See, Son of David! (Matthew 20:29-34)

What’s the significance of declaring Jesus as the son of David?

I guess blind people see the world differently. Matthew tells of two non-seeing people who saw Jesus as king. Son of David, they cried (20:30). Their declaration was significant enough for Matthew to repeat: Son of David (20:31).

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How serving can ransom many (Matthew 20:28)

A king giving his life to serve many? The strategy redeems his kingdom, forming the life of the redeemed.

How do you understand this statement from Jesus?

Matthew 20:28 (NIV, || Mark 10:45):
… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Many of my friends hear this text saying that, even though I’m a sinner, Jesus paid the price for me. It’s about my salvation. Many theologians agree: in the Gospels, it’s a crucial text on atonement. There’s even been speculation over how the transaction worked: if the devil had us kidnapped, did God pay the ransom (Jesus’ life?) to the devil?

Read the verse in context, and you’ll see Jesus was speaking of his kingship. The previous four chapters (two in Mark) focused on his royal identity: Son of the heavenly sovereign, God’s anointed ruler (the Christ), the Son of Man to whom God gives the kingship (starting from 16:13-28). The immediate context contrasts Jesus’ kingship with how the rulers of the nations exercise their authority by lording it over people (20:24). Jesus’ statement is about the nature of his kingship, and the kind of kingdom he runs.

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Jesus compared to other kings (Matthew 20:24-28)

What’s the same and what’s different between King Jesus and the rulers of this world?

To declare Jesus as “the Christ” is to declare he is God’s anointed ruler for all the peoples of the earth. His kingship restores earth to heaven’s governance. That’s the whole point of the kingdom of God.

So, how does Jesus’ kingship compare to other rulers, like the president of the United States or the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China? What’s the same, and what’s different?

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What’s your kingdom vision? (Matthew 20:20-23)

If Jesus is king, what authority do we have?

Did you notice her faith? Notice what Matthew is saying about the kingdom expectation growing in the community.

We’re not sure of her name, but let’s call her Salome (compare Matthew 27:56 & Mark 15:40). Salome and Zebedee were parents to two of Jesus’ closest friends. No doubt they’d had Jesus in their home many times. Last time they came home (17:22), James and John were buzzing with news: Peter had identified Jesus as God’s anointed ruler for his people (16:16). Then God confirmed it: they’d heard God say it! (17:5)

This time, the boys were full of news about the prominent place Jesus had promised them in his restructure of the kingdom: “When the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

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How Jesus explained the cross (Matthew 20:17-19)

Could we explain the gospel as Jesus did?

Why did Jesus die on the cross?

Many of my friends would say he needed to die for me, in my place, for my sins. That’s called substitutionary atonement, and it’s one of the explanations of the cross found in Scripture. But it’s not the primary way Jesus understood his crucifixion.

Here’s how Jesus described the cross:

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Working in God’s vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

Why did all workers get the same wage?

Many of Jesus’ stories are about our relationship with God. As humans, we have such a privileged vocation — working with and for our heavenly sovereign in his earthly realm.

That’s the background for this parable:
Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. (NIV)

Earth is a kingdom of heaven, for “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Exodus 9:29; Psalm 24:1). Since the nations were no longer serving their true sovereign, God planted Israel as his vineyard, but they had not produced the harvest God intended either (Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16).

In Jesus’ story, the property owner never gave up on his original goal. The emphasis falls on his effort seeking people who would work for him: early morning (20:1), mid-morning (20:3), midday (20:5), mid-afternoon (20:5), and late in the day (20:6). That’s keen insight into what it’s been like for God to have earth as his kingdom.

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We discovered we weren’t alone when we got stuck

Last week, we got bogged. At Willie Creek north of Broome, we turned onto a track that degraded into deep sand. I tried to turn around, but our front-wheel drive was never going to make it. It was an embarrassing, rookie mistake. What happened next blew me away.

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Top 10 posts of 2020

In case you missed them.

Here are our top ten posts, based on how many times they’ve been read in 2020:

  1. Abraham’s life: a summary (Gen 12–25)
  2. ‘Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord’ (Ex 14:13-15)
  3. When your life is threatened (Mt 8:23-27)
  4. Jesus the activist
  5. What’s the unforgivable sin? (Mt 12:30-32)
  6. Unconditional forgiveness? (Mt 6:14-15)
  7. Who was the sower? (Mt 13:1-23)
  8. Jesus the healer (Mt 8:14-17)
  9. KINGDOM SUMMARY: Matthew 1–10
  10. Why does context matter? (Mt 12:33)
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Matthew’s main message (repost)

Here’s a refresher: how we started approaching the Gospel of Matthew in 2016.

Six months after launching this blog, we started reading the Gospel of Matthew with fresh eyes — as “the surprising plot twist that resolves the old kingdom struggle in a new way.” Here’s the opening post again, in case you’ve joined recently or struggled to keep up.


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Kingdom summary (Mark Keown)

This Kiwi nails it: big picture of the kingdom, in brief.

Update 2020-11-10: The Logos Black Friday sale has this book for 1/3rd price this week.

How do you wrap your head around a topic as big as the kingdom? Here’s a great summary from New Zealand scholar, Mark Keown.

The first volume of his Discovering the New Testament surveys the Gospels and Acts. The rest of the book (pages 417–548) then pulls the whole story together as the kingdom of God.

I’m taking a break this week. I think you’ll enjoy this sample from Mark Keown:

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Son of man enthroned (Matthew 19:27-30)

What was Jesus seeing when he envisaged thrones for himself and his disciples?

We recognize the kingdom of God by recognizing Jesus as king. That may not be obvious, because Jesus constantly proclaimed God’s kingship without overtly claiming to be king. Only when heaven had revealed his kingship did Jesus begin to reveal his plan to build the community around his kingship (16:16-19).

In fact, he doesn’t mention his throne until his disciples start to question whether Jesus can deliver what he promised. He floored them by declaring that the powerful would kill him (16:20-22; 17:22-23). He devastated them by describing the wealthy as a humanly impossible problem for his kingdom agenda (19:23-26). They start to wonder if pinning their hopes on Jesus to lead them into the regenerated world was worth it.

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The camel that won’t go through (Matthew 19:23-26)

How do you get a camel to go through the eye of a needle?

This is one of Jesus’ most puzzling statements: It is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get a wealthy person to go into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 16:24).

When you understand how Jesus saw the kingdom, you see what crucial insight he had. Without that understanding, people contort the camel and the text in ways that would be comic if they weren’t serious.

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When ‘good’ leads you to ‘great’ (Matthew 19:16-22)

Conditions apply.

A millennial entrepreneur comes to you, bank details ready, asking “What good thing could I do so I could have eternal life?” How do you respond?

You’re probably looking for a seeker-friendly way to respond, “Goodness! It doesn’t work like that. You can’t earn God’s favour by doing something good.” You probably don’t say, “Live like God says; he’s good.”

Apart from the obvious problem of suggesting anyone could earn eternal life by obeying commands, a vague answer like “Do what God says” is unsatisfying for a project manager used to SMART goals. Their next question will be, “Like what?”

They will be really frustrated, insulted even, if you go on to explain the basics of being a good person: “Don’t kill anyone. Don’t sleep with someone else’s spouse. Don’t defraud your business. Don’t commit perjury in court. Take care of your parents, and your neighbours.”

Okay, this story probably isn’t working for you. You can’t even imagine having this conversation. You would not give the answers Jesus did:

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Original kingdom, or original sin? (Matthew 19:14)

What do you see when you look at people?

When you look at people, what do you see? Original sin, or original kingdom?

Since at least the fourth century, theologians have described the essential human state as original sin. Adam and Eve lost their pure identity and become corrupt, so the children they produced received their corrupted nature. Their children passed on this corrupted nature, so every human is already corrupted at birth. On this view, the whole of humanity is corrupt: conceived in sin, sinful by nature at birth, forever doomed, unless God does a work of grace to change an individual’s status.

But that doesn’t match what Jesus saw in people. The disciples thought people were pestering Jesus, so they stepped in to triage and divert the less significant ones: the children. Jesus said they were seeing the children the wrong way. Literally translated, Jesus described the children like this: The kingdom of heaven is such (Matthew 19:14).

That’s a very different view of what it means to be human.

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How Jesus saw children (Matthew 19:13-15)

Jesus genuinely enjoyed children with their wide-eyed wonder. Do you see as Jesus saw?

In church, people often worry about how to get our children saved. Some who baptize babies fear the infant will die in original sin if they don’t. Others who think faith means making a personal decision wrestle with how old a child must be to recognize her lostness and ask for salvation so she doesn’t die unsaved.

Jesus didn’t see children like that. He wasn’t anxious about whether they’d go to heaven when they died. He saw heaven coming to earth in them, the kingdom of heaven in the children:

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Handling Scripture as Jesus did (Matthew 19:4-9)

Why did Jesus privilege some parts above others?

Disciples learn by seeing what the Master does. I especially enjoy seeing how Jesus handled Scripture (hermeneutics). Surprisingly, he privileged some parts above others.

When they asked him about applying Deuteronomy 24 (divorce law), Jesus said this isn’t what God always intended. It was a concession God gave them, because of hard hearts. He led them back to the beginning of the story (Genesis 1–2) to discover what God had always intended.

Many things in Scripture are like that — not God’s ideal. He’s managing broken people, and he has the sense to lead us step by step, not demanding everything from us at once. God accommodates flawed heroes and flawed relationships, on the way to restoring what he intended in the beginning.

Can you think of other examples where we could apply this hermeneutic?

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Can I have a divorce? (Matthew 19:1-12)

Have you experienced divorce as an adult, or as a child? In your family, or a friends’ family? It’s heart-rending. Your world is ripped apart. In the time of your deepest need, you find family and friends turning away.

That’s why it’s so confronting when religious people use it to impute guilt and failure. It wasn’t something Jesus raised as part of his kingdom agenda. Judean Pharisees used it to paint Jesus as an idealist out of step with Scripture:

Matthew 19:1–3 (NIV)
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

As they said, it was the man who held the power in the ancient world. Jewish legal code gave the woman some rights, insisting she receive a formal divorce document rather then being dumped with no status or opportunity. It also banned temporary divorce, so a man couldn’t try someone else and then return.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 proscribed the how of divorce, but not the when. That left the rabbis arguing over the grounds for divorce. Rabbi Hillel supported divorce for any reason, whereas Rabbi Shammai supported divorce only if the marriage was already ruined by adultery. The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into this debate. They weren’t asking if divorce was okay, since their law was clear about that. The question was when divorce is okay: only when one party has already wrecked the marriage (Shammai’s view), or for any reason (Hillel’s view)?

Instead of arguing the grounds for divorce in Deuteronomy 24, Jesus redirected them to the grounds for marriage in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24:

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