Theme: Christ, the Servant
This week’s lesson encourages us to examine Christ’s ultimate act of service for us.
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Time is running out. For seven chapters and for 16 of my studies, ever since the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13, we have witnessed Jesus’ withdrawal from the leaders of the people and even from the crowds in order, at this stage of his travels, to teach his disciples about the nature of his kingdom and about what they would have to be like if they were to be a part of it. Now the withdrawal stage is ending, and Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die by crucifixion.
This new change of direction is announced clearly for the first time in verse 17: “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. . .” By the start of the following chapter he is there. Chapter 21 begins, “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives. . .” (Matt. 21:1). Sadly, the disciples have still not understood what Jesus was about to do or what it would mean for their discipleship.
There are three linked events in this final part of the middle section of the gospel: 1) Jesus’ third prediction of this passion (vv. 17-19), 2) further evidence of the disciples’ struggle to be first in Christ’s kingdom (vv. 20-28), and 3) the healing of two blind men (vv. 29-34).
Verses 17-19 are the third prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and there are at least two reasons why this is repeated.1 The obvious reason is that the disciples had not understood what Jesus was saying. They had gotten the idea that he was going to die, which is why they were “filled with grief” (Matt. 17:23). But they had only the vaguest notion of what this meant and certainly did not understand why he would die or that he would be raised from the dead afterwards.
When we compare these predictions we sense that Jesus was adding to his teaching bit by bit. In chapter 16 he spoke of his suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (v. 21). In chapter 17 he adds the fact of his betrayal (v. 22). In chapter 20 he reveals that the leaders of the people would turn him over to the Gentiles, who would mock and flog him, and that his death would be by crucifixion. This was the heart and substance of what Jesus had come to do, so it was both natural and necessary that Jesus should have repeated it again and again for the disciples’ benefit. Not long after this these truths would be the very center of their preaching.
But there was another reason why Jesus was repeating these predictions. It was so the disciples might learn that self-denial, humility and service were to be the pattern not merely of his life and ministry but of their own.
This has been clear from the very first time Jesus spoke of his death. Peter had confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), the first thing anyone needs to know about Jesus. Jesus had gone onto the second truth we need to know, namely, that he had come to die and then be raised to life. Immediately after that he used the example of his death to teach what the life of his disciples must be like: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (v. 24).
The disciples did not understand this. They did not want anything to do with bearing crosses. They wanted to be great in Christ’s kingdom. So when Matthew records Jesus’ third prediction of his death in chapter 20, the words are also an introduction to the story of the disciples’ continuing struggles to be great in verses 20-28. And they lead to this conclusion: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (vv. 26-28).
Verses 26-28 are an application for the disciples of the principle laid down in verses 18 and 19, and show why the prediction of Jesus’ death appears for a third time in this chapter.
1The other predictions are in Matthew 16:21 and 17:22-23.
In what sense is time running out for Jesus at this point?
Why is the prediction of Jesus’ death repeated? What does this mean about the pattern of our lives? How are you like the disciples in their blindness to Jesus’ message?
Look over chapters 18, 19, and the first 25 verses of Matthew 20.
How is the statement in verses 26-28 an appropriate conclusion to the previous verses?