Wednesday, November 08, 2006

MATTHEW 19

Key Verse: 19:14 Come as little children.

Personal Application: God loves us because we are His, not because of what we do for Him.

Outline: Chapter 18 is the instruction. Chapter 19 is the illustration. Jesus’ conflicts with the establishment and misunderstanding with his disciples continues and intensifies. While the world values great and powerful men, Jesus calls high achieving men to love their wives and children. While the world values wealth, Jesus calls his followers to sacrifice all for the Kingdom, caring for the poor (19:21; cf. 6:19-24). G. Campbell Morgan states that Matthew illustrates the grace of chapter 18 physically (19:1-2), ethically (19:3-12), socially (19:13-15), and spiritually (19:16-22).[1]

Jesus in chapter 18 has taught that citizens in the Kingdom must get along with one another and love one another. In chapter 19, Matthew explores useless pathways to significance that religious people take. First, the religious leadership and their legalism and self-righteousness with religious do’s and don’ts (19:1-12) and a rich young man and his enthusiastic commitment to doing good which is really a self-serving philanthropy (19:16-30). Couched right in the middle (19:13-15) is the secret, the foil, the opposite of religious activity and do-goodism. It’s coming to Christ as a little child. This is the pathway of love and relationship that Jesus describes in Matthew 18.

Matthew 19:1-12: “Is it lawful?” Divorce

The only place in the Torah where divorce is mentioned is Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and even that is passing. Rabbis Hillel and Shammai, a generation before Jesus, took opposing, conservative and liberal positions on this passage. “The School of Shammai say a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, as it is said, ‘because he has bound in her indecency in a matter.’ But the school of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she burns his food, as it is said, ‘because he has found in her indecency in a matter.’” (Mishna: Gittin 9:10). Jesus agrees with the conservative rabbi, but takes the precedent of marriage back before Torah to the Garden of Eden.

The Pharisees ask the wrong question. The right question is, “Is there any way to restore a crumbling marriage?” The answer is “Yes.” The answer is in Matthew 18. We remember we are like sheep, we find restoration. We confront sin and forgive, and we keep on forgiving.

Instead of answering the question, Jesus sets it in restating God’s creation ideal of a life-long, monogamous, male-female marriage. Then why did God permit divorce in the Law? Someone blurted this out. Jesus answers that He is aware that some do not accept a Matthew 18 lifestyle, and some marriages would be marred by sin and be destructive. God permitted divorce even though this was never His ideal. Grace, not self-righteousness won by performance, is key to relationship with God.

Divorces and marries (19:9) – The nature of marital unfaithfulness (porneia) has been much debated and is uncertain. The force of the statement is that divorce should never be taken lightly or for selfish reasons (eg., to marry a younger, more attractive woman). This is not a new law abrogating the OT permission or its rationale, for human beings still have hard hearts. This is the author’s halakah on the passage. Verse 9 may imply that divorce without remarriage is permissible for lesser reasons. A second ground for divorce is given at 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.

Matthew 19:13-15 The Little Children

Children are responsive to Him, not self-righteously trying to keep a set of rules or impress Him with their good deeds. This is the crux of the passage, and the center point to which Matthew points us. We cannot be self-righteous know-it-alls and we cannot be self-serving do-gooders. We must come as little children, expecting nothing but love, trusting, responding to Him, loving Him in return for who He is, not jockeying for position in His Kingdom, not trying to impress Him with our deeds, just enjoying Him, waiting for Him to lay His hand upon us.

Again the disciples have missed the point, and Jesus has to correct them. Mark tells us that he was indignant. His mission since 16:16, 21 is now the Cross and His men.

Matthew 19:16-30: The Rich Young Ruler

The young man’s question reveals his motivation: Do good to “get eternal life.” Believers rather do good to others because we love and care for them as God does. This rich young man’s benevolence was self-serving. He was as far from the Kingdom as a self-righteous Pharisee.

Jesus names the fifth through ninth Commandments of the Ten which all deal with personal relationships, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And which Matthew 18 is all about.

Sell All – 19:21: This is not a command for all Christians for all time. It was spoken to the rich young ruler for a specific purpose – to test his loyalty and get something off the throne that stands in the way of Christ’s Lordship in his life. What about you? What needs to get off the throne in your life? By rejecting Christ’s command, he broke “the first and greatest commandment.” His money rather than Christ, came first in his life. He doesn’t command us to give everything away. He does command us to abandon all, including ourselves. Nothing in our lives is so precious, even our very selves, that it should keep us from doing God’s will.

G. Campbell Morgan: “The King then revealed to him the fact that his surrender to authority was not complete, in that he had never yielded his all; and showed that in order to do so he must follow by the way of the Cross, giving up all that upon which he had depended, and submitting himself entirely to control. As the disciples were filled with sorrow when the Lord spoke of His Cross, so this young man went away sorrowful because he had great possessions.”[2]

AW Tozer: “The rich young ruler made his decision on the basis of what he wanted most in life. The last thing we know about him is the fact that he turned from Jesus and walked away. . . Every faithful pastor can tell you the stories of young people and men and women who walked away from the church and warm Christian fellowship to have their own way. When the old nature stirred, they turned their backs on God and walked away. They went into questionable marriages. They went into worldly alliances. They took jobs in which there was no chance to please and glorify God. They went back into the world.”[3]

Thomas Kelly: “Meister Eckhart wrote: ‘There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves.’ It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete disobedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me–commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

“If you don’t realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don’t understand what I mean. Only now and then comes a man or a woman who, like John Woolman or Francis of Assisi, is willing to be utterly obedient, to go the other half, to follow God’s faintest whisper. But when such a commitment comes in a human life, God breaks through, miracles are wrought, world-renewing divine forces are released, history changes. There is nothing more important now than to have the human race endowed with just such committed lives. To this extraordinary life I call you – or He calls you through me – as a lovely ideal, a charming pattern to aim at hopefully, but as a serious, concrete program of life, to be lived here and now, in [information] America, by you and by me.”[4]

Needle’s Eye 19:23-27 – Jesus’ hyperbole comes through in this statement. It is obviously impossible for the largest animal known in the region to get through the smallest hole encountered on a daily basis. Some who substitute cable or rope for camel and commentaries which say the needle’s eye refers to the small gate in a larger gate closed to protect a walled city are efforts to tone down Jesus’ stark image. Jesus meant what he said.

“At the renewal of all things” 19:28-30 – The OT speaks of a regenerated world: Isaiah 1:25-2:5; 11:1-16; 65:17; Jeremiah 23:3-8; 30:1-31:40; Micah 4:1-5:3; Zechariah 12:1-14:21; Psalm 2, 22, 89; Daniel 7-12; Romans 8:19-23; Revelation 7, 14:1-5; 21:1-22:5. Jesus’ reference to twelve thrones is an important NT verse confirming God’s promise to national Israel (eg. Isaiah 1:26; 9:5-6; Ezekiel 48; MatthewRev 21:10-14). 10:2-4; Acts 1:15-26)


[1] Morgan, G. Campbell, The Analyzed Bible: Matthew, (New York: Fleming Revell, n.d.), 209-212.

[2] Morgan, 212.

[3] Tozer, A.W., Keys to the Deeper Life, p. 76, 75, 54.

[4] Kelly, Thomas, Testament of Devotion, 70-72.