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Our Need Before the King | Matthew 19-20

As preached by Zach Thompson.


"Is God big or are people big?"


When God is ruling our life, we will:

1) Pursue obedience from the heart (19:1-2).

2) See our lowliness and embrace God's grace (19:13-20:16).

3) Live in light of Christ's compassion (20:17-34).

-imitate Christ

-Call out to Christ


Matthew 19-20


Good morning everyone. If you haven’t already turned there, then open your Bibles to Matthew chapters 19-20. 


For our public reading, we’ll read chapter 19 together. 


If you are able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s word. 


We’ll start in 19:1


“Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.


3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”


10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”


13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.


16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.


23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[b] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold[c] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.


Let’s Pray. 


What is common sense? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been hearing people say the same thing. You’ve probably heard it too. “People just don’t have common sense anymore. We should call it uncommon sense.” 


The idea is that there is this body of knowledge, that we should be able to just assume on people. You should have the mental capacity to figure certain things out. You should know how to behave in certain social situations without having to be told. Common sense. 


In our text today, Jesus is confronting issues and topics that would have been considered common sense topics. There was a certain amount of common ground that most people would have just assumed. 


In each case, someone asks Jesus a question, and Jesus responds in a way that turns their value system upside down. First, he speaks to the Pharisees then he speaks to his disciples. Then the rich young man, then he speaks to James and John, then a couple of blind men, and all throughout the story, Jesus answers in ways that constantly leave people with their jaws on the ground.


So I want to start by cutting straight to the theme that ties all of this together. 


I think that all of Jesus’ instruction in our passage today hinges on a single reality. 


And it’s this. 


Who is big and who is small? 


What do I mean by this? 


It’s simple. In your mind, is God big? Or are people big? 


Who holds prominence in your mind? When you are confronted with a dilemma, how do you make the decision? What motivates your inmost thoughts? 


Maybe a picture would be helpful. Picture a throne that represents the place of ultimate prominence in your heart. Who is sitting on that throne? You know that God is supposed to be the answer. But is someone else usually sitting there? Is it you? Your boss? Your spouse? Some hypothetical person who doesn’t even exist? Someone else?


A servant can’t serve two masters. There is only one throne. 


Who is ruling your heart? 


If you are the king of your heart, then you will order your life in much the same way that others do. But the kingdom of God operates on a different set of values because we have a different king.


As we walk through our text today, we are just going to point out what it looks like when God is ruling our lives. And here is our first point:


When God is ruling our life, we will:

  1. Pursue obedience from the heart (19:1-12)


We see this in 19:1-12 when the Pharisees ask Jesus a question about divorce. In verse three, they ask, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 


But Jesus doesn’t simply say yes or no. He goes back to the very first marriage in Genesis 2, and he quotes God’s proclamation over the first man and woman. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then Jesus makes his point in verse 6. “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”


If God is the one who joins men and women in marriage, then what right do men and women have to nullify that? This is Jesus’ point. 

 

And the Pharisees think that they have him here. Look in verse 7. “They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 


You can almost hear the smugness in their voices.


But Jesus tells them that they misunderstand the text. We aren’t going to read it right now, but they are thinking back to Deuteronomy 24, but if you go back and read this text closely, it isn’t encouraging people to get divorced. It’s addressing a very specific situation. If a man divorces his wife, then she gets remarried, then that second man also divorces her, then she can’t go back to the original husband. That’s the specific situation that is addressed by that text. 


Moses wasn’t condoning the practice of divorce. He was regulating it. He was putting guardrails on a messy situation. 


Think if you had an adult child who could make their own decisions. Out of the house and totally outside of where you can make them do anything at all. And you find out that they are street racing. You wish they weren’t doing it. It’s dangerous. It’s illegal. It’s not your will for them, and you know that they won’t listen to you if you try and keep them from participating. But as they leave to go race, a loving parent would still exhort them to wear a seat belt. 


You aren’t condoning the action, you are trying to regulate something that they won’t stop. 


The Pharisees misunderstood this. They were treating this passage from the law of Moses as a stamp of God’s approval on divorce, but Jesus rejects this. 


Now, let me take a pastoral moment here. This passage is not the entirety of everything the Bible says on divorce and remarriage. There is much to say here. What is adultery? How do we counsel people who are in a violent marriage? What if someone is already remarried? What if someone is divorced, but they burn with sexual desire? Do we encourage them to get married in order to help curb that desire? Or do we tell them that they must burn with that desire? 


There is just so much here, and I know that this is delicate. Most of us have been touched by some kind of marital unfaithfulness or divorce. Close friends, family, parents, maybe even your own marriage. 


And I would exhort us to dwell on this together and look to the word of God and weigh it, and find a way to walk forward in obedience. 


But I think that at the fundamental level, Jesus is addressing something deeper here. The Pharisees were asking the wrong question. In our own pharisaical hearts, we ask the wrong question. 


This is what they were asking. How far can we go before this is sin? How close can we get to the line before we cross it? 


They were like teenagers flirting with physical boundaries and trying to see how far they could go before God frowned on them. My dad was a youth pastor, and it seems like he would get this question all of the time. How far is too far? How far can an unmarried couple go before they have engaged in sexual immorality? 


It’s the wrong question. 


What delights the heart of God? That is the question that we should ask. That is the real guide to the Christian ethic. 


We aren’t called to check off the boxes on a legal code. We are called to reflect the heart of Christ. 


Where are you imitating the Pharisees? 


Is there someplace in your life where you have become satisfied with the absolute minimum of obedience? 


A clean house is a happy house. My wife has never said this, but I know it’s true. When the house is clean, she feels less stressed, and she knows that when people come into our home, they will feel more welcome and less distracted if the house is generally orderly. I know this about my wife, and I can choose how to respond. 


If I am sitting on the couch, and I know that there is a group coming over, what should I do? I face this decision regularly. We could say that I have two options. I can be helpful, or I can be unhelpful. I could continue to sit on the couch and do whatever I’m doing. Or I could clean and prepare every part of the house that I can before those guests arrive. Two options. Helpful or unhelpful. But maybe there is another way… Maybe I can do just enough so that Courtney won’t be mad at me when she realizes that there are still things to do. I can do just enough of the dishes. I can get the crumbs off of the high chair, but leave the mess on the floor. 


How little can I do to keep my wife from being disappointed in me? 


What does that question reveal in my heart? It reveals that I value my couch time more than I value my wife’s actual desire. She doesn’t want the house to be clean. She wants our guests to feel comfortable in our home. I’ve totally missed the point because I was asking the wrong question.  


Is God calling you to something? Don’t try to get out of it by semantics. If God is ruling your heart, you’ll seek to obey the fullness of what he says, not just check off a box. 


All of this is underlined by what the disciples say in 19:10. Look there. They exclaim that if what Jesus is saying is true, then it is better not to marry. And Jesus doesn’t contradict them, but he does say that singleness isn’t for everyone, but it is given to some. 


So this, I think, is the question that we should take away from this point. What does it look like for you to pursue holiness today? Maybe you have the gift of self-control, but you feel pressured to be married. Maybe you burn with the desire to be married, but you don’t know what should happen next. Maybe you have been divorced and remarried, and you read this text with a heavy heart. 


This is the question that you need to answer. What does obedience from the heart look like today? Given the life circumstance that is in my lap right now, how can I best live to the glory of God? 


There is so much more to say on this text, but I think that this is the question that we need to answer, and I believe that the rest of our text will help us meditate on this. 


Second, when God is ruling in our hearts, we will:

  1. See our lowliness and embrace God’s grace (19:13-20:16)


The next thing that we see in the text is people bringing children to Jesus. The disciples rebuke the people for wasting Jesus’ time, but in 19:14, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”


Jesus isn’t making the point that all children are guaranteed entrance to the kingdom, but he is setting up a kingdom reality. 


Many who are first will be last and the last first. These children have nothing to offer Jesus. Jesus won’t get glory by healing them. They don’t have status. Jesus won’t win honor by blessing them. 


They come to Jesus with nothing, and they leave blessed. 


And it’s not a coincidence that the next person we see coming to Jesus is impressive. A man of great wealth comes to Jesus and asks a question that seems like one of the best things to ask. Look at 19:16, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”


Then Jesus lists a few commandments, and the man says that he has kept them all since he was a child. Guys, this one seems like a slam dunk. Think how good this guy will look in our marketing material. Think how much of a dent he could put in our building fund. 


But Jesus looks past all of that, and he cuts to his heart. Look in verse 21. “‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”


When he was faced with the choice between clinging to his wealth or clinging to Jesus, he chose his wealth. 


This man didn’t want Jesus to answer his question. He wanted Jesus to be impressed by how good he was. He didn’t come to Jesus in need. He came to Jesus in abundance.


We won’t truly embrace the grace of God until we feel that we need his grace. That’s why Jesus goes on to say that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.


A truly rich man won’t as readily see his own need. He won’t see his own lowliness.


But notice that Jesus doesn’t say it’s impossible. In 19:26, he says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 


So let’s think about this. If there are two rich men, and one sees himself as a catch for God’s kingdom, and the other understands his need before God and approaches God with humility... What’s the difference? 


God is the difference. With man it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible. 


Specifically, the one who doesn’t bow before God doesn’t truly know God. If someone stands before God and thinks that they have everything they need, then they have fundamentally misunderstood God. 


Have you ever thought you were good at something, but then you get into the room with someone who is actually good at it? Several years ago, I had progressed significantly in my ability to play piano, and I started to think that I sounded good when I played. I remember having a couple of professional musicians in my living room, and this guy had my keyboard in front of him. The same keyboard that I often play on Sundays. And he made sound come out of that machine that maybe that keyboard has never produced before or after that moment. I felt like a child. And it wasn’t until I saw the ease in how his fingers moved on the keys or the depth of understanding about what that electronic piano could do. 


I thought highly of myself because it had been too long since I was in the presence of someone who was truly great at piano. 


This is something like what our hearts need with God. We can convince ourselves that we have all of our stuff together and that God would be lucky to have us, but what we really need is to behold God. 


Knowing God as he has revealed himself is the greatest humility machine that we could have. 


Do you remember the beginning of the Book of Revelation? John the beloved is on the island of Patmos and Jesus reveals himself to him. And do you remember what John’s first response was? In Revelation 1:17, it says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” This is John the beloved. The man who leaned his head back into the chest of Jesus as the twelve reclined at the last supper. John was one of the three men that Jesus brought into his deepest confidence during his earthly ministry. And on seeing Jesus, he falls on his face in fear and wonder. 


If we really understand who God is, we won’t be able to help it. Whatever gain we have will seem like loss. And the loss we have for his sake will be gain. 


And that’s the promise of Jesus to his disciples. Look in 19:27, “Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”


Just pause and glory in this. What a promise for us. This isn’t just for the 12 disciples. Jesus makes it clear. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 


If you are following Jesus, then this is for you. In this church and for all here who would come to Christ, this holds a special sweetness to it, doesn’t it? How many here have literally left these things to live in obedience to the call of Christ? What about the fact that almost anyone who follows Jesus in this culture is turning their back on generations of false belief? 


If you have abandoned your old way of life, and you have turned to follow Jesus, then this promise is for you. If you have rejected Mormonism, and you can’t have the intimacy with your family that you used to have, then this promise is for you. 


“Whatever gain I had, I count as loss for sake of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.” (Phil 3:7) You will receive one hundredfold what you have lost, and at the same time, you will gain eternal life. 


So if you are here, and you are on the fence, then lean in here. Lean into Jesus. Put all of your chips on the table. He won’t abandon you. He is faithful to his promise. 


If you want to turn from everything that you have ever counted as valuable and turn to Jesus, he will welcome you with open arms, and this promise will become yours. 


And don’t think that he will think less of you because you have delayed this long. That’s part of this parable that Jesus tells in 20:1-16. 


In that parable, the master of the house needs work done in his field, and throughout the day, he goes to the market and he hires laborers. But at the end of the day, he gives the same wage to the laborers who worked all day as he does for those who worked all day. 


The grace is God’s to give. Would you begrudge his generosity? Would you doubt him because he seems too generous? Would you accuse him because he would receive you when other people would reject you? 


Recognize your lowliness, believe his promise, and embrace his grace. 


Third, when God is ruling in our hearts, we will:

  1. Live in light of Christ’s compassion (20:17-34)


In this last section, we see several examples that show us what it means to live in light of Christ’s compassion. 


Imitate Christ

First, living in light of Christ’s compassion means imitating Christ. Have the compassion that Christ had. 


In chapter 20:17-19, Jesus takes his disciples aside and he straightforwardly tells them that when he goes to Jerusalem, he will be betrayed and killed and raised on the third Day. 


This is the third time that Jesus has told them this in this gospel, and for the third time, they seem to have no idea what he is really saying. But this is really important to notice. Both last time and this time, their immediate concern is their own glory. 


It seems like the disciples are still caught up thinking that Jesus is about to try and take Jerusalem by force, and they need to secure the power structure now. 


But Jesus makes it clear that greatness in the kingdom works differently than it does in the world. Look in verse 25. “But Jesus called them to him and said, “ You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


In the kingdom of God, greatness is measured by how much you resemble the king, and the king is the servant of all. 


This is the same Jesus who ignored the social norms that said only gentiles can wash feet, and he strapped on a towel and washed the feet of men who had been walking by donkey dung all day. The feet of a man who would betray him to death. This is the Jesus “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). 


This Jesus who had every ounce of cosmic power. Inherently worthy of all glory and authority. He became a servant for people who had rebelled against him. 


Jesus is the paradigm for what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God, and Jesus calls us to imitate Himself. 


How often do you try to get out of serving? Do you try to come up with excuses to justify laziness? 


It’s so easy to indulge our selfishness. Think about how glorious Jesus was before taking on flesh. In eternal blissful joy with the Father and the Spirit, and he took on weak flesh for us. 


We don’t have eternal cosmic glory. We don’t live in infinite bliss. But we have trouble putting down our phones to look someone in the eyes as they ask us for help. 


It is so easy to be concerned with our own comfort and greatness. Do you realize how many of the enemy’s lies center on this? “I am important. I need to be recognized. I deserve this.” The enemy loves it when we are self-focused because that is when we are easy prey. 


We are like the crowds. In our text, the crowds just don’t get it. Do you see what they do down in verses 29-34? 


Look there. “And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 


Do you see how the crowd just doesn’t understand who Jesus is? 


There are blind men calling out that Jesus is the Messiah, and the crowd rebukes them. They don’t understand the compassion of Jesus. They don’t understand that Jesus came to serve. Do you see the contradiction here? 


This is like a group of social workers trampling over a group of orphans on their way to protest for a social cause. It’s like a group of Christians throwing eggs at a street preacher on their way to hear Billy Graham. 


Beware the hypocrisy of standing close to Jesus and ignoring the heart of Jesus. 


May we imitate Christ. 

Call out to Christ


Second, living in light of Christ’s compassion means Calling out to Christ.


If Christ is compassionate, then you can come to him. He will be gentle with you. If you are a bruised reed, he won’t break you. If you are like a smoldering flame, he won’t snuff you out. 


But he will make you his. And he won’t leave you bruised. He won’t leave you smoldering. 


Do you believe that? 


These blind men did. The irony is thick here. The blind men can see the true nature of Jesus better than the crowds. The crowd didn’t understand that Jesus is filled with compassion. 


But the blind men knew their need. They knew that this was probably the only shot they would ever get, so they were all in. They were shouting, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And people were shaming them and telling them that Jesus wouldn’t care about their problems, and the blind men just went on shouting. “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”


Why didn’t the rich young man cry out like this? Why didn’t he abandon all pretense and prominence and go follow Jesus? Do you cry out to Jesus like this? Is there some pretense or prominence that you cling to like the rich man?


Whatever would cause you to hold back, look at how Jesus responds here. Look in verse 32 after these blind men have been crying out. 


“And stopping, Jesus called them and said, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ 33 They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.”


He hears them, and he heals them. He ignores what the crowd would think. This great man, kneeling beside these beggars. Where the crowd ignored them as worthless pieces of society, Jesus looked at them and saw their value. 

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