Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


What Do You Want From Me?

Matthew 20:1-34

This chapter is a continuation of what Jesus said about the rich young ruler in chapter 19. It\'s all about power and position. It\'s also about the real king and the character of those that live in His kingdom. The rich young ruler wanted to bargain with Jesus to get the most for the least and claimed he had already \"earned\" God\'s favor through his obedience to the Law. But Jesus turned his expectations upside down by telling him all that he counted on here: the wealth, the youth, the power, even the external obedience, meant nothing in God\'s economy. Only goodness matters and that comes only from God through clinging to Jesus Christ.

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The man went away sorrowful, but Jesus kept up the lesson for His disciples: that the first will be last. This goes against everything we know innately as humans. It is one of the great paradoxes of the Bible. It starts with God, who is first above all, who became a servant of all. That sort of selfless love permeates God\'s good character. Our struggle is that we don\'t get it and our default programming leads us to want power and want what we earn.

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In chapter 20, Jesus uses a parable, and a real-life example to show us the reality of being like God. It\'s bracketed by an account in 19:13-15 and 20:29-34 as two groups of the vulnerable-children and the blind-seek to come to Jesus-are hindered, but Jesus reaches out to them anyway. It stands in stark contrast to the rich young ruler and two of the power-grabbing disciples.

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1 - 16

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First we should not apply this parable so woodenly as to suggest that we \"earn\" what we get from God. What seems to be the focus here is the attitude of the owner, God, and the men who came early into the owner\'s employ and their reaction to the character of the owner towards those who came later on.

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\"Early in the morning\" would have been about six o\'clock as the work day went from sunup to sundown. The workers helped negotiate a fair wage (usually a denarius). The third hour was around 9, the sixth hour was noon, and the ninth hour 3pm. The eleventh hour would have been around 5pm - late in the day to be hanging around looking for work.

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What is surprising here though is not that the owner needed more workers, but that for every group he agreed to pay the same wage. Those that came to work late would think they were getting a great deal, while those who worked a full day would feel ripped-off.

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Two things are operating here: a feeling of fairness and a feeling of superiority. God, the owner of the vineyard, breaks down both.

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Many people feel that because of birth, or position they\'ve attained to, or their own efforts, that they are somehow superior to others. This would become especially true for the Jews, who felt that being born Jewish gave them an upper hand when it came to God.

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Not true, the Lord says. The basic truth here is that God gives salvation to everyone. Those that come late don\'t get a half-salvation. We also don\'t earn what we are getting. If salvation was based on obedience or works then those that \"earned\" more would get more. But it is all the same.

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What I love about this story is what it reveals about the character of God.

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Two things strike me: 1) that God is always looking for people to come into His vineyard. 2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. NKJV

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2) God is generous. James 1:5-6 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

1 John 5:15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

We don\'t get what we deserve but get what we don\'t!

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So you would think this would begin to make sense. Neither your position in life, nor your obedience to God have anything to do with your relationship with God or your benefit from that relationship. It really is all about God giving it all so you could have it all. He makes that clear in this little aside as they continue to make their way to the crucifixion.

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17 - 19

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It\'s amazing to me that after this direct statement the disciples were so clueless after the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Why didn\'t they just say \"well I guess this is okay because Jesus told us this would happen but there is hope because He is going to rise from the dead.\"

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But there is something that happens when presented with danger, fear, hopelessness and tragedy-the frontal lobes of our brains actually disengage. We act on instinct and on pre-programming. We literally can\'t think straight.

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Speaking of not having your head on straight-right after this clear presentation of how Jesus walks the talk of being a generous Lord, a couple of His disciples decide power and position is what they want after all!

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20 - 23

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God bless mothers (and fathers). I picture Mrs. Zebedee (Salome) as the stereotypical Jewish mother-her sons couldn\'t be doctors but they must be second only to Jesus when He comes in His kingdom. We don\'t know who instigated this but the reaction is pretty strong. It\'s interesting because James and John aren\'t really that much different than the rich young ruler of chapter 19. They didn\'t have power but it\'s the desire for power that is unlike God.

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Perhaps she was reacting to Jesus\' statement in 19:28 about the disciples sitting on thrones and judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Perhaps they didn\'t realize that there indeed is a cost to entering the Father\'s vineyard-even death. For us, the Scriptures tell us that we die with Jesus on the cross when we deny ourselves and cling to Him.

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For some, that might literally mean giving their lives for the gospel. Interestingly, John, one of the sons of Zebedee (the other was James), is the only Apostle who it is thought to have died a natural death-that is after being boiled in oil (talk about thick-skinned!).

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Jesus says \"you don\'t know what you are asking.\" We ought to be overjoyed at just being let into the kingdom, much less demanding to sit in a place of authority and especially not at the right and left hand-which were the places of honor.

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As it turns out, it is Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father. The 24 elders gather \"around the throne\" (Revelation 4:4).

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The point is that we enter into God\'s vineyard to do the bidding of the Father, expecting only that which His generosity will provide and nothing that we deserve. Jesus will say that he is going to heaven to \"prepare a place for you.\"

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So anyway-once the other boys caught wind of this power grab they are indignant to the max!

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24 - 28

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So Jesus uses this as a teachable moment about the character of the land owner, the Father, and how different it is for those in power here on earth, like the rich young ruler.

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He uses two words to describe the character of those in power in this age and two words to describe the attitude of those in God\'s kingdom.

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In the Holman Christian Standard Bible the two words are \"dominate\" and \"exercise power.\" \"dominate\" or \"lord over\" is usually the power of an alien force to subjugate others under their control. To \"exercise power\" means to use that authority for your own purposes.

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This is the way of the world-get and keep power and then use that power over others to get them to do what you want them to do, not what they might want to do.

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God\'s character, though He has all authority and all power, is to do the opposite. This is the second paradox here-the first is that God gives equally to all, no matter who they are, and the second is that to be superior you have to take the inferior position. This runs completely opposite of our natural inclinations.

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The word \"servant\" is where we get the word \"deacon.\" Errand-person. \"Slave\" is the word doulos which means \"bondslave\". It comes from:

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Ex 21:5-6 But if the servant plainly says, \'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,\' 6 then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. NKJV

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It means to totally submit yourself to the will of another and is the total opposite of wielding authority.

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Jesus always leads by example. Just as He has said he is going to be tortured and become a ransom to rescue us from the captor Lucifer, we should have that same generous heart to want to lay down our lives to see good in other\'s lives, even if it means we don\'t get recognition or position or power for it.

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The greatest people in the kingdom of God you have probably never heard of.

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29 - 34

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There\'s an interesting contrast here between what happens in this account and what just happened with Mrs. Zebedee. When she approaches Jesus He asks her \"what to do you want?\" and she wants her sons to be in a powerful position. He then is approached by these blind guys and asks them the same question.

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That might seem odd - they want to see, of course. But they could have asked for money, or power or position for that matter. But they ask for sight. They saw their real need and knew the source of the answer. Mrs. Zebedee didn\'t see that the real need of her sons was to serve and not be served.

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Had she answered: \"I want my boys to serve at your feet and do whatever you tell them to do as a bond slave\"-how different the conversation would have gone.

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I wonder if Matthew didn\'t put this story here to subtly rebuke James and John. Certainly he was one of those \"indignant\" at them in verse 24. Perhaps it was a suggestion that James and John were spiritually blind. Wanting human power is human nature, but it is not God\'s nature.

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Conclusions

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So what do you want Jesus to do for you? Is it what you want or what you need? Jesus said that God knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). James says that \"you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.\" (James 4:3-4)

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So how do we know what to ask for? Take a lesson from the character of God as revealed in this chapter.

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1. God is a seeker (savior)

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Notice how the land owner sought out those to work in the vineyard, and kept coming back for more even to the last hour?

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2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. NKJV

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Do we seek out those that are in need, even those that don\'t deserve it?

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2. God is a giver (servant)

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The landowner is surprised that anyone would question his generosity. Jesus says the great will serve, and even while on His way to die, Jesus serves those who cry out in sincerity of heart.

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3. Know Your Place

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Watch out when you begin to find yourself wanting a position of power. That\'s not to say you should shrink away from responsibility to help others succeed. But even positions of authority should be positions of servant-leadership.

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4. Make the big thing the big thing

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That\'s what the blind men did. They didn\'t want power or riches, they only wanted to see. So ask for those things that will enhance your relationship with God, develop your character in Him, and assist in you doing His work and glorifying Him in all of your life.

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