David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 20:1-34 - JESUS TEACHES OF GRACE, GREATNESS, AND SERVICE
A. The parable of the workers in the vineyard.
1. (Matthew 20:1-16) A parable to explain the words of Jesus from the previous chapter.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘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.”
a. Jesus is answering a question from Matthew 19:27 : See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have? His reply comes in stages.
o First, a promise of reward (Matthew 19:28).
o Second, a warning that God’s manner of distributing reward is not necessarily the manner of men (many who are the first will be last, and the last first, Matthew 19:30).
o Finally, this parable that illustrates the principle that God’s manner of rewarding is not like man’s practice of giving rewards.
b. To hire laborers for his vineyard: The landowner went to the market place, which was the gathering place for day laborers. A man who wanted to work came there first thing in the morning, carrying his tools, and waited until someone hired him.
c. Early in the morning is literally “at dawn;” this was usually reckoned to be about 6:00 in the morning. The third hour was about 9 am; the sixth hour was about 12 noon; the eleventh hour was about 5:00 in the evening.
d. Whatever is right I will give you . . . whatever is right you will receive: The landowner promised the earliest workers a day’s wage (a denarius a day). The other workers hired through the day were not promised a specific wage, only whatever is right. He promised to reward all the later workers fairly.
e. Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first: These are day laborers, so they are paid at the end of each day. When it came time to pay the workers, the men hired last were paid first - and paid for a full day of work!
i. The men who were hired at the eleventh hour - who worked only about one hour - were obviously elated about being paid first, and being paid for a full day.
ii. The men who worked for the landowner all day saw the men who worked for only an hour walk away from the pay table, and started thinking, “If the landowner is paying these guys a full day’s pay for one hour’s work, then we will get far more!”
iii. Yet, the men hired first - early in the day, and who had worked all day - got paid exactly what the landowner had promised them (a denarius a day). They would obviously resent being paid the same amount as those who came late in the day.
f. They complained against the landowner: After being paid, the men hired first take up their complaint with the landowner - who reminds them that he has been completely fair to them (Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?), and rebuked them for their jealousy and resentment of the landowner’s generosity towards others.
i. The “evil eye” was a jealous, envious eye. The landowner asks the man if he is jealous because the landowner was generous to other people.
ii. “An evil eye was a phrase in use, among the ancient Jews, to denote an envious, covetous man or disposition; a man who repined at his neighbour’s prosperity, loved his own money, and would do nothing in the way of charity for God’s sake.” (Clarke)
2. What the parable means and how it applies.
a. Peter, and all the disciples, knew they had given up a great deal to follow Jesus. Peter wanted to know what they would get in return. Jesus, through this parable assured Peter and the disciples that they will be rewarded - but the principle of many who are first will be last and the last first means that God may not reward as man expects.
b. This is the essence of God’s grace, when He rewards and blesses man according to His will and pleasure, not necessarily according to what men deserve.
i. The system of law is easy to figure out: you get what you deserve. The system of grace is foreign to us: God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.
c. It is important to see that the landowner did not treat anyone unfairly, though he was more generous to some than to others. We can be assured that God will never, ever be unfair to us, though He may - for His own purpose and pleasure - bestow greater blessing on someone else who seems less deserving.
i. God’s grace always operates righteously. He never does anything unfair in grace. God will never be less than fair, but He reserves the right to be more than fair according to the pleasure and riches of His grace.
d. This parable is not a perfect illustration of God’s grace, because the principle of working and deserving is involved. Grace does not give us more blessing than we deserve - it gives blessing to us completely apart from the principle of deserving.
i. In this parable, Jesus shows that God can give to us out of the abundance of His goodness, completely apart from what we deserve.
ii. Living under grace is sort of a two edged sword. Under grace, we can’t come to God complaining, “Hey, don’t I deserve better than this?” because God will reply, “So, do you really want Me to give you what you deserve?”
e. So, the disciples should expect to be rewarded - but should not be surprised if, when rewards are distributed, God will reward others in unexpected ways.
B. Jesus teaches about status in the kingdom.
1. (Matthew 20:17-19) Jesus again reveals the fate waiting for Him at Jerusalem. This example of Jesus sets a stark contrast for the following section.
Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
a. The Son of Man will be betrayed: Seemingly, the disciples did not really listen when Jesus said these things. Their expectation was so focused on Jesus establishing an immediate political kingdom, and these words from Jesus were so contrary to that anticipation, these words just went over their heads.
2. (Matthew 20:20-21) The mother of James and John asks for a place of special status for her sons.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”
a. Grant that these two sons of mine may sit: She is really asking this question on behalf of her sons; we know this because of who Jesus replies to in Matthew 20:22-23.
3. (Matthew 20:22-23) Jesus answers James and John: when you ask for a place of special status, do you know what you ask for?
But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”
a. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink:
Their answer (“We are able”) seems to come a little too quick. Jesus recognized that they didn’t really understand, but they would.
b. You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: Both James and John had to be baptized in suffering as Jesus was, but their “cups” and “baptisms” were different. James was the first martyr among the apostles, and John was the only apostle to not die through martyrdom - though not from a lack of trying.
4. (Matthew 20:24-28) The disciples’ reaction; Jesus sets forth true greatness.
And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
a. They were greatly displeased: The other ten disciples mistakenly thought that a unique honor had just been bestowed on James and John. They did not know that Jesus could have made the same promise to any of them (if they really wanted it!).
b. Yet it shall not be so among you: Their desire for position and status showed they didn’t know the nature of Jesus yet, in respect to leadership and power. The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them - and those who exercise power or authority in the church today as “lording it over” others still don’t understand the Jesus style of leadership and life.
i. Yet it shall not be so among you is a stinging rebuke to the manner in which the modern church looks to the world for both its substance and style. Plainly, the church isn’t to operate the way the world does.
c. Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant: In the Kingdom community, status, money, popularity should never be the prerequisites for leadership. Humble service is the greatest - and only - prerequisite, as exemplified by Jesus’ own ministry.
d. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve: Real ministry is done for the benefit of those ministered to, not for the benefit of the minister. Many people are in the ministry for what they can receive (either materially or emotionally) from their people instead of for what they can give.
C. Jesus heals two blind men.
1. (Matthew 20:29-31) Two blind men gain the attention of Jesus.
Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”
a. When they heard that Jesus was passing by: They knew this might be their last time to meet Jesus. They had the desperation appropriate for those who know that today is the day of salvation.
b. Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David! The earnestness of these men is marvelous; they are desperate to be healed, and ignore the crowd trying to quiet them (they cried out all the more).
c. However, in their desperation, they glorify Jesus. They ascribe to Him full honor with the title Lord, Son of David.
2. (Matthew 20:32-34) Jesus heals the two blind men.
So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.
a. What do you want Me to do for you? This is a wonderful, simple question God has not stopped asking. Sometimes we go without before the Lord simply because we will not answer this question, we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).
b. Why did Jesus ask this question? He knew they were blind. He knew what they needed and what they wanted, but God still delights when we tell Him our needs as a constant expression of our trust and reliance on Him.
c. And they immediately followed Him: This was a great result; not only were they healed, they also followed the One who did great things for them.
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