(Study Outline sourced from “The System Bible Study” – “The Book of Life” [Zondervan])
22 THE DISPUTE OF THE DISCIPLES OVER PRESTIGE IN THE KINGDOM
Returning to the house in Capernaum, the disciples apparently had a dispute among themselves as to “who was the greatest” , or what would be their order of rank in the coming kingdom; such status was normal among Jewish groups at the time, and this question arose among them on more than one occasion. When Jesus asked them what their discussion was about “they kept quiet” and Luke adds “Jesus, knowing their thoughts…”. So finally, they asked Jesus “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, to which Jesus replied “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” , and to illustrate this he placed a little child among them and says “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.
In the same way as the child was not concerned about its “position” in the group of disciples, but appreciated the love demonstrated by Jesus; so each disciple should be more concerned about how they can serve the Master of the kingdom out of their appreciation of His love for them, and Jesus uses this to teach His disciples that true greatness in the kingdom involves embracing an attitude of unpretentious humility instead of seeking a position of power – Jesus sums it up as recorded by Luke “For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest” .
23 JESUS REBUKES JOHN’S MISTAKEN ZEAL
“Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“…because he is not one of us.” – Here we find that the disciples still required further instruction on what the kingdom is all about, Jesus further illustrates how the members of the kingdom function, and that they are not all members of a “chosen or exclusive company of the Twelve”. Jesus says that there are others in the kingdom who will do the work of the King and that “whoever is not against us is for us” , but each member has a great responsibility to the King in what he or she teaches!
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” – Jesus teaches that there will be many things that will cause the “humble” members of the kingdom to stumble in their faith in Him, so each member must be very careful to not only speak the truth but to live the truth so that they do not cause any other member of the kingdom to stumble. Jesus illustrates this by reference to a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep on the hills and goes in search of the one that has wandered away, showing His care for the believer who has lost faith in Him and wandered away because of sin “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” .
24 FORGIVING PERSONAL GRIEVANCES – THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT
Continuing His teaching, Jesus proceeds to instruct His disciples as to the conduct of the members of the various assemblies of His kingdom. Matthew’s gospel uses the word “church” but it should be understood that at this point in time the New Testament Church had not been established, so Jesus must have been referring to the local assembly of Jewish believers either in the synagogues or in local homes.
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault” – the first step is to address the complaint on a one-to-one basis with the expectation that the matter can be resolved. If there is no resolution then “take one or two others along” in accordance with the Law which states that “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”. If the offender still refuses to resolve the matter then the assembly of believers should become involved in the dispute .
If the offending member still refuses to listen, then he/she should be considered an “outsider” – “a pagan or a tax collector” – there is nothing here to suggest that the offender loses his justification before God but rather is being chastised by God, this we also see in Jesus’ further illustration of the unmerciful servant .
It should be further observed that Jesus does not give any recognition to church authority inclusive of bishops or elders, the disciples, or members of the assembly, but He does say “whatever you bind on earth….and whatever you loose on earth…” – you meaning plural – not an individual authority but given to all the disciples, and this we see in the early years of the church as described in the Acts of The Apostles. Collectively they applied the spiritual principles of divine judgment to those that ignored the truth of the Scriptures. He further adds that “if two of you on earth agree….” in prayer “it will be done for you…” but this must follow the principle that our prayers must always be subject to the will of God .
Peter then returns to the question on forgiveness and asks, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother…”to which Jesus replied “seventy-seven times” (NIV), “seventy times seven” (KJV) – meaning that Peter should not be counting the number of times, but that he should forgive for times without number. Jesus then illustrates this with the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in which the ruler of the kingdom, wishing to settle accounts with his servants, forgives the debt of a servant who owed an enormous debt; whereupon, the forgiven servant goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him a comparative smaller debt and is unable to pay: who is then put in prison for the debt that he cannot pay . Hearing this, the ruler of the kingdom summoned the unmerciful servant and handed him over to the jailers for the debt that he owed the ruler commenting “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” Jesus then ends the session by stating that “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart”. As indicated previously, this does not teach that a believer will lose his or her standing before God, but rather a Holy God will chasten such a believer! .
25 IMPULSIVE AND HESITANT FOLLOWERS OF JESUS
One cannot be a disciple of Jesus and serve on his/her own terms, we must understand that life is short and uncertain and that the work of serving Jesus is demanding and important, and as Jesus Himself said “Night is coming, when no one can work.” indicating that the gospel must be preached as acceptance of salvation and is guaranteed only for today.
The cost of discipleship must also be taken into account, but should not be a deterrent to our service, considering who we serve and the rewards of our service to Him; therefore, much thought must be given to the statement “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go” . We must understand that as Jesus was rejected we too will be rejected – “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”; and that if we really want to answer the call to serve Him we should not hesitate in making our decision – “let the dead bury their own dead” – God’s work is too important for us to wait for our own convenience . Answering Jesus’ call to serve Him also involves no “looking back”; that is, we do not quit when the going gets rough, or attempt to serve two masters – “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
26 JESUS REJECTS THE URGE TO GO TO THE FEAST AT JERUSALEM
“You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.”
Jesus was not refusing to go to the feast, but was rejecting the reason that His brothers were suggesting – “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” – John records that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him <see also Psa. 69:8; Mk.. 3:21>. Jesus says to them that although it was the right time for them to go to Jerusalem, it was not the right time for Him to go – “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” ; Jesus would go to Jerusalem but not for the reasons they were suggesting; He would go to deliver God’s final prophetic message to His people .
27 JESUS GOES PRIVATELY TO THE FEAST
“However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.”
“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
Luke emphasizes the fact of Jesus’ determination – “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” and John records that this was done “not publicly, but in secret”: this journey to Jerusalem did not lead to His crucifixion, but marked the next phase of His ministry in the region of Judea, of which Jerusalem was the central place. Luke also points out that Jesus purposed to go through Samaria; this being the shortest route from Galilee to Jerusalem; but the Samaritans in their hatred for the Jews would not offer any overnight accommodation for those on their way to the feast, so it is recorded – “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” . James and John then suggested that they “call fire down from heaven” , to which Jesus “rebuked them” and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” .