The Big Surprise
EasyEnglish Study Unit 5 (Level B) on the Gospel (Good News) of Matthew 17-20
translation into EasyEnglish by Mary Read
(Based on the Crossway Bible Guide, used by permission of Crossway Books, Leicester, LE1 7GP, England.)
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
WYCLIFFE ASSOCIATES (UK)
EasyEnglish Ó TRANSLATION (Level B)...................................................................... Mary Read
LINGUISTIC CHECKER............................................................................................... Sue Hunter
Crossway Bible Guide
(Used By Permission of Crossway Books
Leicester LE1 7GP, England.)
A Study of the Gospel (Good News) of Matthew
For personal study,
and for study by a group.
By Stephen Dray
(Note: Each Section will be in a box, so that you can
easily find a particular passage.
It will look like this: .)
There is a Word List at the end of this book.
This gives the meanings of difficult words.
These words have a star like *this in front of them in the text.
There may be other words that you do not understand.
If so, please tell us.
*OT means Old Testament. It is the first part of our Bible.
*NT means New Testament. It is the second part of our Bible.
In the Bible, verses are the divisions of a chapter.
What Jesus is really like
Jesus was preparing for his death. He chose three of his *disciples for something special. He let them see how strong and how wonderful he was. (He let them see his *glory.)
Peter had declared that Jesus was the *Messiah. (Read 16:16.) Jesus told his *disciples not to say anything about it. (See 16:20. Compare 17:9 too.) There was a reason for this. Jesus wanted to explain things to them more completely. They still had much to learn. They knew that he was the *Messiah. Now they must learn what that meant. They must learn what it meant to be his *disciples too. This teaching began in 16:21–28.
Here, in 17:1–13, Jesus continued this teaching. He did it in a very special and wonderful way. Matthew saw it as a way to teach. But it would have helped Jesus too. It would have confirmed his task to him. Bad things were going to happen to him. And it would have given him strength for that time.
Jesus was the *prophet of God. Peter believed that. But he still argued with Jesus. (Read 16:22.) Yet, Jesus chose Peter to climb the mountain with him. Jesus took only two other *disciples with him.
Two very important things happened on the mountain. First, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah. For the *Jews, they were the greatest *OT men of God. God used Moses to give his laws to the *Jews. (The first 5 books of the *OT are called The Law. Moses wrote them.) Elijah was a great *prophet. The *prophets wrote many books of the *OT. (*Jews called these books The *Prophets.) So, it is clear that both the Law and the *Prophets spoke about Jesus. (Compare Luke 9:31 too.)
Then, the *disciples heard a voice that came from heaven. The words were similar to those that are in Deuteronomy 18:15. It was how Peter spoke in 16:16 too. So, the voice that came from heaven emphasised the truth about Jesus. Jesus was (and is) the person whom God has chosen. Jesus speaks for God. There was a lesson for Peter here. It was: ‘Do not argue. Listen to him.’
Read again Matthew’s account of this great event. It reminds us about other verses in the Bible. First, there was the time when Moses met with God. (Read Exodus 34:29–35.) Moses’ face shone because he was so close to God. Jesus, too, shone all over. Then, read Revelation 1:13–16. There is a description of Jesus’ *glory in heaven. Several things are similar to the event that is in Matthew 17. This is probably not a surprise. John wrote the book of Revelation. He was also with Jesus on the mountain.
But there was more than that. The *disciples saw Jesus’ *glory on the mountain. It suggested Jesus’ future *glory. That would be when he had finished his work. In the days ahead, Jesus would die on the cross. The *disciples would see this happen. Then they should remember this great event that happened on the mountain.
Peter had argued with Jesus (16:22). He probably thought that Jesus would establish a *kingdom on earth. It was hard not to think about that sort of *glory (17:4). But this event on the mountain was special. It showed what Jesus’ *kingdom was really like. The *disciples saw Jesus’ *glory. It should make them think about greater things. It should affect their ambitions, too. Before this, they may have been looking for a *kingdom on earth. Now, they should look for God himself. They should enjoy him.
Of course, Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. But Matthew concentrated on something else. It was the discussion between Jesus and his three *disciples. This was when they returned from the mountain. Again, Jesus asked them not to speak about what had happened. The time was not yet right (verse 9). The *disciples could not understand the event completely yet. The time would come when they would understand it. That would be when Jesus came back to life again.
The section ended with a question. It also gave Jesus’ reply. The *disciples asked about Elijah. The *prophets had said that Elijah would return. He would announce the *Messiah. (Read 11:14.) Jesus had said that John the *Baptist was this ‘Elijah’. Now the three *disciples had seen Elijah! This was hard to understand. So, they asked Jesus about it (verse 10).
Jesus had been talking with Moses and Elijah. They spoke about Jesus’ death. The subject was not his great *kingdom. Jesus repeated what he had said before. John the *Baptist was the man who was like ‘Elijah’. The *OT had said that he would come. Then Jesus said something that was important. John the *Baptist had suffered. (Read 14:1–12.) And Jesus must suffer too (17:12).
There is another lesson to learn from this event. Jesus had said a strange thing. (Read 16:28.) It was about some people who were there with him. They would not die until they had seen Jesus in his *kingdom. This passage explained his words. These people saw his *glory there on the mountain. His *glory continued to show too. Jesus came back to life again. He returned to heaven. Then he sent his Holy Spirit to live in all his people.
So the *kingdom of Jesus advances all over the world. His *kingdom grows in men and women. They all wait to see the full *glory of Jesus. *Satan (the devil) has not won. (Read 16:18.)
1. We have read a description of Jesus and his *glory. How can this help us as *disciples today?
2. The *kingdom of God has already begun to come. Can you think of any examples of this truth? Perhaps there are some examples in your own church? In what ways can we see God’s power?
3. Imagine something. Jesus shows himself, as he did on the mountain. But he shows himself to each person in the world. What difference would that make? Think about the newspapers, television and radio. How would they report it? What would governments’ reactions be? Think about the different sections of society. What might their reactions be? After 5 years, would the world be a different place?
The *disciples return to their ordinary life.
Away from the mountain, there was ordinary life. Someone was still ill. There was an argument about taxes.
The verses here continued the same idea as the previous section. The *disciples still had much to learn. They must learn more about themselves. They must learn more about Jesus too.
A total failure (verses 14–21)
There is a big contrast between verses 1–13 and verses 14–21. Three *disciples saw the *glory of Jesus. The other 9 *disciples were without Jesus, in the valley. A father asked them to heal his son. This was what Jesus had already told them to do. (Read 10:8; Mark 6:13 and Luke 9:6–10.) The *disciples failed, which was sad. But Jesus was still the same. It did not mean that he was weak too. It did not mean that he was not willing to help. And the boy’s father realised this (verse 15).
Verses 19–21 give the reason why the *disciples failed. There is a difficulty with these verses. It is hard to know what Matthew wrote. Some Bibles do not have the words in verse 21. Many people think that he did not write them. These words are in Mark 9:29. But, most Bibles leave out two words there too. The words are: ‘and fasting’. (This means to go without food.) They are probably not words that Jesus or Matthew used.
There is another problem in verse 20. Jesus described what was wrong about the *disciples. It is not clear if he meant ‘*unbelief’ or ‘little *faith’. Probably it was ‘*unbelief’. The *disciples had sent evil *spirits away from many people. Perhaps they thought that their own power did this. In the *disciples’ minds it could be like a kind of magic.
So, they did not have a living *faith in Jesus. They could only do *miracles because Jesus gave them the power. Even a little *faith would have been enough. But they had to use it in the proper way. Here, the *disciples had acted on their own. They did not use the power of Jesus. The amount of *faith is not the important thing. The important thing is the fact that it is genuine. This meant that they would have a humble trust in Jesus. They would trust Jesus for everything.
This was what Jesus was saying to his *disciples. He tried to encourage them in verse 20. He used a popular word picture of the time. People might want to say that a thing was impossible. In ancient Israel, they spoke about it as a mountain. Nobody could move it. But Jesus told his *disciples what they must do. A thing might be impossible. But they must trust him. If he planned to do it, then it would happen. Jesus would do what he promised to do.
Sons of the Living God (verses 22–27)
Jesus repeated his earlier teaching. He told his *disciples that he must die. (Read 16:21–22.) This made the *disciples very sad. The natural question to ask would be: ‘Why?’ Some strange events followed. But the events had a purpose. (Read verses 24–27.) Jesus was suggesting an answer to their question.
Every *Jew must pay a certain tax. It was for the care of the *Temple. The tax was especially for the *sacrifices. (Read Exodus 30:11–16.) The *sacrifices were necessary. They were because of the *sins of the people. God hates *sin. So everyone who *sins must have eternal death. (Note: Eternal means before time began; for all time and for ever.) God had taught the *Jews that he would forgive their *sin. But they must offer another life in their place. God allowed them to use an animal. In this way, God showed them two things. He was holy. But he wanted to forgive them too.
The men who collected this tax came to Peter. They asked him if Jesus paid the tax. This was a natural question. Some *Jewish teachers and their *disciples did not have to pay it. The officials may not have been sure about Jesus. Peter answered: ‘Of course he does’ (verse 25).
Jesus used the incident to teach Peter. In the ancient world, there was a common practice. Kings and their families did not pay taxes. The same thing usually happens today. Jesus is the Son of God. So he did not need to pay the tax. He had no *sin. So he did not need to pay for a *sacrifice. But, there was even more. Peter did not need to pay the *Temple tax either. He, too, was a son of God!
Peter was a *Jew. Jesus’ words must have surprised him. But he may not have understood them completely. Then Jesus did a wonderful little *miracle. This was to explain what he meant. Jesus showed that he knew all things. He showed that he had power over all things too. These two facts are only true about God. Then, by the *miracle, he chose to pay the tax for himself and for Peter.
This emphasised something. Jesus did not need to die as a punishment for his own *sin. So, when he died, Jesus was paying the spiritual debts of other people. He was taking the punishment that all people deserve. But there is another important truth here. Jesus’ death would be the final *sacrifice. So Peter would not need to pay the tax. Jesus’ death would pay for it. This meant that *sacrifices would not be necessary any more.
So, this little passage told the reason why Jesus would die. He would die for the *sins of all his *disciples. By his death, he would make them the children of God.
1. Someone might say: ‘I wish that I had your *faith.’ What should you say to them? Is it possible to measure *faith, in any way? If so, how could you measure it?
2. Christians are citizens of heaven. (Read Philippians 3:20.) Why should we pay taxes to a government on earth?
Who is the greatest?
*Disciples of Jesus must be willing to be of no importance. Then they will be really great.
The *disciples had much to learn. They still wanted to be important and to have power. This was why they asked the question in verse 1. Jesus used a little child to teach two lessons.
► Little children do not relate to people in the same way that adults do. Status (to be important) or colour do not mean anything to them. But they often see a person’s real character. Adults learn to judge other people. Children ignore the standards that adults use. In the ancient world, children did not have any worth. But they often came to Jesus. It did not matter what a child might be like. Jesus always welcomed each child. And he expected his *disciples to do the same (verse 5).
► Jesus taught another lesson. It is in verses 6–9. The ‘little ones’ may refer to his *disciples. They should have attitudes like little children. Jesus had just been speaking about this. So, he could be warning about when one Christian does wrong things to another Christian. That is a serious matter! Or, the ‘little ones’ might have been children. (A child was standing among them.) Jesus gave a severe warning. It was against all those who do bad things to children. This is a wonderful statement. It was common to do bad things to children in those times. But the ‘fire of hell’ waits for all those who do bad things to ‘little ones’. (Read verses 8–9.)
Someone can do bad things to a ‘little person’. That ‘little person’ might then lose his or her *faith in Jesus. There will be an awful punishment for a person who causes this. Jesus described what it would be like (verse 6).
First, Jesus spoke about a millstone. It would be round that person’s neck. A millstone was a huge stone. It had a hole in the middle. It was so heavy that a large animal must move it. Then Jesus spoke about that person when he would be drowning. For a *Jew, to drown was one of the worst ways to die. It was even worse if it happened far from *Jewish land. So, it would be a terrible death. That person would not be able to escape it. Jesus even said that this kind of death would be better than his punishment!
Someone might have said, ‘There will always be people who are like that.’ In verse 7, Jesus may be replying. He said, ‘Things like this will always happen. But how terrible it will be for the world. How terrible it will be for someone who does bad things to a little person.’
The words ‘how terrible’ were often used by *OT *prophets. That was how they would start a *prophecy about God’s final *judgement. Jesus did that here. People may claim to be his *disciples. But they may not have *faith that is like a little child’s *faith. If so, they will have God’s *judgement. They will not share in his *glory. To cause other people to *sin is very serious. Jesus emphasised this. (Read verses 7–9.)
Jesus ended his teaching with a story. He told a *parable about sheep. He wanted real *disciples to show the character of God. God’s gentle care is for all ‘little ones’.
► Jesus said that children have *angels as their friends. In those days, people thought that children had no worth. But this was wrong. (Read verse 1.) The *Jews of Jesus’ time believed that nations had *angels. But they had never suggested that children had them too. This included one child or a group of children.
► In the *parable, God is like a shepherd. (A shepherd is someone who looks after sheep.) God looks for any ‘sheep’ that is lost. He is very, very happy when he finds it. In just the same way, he does not want to lose any ‘little ones’. Real *disciples should have the same attitude as the father in heaven.
1. Do you want to have an important position among your Christian friends? Think about ways in which you try to become more important. How can you avoid these ambitions?
2. How could you cause someone to lose his or her *faith in Jesus (18:6)?
3. A non-Christian might visit your church. Would he or she want to become a Christian?
To care and to forgive
Jesus expects those who follow him to look after each other. They should do all that they can to help each other. They should always be ready to forgive.
How to deal with those who *sin against us (verses 15–20)
These verses are about society. It is not just about the leaders. They have responsibilities. But everyone is responsible for the other members.
If someone *sins, God’s children must correct that person. But note the process that Jesus gave. (Read verses 15–17.) It must not be for personal satisfaction. That is not a good reason to point out another person’s bad habits. It must not be because of personal pain either. There must be a desire to help that person. We must not be thinking about it all the time. This often leads to being bitter. Then it would be easy to hate that person. Jesus said, ‘You are both *disciples. So, go to him or her. Try to make things right again.’
The person who has *sinned might not listen. (We will call him person A.) But Jesus was very practical. So he gave some good advice in verse 16. Another Christian will say things in a different way. And this could help person A to understand his *sin. (That advice is good for today too.)
But person A may still refuse to listen. Then the members of the church must know about it (verse 17). It is important to deal with *sin. Person A may not listen to the group of believers. Then they must cause everyone to know about the *sin. Person A is living like a non-Christian. People must know about this. But, even here, Jesus was being kind. Perhaps person A would *repent. This is what Jesus always wants.
There is a danger that we should avoid. We might talk about the bad habits of other Christians. Then we might start to gossip about them. This happens because we are doing things for the wrong reasons. We might like to talk about the weaknesses of other people. We do not desire the best for them. But our words should help people. Our words should not hurt them.
Real *disciples should always deal with *sin in Jesus’ way. Then Jesus promises to be there with them. So they can speak and act with his authority. Jesus promises to give them his wisdom too. (Read verses 18–20.)
God forgives you. So you must forgive other people in the same way (verses 21–35).
Israel was the country where Jesus lived. A dinar was the daily wage of a workman there. There were 6000 dinars in every talent. The man in the *parable owed 10 000 talents to the king. Galilee was a small part of Israel. A year’s taxes from Galilee were 300–500 talents. This showed that the servant’s debt was very large. Jesus wanted to emphasise the size of the debt. So he combined two things from the *Greek part of the world. He used the largest number. And he used the largest measure of money.
In ancient times, a man who had a debt like this would die. The debt might be even a small part of this amount. But he would still die because of it. So the punishment that Jesus described was a reasonable one.
The servant promised to pay the debt. But he asked the king to give him more time. The king did much more than that. He cancelled the debt completely (verse 26). What wonderful *mercy this was! Jesus told this *parable for a reason. He wanted his *disciples to learn about God’s great *mercy to them. He forgives all their *sin.
But that was not the end of Jesus’ story. The king had been very kind to his servant. But the same servant would not be kind himself. Another servant owed him 100 dinars. That was a very small amount.
This servant asked for *mercy too. He used the same words that the other servant had used to the king. (Read verse 29. Compare verse 26.) The king had forgiven the first servant. He had cancelled his huge debt. But this same servant refused to forgive another servant for a small debt. All the other servants were very upset. They told the king everything. Of course, the king was very angry. He sent the first servant to prison. (Notice that, even then, he did not kill the man.)
Often, people say that they are real *disciples. They know that God has been very patient with them. God has forgiven them. God’s *mercy has been great. But they refuse to deal with other people in the same way. Behaviour like this brings awful results. These people make it impossible for God to forgive them. They are refusing to forgive other people. So they cannot know that God has forgiven them. And there must be punishment for them. (Read 6:12, 14–15.)
Peter had understood Jesus’ words in verses 15–20. But he was still thinking like the *Jewish teachers (rabbis) thought. The rabbis said that people should forgive 3 or 4 times. Peter thought that he would be generous. So he suggested 7 times. He probably expected Jesus to approve of him. But Jesus’ answer shows that *mercy must have no limits.
1. Someone has hurt you. You have not forgiven him or her. What should you do about it? Perhaps that person does not think that he or she has done a wrong thing. What would you do then?
2. What does it mean to forgive? Is it a form of words? Is it a feeling? Is it a determination to forget the past? Or, is it a form of prayer?
3. Do you need to forgive somebody? Ask God to show you. Then, pray about this important matter.
More about marriage
God established marriage. His purpose was that it should last for the whole of life. So he hates divorce.
Jesus had been teaching his *disciples. Now he had finished this special period. He left the Galilee district for the last time. He began his final journey. He was going to Jerusalem. (Read verses 1–2.) Jesus was still popular with all the people. They were enjoying his *miracles. But, more and more, the authorities were against him. They wanted to stop his work. So they asked Jesus a question. They thought that this would cause trouble between those who liked Jesus. Then Jesus’ authority would be weaker.
The subject of divorce was a serious matter at the time. Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee. He had recently had a divorce from his wife. Then he married his brother Philip’s wife. John the *Baptist said that this was wrong. Because of this, Herod put John in prison. Then, later, he ordered a soldier to cut off John’s head. (Read 14:1–12.)
*Jewish teachers had different ideas about divorce. Some of these teachers were stricter. But all the *Jewish teachers agreed about the fact of divorce. It was the right of every man to get a divorce from his wife. (Of course, there must be proper reasons for a divorce.)
This explained the *Pharisees’ question (verse 3). They wanted Jesus to say which group was right. Jesus’ reply was very clever. He spoke about what God had first intended. God made man and he made woman. God set up the state of marriage. He intended that it should last for the whole of life. So, there should never be a divorce. (Read verses 4–6.)
Jesus answered the question well. But his enemies had not finished. This idea of Jesus did not agree with the laws of Moses. And Moses had given God’s *Law to Israel’s people (verse 7). The *Pharisees were hopeful that people would not follow Jesus now.
But again, Jesus spoke in a clever way. Moses had allowed people to divorce. But that did not make it right. (Read verses 8–9.) And there was something else. Moses allowed divorce because of the people’s *sin. But that did not mean that divorce was right for all the people.
Then Jesus seemed to give one reason for a divorce. He seemed to say that the person could marry again too. (Read 19:9.) The woman may have had sex with another man. Then the husband would be free. This statement of Jesus still causes much discussion today. The phrase is not in Mark 10:12 or Luke 16:18. There is a possible reason for this. The book of Mark and the book of Luke were for Gentiles (non-*Jews).
So part of the book of Matthew may be for *Jews. For *Jews there were three periods to a marriage. Read ‘More Explanation’ for 1:18–25. The section is called ‘Customs of *Jewish marriage’. There could be a divorce before the marriage. (This was what Joseph was going to do to Mary.) So, Jesus may have been speaking about an event that was like that.
Look at what the *disciples said in verse 10. We can understand why they replied in that way. They thought that perhaps it was best not to marry at all. But it is harder for us to understand Jesus’ words in verses 11 and 12. A couple must work hard to have a good marriage. But it may not be a good thing for everyone to marry.
In *Jewish society, it was usual for people to marry. But Jesus gave examples of when this might not happen (verse 12). There could be physical reasons. Or, a person might not marry because of his work for God.
But Jesus was very clear about one thing. We can be sure about it. Divorce was not in God’s original plan (19:8).
[Note: Read 1 Corinthians 7. This chapter has much interesting information.]
1. It is possible to use the Bible in the wrong way. The *Pharisees often did this. They would use one passage in the Bible to oppose another passage. In this way, they could avoid the demands of God’s word. People today can think about all the difficult passages that are in the Bible. They will often discuss them. But they do not obey God’s demands. Have you ever done this?
2. Think about marriage. Think about divorce. And think about when people marry again in our time. What do you learn about this subject in your church? Does it agree with this part of the Bible?
3. Jesus was ready to say when people’s ideas were wrong. Can you do this too? What ideas would Jesus say are wrong in our time? Christians must say these things now, instead of Jesus. Are you ready to say these things?
There are many different ideas about this subject. They come from this passage. They also come from other passages that are in the Bible. We cannot print them all. But here are some main points.
The Bible is very clear about two things. First, God meant marriage to last for the whole of life. Second, God hates divorce. (Read Genesis 2:24 with Malachi 2:16.)
However, the Bible also shows that marriages do fail. This is because of the effects of *sin. It seems that divorce is sometimes possible. (Read Deuteronomy 24:1.) But Jesus’ words in 19:9 are very strong. Someone might marry again before the death of the former partner. But this would be like the *sin called ‘adultery’. (This means sex between a married person and someone who is not the partner.)
There are three main questions to discuss:
► What are the reasons for divorce? In one way, there are none. Nobody has a right to get a divorce. Yet, the Bible allows divorce. But it is not clear for what reasons the Bible would allow it. There are three ideas about reasons for a divorce. First, there is the adultery of the other partner. (This is when one partner in a marriage has sex with someone else.) Or, one partner may leave the other partner. 1 Corinthians 7:15 refers to this. Another reason for divorce may include other *sexual *sins. Lastly, some people say that the Bible does not give specific reasons for a divorce. They say that a person and their minister (pastor) must decide. They should do this when the marriage fails completely.
► Can a person marry again? Most Christians would agree that it is possible to marry again. (But many of them may feel that it is not always a good idea!) Some people believe that there is only one reason to marry again. That should be after the death of the former partner. Other people think something else. It is this. Divorce means that a person can marry again. (They may agree that the Bible’s way is the best way. So it could mean that the marriage would be wrong. But these people still feel that the couple can marry again.)
► What do the words mean? There are different ideas. This is because it is hard to know exactly what the Bible teaches. We cannot discuss all of the difficulties here. But they should help us not to be sure that we are always right. We should be generous to those who do not agree with us too. There is another important point. This matter is very painful to some people. This is because it affects them in a personal way. We must always think about how they feel.
*Salvation and how to find it
Jesus talked to the people again. He reminded them how to enter his *kingdom. They must accept Jesus’ rule. Their possessions, too, must be available for Jesus to use.
Jesus is the friend of children (verses 13–15)
This short passage is a lovely one. In those days, people did not think that children had any worth. People often neglected children. But Jesus welcomed them. Then he used the situation, as he often did. He showed more about the nature of his *kingdom.
In 18:1–13, Jesus emphasised different values. There were the values of his *kingdom. Children have a simple trust. People must ‘become like little children in their minds’ (18:3). They must be humble, like a child (18:4). But also there were the values of people who did not believe in him. Their values were very different.
In this passage, Jesus could be talking to members of his *kingdom. They must be like children in their attitudes. So, there could be a reference to the way that people deal with them. They must be ready for people to deal with them badly. They must be ready to be like a servant.
Jesus spoke to those who were rich (verses 16–30)
Jesus continued his final journey. He was on his way to Jerusalem city. He used every chance to teach important lessons. Jesus talked to a rich young man. Jesus showed the way to enter his *kingdom. Two words describe how to enter his *kingdom. They are trust and obey. This is what everyone must do. Each person must trust Jesus and they must obey Jesus. That is the way to have *salvation.
The young man who came to Jesus was rich. He was a man with honour. He was an honest, good man. He was attractive too. (Read Mark 10:21.) He was a local leader. (Read Luke 18:18.) He had many advantages. But he was still not satisfied. He felt that he did not have a right relationship with God (verse 16). Because he had this sense of need, he ran to Jesus. (Read Mark 10:17.)
Jesus’ talk with the young man teaches us two things. The young man believed that he could cause God to be pleased with him. But he thought that he could do this by his own efforts. He had tried very hard. But he still did not feel at peace. Jesus told him that effort is never enough. To please God, he must have complete trust in him. He must put Jesus first in his life. He must follow Jesus (verse 21).
The whole book of Matthew emphasises this. Only Jesus’ death can deal with the problem of *sin. Any personal effort must fail. The young man’s reaction to Jesus was very, very sad. His money was most important to him. So he did not follow Jesus (verse 22). Jesus’ demands were too great for him. This meant that the young man remained unhappy.
Read verses 23–26 again. In each century, people have had the same idea about this passage. They suggest that Jesus was describing something that was very hard. But Jesus was clearly speaking about something that was impossible. The *disciples understood this (verses 25–26). We must learn about the beliefs of *Jews at that time. Then it will become even clearer. Today, we tend to think that God loves poor people specially. But in the first century, it was the opposite. Then, people thought that a person’s wealth and success was important. These things showed that God was pleased with them. That was what people thought then.
Jesus emphasised that even a rich man could not save himself. This showed that nobody could ever earn *salvation by personal effort. Then Jesus continued. What is impossible for humans is possible for God. God can do all things. It does not matter how rich we are. And it does not matter how important we are (verse 30). We do not earn *salvation. We receive it as a gift from God.
Jesus demanded much from the young man. But Jesus did not want people to have the wrong idea about *salvation. It does not mean that life will be hard all the time. *Salvation gives us many joys in this life (verse 29). Then there is the life that is future. There will be more than anyone could want or imagine then (verse 28).
1. What possessions should I keep for my family and for me? What proportion should I give away? How does this passage help?
2. The Christian gospel means Good News. Jesus showed that there are demands and there are joys. How could the members of the church explain these things to people? Some people do not think very seriously at all. Other people think very seriously. They could feel that they must give away everything. How could you help both of these groups?
3. What things stop your neighbours and friends from following Jesus today? How much do possessions take God’s place in their lives?
God is king. He gives *grace.
Importance and wealth are not important to God. A person’s service for God does not earn God’s good opinion. God deals with people by *grace alone.
From 16:5, Jesus had been teaching his *disciples more than he taught the other people. He was teaching his *disciples what they should be like. He emphasised what sort of *Messiah he was.
Two incidents happened before this *parable. In 19:13–15, the *disciples sent away young children. The *disciples thought that Jesus would not have time for children. Then, in 19:16–29, Jesus talked about two things. They were wealth and importance. God does not deal with people by these things.
Then there was the *parable in this passage. After that, two events showed the real meaning of the *parable. In 20:17–19, Jesus emphasised that he must suffer. He said that people would laugh at him. They would deal badly with him. He would die. Then there was the event in 20:20–28. People must not join God’s *kingdom for the wrong reasons. They should not become members for the benefits that they could get. They should not want an important place in the *kingdom. Jesus emphasised this. He repeated the same statement. (Read 19:30 and 20:16.) God’s way of doing things is often the opposite of people’s ways.
The people who first heard Jesus would understand his story well. The situation that he described was a familiar one. Many poor men would have been just like the men in the story. They, too, would be desperate to do a day’s work.
But Jesus ended the story in an unusual way. (Read verses 8–15.) Jesus wanted those who heard him to realise certain things. God was the owner of the land in the story. His *kingdom was the business that he described. (This was popular *OT language. Read Psalm 80:8–19; Isaiah 1:8; 5:1–8; Jeremiah 12:10.) When we realise this, the meaning of Jesus’ *parable is clear. God is fair to all the members of his *kingdom. He is also very generous. This is because God does not deal with us as we deserve. He deals with men and women by *grace.
Now Matthew reminds us of something that is awful. The master had been very generous to his workers. He had dealt so well with them. But he himself must suffer in a terrible way. He was going to die for them.
Jesus, the saviour who suffers
(Note: A saviour is someone who saves.)
Jesus had already said what would happen to him. Twice, he said that he must die. But then he would come back to life again. (Read 16:21 and 17:22–23.) Here, he gave his *disciples more details. (Read 20:17–19.) He explained just how much he would suffer. His closest friends would not be loyal to him. The leaders would not be fair to him. People would insult him. He would suffer great shame. Then he would die in great pain.
The ‘son of the living God’ (16:16) was speaking. He was telling about all the terrible things that would happen to him. This was wonderful! Yet, this passage did not emphasise the special way that Jesus must suffer. (Compare 27:46.) At this time, Jesus wanted his *disciples to understand something. It was this. At least in part, what he suffered was an example for them. Like him, they must expect their bodies to feel weak. They would be extremely tired. They would experience pain. They would be sad. They might even die because they followed him.
To be a *disciple of Jesus is never easy. All people suffer hard things in life. Some people think that a Christian will not have hard things. But this is not true. There will even be extra troubles for real *disciples. But the end of verse 19 speaks about a reward. Jesus would suffer. But he would then get a reward. It would be the same for all his *disciples, in every age.
1. Imagine that you are one of the people in the *parable. Whom do you identify with easily? What feelings does the story give you?
2. Think about the members of your church as a society. Would they be willing to share in what Jesus suffered? Other churches or people could be models. Your church group could get good ideas from them. Can you think of any examples of this?
3. You may think that the master in the story was not fair. Some of the men had worked all day. Other men had done hardly any work. But he gave the same wage to everyone. Can you explain why God would act like this? Pretend that you are talking to someone. He says that we cannot know that God even exists. He also tries to get rights for all workers. What could you say to him?
Jesus wants his *disciples to serve other people. They must not give orders to people all the time.
‘Who is the greatest in the *kingdom of heaven?’ The *disciples asked Jesus this question. (Read 18:1–5.) Jesus did not give a direct answer. Instead, Matthew recorded several incidents in Jesus’ life. He gave examples of Jesus’ teaching too. These things showed what ‘citizens of the *kingdom’ should be like. Then this passage gave a clear answer to the earlier question.
In the previous chapters, Jesus taught things about real *disciples. They:
· welcome people who do not seem to have any worth (18:1–9).
· care about the least important *disciple (18:10–14).
· try to help another *disciple who *sins (18:15–20).
· do not claim their rights; but
· show the *mercy that God has shown to them. They do this by their behaviour (18:21–35).
· obey Jesus’ words (19:1–30).
· are glad when other people receive *mercy.
· do not feel that they deserve more (20:1–16).
· follow Jesus’ example in all things (20:17–19).
Think about all these things. Then what Jesus said will not be a surprise. Nobody else has ever taught the things that Jesus taught. He had already said much. So people should have expected his teaching here. People use human methods and human standards to make themselves great. (Read 20:24–25.) But they cannot become great in God’s *kingdom in that way. (Read verse 26a.) Those who follow Jesus must be different.
James, John and their mother did not understand this. (Read verses 20–22.) The mother’s request for her sons was natural. They were Jesus’ special friends (17:1). They may have been cousins of Jesus too. (Compare 27:56 with Mark 15:40 and John 19:25. These verses have an interesting idea. Salome may have been the mother of James and John. She would also be a sister of Jesus’ mother.) In Jesus’ time, it would be right to make use of relatives in that way.
But Jesus completely refused to agree with that idea. Instead, he referred to his own example. He served humbly. That is what it still means to be really great. (Read verses 27 and 28 especially.) For James, this would mean that he would die for Jesus. (Jesus suggested this in verse 23.) John would have to go far away from his friends and family. The authorities would send him to an island called Patmos. (Read Revelation 1:9.) All the *disciples would suffer in some way. Their daily life would include hard discipline. There would be difficult circumstances. Their work with people would often make them sad too.
The humble *Messiah who suffers
Up to this time, Jesus had not wanted people to know that he was the *Messiah. (Read 16:20.) But now, he was going to Jerusalem city for the last time (20:18). So Jesus would not keep things secret any more. He had spoken about certain things. Now the time had come for them to happen.
The blind men called him ‘the son of David’. This was a *Jewish title for the *Messiah. Jesus accepted the title. *Jews believed that the *Messiah would do *miracles. This belief came from the *OT. Here, Jesus did a *miracle. It confirmed the *OT *prophecies about him. (Read Isaiah 29:18 and 35:5, 6.)
So, Jesus accepted the title, *Messiah. Then he did a *miracle that proved it. He really was the *Messiah. But he showed what sort of *Messiah he had come to be. The title ‘son of David’ had a special meaning in Jesus’ time. The *Romans ruled the *Jews at that time. So the *Jews thought that the *Messiah would bring them national freedom. He would give the *Jews freedom from the *Romans.
But Jesus wanted them to think about another part of *Messiah’s work. So he did a *miracle. Isaiah (35:5) had promised it many years before. Isaiah told about that other part of Jesus’ work too. It was much greater than to give sight to blind men. But the *Jews had neglected that other part. It was that the *Messiah would suffer.
Matthew emphasised that Jesus felt pity and sympathy (20:34). This was like the ‘servant who suffers’ in Isaiah. (Read Isaiah 42:1–4 and 52:13–53:12.) Isaiah described someone who would die. He would cancel the effects of *sin. Jesus was showing that *Messiah would not save the *Jews from the *Romans. He would save men and women from the effects of their *sin. (Read Matthew 20:28.)
In the Bible, ‘sight’ was often a sign. It described spiritual sight. Jesus gave the blind men physical sight. Then they followed Jesus. Matthew thought that this meant something. The word ‘follow’ sometimes had a religious meaning. It described what a *disciple should do.
So, people received spiritual sight from the *Messiah. Then they must follow Jesus. They must show the same love for people that Jesus showed for them. Their love must not be selfish. That love must show very much pity and sympathy too.
1. Read Matthew 20:20–28 again. Think about specific situations in your life. They could be at home, at school or at college. They could be at work. Or maybe you have no work. They could be at church too. How could the teaching in these verses help you?
2. How could the members of your church be ‘servants’ in society? Think about specific things that you could all do.
3. There are many social needs. They are national and international. How much should Christians do about these needs? First, answer this question about yourself. Then, think about the members of your church.
AD ~ AD is any date after the birth of Jesus.
angel ~ a being from heaven who brings messages from God; God especially created angels to serve him; God sends them to serve people too (Hebrews 1:14).
baptise ~ a *Greek word; it refers to a ceremony; it means to put someone in or under water for a brief time; Mark 1:4–11; Romans 6:3–8; Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11); Jesus baptises with fire (Matthew 3:12).
Baptist ~ a person who *baptises people (John the Baptist).
disciple ~ a person who follows a leader; a student; one of the 12 men whom Jesus chose; a person who obeys Jesus today.
empire ~ very big *kingdom.
faith ~ to believe in someone or something; to be really sure about the things of God and Jesus his Son.
glory ~ the power and greatness of God; his great beauty; in the *OT, people saw it as a very bright light or fire; in the *NT, we see it especially in Jesus (John 1:14); Christians can show God’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
grace ~ kindness; it is when God gives us what we do not deserve (2 Corinthians 8:9); it is when he saves us (Ephesians 2:1–10); it is when he helps us (2 Corinthians 12:8, 9).
Greek ~ the language in which the authors wrote the *New Testament.
Hebrew ~ the language that the *Jews spoke when they wrote the first part of our Bible.
Jew ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a person who believes the *faith of the Jews, called Judaism.
Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.
judgement ~ when God or a person says what is right or wrong; he tests behaviour; he decides if it is right or wrong; then he acts on the decision; judgement can be about legal or moral matters; judgement can mean when God punishes people.
kingdom ~ a kingdom is where a king rules. God is the King of all Christians and all Christians are in his Kingdom.
Law ~ the Law usually refers to the first 5 books in our Bible; Moses wrote them.
Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we obey them.
mercy ~ kindness to someone who does not deserve it; it is a very strong word; there are several meanings in it; there is love and pity; to have mercy means to forgive *sins; there is more information about this word; it is in the section for 5:7–9.
Messiah ~ the *Lord Jesus Christ; it is a *Hebrew word, ‘meshiah’; the same word in *Greek is ‘christos’, Christ. God promised the *Jews that the Messiah would save them; we read about him in the *OT; then Jesus came; but the *Jews did not believe in him (John 1:11). Many *Jews are still waiting for Messiah to come.
miracle ~ a wonderful thing that only God could do; it could not happen in a natural way.
New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible.
NT ~ New Testament; the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible.
OT ~ Old Testament; the first part of the Bible, which the writers wrote before the life of Jesus.
parable ~ a story; it uses ordinary, familiar things to teach truths about God.
Pharisee ~ a member of a *Jewish religious group; they claimed to obey all *Jewish religious laws and customs; there is more information about them; it is in the section for 3:4–10.
prophecy ~ a special message from God; it could tell about the future; it is one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians chapters 12–14).
prophet ~ a person who hears God’s words and tells them to other people; in *OT days, a prophet often wrote books; these books were called ‘The Prophets’.
repent ~ to turn away from evil and towards God; this choice will mean a complete change of life; in the *NT, the *Greek word is ‘metanoia’; this means a change of mind.
Roman ~ a person from Rome; the Roman *Empire consisted of the many countries that the Romans ruled.
sacrifice ~ something that a person gives to God; in *Old Testament days (the first part of the Bible), it was often an animal; this may be to say ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thank-you’; (read 1 Samuel 15:22 and Psalm 51:17).
salvation ~ rescue from *sin or danger; the *Hebrew word is ‘yasha’; the *OT uses it 353 times; people may be in trouble or danger; someone rescues or saves them; this may be God or a person; the *NT speaks about salvation in three ways; it is past, present and future (2 Corinthians 1:10).
Satan ~ the devil; the enemy of God.
sexual ~ about sex.
sin ~ when we do not obey God’s rules.
spirit ~ spirits are alive, but we cannot see them. There are good spirits usually called angels. Bad spirits (also called evil spirits, or demons) live in the air round us. Their leader is called Satan.
Temple ~ the *Jews’ special large building for God; it was in Jerusalem. The enemy destroyed it in *AD 70; since that time, *Jews’ special buildings for *worship are called synagogues; other groups build temples too; they *worship false gods in them.
unbelief ~ lack of *faith.
worship ~ the word can be a verb or a noun; to honour God with words of prayer and praise; it is a way to appreciate God for himself; we are also being grateful for all that he has done; we can worship God together; each person can worship God too. (Important note: people can worship false gods; they give to a false god what belongs to God only.)
Wycliffe Associates (UK) EasyEnglish© Translation (Level B)
WYCLIFFE ASSOCIATES (UK)
EasyEnglishÓ TRANSLATION (Level B)................................... Mary Read
LINGUISTIC CHECKER........................................................... Sue Hunter
© 1997–2004, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words - new lexicon).
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