Matthew 18-20
(Disciples Struggle to Understand)
October 8th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me."

- Matthew 18:2-5 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

These next three chapters capture the dichotomy between the message of Jesus and the inability of the disciples to fully understand the situation. In their lowest moments of lack of wisdom the disciples question who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (chapter 18), presumably because they had been arguing among themselves. Later, in one scene depicting one of the earliest recorded examples of parental hovering, the mother of two of the disciples intervenes to ask Jesus to favor them (chapter 20).

In chapter 18, Jesus emphasized the depth of the Father's forgiveness and the importance of forgiving each other. First he uses the illustration of a lost sheep to emphasize the father's diligence in reclaiming each of us when we stray. Then Jesus provided guidance on reconciling with other people and assures us that our prayers are amplified when we gather:

    Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

    - Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV)

Subsequently, Jesus shares the parable of the Unforgiving Servant to emphasize the importance of forgiving others the way we have been forgiven - generously and unconditionally.

In chapter 19, Jesus sets the record straight on the importance of faith in marriage, the value of children, and the relative importance of money compared to eternal salvation. Jesus demonstrates the value of children by inviting a group of them to be with him, overcoming the objections of those in his entourage who were trying to protect him.

In chapter 20, Jesus introduced the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard who recieved the same wages although some had clocked more hours than the others - which symbolizes the grace to be recieved by believers, regardless of whether they became one late in life or were Gentiles or Jews. Jesus then told the disciples exactly what was going to happen regarding his forthcoming sacrifice in Jerusalem, but they didn’t comprehend - perhaps because it was outside of their realm of experiences and expectations. Thus, in a naive and unknowing state they resumed arguing about their place at the table (this is where the hovering mom butts in).

The chapter concludes with Jesus healing two blind men by the side of the road:

    As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

    Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

    “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

    Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

    - Matthew 20:29-34 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

Jesus gives us a lot to think about in the parables and events in these three chapters. The recurring themes are God’s love and Grace that leads him to seek us out, hear our prayers, forgive us, heal us from our blindness and other afflictions, and offer all of us an equal reward, regardless of how late we may have started. He only asks that we give our life to him, hold him more precious and dear than anything else, and offer the same mercy that we have received.

The disciples and other people that Jesus encountered had a hard time suppressing the inherent human desire for greatness. They knew that they were with a man of God but did not yet fully understand the message of servant leadership, humility, and forgiveness. The rich young man in Matthew 19 struggled with the concept of giving away his measure of greatness - wealth. He walked away disappointed because he wanted it all.

The parables may require some thought to fully understand and apply, but in other circumstances Jesus was very straight-forward and clear. For example, in chapter 18, Jesus explains a three-step path to reconcile individual differences:

    “(First) if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over (18:15).”

    “(Second) but if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (18:16).” This statement is a reinforcement of Deuteronomy 19:15, demonstrating that Jesus came to fulfill the law

    (Third) if he refuses to listen, take it to the church; and if he refuses to even listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector’ (18:17).”

These are good guidelines we can apply to many situations. It’s always best to start by addressing the person directly, 1:1, in private, but if that does not work, then we may need the help of others.

The Rev. Sam Schreiner delivered an insightful sermon on Matthew 19:13-15 in October 2010. He pointed out that Jesus gave up precious time to touch the children and pray for them. This is an important lesson for all of us to give up our precious time to be with young people and to continually pray for them. They always need our prayers. You can hear Schreiner’s complete sermon on this topic by clicking play on the object below:

"An Awkward Conversation About Children" Matthew 19:13-15
sermon by Rev. Sam Schreiner

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What recent experiences have you had losing something and then finding it?
    2. When is the next situation in which you can apply the 3-step reconciliation process from Matthew 18?
    3. What can you do today to show God’s love for children that you know?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, we know you care for us, hear our cries and show us mercy. Help us to be merciful and loving like you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    The children in our lives

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Matthew 21-22 (Jesus Cleans Up in Jerusalem)

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