Matthew 20:17-19

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.” Matthew 20:17-19

Supposedly there are a few people in the world who, when reading a mystery novel, prefer to read the last chapter first. As much as I love reading mystery novels, I can’t imagine doing that. It would take all the fun out of it. Intrigue and suspense require not knowing, at least not knowing fully. But there is something different going on with Jesus’ own predictions of his death.

It isn’t just foreshadowing. They aren’t spoiler alerts. They pop up at three key moments. Each time, wedged between whatever happens before and after, they remind us anew that Jesus’ mission and purpose are unlike anything the world has seen before. His purpose, his determination, his own commitment, is the definition of self-sacrificing love. Jesus is God’s grace, in the flesh.

Eventually we will walk with Matthew through his description of Jesus’ last days. That will come in the last chapters. Now we are just in chapter 20. We’ve heard Jesus twice – in his comments on the rich and in his parable of the generous landowner – use the phrase “the last will be first and the first last.” That enigmatic phrase hints that something different, something unsettling, is going on. It is about reversals, of expectations, of roles and rules.

As Matthew brings us along on this journey with Jesus and his disciples we come to these moments, these personal moments, where Jesus shares insider information. As we read his words, we join him as insiders. We know what is going on. We know what to expect. This new now hangs in the back of our own minds.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons were peppered with stories and allusions that he used again and again and again. As wonderful as his words were, they weren’t always originally his. He drew from the deep well of many prophetic preachers before him. People he admired. People he emulated. People who shaped him. Thus, when he said things like “I’ve been to the mountaintop. I’ve seen the other side. I may not get there with you but you’ll get there” he wasn’t so much predicting his own death as he was taking his place in the sea of witnesses that stretched back through the preachers of his education and childhood, through Jesus to Moses.

Every great leader in history has died. Even those, perhaps especially those, who have battled the currents of culture in the cause of justice. But only Jesus rose from the dead. Only Jesus would be the living embodiment, the ultimate vindication, of God’s loving will and purpose for humanity. History is full of men and women worthy of our admiration. Jesus alone is our Lord and Savior.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we know the story. We have known the story a long time. But still it shocks and surprises us. Every time. To hear again of your commitment and courage, your steadfast persistence in the face of all we consider to be earthly powers. To hear again the story of the rejection and cruelty you endured. Why? Because you love us. You want us to see again what real love really looks like. As we share your journey you shape our lives, transforming us from the inside out, that we might be reflections of your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 20:17-19”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Thank you for this series on Matthew’s story of Jesus. The messages and your insights are powerful and impact my life. I always appreciate your phrase of “doing the next right thing.” That encourages me to do something loving for someone when I would really just like to get home or veg out or zone out. Thank you and God bless you and your family. Sharon

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