Matthew 20, pt. 1: The Vineyard Workers Parable 

In verses 1-16 of Matthew 20, Jesus tells the parable of the workers in a vineyard. To quickly boil it down, this parable teaches us that everyone will have the same reward for following Christ, regardless of when or how we come to follow Him. 

Some of the workers that began working in the vineyard early in the morning were upset that others that had been working much less time received the same wage that they did. To this, Jesus replied: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew‬ ‭20:13-16

‬We see this phrase, “the last will be first, and the first last” spoken many times by Jesus in the gospels. I usually associate this phrase with how we view ourselves. That is, if I think of myself as first among others, I will behave selfishly and not love my fellow man, and will therefore be last in the eyes of God. But if I think of myself as last, I will put others’ needs before mine and will serve and love others as God would have me do.

But in this passage, it seems to take on a slightly different meaning. In this passage, the last were those workers that were chosen to work in the field last and they ended up being first because they received the same reward as those that had worked all day. And the first workers chosen were ridiculed because they questioned how the master chose to reward. So, ultimately, the lesson of this parable is threefold: 

1. Be grateful for your reward

2. Do not envy the rewards of others 

3. Do not presume to second-guess the gift-giver

These lessons apply in many different ways. They can be readily applied for children. They can apply to adults with jobs, accomplishments, material things, etc. And they can ultimately apply for our spiritual reward in heaven. This parable tells us that God accepts each of us when we come to Him, no matter what our physical, mental or spiritual state is at the time. If we are sincere and obey His will, God will accept us. What a comfort that is.

Let us not forget the phrase: “For many are called, but few chosen.” While many people hear of and know of Christ, not everyone believes and follows Him. Pledge to do your part to lead others to Jesus and make sure that you also remain faithful until death!

Matthew 19, pt 2: A Convicting Passage

In verses 13-30 of Matthew 19, we have Jesus counseling disciples, a young rich man and the apostles. The wisdom that Christ hands down in this passage could only have come from Him, as it reveals knowledge of God and His judgment.

Verses 13-15 are an echo of the subject we studied recently of how we are to be as little children if we are to enter God’s kingdom. The disciples were preventing the children from coming to Jesus but Jesus allowed it. Retaining innocence and assuming good intent as children do is an attribute that God expects of us as His children. 

Verses 16-22 comprise a memorable story and if you have not read about the rich young ruler until now, enjoy it! 

Jesus is approached by a young and wealthy man that wants to know what he has to do to be saved. This is a worthwhile question, one we all have, and it is easy to see asking Jesus for the answer as Jesus has the authority. For the rich young ruler, it gets personal quickly and his zeal to serve God does not quite overtake the zeal he has for his possessions. Even though he has followed all of the commandments, he is unable to surrender completely to God because of his love for worldly things and material possessions.

It is a sad story. The young man is earnest in his love for God and we can see that he truly wants to serve the Lord. But he is still holding back. In his heart, he has not completely put God in the center.

This makes us look at ourselves and ask: 

– Is there something Christ would ask me to give up on in order to be saved?

– If yes, what is it? 

– Would I be willing to give it up today?

And most importantly . . .

– Why not give it up now? 

Because if there is something keeping me from serving the Lord, I am better off now and in the long run to jettison it from my life. And it could be anything sinful: alcohol, cursing, greed, jealousy, holding a grudge, etc. I urge you to make it your goal today to not have anything standing in between you and your desire to serve God. The story of the rich young ruler and Jesus is in our Bible for a reason, after all.

The final passage for tonight is verses 23-30. In this exchange between Jesus and the apostles, Jesus teaches grace. It is impossible for man to earn his way into heaven, because each of us has knowingly sinned and rejected God at one time or another. But with God’s grace, forgiveness is extended to us through the sacrifice of His Son. This grace allows for rich men to enter God’s kingdom even in the midst of all the temptation and materialism that comes from being wealthy. Salvation is by no means automatic, and requires belief, faith, baptism and effort. Once we enter into that holy relationship with God through Jesus, we have access to this grace. What an amazing thing!

That is why we, as sinners, always have a reason to be happy. We have our great God who loves and accepts and cares for us, even though we are unworthy.

To conclude tonight, let us resolve to live and love with humility. Let us forgive one another and endeavor to serve God’s interests and the well-being of others.

Matthew 19, pt. 1: Marriage & Divorce

Tonight we will read and reflect on the meaning of the first 12 verses of Matthew 19. 

Looking first at verses 1-10, we see Jesus adeptly answering questions from the Pharisees regarding divorce. Verse 3 tells us that the Pharisees were testing Him, asking whether it was okay for a man to divorce his wife for any reason He chooses. They knew that Jesus would say that man should not separate the marriage that God has put together. The only reason that God allows for divorce is sexual immorality or adultery. 

The Pharisees have Moses’ guidance at the ready to dispute Jesus’s decision, but Jesus has an answer for this as well. He tells them that Moses permitted divorce in the patriarchal age due to the people’s unwillingness to adhere to the marriage model. But now, the Son of God sets forth marriage guidance in the new covenant: that divorce is only lawful if one partner or the other commits sexual immorality. And if a person marries someone that has been divorced for any reason besides sexual immorality or adultery, that person also commits adultery.

With these rules, the disciples say that it would be better to not even get married. And to this, in verses 11 & 12, Jesus talks about men that choose not to marry, calling then eunuchs. Jesus says that some men choose not to marry and some men have no desire to marry. 

The bottom line of this entire lesson is that one should not get married unless they are prepared and committed. 

The things that permit divorce are understandable, but real commitment in a lifelong marriage requires strength, faith, fortitude, patience, perseverance, understanding, kindness and love.

Matthew 18, pt. 2: Forgiving Others

Tonight we will read from the book of Matthew and will resume our study from last week in chapter 18 with verses 15-35. If you are able, please read the verses before engaging with me in the study below.

In the first group of verses, 15-20, Jesus explains how to deal with a person that is sinning against you within the church. There is a process to follow outlined by Jesus that assures a confidentiality at first, then evolves into increasingly public communications. The guidance is smart and it makes sense because it protects the interests of all parties involved, even the offender’s, up to a point. But once the offender shows signs that he or she is unwilling to acknowledge their behavior, protecting their interests is traded for protecting the interests of the person offended, and then the church’s interests overall. In terms of solving often messy and perspective-laden personal conflicts, Jesus’s guidance is practical and sound. 

One of the most memorable components of Jesus’s guidance is the number of times we are to forgive a sinning brother or sister: up to seventy times seven. Does this mean that once I forgive someone 490 times I can stop and write them off? No, Jesus did not mean that. Instead, he means that I should forgive someone as many times as needed, as many times as they seek forgiveness. After all, God does this for us.

In the second section of our study in verses 21-35, we get another parable from Jesus. This parable is memorable because it can provoke a reaction.

In this parable, money is equated to offenses. God is the master and we are the slave that owes the master money. The money is simply a vehicle to engage or attention as it relates to the sins we commit against God’s commandments. The servant begging his master to forgive his mountainous debt is the same as us asking God to forgive us of our long list of sins. 

It is truly a wonderful and joyous thing that God can and does forgive us of our sins. The main point of this parable, however, is what we are going to do with this forgiveness? Will I accept it and continue in the ways that led me to sin? Or will I accept it and incorporate the spirit of forgiveness into my life? The servant in the parable did not keep the spirit of forgiveness after he was forgiven. Reading the story, the servant comes across as a sort of ungrateful and wicked villain. Jesus tells the parable in such a way that it is easy for us to see and judge the servant’s behavior: How could the servant be so bold as to be forgiven so much and then turn around and show no mercy to another that owes him?

It makes us look at our lives and the people we have forgiven or have not forgiven. If we are saved by God through Jesus Christ, then we are the servant, having been forgiven the great spiritual debt of our many sins. How then, would we appear to God if we were to not forgive someone of something they did to us? The sin that this parable is warning against is one of not having that same great spirit of forgiveness that we receive from God. It is almost hypocritical of me to receive and experience God’s forgiveness while exercising a lack of forgiveness of someone seeking it in my life; knowing I have been forgiven of so much and the good, deep feelings of gratitude and happiness it brings ought to motivate me to forgive the people in my life that have treated me poorly. 

Do you have anyone in your life that you need to forgive? Maybe they have asked for your forgiveness and you have held it back from them because you feel justified, because their offense was very great. The point of tonight’s lesson and the parable is to compare our forgiving spirit with God’s and to follow the example He sets when He forgives us of a lifetime of sin. Also remember what happened to the servant when the master found out that he was not being forgiving despite all of the forgiveness he received: his forgiveness was revoked and he was handed over to torturers until he paid all that he owed. It is a depressing picture and drives the point of Jesus’s parable home in a way that is not easy to forget. 

Since we have been forgiven, we must also forgive.

Matthew 18, pt. 1: To be the Greatest, be the Least

Tonight we will be studying Matthew 18, verses 1-14. The first five verses of this passage give us a practical view of the disciples, putting them in a very normal light. How many discussions do men have trying to determine which is the best basketball team, best business venture, musical group or computer product? Mankind likes to categorize and arrange things into hierarchies. The disciples were trying to do this when they were wondering who is best in the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps they were thinking of Elijah, Moses, Abraham and other great men of faith in God. They simply wanted to know who was greatest, or best. 

But when they ask Jesus, His answer to them changes our entire perspective on putting things into hierarchies, at least in the godly sense. Because God is the greatest and this is absolute! Aside from God, there is no one that can be greater.

But this fact is beside the point of Jesus’s statement. Jesus is ultimately trying to communicate to them that if they even want to get to heaven, they need to think differently: “Assuredly, I say to you, 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.” Matthew‬ ‭18:3-4‬

This means not thinking in terms of “Who’s best?” or “Who’s better?” but instead not concerning ourselves with these things and concentrating more on being humble. This means not thinking highly of ourselves and also looking for opportunities to help others. Humility implies a lack of selfishness in our thoughts and an increase in our awareness and consideration of others. You see children act this way, and often. Ultimately children do grow up to think like adults but there is a time in childhood when we are naturally curious and have an empathy for others. Children with this frame of mind are not worried about who is best of where they are in the pecking order; rather they are innocent and unassuming.

Jesus is telling the disciples that if they want to be the greatest, they need to be the least. And this state of mind needs to be the goal of every follower of Christ. Instead of asking why we are treated differently or why we didn’t get what we deserve, we need to ask who we can help and how can I help facilitate?

Verses 6-9 have Jesus taking the discussion in a new direction: offenses, or temptations. Specifically, Jesus is talking about leading others into temptation: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” So whether it is Satan or a bad influence, anyone that leads a believer into temptation is sure to receive grave consequences. 

The latter part of this section in verses 8 and 9 show Jesus telling the disciples the importance of spiritual purity: that it is even more important than our physical faculties. In other words, if I am unable to prevent myself from sinning through prayer, willpower, etc., it would be better for me to remove my eyes and prevent the sinful activity that way. A profound statement, for sure, but it also reveals how God would have us arrange our priorities. It shows us how much more important our spiritual life is over our physical one. 

To close tonight, read verses 10-14. Here, Jesus talks of the importance of a single lost sheep to a man. Jesus mentions how much the man celebrated when he finally found the sheep and how he celebrated over that single sheep more than the other 99 sheep he owned. This is an analogy (or parable!) showing how God rejoices over a lost soul returned to Him. It does not mean that God loves the lost more than the saved, but it does mean that God seeks the lost more because the saved are already with Him. 

If you have left God, know that God is looking for you to return. And know that when you do, He will rejoice. Tonight I urge you to not think highly of yourself, to see what you can do to help rather than criticize, and to seek God in your heart and in your deeds. This life is so short and the pleasures are fleeting. It is wisest to spend time investing in eternity with Him over the thin substance of this life. 

Praise God!

Matthew 17, pt. 3: Prophecy & Responsibility

Tonight we will finalize our reading of Matthew 17 with verses 22-27. 

Verses 22 and 23 show us again Jesus telling His disciples about His upcoming fate of death and resurrection. The disciples loved Jesus and were following Him everywhere, hanging on every word He spoke. Jesus’s proclamation of His death made them very sad and we can still reasonably assume that they did not completely understand what Jesus meant when He told them. Nevertheless, He did tell them and was prophesying in His own right. Much like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus was not always understood but the meaning of His words were revealed as the truth of the events came to pass. 

Blessed are we that now we can understand Jesus’s words!

In verses 24-27, Jesus makes two important points to Peter. Men had come collecting the temple tax and asked Peter whether Jesus pays the temple tax. Peter just says simply “Yes,” then goes in to Jesus to inquire about it. Without Peter having to ask, Jesus knows what is coming and asks Peter from whom the king’s of the earth take taxes. Is it from their sons or from strangers? Peter rightly says it is from strangers. Jesus is making the point that He is the Son of God, and that He does not need to pay the tax. That is the first lesson Jesus teaches Peter; that as the Son of God, He enjoys a close and special relationship with God, one that is beyond our comprehension. 

Jesus is also affirming that He is indeed the Son of the God who is spoken of in the Old Testament, who dwells in the temple.

The second lesson Jesus teaches Peter is that we still should meet certain responsibilities, even if it is just to convince others that we are trying to do the right thing. Jesus tells Peter to find the necessary tax in a fish taken out of the sea. In this way, Jesus works a miracle, satisfies the tax and pays nothing all at once. 

The power of our example is greater than we think it is, especially as we age and younger people look up to us. 

Tonight I urge you to look up to Christ’s example. He always did what was right and He did it in every instance. We do fail as men and women trying to live a godly life, but we should not let our failures discourage us. Rather, we should always hold Jesus’s example as our standard, and try to reach it even though we know we will often fail. After all, it is God’s grace through Jesus that makes our salvation possible.

Matthew 17, pt. 2: The Power of Faith and Prayer

Tonight we will continue in chapter 17 by reading verses 14-21. If you can, please read these verses before our study below. 

In verses 14-21, we read of a boy that is under demon possession. The boy’s father had brought the boy to Jesus’s disciples, but the disciples could not expel the demon. When the boy is brought to Jesus, He immediately rebukes the demon and it leaves the boy. Then Jesus chastises His disciples because they should have been able to remove the demon from the boy but they could not due to their lack of faith. 

Jesus’s lesson to the disciples is one we can apply to our lives as well. We should not permit ourselves to think that something is too difficult or that it cannot be done by God. Also, the strength of our faith and depth of concentration in our prayers can affect the outcome of the things we seek from God:

– Am I praying half-heartedly? 

– Am I praying for something that I don’t really believe will happen? 

– Am I praying for something just because I think I should? 

These approaches in faith and prayer are faulty. Instead we should pray with the expectation that God will both hear and answer our prayers, and that He is absolutely capable of doing anything we ask. He may decide to not act, or His answer may be no, but He is always able to do anything we ask. 

The Bible provides guidance on God’s power and and how to pray:

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”‭‭ James‬ ‭4:3‬

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Ephesians‬ ‭3:20‬

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.‭‭” Matthew‬ ‭7:7-8‬

Tonight, when you pray, make a true effort to speak to God, understanding His great love, compassion and power.

Matthew 17, pt. 1: The Transfiguration

How much do you know about Jesus’s transfiguration? What do you think really happened to Jesus up on that high mountain? Read verses 1-13 and try to picture what Jesus’s face and clothes really must have looked like in those moments.

When Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the mountain, he is transfigured before them. The word “transfiguration” means to change or transform appearance. This is what happened to Jesus. God changed how Jesus appeared to Peter, James and John so that He could show His pleasure and approval of His Son, who was carrying out the divine will of God. Whether this means that Jesus’s true spiritual body was what shone through or God simply made Jesus appear brighter to glorify Him is unclear. The message is that God showed favor and approval of His Son through this transfiguration and Peter, James and John were made witness to this amazing occurrence.

Moses and Elijah also appeared, talking with Jesus, although we do not know what was said. Their presence is significant though in that these men, like Christ, were strong and encouraging instruments of God in their own time, carrying forth God’s will. Jesus being in the company of these heroes of righteousness and faith further solidifies His place as a fulfillment of prophecy and the most significant component of God’s plan to redeem lost sinners.

Peter characteristically is eager to act and suggests building three tabernacles to Moses, Elijah and Christ. But God interrupts Peter’s ignorant yet well-intentioned suggestion by throwing all of the attention on Jesus. “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Jesus is the reason for this moment and God the Father wants it known. How awesome!

Peter, James and John all fall on their faces at the sound of God until Jesus asks them to rise and not be afraid. When they get up, only Jesus is there, and He appears normal again. He instructs them not to tell anyone about what happened until He rises from the dead.The disciples’ question and Jesus’s response in verses 10-13 are an indication of both the disciples’ and the scribes’ lack of knowledge. The difference in these two groups is that the disciples discern the right source to get the facts. Their trust, loyalty and belief in Christ solidifies as time goes on.

Peter, James and John show great faith and amazement at the transfiguration, yet they still have so little comprehension of what it will all ultimately mean. Jesus is to die and rise again, to save all mankind. It is profound and amazing to ponder that fact even today, so it is easy to understand how the apostles understood so little despite being in the midst of everything. How blessed we are today, that God has given us His Holy Word, so that we may know these wondrous and saving truths. And that we may know that we have the hope of an eternal life in heaven, where we will be in the presence of God for all eternity.

The transfiguration is the second place in time I would go if I had access to a time machine. The first is the cross.

Matthew 16, Pt. 2: The Son of Man

Tonight we will finish Matthew 16 by reading and studying verses 13-28. The first section we will look at tonight is verses 13-20. 

In this passage, Jesus asks His disciples a question, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” It is obvious that Jesus knew who He was, as He refers to Himself as the Son of Man. This term, the “Son of Man” might not make sense the first time we read it. We are all sons of men, after all. In Jesus’s case it was notable that He is named the Son of Man because He was God come down to earth in human form. So when Jesus asked the question, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” of His disciples, He is acknowledging His divinity as known among them, but He wanted to know who the common population thought He was.

Jewish history in the Old Testament has many prophets working miracles for God’s glory, so it is not surprising that people thought of Jesus as one of these prophets or even John the Baptist, who had gained a following before his death. But Jesus’s question then segues into a follow-up question of who the disciples thought He was. Peter answers truthfully and honestly that Jesus is the Savior, the Son of God. 

Jesus’s reply to Peter in verses 17-19 can be misinterpreted. When Jesus affirms Peter’s answer and builds upon Peter’s declaration, Jesus is speaking in a way that reveals the plan for spreading the gospel after He dies and is resurrected. For the church is not built on Peter, but rather is built upon the fact that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son sent to seek and save the lost. Peter’s and the other disciples’ efforts to preach and spread the gospel would help to build the church. The Holy Spirit will also eventually provide them with the ability to perform miracles. The binding and loosing remark meant that they would have the power and knowledge to preach what is lawful and what is unlawful. 

Jesus’s request that they not reveal His identity came so that the spreading of this information not compromise His earthly purpose by prematurely bringing judgment and punishment upon Him. 

Verses 21-28 include two important ideas for us as Bible students: Jesus was continuously tempted and to follow Him requires sacrifice.

When Jesus tells the disciples that He would have to die, Peter objects strongly, naively thinking that Jesus was above such a thing. While Peter’s strength of belief is impressive, it also reveals that he did not yet fully comprehend Jesus’s purpose on earth. This was the first time that Jesus told them what literally needed to happen in order for Him to fulfill His purpose and die for the sins of all humanity. This concept is is of a divine design and did not necessarily gel with the ways the disciples understood Jesus up to this point.

Nevertheless, Jesus persists with an explanation because He knows that they will ultimately understand and preach the plan of salvation to mankind. 

Jesus’s rebuke to Peter is eye-opening because He calls Peter Satan. Of course Jesus does not literally think of Peter as Satan, but Peter’s admonition to Jesus that He was too good to suffer such things represented to Jesus a temptation. Jesus was a man while on earth after all and although He never sinned, He did experience all temptations just as we do, and that too so that He can aid us when we are in need (Hebrews 2:17-18). Jesus’s temptation in this instance was to forego the suffering on the cross and thwart God’s plan. 

But as we can see in verse 23, Jesus’s resolve to remain true to the plan of salvation was very strong and He would not allow the temptation to remain before Him for long. His resistance to it provides an excellent example for us, in fact. Do I let a temptation hang around in front of me, do I let it stay in my brain as it continues to wear me down until I ultimately give in? Or do I absolutely and immediately resist as Jesus does in verse 23? It is easy to see which is the more effective practice! 

Finally in verses 24-28, we have Jesus’s admonition to both the disciples and to us by extension that we should sacrifice all for Him. Living for Christ is the answer; living for self is ultimately an empty pursuit. All of the money and possessions in the world are nothing beside the hope we have in heaven with Jesus Christ. How am I living today?

Matthew 16, Pt. 1: Leaven and Truth

Tonight we will study just the first twelve verses in Matthew chapter 16. Within these verses we have Jesus teaching his disciples a valuable lesson about discernment. 

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the Jewish elite, the wealthy men of strong knowledge, reputable birth and affluent means. Ideally, these groups would have been first to recognize Jesus as the Christ and follow Him. However, their minds and attentions were not on the things of God, but rather were consistently on other more worldly matters such as social status and the like. In our passage tonight, these men ask Jesus to show them a sign from heaven, presumably to prove that He was the Son of God. 

But Jesus quickly reveals their hearts by telling them that they know how to read basic weather patterns in the sky, yet cannot see that the Son of God is standing before them. He then rebukes them by saying that the sign that they will end up seeing is the sign of the prophet Jonah. This is meaningful because Jonah’s prophecy to Nineveh was that God would destroy it because of its ungodliness. And indeed Jerusalem was destroyed around 70 a.d. by the Romans. Could this have been what Jesus was alluding to?

Jesus uses this interaction with the Pharisees and the Sadducees as an opportunity to teach His disciples. He warns the disciples to beware the leaven, or the influence of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus’s meaning was that the disciples should avoid agreeing with them and to not take on their beliefs or be influenced by them. Because, as stated earlier, the hearts of the Pharisees and the Sadducees were not in the right place and their speech and actions showed it. 

However, this lesson was at first lost on the disciples. They thought that the leaven Jesus was talking about was the ingredient for bread which causes it to rise. Jesus was speaking figuratively, but they didn’t get it. They thought He was talking about actual bread. Jesus used leaven as an example to show that to absorb just some of the influence of these Pharisees and Sadducees would make a dramatic influence on the disciples’ beliefs and opinions. This influence on character can be compared to how leaven works in bread to make it grow and expand, it transforms it. Even just a very small bit of leaven can cause a great change while preparing bread. Jesus was telling them to beware this influence.

But the disciples thought they were supposed to avoid the actual bread from the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus then becomes impatient with them for not getting it, especially in light of how the disciples had fed thousands with so little bread and fish in the recent past. (Remember feeding the 5,000, then the 4,000?) The disciples could have recognized that Jesus was not talking about actual leaven or bread, but that He meant the cumulative negative influence of the spiritual impostors that were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

There are two separate things we can learn from this passage tonight. The first is that the negative influence of questionable values can have great consequences. For us today, this means truly examining the character of those we choose to spend our time with and ask, “Does this person have a godly character?” Sometimes we will find that even though entertaining and comfortable, the company of some people ends up affecting us negatively and actually distances us from God. Be aware.

The second application has to do with seeking. At the beginning of this passage, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were seeking a sign that Jesus was who He said He was. Do you think they were sincere? I think they probably were. But their problem was that their hearts were not oriented on the truth of that which they were seeking. Sometimes there thing that we seek is starting us right in the face.