Matthew 20–22: Being Great & Being First

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 8: Saturday

Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’

Matthew 21:5

In today’s Bible reading of Matthew 20–22, Jesus foretells His crucifixion and resurrection before He enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. There He will have His final confrontations with the Pharisees.

But before He deals with the Pharisees, in chapter 20, the issue of importance and greatness in the kingdom of heaven resurfaces with the disciples. In chapter 18, they had already asked who is greatest in the kingdom, and Jesus said the one who humbles himself as a child will be greatest. Now, after the mother of James and John asks if they can sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in His kingdom, He once again turns their idea of greatness upside down as He tells them the one who wishes to be first among them must be their slave.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall 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.”
Matthew 20:25–28

First, humility, and now, slavery, define greatness in the kingdom of heaven. That’s not exactly what they were expecting to hear!

In Jerusalem, Jesus has a series of confrontations with the high priests and Pharisees. His parables of judgment in chapter 21 are about them, and He closes by quoting Psalm 118, about the stone rejected by the builders becoming the chief corner stone, and says:

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
Matthew 21:43–44

In chapter 22, the religious leaders seek to trap Jesus with their questions, only to find they are the ones who are trapped when he asks them a question. At the end of the chapter they have all been silenced:

“No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”
Matthew 22:46

The disciples still think greatness is achieved by having positions of authority. The religious leaders react against any threats to their positions of authority. Yet Jesus, the King who actually is great, is also the One who came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Matthew 21:5 is in all upper case in the NAS because it is a quote from the Old Testament.
I’ve used upper and lower case for ease in reading.
The Corner Stone (Le pierre angulaire), James Tissot, No known copyright restrictions.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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