truly gaining a high position requires sacrifice of self.  This is in direct conflict with our nature.
    • We are called not to exercise authority, but to serve others.

    Jesus Lowers Himself in This Text

    • I think Jesus is the foreman in the vineyard story.  He pays the workers as the vineyard owner desires.  He is humbling himself to serve the Father.
    • Jesus speaks of the cup of sacrifice he will drink in the story with James and John.
    • Jesus again demonstrates his submission to the Father when he explains that the seats  on either side of his thrown are not for him to give away.
    • Jesus explains he came not to be served, but to serve.  His life is meant to be given for others.
    • In vv. 17-19, Jesus explains how he will humble himself to be placed in the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law.  Ironic that salvation will come to the world through a King tossing aside his authority in order to be killed by those religious officials who are seeking authority.  The juxtaposition of Jesus and the chief priests paints a beautiful picture of what to do and what not to do.
    • In the end, Jesus will be raised to life. It’s interesting to me that Jesus tells his disciples the last will be first and the servants will be great.  And this one line is the only testament in this chapter to such occurring in his life:  “On the third day he will be raised to life!”  But this one line is enough, as it’s forever changed our world.

    My Thoughts

    • I’m afraid too many of our religious leaders today seek authority, popularity, and greatness — yet are unwilling to be servants.  Oftentimes today, those most like Jesus are found cleaning up after events, stacking chairs, and teaching children’s classes — there’s no glory in those jobs.
    • I live in a culture where it’s easy to serve others, because many Tanzanians are sitting around, waiting to be served.  I’m struggling to serve responsibly, though, so I don’t encourage others to depend on handouts — but, rather, show them love through my own humility.  I believe my service to others should prompt them to praise God (not me) and hopefully even to themselves serve others.
    • I’ll be honest.  I want Christianity to be about doing what’s right merely because it’s right.  We would serve others, only because that’s what Jesus has done for us and it’s the right thing to do.  BUT, Jesus continually offers rewards for our service — the last becoming first, higher wages than we deserve, greatness, etc.  Jesus, in a way, plays on our selfish nature and our desire to obtain greatness.  So, to some extent, it’s less about not desiring a high position, and more about desiring the right kind of high position.
    • We make fun of the apostles’ inability to understand Jesus’ words.  But how much worse is it that we understand the stories, but refuse to live by them?

    Your thoughts?



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    14 Comments

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    14 responses to “dear diary — friday, july 16

    1. Thanks for calling us to look closely at Matthew 20. Thank you for helping us to do that in fresh ways.

      Like many other sections of Matthew’s gospel, chapter 20 reveals Jesus’ intentional focus on discipling the twelve. Note that this is done “as they are going”–in the flow of life. He uses their requests and even their thick-headedness as teachable moments. Later when he gives the Great Commission we should remember this chapter (among many others) as a model of what discipling the nations looks like. If we make disciples in the Jesus Style we too must call them to the role of servant!

      • thanks, john, for the thoughts on discipleship. i’ve been thinking a lot about that the past couple of weeks. it’s been nearly nine months since i did a study of leadership and discipleship in the person of Jesus — and am just now starting to look more deeply at how to make that practical in my ministry here.

        how “as we are going” should i go about this, in your opinion?

        • Here I was thinking about David Watson’s teaching that we should never do things alone–always take someone along with you. He believes much discipling is done on the way. I must confess that I do too much alone and have missed the opportunities to share with someone else. While I can use the excuse that no one ever did this with me, that still does not excuse me from needing to do it with someone else.

          Be creative in finding ways to take others along with you. Jesus sent them out two by two.

          I have some materials on Jesus’ discipling work in Matthew. Let me know if you want to see this.

      • Ike

        Does discipleship mean deploying God’s missiles against the enemy in righteous indignation? Or does discipleship mean following him on the Calvary road which leads to suffering and death? The answer of the whole New Testament is this….. the surprise about Jesus the Messiah is that he came to live a life of sacrificial… dying service before he comes a second time to reign in glory. And the surprise about discipleship is that it demands a life of sacrificial…. dying service before we can reign with Christ in glory.

        What James and John had to learn….what we all must learn….is that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is our journey… and if he set his face to go there and die… we must set our face to die with him. One might be tempted to reason in just the opposite way….. that since Jesus suffered so much and died in our place… therefore… we are free to go straight to the head of the class.. as it were… and skip all the exams. He suffered so we could have comfort. He died so we could live. He bore abuse so we could be esteemed. He gave up the treasures of heaven so we could lay up treasures on earth. He brought the kingdom and paid for our entrance and now we live in it with all its earthly privileges. But all this is not biblical reasoning…. Luke 9:23, 24 reads: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road.. he was not merely taking our place…. he was setting our pattern. He is substitute and pacesetter. If we seek to secure our life through returning evil for evil or surrounding ourselves with luxury in the face of human need… we will lose our life. We can save our life only if we follow Christ on the Calvary road. Jesus died to save us from the power and punishment of sin.. not from the suffering and sacrifices of simplicity for love’s sake.

    2. I read an interesting book called The Map by David Murrow. He suggests that the book of Matthew is laid out as a “map” for men’s spirituality and Christian walk. It is kind of interesting, because Matthew is the only one to categorize the events in three segments.

      • that is interesting — and he suggests it was written specifically for men?

        i, myself, believe matthew was written as instruction for how a closed, scribal community should properly interpret scripture and then become an open, scribal community led by the Spirit of God. or something like that.

    3. Oh, what a great post! I do so agree that we need to try to be better servants rather than being self-serving. Many of us have become unable to humble ourselves to others and to God. Perhaps we need a big dose of humility! I even wonder if some people know that humility means. I am really impressed with your ministry and your blog. Keep up the great work! Wishing you all of God’s blessings!

    4. It is great to read your interpretation of Matthew 20 and also your personal thoughts about it.

      The vineyard parrabel truely speaks to me. Isn’t it difficult for our ego not to be able to ‘apply’ and get ‘the job’? God might not want to call us, or maybe he might need us at a later point in our lifes and it is completely up to his decision who he will take on and who he won’t. And it is up to him what he requires us to do as service: yes, it might mean that we are doing a simple job and won’t get recognition for it.
      And we as humans are vain and it is difficult for us to serve and not be seen and praised by others.

      I am struggeling sometimes because I have the ambition to do something worthwhile for God, to serve him in what I consider a great way or cause. And I am asking God: “What is it you want me to do? Tell me where you want me to go? How can I serve you?” I forget sometimes that all those small things God calls me to do are great in his eyes and are services that need to be done, too. And this is just how God wants me to serve him.

      Why do you think Jesus offers rewards for services we should really do without expecting ‘payment’?

      • my sinful nature wants salvation to be something i earn and deserve. and if it can’t be that, i want it to be something that i at least initiate. it’s so difficult for me to just accept a free gift.

        i think (my opinion) Jesus offers rewards simply because they are true and present. i don’t think it’s that he needs to give us incentive, but that his way is truly the best way. abundant life is abundant life.

        • Ike

          “JB”….when I look how you are serving your Lord and how I have lived the American dream…..you are either getting many rewards or I’m lost. Hope you’re getting those rewards.

          • ike, i assure you i am being blessed with many rewards. and, as much as i agree that you’ve lost something, it’s not your salvation that i’m thinking of…

            • Ike

              Your best friend in life will tell you the most truth. You have spoken truth to me……and it hurts. You stated that salvation is not what you are thinking of…….well, Christ is everything or He is nothing. I have given this much thought lately……and I do question genuine salvation.

            • ike, i’m not sure what truth i spoke. but i know God is near.

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