Today’s reading: Matthew 20-21.
Jesus kept repeating the theme of change in his final days. People must change if they will enter the kingdom of heaven. They must change radically – from the root up – but they found it hard. First there was the problem of accepting those who professed faith and followed Jesus after a lifetime of sinful disobedience. In a story that looked forward to the thief on the cross, he compared their salvation to the wages paid to hired men.
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon 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. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These 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.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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 20:9-15
Soon the disciples were arguing about which of them would be greatest in the kingdom, and Jesus urged them to abandon their worldly mindset. They needed to change their thinking about kingdom greatness.
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 20:25-28
The religious leaders were the ones who needed to change the most and usually refused. They needed to become like children in order to enter the kingdom.
But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” Matthew 21:15-16
Repentance is the most dramatic form of change, and Jesus illustrated it by telling the story of two sons. The good son said he would do his father’s will but then failed to do so. The other son, representing the despised sinners of Jesus’ day, said he would not do his father’s bidding, but then repented and obeyed. Repentance is the most necessary change for a citizen of the kingdom. Those who came seeking after John the Baptist were making the turn towards repentance, but the religious rulers were not.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” Matthew 21:31-32
The old witnessing pamphlet asks the question, “What must I do to go to Hell?” The answer? Nothing. If we do nothing different we will all go to Hell because of our sin and disobedience. If we want to be citizens of God’s kingdom, we must change. The change begins with repentance from our sin. It continues with childlike acceptance of our heavenly father. It moves on to an abandonment of worldly views of greatness, and concludes by unselfishly accepting all those lost ones who finally believe after a long life of disobedience.
A man is not a Christian if his first concern is pay. Peter asked: “What do we get out of it?” The Christian works for the joy of serving God and his fellow-men. That is why the first will be last and the last will be first. Many a man in this world, who has earned great rewards, will have a very low place in the Kingdom because rewards were his sole thought. Many a man, who, as the world counts it, is a poor man, will be great in the Kingdom, because he never thought in terms of reward but worked for the thrill of working and for the joy of serving. It is the paradox of the Christian life that he who aims at reward loses it, and he who forgets reward finds it. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible