Bible reading days 19-20 (Jan 19-20): Genesis 20-21; Matthew 19-20.
"Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink." (Gen 21:19)
God blesses Abraham and Sarah (Gen 20-21). They live as resident aliens, or nomads, in the land that God promised to them. The Lord protects and provides for them, despite Abraham's fears about the protection of his wife (or himself, 20:1-18). The long-promised son, Isaac, is born. His name means "he laughs", for now the laughter of Sara's unbelief (18:12-13) has turned into the laughter of joy and wonder (21:6-7). The time comes for Hagar to leave, and God again cares for her and provides for her son Ishmael (21:9-21). God will multiply and prosper his descendants, though they will often be at odds with the tribes of Israel.
Two wells. A steady water supply was vital in the middle-east. God "opens Hagar's eyes" to see a well of water for them to drink from (21:19), and in the latter half of the chapter he provides a well (Beersheba, "well of seven") for Abraham's family and flocks (21:30-31). Abraham has grown in power and wealth, so much so, that Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar, comes to make a covenant of peace with Abraham, in order to establish water rights. Abimelech wisely wants to avoid conflict. We see that Genesis 12:2-3 is beginning to be fulfilled: "And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse..." (12:2-3)
The well of salvation. God has opened our eyes to see a well of salvation in his Son, our Lord Jesus. We freely draw from everlasting waters of salvation: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (Isa 12:3) And, "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."'" (John 7:37-38)
"Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 19:14)
Greatness in the Kingdom (Matthew 19-20). Matthew has recorded for us a series of events, prior to Jesus entering Jerusalem, which relate to greatness and humility. The uniting theme is children (or, "little ones") and the kind of faith they have (see 18:2-4; 6, 20, 14; and 21:15). Children were considered pretty low in the social order of that day. Despite the disciples' reproof Jesus receives and blesses the children (19:13-15). The rich young ruler then comes to Jesus to see what good thing he can do to inherit eternal life (19:16). Like moral people in general he had an inflated view of his own capacity for goodness. He is unable to give up his property to follow Christ, however. Please note: Jesus does not present eternal life as achievable, or to be attained, through renouncing material possessions, but rather, the man's property was preventing him from taking Jesus up on the opportunity of a lifetime, that is, following and knowing God's Son.
It's complicated. This man's faith was not simple or humble or free, like that of a child. In today's language, he might have excused himself from following Christ by saying, "It's complicated." Jesus sums up by telling his disciples that salvation is humanly unattainable. He concludes, "...many who are first will be last, and the last first." (12:30)
Serving. Jesus continues, in the parable of the day laborers, to show that greatness does not come by working harder or longer than others (20:1-16). We don't earn eternal life by our effort. Again he says, "...the last will be first, and the first last" (20:16). The central truth that Jesus reiterates on their journey to Jerusalem is that salvation will come through his own humiliation, suffering, and death, followed by the resurrection (20:17-19). Denying oneself, that is, taking up the Cross and following Jesus, is what marks greatness among God's children. What then follows is a mother's ironic request: for her two sons to sit at places of honor and glory in Christ's kingdom (20:20-24). Jesus plainly teaches them that greatness comes through serving, even as he came "to serve and give his life a ransom for many." (20:25-28)
Cry for mercy. The chapter closes with two blind men who cry out for Jesus to have mercy on them. He heals them of their blindness and they begin following him on the road. This is in stark contrast with the rich young ruler who says "what good thing must I do", but then is unwilling to follow Christ. Here these two poor men do not appeal to their ability and goodness, but rather call out for Jesus' mercy. And when mercy was shown, they immediately began to follow Jesus on the road. In today's language they might say, "It's really not that complicated!" Child-like faith!
Images above, left: old well at Beersheba (or, Beer-sheva) in southern Israel, photo ca 1900, courtesy Library of Congress. At right, restored well outside the city today. Below: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld's (1794-1872) depiction in Die Bibel in Bildern of Jesus teaching on greatness.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule found here.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.