In the Bible, we sometimes find a structure called chiasms, and these will follow a pattern of ABC CBA and occasionally ABC D CBA, with everything building up to a central point and then returning from that point to the opening statement. Such a structure exists between Matthew 12:22 and Matthew 20:19. Beginning in Matthew 17:22, Jesus speaks of His own deliverance to death. The parallel point begins in chapter 20:17, where He returns to the declaration of His death and resurrection. These serve as bookends to a chiasm building to a very important point between them. The structure is as follows:
Jesus foretells His death: Matthew 17:22-23
A. Jesus speaks of giving freely/sacrificing self: Matthew 17:24-27
B. Little children are the essence of the kingdom: Matthew 18:1-7
C. Sacrifice the body for the sake of the kingdom: Matthew 18:8-9
D. Do not despise what God values: Matthew 18:10-14
E. Entreating a brother about sin or offense: Matthew 18:15-17
F. Agreement between Heaven and Earth: Matthew 18:18-20
E. Entreating a brother about sin or offense: Matthew 18:21-35
D. Do not despise what God values: Matthew 19:1-9
C. Sacrifice the body for the sake of the kingdom: Matthew 19:10-12
B. Little children are the essence of the kingdom: Matthew 19:13-15
A. Jesus speaks of giving freely/sacrificing self: Matthew 19:16-20:16
Jesus foretells His death: Matthew 20:17-19
The Building Points: Humility & Self-Sacrifice
A. Giving. In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus uses the temple tax as an illustration of His divinity. Then, in Matthew 19:16, a wealthy young man approaches Jesus who asks what he needs for salvation. Jesus tells the young man to sacrifice of His goods. The man turns away, and Jesus observes wealth makes Heaven a difficult goal. The point of these lessons is that glory comes as a result of sacrifice. The apostles in these verses take some pride in what they have sacrificed, and He tells them they have done as they should do. We treat our wealth and our possessions as our right, but remember Philippians 2:5. Jesus gives up all that is His to accomplish an act of mercy and grace.
B. Be Like Children. Matthew 18:1-7 records the apostles asking how to be the greatest in His kingdom, and Jesus teaches a lesson in humility. Humility is necessary for sacrifice. Children come to Jesus in Matthew 19:13, but the apostles seek to prevent them approaching Him. Jesus rebukes His apostles, calling on them to become as humble, pure, and innocent as children. Philippians 2:8 reminds us that Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death.
C. Sacrificing Self for the Kingdom. Matthew 18:8 asks if we are willing to go so far as giving up appendages for the sake of the kingdom. This is sacrifice in relationship to the value of the kingdom. In Matthew 19:10, as Jesus is being asked about divorce, the apostles proclaim that it would be better for man to remain unmarried if divorce is so restricted. Jesus answers them that some do sacrifice the pleasures of marriage for the sake of the kingdom. That is how much the kingdom is worth, a kingdom for which Jesus gave up His life.
D. Valuing What God Values. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus calls on His followers to value those that God values. He calls on them to treat one another the way God treats them, ever aware of their needs, ever caring for them, ever seeing them as valuable. He uses the illustration of a lost sheep to make His point. The corresponding passage in Matthew 19:1-9 is in the context of marriage, where Jesus calls on those around Him to respect marriage as much as God does. We should value what God values.
E. Concern for a Sinning Brother. Matthew 18:15-17 directs us in dealing with sin in others. Jesus does not instruct us to stew over the offense or complain to others about it. He details a pattern that demonstrates concern over the individual overtaken in sin. The goal is restoration and reconciliation, as God’s plan for mankind focuses on redemption. In Matthew 18:21, Jesus returns to the theme of sin when Peter asks him how often he should forgive one who sins against him. Jesus answers with a parable about a servant seeking mercy for his debt. The king forgives the servant his debt but grows angry with that servant when he is unwilling to show the same mercy to a fellow debtor. As we want forgiveness from our Father, we should show that same mercy to those around us.
The Center of the Chiasm: Unity Between Heaven & Earth
Matthew 18:18-20 records Jesus talking about agreement between Heaven and Earth. His apostles will do and say what has been decreed in Heaven. We must do as the Father decrees in all things. Our words and actions should agree with the pattern given from Heaven. Just as Moses and the children of Israel had to follow God’s pattern in the Old Testament, we too have to respect His authority and follow His plan. We move when God moves, and we stop where God stops. This is the theme of the chiasm between Matthew chapters 17-20.
There must be unity among us as disciples if there is to be fellowship in Heaven. Jesus speaks of God being among those gathered in His name, and, if we are truly living in His name, then we will be sacrificial in our lives; we will be humble as children; concerned about sin; valuing what God values; and putting the kingdom first in our lives. These qualities will help us achieve that mind of Christ we read of Philippians 2, forsaking self to draw closer to God.