January 2, 2022 – Matthew 20

Lesson Date: January 2, 2022

Focal Scripture Passage: Matthew 20:1-28

AIM: To lead students to discover what Jesus taught about humility and serving others, and to examine themselves to see if their lives are characterized by those two qualities.


Before class: Read the notes on Matthew 20 found in the Sunday School Teacher Book.  Write the following words randomly on the marker board or chalkboard: “Last,” “First,” “Least,” “Greatest,” “Chief,” “Servant,” “Pride,” and “Humility.”


INTRODUCTION (Create Learning Readiness): Tell the following to the class:

Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali once said, “I’m the greatest of all time.”  It is not unusual for athletes, businesspeople, and politicians to make boastful statements like that.  Those sorts of statements reveal a great deal of pride and arrogance.  Pride and arrogance are common in our world.

In Yosemite National Park there is a lake so clear and calm that it is known as Mirror Lake.  The thing that is most beautiful about the lake is the way it reflects the beauty of the mountains.  The mirrored mountains visible on the lake are the exact counterparts of the real mountains.[i]  The lake is not known for its own beauty; rather, it is known for reflecting the beauty of the mountains behind it.

Tell the students that Mirror Lake and athletes such as Muhammad Ali are exact opposites.  One proudly points to self, while the other directs attention away from self.  These two examples illustrate the difference between a life of fleshly pride and a life of godly humility.

Tell the class the title of today’s lesson is Journeying Toward Jerusalem.  As we travel along with Jesus, we will discover what He taught about humility and serving others.



  1. Review.
    • Ask: “What was last week’s lesson about?” (Jesus answered questions about divorce and eternal life).
    • Ask if any volunteer would recite last week’s memory verse (Matt. 19:26).
    • Remind the students that at the end of last week’s lesson Jesus warned about the danger of trusting in riches. He even said it is hard for a rich man to be saved.
    • Read Matthew 19:27.
    • Tell the class that Peter asked what reward the disciples would receive for abandoning worldly things to follow Jesus. He told him they would receive many eternal rewards.
    • Read Matthew 19:30.
    • Explain that in the original text there was no break between chapters 19 and 20. Verse 30 of Matthew 19 provides the context and backdrop for the things we will read in chapter 20.
  2. The Parable of the Laborers.
    • Ask a volunteer to read Matthew 20:1-16.
    • Explain the following:
      • A landowner went out to hire farm laborers at the beginning of the day.
      • They agreed to work from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for a denarius (a standard day’s wage).
      • At 9:00 a.m. the landowner hired more workers, and simply told them he would pay them what was right.
      • The landowner hired more workers at Noon, 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.
      • At the end of the day (6:00 p.m.), he called the last workers he had hired and paid them a denarius. He paid all the workers a denarius, regardless of how long they worked.
      • The workers hired at 6:00 a.m. were angry, because they received the same pay for 12 hours of work as others received for as little as 1 hour of work.
      • The landowner told them he had paid them their agreed-upon wages, and said he was free to do with his money whatever he wanted.
      • In verse 16, Jesus reiterated what He said in Matthew 19:30.
    • Ask: “When the first laborers were hired at 6:00 a.m., were they satisfied with the pay they were promised?” (yes; otherwise, they would not have taken the job).
    • Ask: “When did they become dissatisfied with their wages?” (when they saw that others got the same pay for less work).
    • Explain the following:
      • Jesus told this parable to illustrate the truth that there is no seniority in salvation.
      • Everyone who is saved will inherit eternal life, whether they were saved as children or in the latter years of life.
      • There are no degrees of salvation in heaven.
      • God calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) and believe in Jesus (1 John 3:23), but sadly, relatively few actually come to faith in Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:14).
    • Ask: “What can we learn from this parable?” (we should faithfully serve God, not out of selfish motives, but out of genuine devotion and commitment).
    • Summarize: Through the parable of the laborers, Jesus taught that we should serve Christ faithfully, without focusing on the work or rewards of others.
  3. Jesus Predicted His Death and Resurrection.
    • Read Matthew 20:17-19.
    • Ask: “Where was Jesus going?” (Jerusalem – locate on the Map of Judea and Galilee).
    • Ask: “What did He say would happen there?” (He would be betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, scourged, and crucified; but He promised to rise from the dead on the third day).
    • Ask: “If you knew certain death awaited you in a particular place, would you go there anyway?” (no).
    • Stress the fact that Jesus came to fulfill His mission: He came to die on the cross to pay the price for man’s sins.
    • Ask: “How do these verses illustrate Jesus’ teachings about humility and faithful service?” (He obediently humbled Himself to die on the cross – see Phil. 2:8).
    • Summarize: Jesus demonstrated humility and faithfulness by carrying out the Father’s plan to save sinners.
  4. Greatness vs. Humility.
    • Read Matthew 20:20-21.
    • Ask: “What did the mother of James and John ask Jesus?” (for her sons to have special places of honor on either side of Jesus in His kingdom).
    • Ask a volunteer to read Matthew 20:22-33.
    • Ask: “What did Jesus say about promoting James and John to special places of honor?” (He said that privilege was not His to give).
    • Tell the students that greatness is idolized in our society; the media glorifies the “great” athlete, the “great” singer, the “great” actor, etc.
    • Explain that greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not achieved the way it is on earth.
    • Read Matthew 20:24-28.
    • Ask: “How did the request of the mother of James and John make the other disciples feel?” (indignant, upset, angry).
    • Ask: “How did Jesus say to achieve greatness?” (by humbling yourself and serving others).
    • Ask: “How did He say His life served as an example of this?” (even though He is the Messiah – God in human flesh – He did not come to be ministered to, but to minister to others; He came to give His life as a ransom for many).
    • Tell the class that Jesus demonstrated His humility and willingness to serve others in verses 29-34.
    • Explain the following:
      • Jesus was leaving Jericho on His way to Jerusalem (locate on the Map of Judea and Galilee).
      • Huge crowds of people thronged him.
      • Even though He was on His way to accomplish His ultimate mission in Jerusalem, and even though a huge crowd followed Him, Jesus stopped to heal two blind men who were sitting beside the road.
      • When He could have accepted the adulation of the crowd, He instead chose to serve and minister to two insignificant blind men.
    • Summarize: Jesus taught and demonstrated that true greatness comes from humility and selflessly serving others.


PERSONAL APPLICATION: Tell the class Jesus taught that we should humble ourselves and serve Him faithfully, without getting our attention focused on other people.  He said the lowliest (most humble) will be exalted, while those who are exalted will be brought down or ignored.  He used this passage to illustrate the truth that the first will be last and the last will be first.

Direct the class’ attention to the words written on the board.  Tell them that some of those words represent man’s way, while the others represent God’s way.

Erase the words “First,” “Greatest,” “Chief,” and “Pride.”  The remaining words, “Last,” “Least,” “Servant,” and “Humility” represent God’s way.

Ask: “Is your life characterized by humility, or by pride?  Are you trying to draw attention to yourself or to Jesus Christ?  Are you more like Muhammad Ali or Mirror Lake?  Is your service to God motivated by sincere love and devotion, or do you want people to notice you and praise you?  If everything you do for the Lord (attending Sunday School and worship, tithing, serving in Vacation Bible School, etc.) went unnoticed and unrecognized, would you still do it?

Ask everyone to bow their head and close their eyes.  Ask the students to silently answer those questions as sincerely and honestly as they possibly can.  Tell them if the Holy Spirit has revealed some area of their life that is characterized by pride and selfishness, they should confess it as sin right now and ask the Lord to teach them how to be humble and unselfish.  Voice a closing prayer.


CONCLUSION: Ask the students to memorize Matthew 20:28.  Tell them to ask God to give them opportunities this week to humble themselves and serve others.



[i] Bible Truth Illustrated, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Copyright © 1979, Fleming H. Revell, page 166.

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