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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 20

 

 


Verses 1-34

The principle of the first and the last is now illustrated in a most penetrating parable of the kingdom of heaven. The householder goes out early in the morning to hire labourers to work in his vineyard. God does not actually hire men in this way, but men think so, and Israel particularly, under law, considered themselves so hired. Those hired early in the morning agreed together with the householder to work for a denarius a day. Others hired at the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours made no agreement as to their wages, but simply depended on the honesty of their employer.

At the time of reckoning, however, the last hired were called first to receive their wages, each receiving a denarius for their work, though some worked only an hour. The first hired were last paid; and since the others had received a much as they, they complained that they had borne the burden and heat of the entire day, yet received no more that those only working one hour.

No doubt our first reaction as to the matter would be similar to theirs. Why? Because of the natural selfishness of our hearts. The employer pointed out that those hired first had agreed to a denarius for the day's work. They were treated perfectly rightly. The others were treated with remarkable grace. To them he had shown exceptional goodness. Should the others then have been resentful, because they had not received more? No: actually they should be thankful that others had received as much as they. The agreement had been on the legal principle of a just recompense for work done. Israel, if they had obeyed the law, could expect no more then they had bargained for. If God would deal with others in grace, as He has done with Gentiles today, then they ought to be glad, if indeed they loved their neighbours as themselves, as the law required.

The others had made no agreement, but simply depended on the goodness of the householder, and found him to be most gracious. Israel had preferred the legal principle, therefore could not expected to be treated with grace, but with justice. Then why complain at the outcome? What a lesson for us all! Let us take to heart the fact that God does not merely hire men for wages, but delights rather in those who willingly serve Him because they trust Him to do right. These will find Him to be not only just and fair, but abundantly gracious. The last therefore are those who do not bargain for t heir own rights, but in genuine faith depend on the grace of God: in their case, God will see to it that they become first. The first are those who put themselves first, exercising the legal principle of demanding justice. Therefore they receive justice: they are made last. This verse of course connects with Ch.19:30; but the Lord adds "for many be called, but few chosen." Compare also Ch.22:14. The few chosen are those who depend solely on the grace of God.

Now the time has come for His last journey to Jerusalem, and He takes His disciples privately apart from all others, to forewarn them of what must transpire there. In serious, plain language He tells them that He, the Son of Man, would at Jerusalem be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and scribes, to be condemned to death. More than this, they would deliver Him to the Gentiles to be subjected to mockery and scourging and the cruel death of crucifixion. Of course such words ought to have profoundly affected them; but He adds what is more striking still: the third day He would rise again. They knew Him to be absolutely dependable, always speaking pure truth, get in spite of His words being so explicit, it seems they entirely missed the force of them. Have we also not too frequently missed the force of His plain words in Scripture ? Perhaps they thought it impossible that what He said could be literally true, and considered there was some spiritual explanation that they did not understand.

The precious character of the Lord Jesus in submitting to suffering and death has been seen in verses 18 and 19. How sadly contrary to this is the selfish request of the mother of James and John. She does worship Him (at least outwardly) before making it. Do we similarly think that our worshipping will influence Him to give us our own way? She asks that her two sons might sit, one on each side of Him in, in His kingdom. May the Lord keep us from having any such aspirations for our children or for ourselves.

It may be that her sons had asked her to intercede for them in this matter, for it is them (not simply her) the Lord answers. He tells them they are ignorant of what they ask; and questions if they are able to drink of the cup of which He will drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which He was to be baptized. In self-confidence they answer, "We are able." though they did not realize the significance of what He said, for He was speaking of suffering and death, not of exaltation such as they desired.

As to their identification with Him in suffering and death, He tells them, yes, they will have this in serious reality (not because they were able, but because divine grace would enable them). As to their being exalted to His right hand and His left, He, as the lowly Man of sorrows, seeking no glory even for Himself, had not come to communicate such rights to men: that was in the Father's hand. Just as He left His own vindication and exaltation in the hands of the Father, so He left in His hands all that concerned the eventual exaltation of believers-

However, the other ten disciples, on hearing of the selfish request of James and John, were moved with indignation toward them. Why? It is evident they would have liked some such position for themselves. Would faith not have left that matter calmly to the Father's own wisdom? For faith certainly would recognize that the Father would do what was perfectly right and good apart from the selfish desires of men. The grace of the Lord Jesus is most precious how ever, as He first calls them to Himself before He gently reproves and corrects their unbecoming attitude. He speaks of Gentile policies in government, that men are put in places of prominence to exercise authority over the people. It is natural for men to want this right to give orders. But the Lord reverses this: He tells them, "It shall not be so among you." He who desires to be great should rather take the place of a ministering servant. Or further, if one wanted the first place, let him rather be a bondsman, a virtual slave. This surely reduces the pride of men to nothing .

But He himself is the supreme example. Though entitled to the highest place, He has come in lowly grace to minister to the need of mankind, and as the totally devoted Bond men has gone to the extent of giving His life a ransom for many. For how many? 1 Timothy 2:6 answers, "for all." The ransom is available for all, but its value applicable only to those who receive this blessed Redeemer. He who is Lord of all has taken the lowest place of Servant of all.

He leaves Jericho on the last journey to Jerusalem, with great crowds following Him. Mark and Luke mention only one blind man at this time, no doubt to draw attention to individual personal faith; but Matthew speaks of two, a witness becoming to the gospel of the kingly glory of the Lord Jesus. Likely one was the chief spokes men, but on hearing that Jesus passed by, they plead for His mercy, using His royal title, "Lord, thou Son of David." The crowd, irritated by their crying, want to silence them. But this only induces them to increase their crying out. Faith will not be silenced by popular opinion. In fact, the Lord waited to answer until they showed this evidence of serious concern.

"And Jesus stood still." Such is His heart of tender care for those in need He asks them, what do they specifically desire? They have no doubt as to what is their most pressing need, as Israel in a coming day will realize the seriousness of their spiritual blindness and cry out for mercy. At present the nation is sadly blinded, but determined not to admit it, so she has found no relief. Immediately the lowly appeals made to Israel's true Messiah, the men find Him full of compassion. He touches their eyes and they receive sight without delay. This is then a lovely picture of what will be true for the nation Israel when eventually they acknowledge Jesus as both Lord and Son of David. The men spontaneously follow the Lord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 20:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-20.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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