Today’s readings are from Genesis 21, Matthew 20, Nehemiah 10 and Acts 20.
In the first four verses of Genesis 21 we see God doing what He had promised (vv. 1-2) and Abraham doing as he was commanded (vv. 3-4). There is the laughter of Sarah’s delight (vv. 6-7) and the laughter of Ishmael’s derision (vv. 8-9). Sarah told Abraham to cast out Ishmael (v. 10) and God comforted Abraham in doing so (vv. 11-13, so Abraham did so (vv. 14a).
Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran…
Nahal Paran, Negev, Vitali Kaspler
The story of Hagar and Ishmael continues in vv. 14b-21. God heard the cry of the boy and answered Hagar’s prayer for deliverance. Vv. 22-34 recount a contention between Abraham and Abimelech.
Matthew 20 begins with the parable of the vineyard (vv. 1-16), a beautiful story about grace. Keep in mind that this comes very soon after the incident with the rich young ruler, Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom, and the disciples giving it all up to follow Jesus (Matthew 19).
No matter when a servant began serving, they all received a denarius. A denarius was a normal day’s wage at that time.
The first group began at 6 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m. The second group began at 9:00 a.m. (3rd hour), the third group at noon (6th hour) and the last group started working at 5:00 p.m. (the 11th hour).
The order in which the landowner’s foreman paid the workers (“last to the first”) may imply that he took greater pleasure in rewarding those hired last. In view of what he paid those hired late in the day, those who began working earlier expected to receive more than they had hoped for. They grumbled against him because he had been “generous” (v. 15) to the latecomers and only just with them.
The early starters cited their hard working conditions as justification for their grievance. Their error was that they had served for the pay they would receive, whereas those who served for only one hour did so simply trusting in the grace of their employer.
How do we feel when someone receives Christ after a lifetime of sin (or crime)? Do we imagine them less worthy than we are? Only if we don’t believe in salvation by grace.
In view of the context, the 12 disciples correspond to the workers hired at the beginning of the day, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Those hired later correspond to other people who became Jesus’ disciples later in His ministry. One of these people might have been the rich young man, if he had become a disciple (19:16-22). Peter’s question about what the Twelve would receive (19:27) had implied that they should receive a greater reward, since their sacrifice had been, and later would be, greater. This parable taught him that God would give him a just reward for his sacrificial labor for Jesus. Nonetheless, God had the right to give just as great a reward [because of grace] to those whose service was not as long.
Jesus then pulls His disciples aside and tells them that He is going to Jerusalem to be crucified, then raised to life. Instead of sympathizing with Jesus, the mother of James and John asked that her sons sit on Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom.
22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
The “cup” Jesus was referring to was the cup of His suffering. Their answer shows that they did not immediately understand this. Indeed, they would suffer (v. 23), but it was not Jesus’ privilege to grant a place of honor for these two. Of course, the rest became indignant, because they believed that they were worthy of this honor, above the rest.
So Jesus reemphasized what He had been telling them all along–the values of the kingdom are upside down. The last becomes first, the servant becomes the leader, and Jesus Himself would lay down his life for them.
Jesus was on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem (v. 29)
This is a photo of the Wadi Qelt, which would be the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jericho is on the lower plain at the top of the picture. Of course, this is the same road that the parable of the Good Samaritan occurs on.
On the road just up from Jericho were two blind men, asking to be healed (Matthew 20:29-34).
Nehemiah 10 indicates that the people covenanted with God.
Nehemiah explained the agreement he previously referred to in 9:38 in this chapter. Conviction of sin (ch. 8) led to confession of sin (ch. 9) and resulted in a renewed covenant with God (ch. 10).
Verses 1-27 identifies the signers of the covenant. The names in verses 2-8 are those of the heads of 21 priestly families (cf. 12:12-21). Verses 9-13 record the names of 17 Levites. Then the writer gave the names of 44 heads of other leading families (vv. 14-27).
The rest of the restoration community joined those who signed their names pledging to obey the Mosaic Law (vv. 28-29). The “curse” they took on themselves was submission to the curse that God promised would come on those who did not keep His Word (v. 29; Deut. 28:15-68).
These Jews promised, specifically, not to intermarry with pagans (v. 30) and to keep the Sabbath day and the sabbatical year (v. 31). They further committed to support the temple service financially (vv. 32-34), to give their firstfruits to God (including their firstborn sons; vv. 35-37a), and to pay their basic tithe tax (vv. 37b-39).
The last sentence in verse 39 shows that the primary concern of the people was the worship that was the heart of their national life.
Unfortunately, Nehemiah will have to revisit all of these issues again in Nehemiah 13.
In Acts 20 Paul first checks in on some churches he planted (20:1-5) in Macedonia and Greece, before sailing back to Troas.
Paul’s mega-long sermon put a boy to sleep (Eutyches) and he fell out the window. Paul healed him.
For an article explaining while Paul went by land instead of sea, see Paul on the Road to Assos (Asia Minor/Turkey) by Carl Rasmussen.
You can see from the map above his other stops…
14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus.
When he comes to Miletus he has a final, tearful but instructive, meeting with his elders from Ephesus (Acts 20:18-35). These are good words about a pastor’s heart and ministry.
Three things that made Paul weep:
- Christians who backslide (2 Cor. 2:4)
- False teachers who lead the flock astray (Acts 20:29-31)
- Unbelievers who would go to hell (Romans 9:2-3)