Word for Today Archive

Pastoral Commentary for Matthew 20
Author: Pastor Bob Nordlie

In the past six years since I became an avid road cyclist, July has become my favorite month of the year. Before moving to Texas it was usually the month in which I got more miles on the bike than any other. But that's not the reason it's my favorite. July is almost fully consumed by the Tour de France. This year it begins July 3 and ends July 25, and I try to watch it every day (if at all possible).

Bike racing is not particularly exciting, unless you are a cyclist. Then you understand what these men do. They ride every day for three weeks (with just two rest days) at an average of about 25 mph for about a hundred miles per day. During this time they will spend six days in the high mountains, climbing thousands of feet each day. You can only appreciate what it takes to complete such a race if you are a cyclist yourself, and have ridden your bike more than a hundred miles in a single day, or climbed a high mountain on your bike. Then, you can begin (and only begin) to appreciate how difficult the Tour is.

The goal of most professional cyclists is simply to complete the Tour successfully at some point in their career. Only a handful have realistic hopes of winning the Tour. A few will be able to dream of winning a stage (one day of racing). For most, the best they can hope for is to become a "super domestic" (or teammate) for a real GC (General Category) contender. If they are able to help their teammate to the overall win of the Tour de France, the financial rewards will be significant, because every GC winner shares his prize with his teammates.

At a celebratory dinner on the night the race ends the winning team dines in style and converses joyfully about the great moments in which the race was won. Envelopes are handed out to each team member by the GC winner with a portion of the prize. Naturally the amounts vary, depending on how much the individual team member contributed to the win.

What do you suppose the teammates' reaction would be if the envelopes were passed out and everyone got the same amount? Or worse yet, suppose the winner passed out envelopes to every rider in the Tour (regardless of which team they rode for) with equal amounts. What do you suppose the super domestics' reaction would be?

It would probably be much like the workers in the vineyard who had labored hard all day under the burning sun and received the same amount from the owner of the vineyard as the workers who worked only one hour at the end of the day. Matthew 20:11-12 says: "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.'"

What Jesus was trying to teach us is that God doesn't owe us anything. We cannot earn salvation by our hard work. We can never be worthy of spending eternity in the presence of God, considering our sinfulness. So God's gift of salvation is just that. It's a gift, by grace alone. He doesn't owe it to us. We don't deserve it. We didn't earn it. But out of His goodness, God gives it to us anyway.

The Bible tells us that there will be rewards in heaven, for those who have served God faithfully here on earth. It also makes clear that those rewards will vary. However, none of us will be jealous of another. Nor will we question the size of our reward, or anyone else's. Because then we will understand that these are rewards of grace. God doesn't owe it to us. He gives it freely. And we will receive it gratefully and joyfully, knowing that the only One who deserves the glory He receives in eternity is Jesus, who earned salvation for us all.

Pastoral Commentary for Matthew 20
Author: Pastor Zach

One of my fondest memories from college, seminary, and even as I was serving a congregation in Corpus Christi was working as a DJ at local country radio stations. I love country music! And I loved working as a DJ, especially because of the "hook-ups" I received to so many country concerts when they came to town. Nowhere is old cliché, "It's not what you know, but who you know," truer than in the radio business. Because of who I knew in the industry, I got to attend more free concerts than I can remember as well as meet some of country music's biggest stars. A picture of my wife Melody, Dierks Bentley, and myself is still proudly displayed in our house.

Knowing the right people at the right times for the right things is something which many people covet. After all, knowing people in the radio industry can get you a free concert. Knowing the manager at a restaurant can get you a free meal. And knowing the right person at the University of Texas can get you a great seat at Longhorn football game. Too bad I don't know one of those people!

In our reading for today from Matthew 20, the mother of two disciples comes to Jesus, figuring that their relationship with him is going to get them the hook-up. But this hook-up not a hook-up for concert tickets, a free meal, or even good seats at a football game; rather, this hook-up is one that will, at least hopefully, get them the best seats in the kingdom of God: "Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor 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'" (verses 21-22).

It's important to note that the "sons" which are referred to here are James and John (cf. Matthew 4:21) and their mother's name is Salome (cf. Mark 15:40, 16:1) who, in all likelihood, is the sister of Mary, Jesus' mother (cf. John 19:25, Matthew 27:56). In other words, this request for the best seats in the kingdom of God is made by none other than Jesus' aunt on behalf of Jesus' cousins. And these two cousins, it seems, are hoping that their familial relationship to Jesus will get them a special spot ruling and reigning with the Savior. After all, blood is thicker than water, right? And you have to take care of your family, don't you?

At least in one unsuspected sense, Jesus' does offer his cousins the best "seats" in his kingdom: "'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?' 'We can,' they answered" (verse 22). Jesus' seat, he says, is actually a cup. And that cup, of course, is actually a cross. For this is why Jesus concludes his conversation with his disciples: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (verse 28). The hook-up with radio directors, restaurant managers, and UT insiders gets us concert tickets, free meals, and seats on the fifty-yard line. The hook up with Christ gets us a cross. Indeed, this is what Jesus himself promises: "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20).

So why would anyone ever want to be associated with Jesus if an association with him only gets us a cross? Because the cross is a polyvalent place. Yes, it is a place of great suffering, sorrow, and shock, but it is also the place of our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. What seems at first to be the worst, most uncomfortable seat in the house turns out to be the best, most glorious seat in God's kingdom. And Jesus, through the cross, invites us to sit with him. Yes, sitting with Jesus sometimes involves pain. But sitting with Jesus always ends in glory. So take a seat with Christ. He's saved one just for you.

Read Today's Scripture and Commentary on the Concordia website.

2020-07-10 16:58:19