This is lesson four in my class on the words of Jesus. To see the others, click the “notes” tab above and choose the lesson you want to see.
At the Heart of it All Today: Parables, other teaching and the foot washing episode emphasize the role of servanthood in the life of a disciple. Jesus promises eternal rewards to those demonstrating self-denying love for others.
Key Term: Servant; Jesus cast himself in this role and he demands we do the same. In a world were status is everything, Jesus turns the world’s value system upside down.
Key Verse: Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
A Hundredfold Investment: (Matthew 19:27-30)
- The rich young ruler just walked away and Peter responds to Jesus’ statement about rich men entering the kingdom of heaven. There is an obvious contrast since the disciples have given up much to follow Jesus.
- Peter was not really accurate by saying they gave up “all” to follow Jesus; he still owned a house (Mark 1:29) and a boat (Mark 3:9, 4:1), but he is correct that they have given up on a comfortable life with security.
- One’s true family – while it is great loss to leave one’s family, new friends are made along the path of a disciple, ones that share the same values and goals. There is fellowship (koinonia) that at the root means to share a common life.
- Receiving back a hundredfold – not really a material investment but a spiritual one. From a material investment, faith is a poor risk, but from an eternal perspective, all things are possible with this ultimate long-term investment.
- The term palingenesia is translated “new creation,” “new order of things,” “renewal” or “regeneration.” It is only used here in the gospels. Paul used it in Titus 3:5 to refer to the individual believer’s spiritual renewal. So, in the new world, things will be radically different. Those who gave up all in this life will see a radical difference in the next.
- Judging the twelve tribes of Israel – this is quite a shocking statement for the twelve. They will have positions of authority in God’s kingdom, much like the rich young ruler had in this life. No one would have guessed these men where “ruling” material, but Jesus sees potential in people.
The “No Seniority” Story: (Matthew 20:1-16)
- The Old Testament often describes Israel as a vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46, Psalm 80:8, 14, Isaiah 5:1-2, Jeremiah 12:10, John 15:1). Jesus is not nationalistic, but focuses on individuals who make up this new kingdom.
- The land owner is God – calling people to work in the vineyard. The workers from the start of the day expected a day’s wage.
- The eleventh hour – literally “at the last minute; before sunset.” The men were not lazy guys wasting the day; they just had not been hired yet. They wanted a job and the owner was generous with payroll. Those who worked all day were grumbling at his generosity; literally it means, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” Maybe the beginning of the phrase, “give him the evil eye.”
- The target audience – often the Jews since they did not believe the Gentiles were welcome in the kingdom. The grumblers may be similar to the older brother in the Prodigal Son. Jesus is likely warning the disciples they are not privileged characters in the kingdom just because they were called first (Matthew 19:27). Those who follow Jesus should not be so concerned with place, position or rewards. Do we serve God for what we get out of it, or do we serve him because he deserves it and it is the right thing to do?
Not One of Us: (Mark 9:38-40)
- This passage comes immediately after Jesus telling the disciples that striving to be the greatest was wrong, and that service to others was what mattered. John, a part of the inner circle, declaring that this other man was “not one of us” may be an indication that they had an inflated opinion of themselves. After a failed exorcism in Mark 9:14-29, they complain that this power was showing up in someone else; in one not officially a part of the group.
- Tolerance may be the lesson; not like today where beliefs don’t matter, but be willing to accept others who have the same goal. John wanted to narrow the circle while Jesus says it is ok to widen it.
- This is quite similar to Matthew 12:30 (he who is not with me is against me) but Jesus’ meaning is different. One cannot remain neutral toward him; each person must decide to follow or oppose Jesus. In Mark, (whoever is not against us is for us) refers to the disciples being accepting of others who do good work for Christ.
Sisters with a Difference: (Luke 10:38-42)
- This story follows the Good Samaritan, who also put love into action. Perhaps the point in pairing these two stories is that while doing good deeds is commendable, we are not saved by doing good works.
- Martha wanted everything just so, and Jesus gently scolds her. She had too many irons in the fire, and probably was not enjoying Jesus’ visit too much. The “one thing” probably meant “one dish” for a meal, but with a deeper meaning. Martha’s desire to serve was commendable but she could have served one dish to spend more time with the Master.
- Mary at Jesus’ feet – contrast to the rabbis looking down on the intelligence of women. Women had a vital role in the early church.
Duty Above All: (Luke 17:7-10)
- The is a story of a farmer with a worker who serves I the field and in the house, too. At the end of the work day, he cannot just sit down and have dinner, there is inside work to be done, he is still on duty and cannot expect to be thanked for doing his duty. A human master can make demands, and so can God.
- This can be directed at people who take pride in their accomplishments for the Lord. When Christ-followers lead a godly life or do good works, they are not going above and beyond the call of duty, but rather this is what is expected on earth and we should not expect praise.
- This is in the face of the Pharisees, who had a system of rewards and merit, which Jesus discounts. There is no call to boast in our service of God. We are his servants, not his peers.
- Main theme is God’s grace – when a disciple has done all he can for the kingdom, he has no right to expect salvation, but only accept it as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:27, 11:35).
The Lowest Form of Service: (John 13:4-8, 13-16)
- A clear and straightforward story but also not understood by the disciples at the time. In those days there were no facilities to take full baths every day, so they did what I call, “a bird bath.” Attention was given to the exposed parts, which was the task of a slave; a humiliating work for the lowest of slaves. Here, doing this act was one of love and devotion.
- This undignified act was setting the disciples up for an even more humiliating and undignified event, the crucifixion.
- Wash feet or have no part of me – “part” is literally “inheritance” or “heritage” which may indicate Peter would not share in the joys of heaven. Peter reacts to the foot-washing in the same way he objected to the prediction of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus knew that suffering and humiliation are the roads to glory.
- Roles are reversed in this scene. To accept this is to embrace a new order where humility is honored over vanity and pride. The twelve had been arguing about who had precedence. Jesus emphasized that greatness consisted of servitude.
- Key point often overlooked – Jesus does this act of service and love for people who would in the matter of hours desert him and run away; being a devoted servant to those who will prove to be disloyal. Also, Judas was present; can it be that this was an act of forgiveness, and him telling them to “do likewise” was a reference to the disciples forgiving Judas because it is what he had to do to fulfill prophecy?
A New Commandment: (John 13:34-35)
- Jesus may be gone soon, but the love he has shown them will live on. They already had a few commandments like loving their neighbor as themselves (Leviticus 19:18), now they are to love others as Jesus loves them. This love will be distinctive of a Christ follower.
- This command must have made a deep impact on John, since he writes about it in his gospel and returns to the theme in his letters (1 John 3:11, 16, 4:19, 2 John 1:5).
Disowning the Master: (Matthew 10:32-33)
- There is a picture of a believer being dragged into court to testify of his devotion to Jesus, but the image is wider to any word or deed where one denies their faith. He is addressing lukewarm believers, those who are half-hearted. Pharisees love the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and encourages Timothy to not disown Christ (2 Timothy 2:12).
- Disowning Jesus is not so words of denial, but of missed opportunities, not speaking up when the situation calls for it. Actions may deny him as well, hypocrisy is an appropriate term. We would not be studying the Bible of following Jesus if it was not for those in the first century who stood up of their faith.
Forgetting Everything but God: (Matthew 10:38-39)
- The ultimate paradox: to possess life we must give it up. Some men would commit sin to keep on living (situation ethics). This phrase of Jesus might be a reference to Leviticus 18:5, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.” Like, God wants you to live, so sinning in order to keep on living is not wrong. Losing earthly life was not the worse thing that could happen.
- Too many jewelry crosses around the necks of those who don’t stand for Christ (Madonna, anyone?). In New Testament times, people did not need gold crosses, they saw real ones every day. It was a barbarous form of execution used on slaves and rebels. So, the believer might not only die a martyr’s death, but die with the lowest form of execution possible.
- Today we are to deny self, use self-discipline, and live for Christ more than ourselves (Galatians 2:20).
A Cup of Cold Water: (Matthew 10:40-42)
- Jesus words of the cross are balanced with a promise of reward. He is speaking to the disciples, the ambassadors for the faith, similar to 2 Corinthians 5:20 (see Ephesians 6:19).
- This water symbolized hospitality. While the world would harass, harm and kill people of faith, there are those who will stand up and offer kindness. Each act of compassion makes a difference. God will not forget your work of helping his people (Hebrews 6:10) and whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for Christ (Matthew 25:40).