Matthew 20

Introduction

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” Matthew 20:1-2

The Parable Of The Workers In The Vineyard

The issue in this parable isn’t how long the people worked in the Lord’s vineyard. The issue in this parable is the spirit in which the work was done. Notice that there are two types of workers in God’s vineyard.

1. Those who came to an agreement with the master.

They said they would work for Him if they were given the right amount of money. So these first labourers were given a contract, a denarius for a day’s work.

2. We have those who came to work for Him later.

“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.” He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’” Matthew 20:3-7

The difference between these guys and those who had an agreement is that they were thankful and glad just for the chance to work. And their pay wasn’t an issue because Jesus said, “He would pay them what was right.”

It’s sad when people think they will only work for God if they get paid enough for it and although some get financial support to come and work with a congregation, that doesn’t mean that they have to do all the work, just because they get paid for it. That’s not the point of this parable because they didn’t get their pay until their work was finished.

Remember that Jesus isn’t talking about actually receiving a denarius when we get to heaven. He’s revealing a spiritual and moral truth to His disciples. He’s saying that your reward will be the same as mine and that reward is eternal life.

A Christian doesn’t work in God’s kingdom for the money, a Christian works in God’s kingdom for the joy, Proverbs 10:27-28 / 1 Peter 1:8-9. It’s a joy to serve and work for the Lord, we all work for Him because of the joy we get out of serving our Lord in His kingdom.

When it comes to inheriting eternal life, nobody is going to get ripped off, whether they’ve been a Christian for one day or 50 years. We all know that Jesus’ disciples were the first Christians in His church and Acts 2:41 we find that others were added and became a part of His church. And in Acts 5:14 we find that even more people were added and became a part of His church.

But Jesus’ disciples had to learn a hard lesson, ‘first come doesn’t mean first served’! And so Jesus explains what He meant when He said to His disciples about their position of honour in Matthew 19:26-30.

But the point that Jesus is telling them, is that the disciples couldn’t claim any special place of honour just because they were Christians before anyone else.

He says in Matthew 20:16 “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” And there’s a big lesson for the church today here too, isn’t there?

Too many people just because they have been members of the Lord’s church for many years, think that the church partially belongs to them. They think they can dictate and control what goes on within the church.

In the church, authority doesn’t necessarily mean honour. I’m not saying don’t honour those who have been in the Lord’s church for many years because the Bible teaches us that we should honour those who are older in the faith.

I’m saying just because you’ve been a part of the kingdom longer than some other people, doesn’t make you more important than any other Christian. No matter where you come from or when you became a Christian, you’re of equal worth to God as any other Christian.

Remember it’s God’s vineyard, it’s God who dishes out the wages. He’s the one doing the hiring, it’s His work that’s being done. You’re the worker and He’s the owner. But the point is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for one hour or 40 years, you’re of equal worth to God in His kingdom, Galatians 3:26-28.

Those who are young in the faith should learn from those who are older and more mature and whose knowledge is greater but, and this is important. It may well be that those who have been Christians for a long time have got much to learn from those who are younger in the faith too.

That was the problem the Jews had, they knew that they were God’s chosen people and they never forgot that. And it’s because of this, that they continually looked down on the Gentiles. They hated and despised the Gentiles and hoped for nothing but their destruction.

And so to a Jew if the Gentiles were going to be allowed into God’s kingdom, they must come in as inferiors and on their terms. In Acts 15:1 we find some Jews saying to the Gentiles that they must be circumcised. We also know that the apostle Peter found this difficult to deal with, Galatians 2:14.

The Jews were willing to allow the Gentiles into God’s kingdom only if they were circumcised and followed their traditions. And that spirit hasn’t changed much in some religious circles, has it? Some people think they are more favoured in God’s eyes because we don’t match up to their level of spirituality.

There’s no master race in Christianity, “all are one in Christ Jesus” as Paul reminded us in Galatians 3:28. Instead of looking around at each other and wondering who’s doing what in the kingdom. Maybe we should be looking out for those who are eager to work in the kingdom.

These men who were standing in the marketplace weren’t being lazy hanging around the street corners wasting their time. They didn’t have a local job centre to go to like we have today. The marketplace was the place to go to find work.

A man would go there first thing in the morning with his tools and he would wait until someone came along and hired him. And so some of them would get hired first thing in the morning but others would wait all day to get some work. Some men worked only a few hours and some men worked all day.

And when I say all day, I don’t mean a 9-5 job. I mean these guys started at 6:00 am and finished at 6:00 pm. And even though work usually finished at 6:00 pm some of these men would still be waiting until 5:00 pm hoping to get a job.

Jesus said the landowner went in the morning, then the third hour, and then the sixth hour and then the ninth hour and then finally He went again to the marketplace at the eleventh hour. This shows how desperate they were, they were still there waiting in the marketplace, desperate for work.

3. This parable also tells us about ‘the generosity of God’.

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.” Matthew 20:8-10

These men didn’t all do the same work, but they did receive the same pay, at the end of the day, Deuteronomy 24:15; Leviticus 19-13 / Job 7:2 / Malachi 3:5 / James 5:4. These workers were grape pickers to a degree. And the grapes in Palestine would always be ready for harvest and be ripe around the end of September.

And it was always a race against time to get the grapes in before the rains came. And so because of this, anyone who was willing to work was welcome to work at this time, even if they could only give an hour or two’s work, 2 Corinthians 10:12.

Each man was given a denarius, which was around a day’s wages for a man back then. And so because a job was hard to come by, getting a job for a day’s wages sometimes meant the difference between living and starving.

But God knew that a denarius was no great wage. He knew that if the workmen went home with less than a denarius there would be worried wives and hungry children.

This parable tells us that God goes beyond justice and gives us more than we’re due. Justice says that we deserve to die in our sin but God goes beyond justice and offers us eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ, Ephesians 2:3-5.

“When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.’ These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’” Matthew 20:11-12

And when it comes to God’s justice and the way He gives His grace to people, there are two great lessons to be learned.

1. All service ranks the same with God.

It’s not the amount of service that counts but the love in which it is given. You can always tell the people who think they deserve more from God than their fellow brothers or sisters in the kingdom of God. You can tell because they grumble a lot and people are always grumbling against God.

Not only in today’s world but also in the Biblical world, Exodus 16:2. And even after they received the Promised Land they grumbled, Psalm 106:24-25. We shouldn’t grumble about the amount of work a Christian is doing or not doing in the kingdom.

We should be patient and grateful for the little work that they’re doing, James 5:8-9. God doesn’t look at the amount of work given, so long as our service is all we have to give. All service ranks the same with God.

“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” Matthew 20:13-16

2. All God gives is grace.

We cannot earn what God gives us, we cannot deserve it and we cannot put God in our debt. People are always trying to put God in their debt, people are always trying to say to God who deserves to go to heaven and who doesn’t.

Some people have always been God-fearing people, but people aren’t born Christians, they are born again Christians. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3-8 that people need to be born again to enter the kingdom in the first place.

Peter says that you need to be born again to be purified, 1 Peter 1:21-23. Purified from what? From our sin, all Christians have history because nobody comes to the cross, sinless.

Because when we look down at others with that superior attitude, He will just say to us what He said in the parable, ‘Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Instead of following the ways of the world, they turned and started following the ways of Christ, Galatians 5:21. So now that we understand why we needed saving so much because of our sinful lives, we should never say that no one is good enough for God’s kingdom, Romans 3:22-24.

What God gives us is given out of the goodness of His heart, out of His grace. And what He gives us isn’t pay, but a gift, not a reward but a grace. Grace is amazing and it’s a gift of God so that no one can stand before God or other people and say, ‘look how great I am, look what I do as a Christian’.

It’s a gift, which cannot be earned by yourself so that no one can boast. And it’s available to everyone who is willing to obey the Gospel call of Christ.

Jesus Predicts His Death A Third Time

‘Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” Matthew 20:17-19

For the third time, Jesus warned the disciples about what was going to happen when they got to Jerusalem.

On the road to Jerusalem Jesus prepared the disciples for what was about to happen in all their lives. He talked here about His death and resurrection.

He tells the disciples that in Jerusalem, He would be delivered over to the chief priests and teachers of the law and it would be them who would condemn Him to death, Isaiah 53.

Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen to Him, Matthew 16:21 / Matthew 17:22-23. He knows that He will be handed over to Sanhedrin, Matthew 26:15, and He knows He would be handed over to the Gentiles, that is, the Romans to be mocked and flogged.

Jesus knows He suffers all the humiliation of a common criminal. Flogging was means of a whip, which was made up of broken bones or sharp stones that were tied at the end of a binding of numerous strips of leather.

Jesus knows that the Romans would be the ones who would carry out the crucifixion, Matthew 27:2 / Acts 2:23 / Acts 3:13-15 / Acts 4:27 / Acts 21:11.

The good news is that Jesus also knows that He will rise again on the third day, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, despite His disciples being saddened by Jesus even speaking about His death, Matthew 16:21-28 / Luke 9:22 / Luke 18:31 / Luke 24:46.

A Mother’s Request

‘Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-28

Jesus has just finished giving the disciples a detailed description of the suffering He would experience there in Jerusalem but meanwhile, James and John were imagining a different scenario. They were still thinking of a physical kingdom, Acts 1:6.

They asked Jesus to agree to do whatever they would request. Jesus asked them what they wanted. He wasn’t going to sign a blank cheque by agreeing before they made the request.

They replied that they wanted to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand, that is, they wanted the chief positions in His administration, Mark 10:35-45.

James and John, Mark 10:35, apparently ask their mother, Salome, Mark 15:40 / Mark 16:1, the wife of Zebedee, Matthew 4:21 / Matthew 10:2, to approach Jesus about special positions of power in the kingdom.

Mark says that James and John make the request. They are seeking positions of power and influence in this physical kingdom, Luke 17:20-21 / John 18:36.

Jesus responded by asking if they could drink the cup He was going to drink or be baptised with His baptism, and they said they could, Psalm 11:6 / Psalm 75:8 / Isaiah 51:17 / Jeremiah 25:15.

Jesus was referring to His sufferings which were often spoken of as a cup of agony that He would have to drink, Mark 14:36 and as a baptism in pain, Luke 12:50.

They had no clue as to His real meaning, but they enthusiastically accepted the challenge. They would suffer, John 15:18-19 / John  21:18-19. James would even be the first apostle to be killed for the faith, Acts 12:1-2, though John his younger brother would be the last to die, Revelation 1:9.

Jesus then replied that He didn’t have the authority to grant their request because He wasn’t the One who assigned the positions of honour in the kingdom. The other disciples were incensed, Mark 9:34 / Mark 10:31 / Luke 22:24.

James and John had gotten the jump on them, they themselves wished to have the highest positions and resented the fact that the sons of Zebedee had requested them first.

Jesus took some time to define what greatness in the kingdom really meant, He said that in human affairs, whether government or business, the greatest have the most authority.

In other words, they weren’t to be like the Gentiles, who lord it over people and exercise authority over the people. In Christ’s kingdom, they need to be serving not lording it over people, 1 Peter 5:3.

He explained, that it isn’t that way in the kingdom of God, rather, the greatest is the one who humbles himself most and serves most, Matthew 18:1-4 / Matthew 23:11 / Mark 9:35 / Mark 10:43-45.

He pointed to Himself as the model, Matthew 26:28 / John 13:1-17. He hadn’t come to be served, but to serve and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for others, Isaiah 53:10-11 / Daniel 9:24-26 / John 11:51-52 / Romans 5:15 / Romans 5:19 / 1 Timothy 2:5-6 / Titus 2:14 / 1 Peter 1:19.

True Greatness

We still desperately need these lessons of Jesus. Many, even in religion, are seeking to be great by trying to gain honour, glory and power.

Churches are infested with ‘politicians’ who want the limelight and who vie for positions of maximum control and authority. We should be ashamed. Jesus was born in a stable outside a small town. He lived His life as a village carpenter and itinerant preacher. He accumulated neither riches nor worldly power.

Yet, today, many of His self-proclaimed followers seek and promise the very things He rejected, as they pursue higher and higher positions in churches.

It is hard to imagine that Jesus would feel at home in their costly cathedrals. It is impossible to believe that He would preach the ‘gospels of health and wealth’ so popular today. Jesus said the way to true greatness was the road of service and suffering.

Two Blind Men Receive Sight

‘As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.’ Matthew 20:29-34

As Jesus passed through Jericho, two blind beggars cried out. The crowds tried to silence him, thinking that the Lord should not be bothered with such unimportant people, but Jesus called the blind men to come to Him and healed them. The beggars began to follow Him. Few rich men followed the Lord, Mark 10:17-22, but many of the poor and downtrodden did.

Notice that Matthew mentions that there were two blind men. In Mark’s account of this healing, he mentions only the outspoken blind man of the two who approached Jesus, that is, Bartimaeus, Mark 10:46. Jesus, Son of David was a common Jewish term that was used in reference to the Messiah, Luke 1:31-32.

On His way to the cross, Jesus received this proclamation of who He was. He was the Prophet, the Seed of the woman who was the fulfilment of all messianic prophecies, Genesis 3:15 / Luke 24:44.

It’s interesting to note that these blind men recognised who Jesus was, but the theologians of Jerusalem who claimed to know the Scriptures couldn’t understand what they clearly saw.

Though many warned this blind man to be quiet, in Matthew 19:13, he cried out even louder his belief that Jesus was the Son of David. He cried out his belief that Jesus was the Messiah.

His outcry would be the work of all disciples after the events of Acts 2. Since Jesus fulfilled all prophecies concerning the Messiah, then He is the Messiah. Their plea would be that Israel accepts Him as the Messiah.

Jesus had compassion on them and they were immediately healed. Mark records that the faith of these two men resulted in their healing, Mark 10:52.

Remember the purpose of the miracles was to confirm that what was being said was indeed from God, to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John 3:2 / John 20:30-31 / Mark 16:20.

When Did This Happen?

According to Matthew 20:29-34 and Mark 10:46-52 the miracle took place when they were ‘leaving’ Jericho. According to Luke 18:35-43 it appears the miracle took place as the Lord was ‘approaching’ Jericho.

At that time, there were two cities named Jericho, the city destroyed by Joshua, Joshua 6:24-26 which was rebuilt and destroyed several times and one subsequently built a little further west by Herod the Great.

The ruins of these are still evident. The curing of the blind men could have taken place after the Lord had passed through the toll of old Jericho and before he entered Herod’s Jericho.

Bible critics point out that the accounts of the healing of the blind men at Jericho as recorded by Matthew and Mark on the one hand, and Luke on the other, reveal ‘an apparent discrepancy’. The verses we should read are Matthew 20:29 / Mark 10:46 and Luke 18:35.

Matthew tells us that as the Lord was ‘leaving Jericho’ two blind men were sitting by the roadside. Mark’s account also states that, as He was ‘leaving Jericho’ Jesus healed a blind beggar, who Mark identifies as ‘Bartimaeus’.

He translates this name for his readers as ‘son of Timaeus’. Luke describes the healing of a blind man occurring as Jesus ‘approached Jericho’.

Two questions call for answers, and they are 1. Were two blind men healed, or only one? 2. Did the healing occur on leaving Jericho or on entering Jericho?

It’s sometimes suggested that in order to resolve the perceived ‘conflict’ in these accounts we should assume that these verses record two separate events, but I believe that this explanation is unnecessary.

How Many Blind Men Were There?

I have no difficulty accepting that there were, as Matthew states, two blind men healed. This is stated so plainly that there can be no argument.

The reason why Mark specifically names just one of them, Bartimaeus, is that he was apparently well-known in the Jericho region.

This is suggested by the fact that the Greek text of Mark 10:46 translates quite literally as ‘the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus the blind beggar’. The naming of the father in this way probably indicates that he was a man of some standing in Jericho.

Notice, also, the use of the definite article, ‘the blind beggar’, not ‘a blind beggar’. There would be little point in naming the father and son in this way if they were unknown in the community.

This also suggests that the healing of Bartimaeus was given more prominence than that of his blind, anonymous companion because he was a familiar figure in Jericho.

It was quite common for beggars, whether blind or otherwise disabled, to become familiar figures in the towns and cities in which they lived.

We have examples of this in John 9, which records the healing of another blind man, and also in the account of the curing of the lame man, mentioned in Acts 4.

Both were clearly very familiar figures. Again, it may even be that Bartimaeus was the more vociferous, more vocal, of the two blind men in clamouring for the attention of Jesus. This seems to be suggested in Mark’s account.

Where Did The Miracle Occur?

Remember that Matthew and Mark say, ‘leaving Jericho’ whilst Luke says, ‘approaching Jericho’. Now, this appears to be a very clear contradiction. Is it possible to reconcile the two accounts? Well, I suggest that, if we spend a short time looking at Jericho’s history and geography, we shall find it easier to resolve the problem.

Old Jericho

Although this event is one of only two references to Jericho found in the Gospels, we must remember that it was a city that, by that time, had already existed for many centuries. This is a fact firmly established by archaeological research.

The first excavation of the Jericho site was carried out by a team of German archaeologists in the years 1907 to 1909, and their work was followed by an expedition by the British School of Archaeology led by Professor John Garstang, which lasted from 1929 to 1936, and which was followed in 1952 by that of the American archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon.

The latest, and I believe the last, work on what is known as ‘The Garstang Trench’ was done in 1957, after which the political climate in Palestine virtually ended the archaeological work of foreign nationals.

Many Jericho’s

However, the most important result to emerge from this work was the discovery of the earliest stratified levels revealing human occupation, ever found at any archaeological site anywhere in the world.

The mound at Ancient Jericho has revealed periods of human occupation down to a level of 45 feet, and scholars now believe that the top, most evidence of human occupation of the site occurred about 1700 B.C., whilst the lowest remains, found on the bedrock of the trench, are thought to date from 7000 B.C.

Remember, that the current site of ancient Jericho is actually a mound that ‘grew’ through thousands of years. It ‘grew’ simply because when the original settlement built on the bedrock, was abandoned, those who later resettled the site did not clear it but merely built upon it.

In this way, the level of the occupied site was raised, strata upon strata, until it became the mound it is today. The various levels can be clearly seen on the sides of the 45-feet deep trench.

This means that Jericho was an ancient Canaanite city long before it was destroyed by Joshua, Joshua 4:24 and there is evidence that, after its destruction by the Israelite army, in the course of its long history, the city was destroyed several times.

After the city had been conquered it was given to the tribe of Benjamin, Joshua 18:21. Later, during the time of the Judges, it was occupied by the Moabites, led by their King Eglon, at which time it was known as ‘The City of the Palms’ Judges 1:16 / Judges 3:13.

Later still, we read in 1 Kings 6:14, that it was ‘rebuilt’ by Hiel of Bethel, in the time of King Ahab. And it was yet again destroyed at the time of the Babylonian Captivity, and later rebuilt once more.

Between The Testaments

It was during the Inter-Testamental Period that Jericho came under Roman control and was governed by a ‘Captain’, ‘Strategos’, in Latin, and during its time under the Romans, the city was given to Cleopatra, by Mark Anthony, and she ‘leased’ it to Herod the Great for 200 talents.

King Herod then built a new city south of the old one, complete with a castle, an amphitheatre, a hippodrome, and beautiful gardens with various water features, and Jericho became his winter residence. This is where he died in 4 B.C.

This city, known as ‘Herodian Jericho’, later suffered the fate of earlier cities. It was destroyed by Emperor Vespasian, in 68 A.D. But the important fact is that this city, virtually adjoining the old site, was the city which Jesus knew.

We could continue to follow Jericho’s turbulent history through succeeding centuries, turbulent because it was destroyed and rebuilt several times. Moslems destroyed it in 638 A.D. Egyptian soldiers destroyed it in 1840. In 1871, it was destroyed by fire. And after each destruction, it was rebuilt.

Jesus And Jericho

But, although it would be interesting to study this later history, what concerns us at the moment is the fact that the miraculous healing occurred when Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem for the last time, after leaving Galilee in the north. Matthew 19:1.

Jericho was the last halt for pilgrims when they travelled to The City of David from Galilee and Perea. They came by way of Jericho, to avoid passing through Samaria, and Jesus, descending from the north, would first enter and pass through what archaeologists call ‘Canaanite Jericho’ that is our ‘old Jericho’, where the ‘Garstang Trench’ has been excavated, and he would then enter ‘Herodian Jericho’.

In other words, there was a point at which he left the ruins of the ancient city and passed into the modern city built by Herod. When we take into consideration the geographical proximity of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ cities, it is not difficult to reconcile the statements made by the Gospel writers, He was ‘leaving’ Canaanite Jericho and ‘entering’ Herodian Jericho. The Gospel records, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, contain no contradictions when we take into consideration such matters as their geographical and historical setting.

Jesus accepted humble people, even though the disciples tried to turn them away. He accepted the man who worked for Him but wasn’t in His personal company.

He welcomed the children, He invited the blind beggar, He rejected those we might have accepted, a rich ruler with so much to offer, and all those who sought position and greatness. The great one in the kingdom is the servant.

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