Friday, May 10, 2013

Repetition and Compassion - Matthew 20:17-34

Jesus Calls a Time-Out
17 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them,
18 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,
19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."
I love this scene.  Jesus had already told his disciples (more than once!) the exact same thing, but clearly, it wasn't really computing in their minds.  So, knowing the stressful situation they're all about to enter, he takes the time to spell it out for them again, explicitly.  I think we can all relate - sometimes when we finally have an "Ah-ha!" moment, we can see in hindsight that God had been trying to teach us that lesson for a long time.  It shows how deeply He cares for us, that He tries to reach our hearts over and over and over.
I also think that how clearly Christ spelled out the situation for the disciples - with no vague or cryptic details whatsoever - is significant.  Yes, God will grant deeper spiritual understanding to those diligent to study His Word (Acts 17:11, Daniel 10:12), but at the same time, the Gospel is designed so that even a child can understand it, and the Bible calls the Gospel simple!  Even Revelation, one of the most notoriously difficult to study books in the Bible, begins by saying, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place..."  Clearly, God wants us to understand!  So it's no surprise that Jesus spelled out what was to come so clearly to His disciples.
The Gospel is really a tantalizing paradox - it is both so simple that a five-year-old can grasp it, and so complex that the most revered theologians ever to walk the Earth have not been able to grasp every last aspect of it.
Don't Ask
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.
21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?"  She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."
22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?"  They said to Him, "We are able."
23 He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."
24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.
25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
26 "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
I don't think any of us will understand the full extent of what James and John were asking.  But the gist of it is they were asking to be Jesus's right- and left-hand man for all eternity - basically recognition as the best human beings in all of history.  Yeah, that's pretty bad.  The pride going into this seems kind of shocking, especially considering that Christ had just taught them (for like the billionth time) that we are to humbly serve others...but when we examine our own hearts, I'm sure we all find a disgusting amount of pride there, too.  This lesson Christ teaches is hammered again and again throughout Matthew, so clearly, it is something to pay a great deal of attention to.
Now, we will all rule with Christ in heaven.  But this special distinction referred to in this passage is a distinct honor.  Either of those two could be someone mentioned in Scripture, someone from history, or someone we have never ever heard of but who had/has a heart truly after God's own.  It'll be an interesting mystery to solve once we get there. :-)
This "cup to drink" is suffering.  Obviously Christ drank it, the twelve disciples certainly did (all met gruesome deaths), and Christians both throughout history and all over the world today suffer the same fate.  In fact, Scripture promises, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).  So the point I see in this passage is that all of us ought to expect to face it, but we shouldn't be so stupid as to expect it to be easy, like James and John fell in to thinking here.
Also note that the brothers' pride didn't just result in a reprimand; it also very nearly destroyed their friendship with the other twelve disciples, had Jesus not stepped in.  Our sin can have serious consequences in our relationships with those close to us, even in ways we don't expect.
Finally, Jesus once again took time out of preparing for is one torturous death to minister to His disciples, patching over their squabbles.  How great a love, indeed.
Eyes on the Road
29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him.
30 And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!"
31 The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
32 And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?"
33 They said to Him, "Lord, we want our eyes to be opened."
34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him."
It's really disturbing how poorly these blind men were treated by the crowd.  But we see elsewhere in Scripture mention of Christians treating poor people badly, too.  Still today, the church doesn't treat everyone equally.  A drug addict, a prostitute, a homeless person - all of these people need Christ, and any of them could be seeking Christ at this moment, just as these blind men were calling out to the Messiah.  We absolutely, positively must strive to treat everyone with Christ's love.  This exact problem seems to be what inspired the Casting Crowns song "If We Are the Body."
I'm very impressed by the blind men's simple statement, "Lord, we want our eyes to be opened."  They included no qualifier like "if you can."  They absolutely believed that He could do it, with no doubt, so they simply asked and left it up to His will.
And finally, once again, we see Christ making time for people even on His very way to the cross.  He made the time to gather two more followers unto Himself.  We, likewise, should learn to make time for others.
Do you have any observations or thoughts to add to our study?  Or questions?  Leave them below. :-)
Image Citations
Image One: The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot.  Wikipedia.  Public Domain.
Image Two: One of the Throne-Rooms of the Bavarian King by Gryffindor.  Wikipedia.  Public Domain.
Image Three: Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco.  Wikipedia.  Public Domain.

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