Sermon: Called to Serve Others Matthew 20:20-28

Truth Taught- Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,

Introduction

Our passage today rightly follows the text from last week.  Last time, Jesus announced His death the third time.  He told us more of what the cross would entail for Him.  We saw the King in His city, Jerusalem, tried, condemned, handed over to the Gentiles, beaten, flogged, crucified and raised from the dead.

We also saw that Jesus was very intentional about going to the great city, Jerusalem where God chose to make His name dwell.  This would be the city where the King’s glory would outshine any other earthly king as He was obedient to the Father even to the point of dying one the cross.

Our Lord has been walking us through an extremely important theme these last few chapters.  It’s the theme of greatness.  He began that emphasis back in…


Matthew 18:1–4 (ESV) 

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 

We then saw a great contrast between the dependent humble child and a rich man who was overly confident and depended on his wealth rather than God in Matthew 19.  We also saw Jesus’ conclusion to that section by stating that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  

All along He has been teaching His disciples and us that greatness in God’s kingdom is diametrically opposed to what the world sees as greatness.  Greatness in God’s eyes is when we care for one another.  Going out of our way to help a brother or sister in Christ.  When we are humble and depend upon God then we are considered great in the Kingdom.  This is the opposite of the world’s version. 
Our natural fallen concern with status and importance is one of the most fundamental urges we must put off or unlearn.  It’s one of those remnant sins that the Holy Spirit will do away with as God works in us bringing us into conformity to Jesus. 

In out text today, there is a clear picture of worldly greatness verses Kingdom greatness.  We will see the Greatest is Jesus Christ.  

Father, this is Your Word.  This is the text You have chosen for us today.  Give us understanding through Your Holy Spirit.  May He apply the truths to our hearts so that we can bring glory to Your Son, Jesus Christ…AMEN

Matthew 20:20–28 (ESV) 

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your 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.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

1.  Our Ongoing Quest for Worldly Status

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

It is so difficult to stop loving this fallen world.  Our being is fallen and so the world and our nature go together.  They fit together like a hand and a glove.  They both are seeking the same thing.  We are so used to this type of thinking when it comes to greatness, we might even hardly notice we’re caught up in it.  We want to be important; we want status, significance and fame.  Here, a mother because of vainful pride in her sons or perhaps at the direction of her sons approaches Jesus and asks that her two sons, James and John be Jesus’ right- and left-hand men in God’s Kingdom.  “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

This request is very out of place here and very poorly timed.  Jesus had just spoken about the ultimate sacrifice that He would make in Jerusalem.  He spoke about His death at the hands of sinful men.  He spoke about His death being a very gruesome death and the next thing Matthew reports is the request of James and John wanting extra high status.  Jesus is going to the cross and they are asking about importance.  They still, no doubt, thought Jesus’ Kingdom was to be on earth now.  

James and John, the sons of Zebedee probably had put their mother up to it.  They still wanted status even though Jesus had been teaching that greatness is the opposite of status and fame. 
We must be very cautious and always be watching our own hearts.  We too can desire status very easily.  How quickly will worldly greatness seek to grab hold of us.  The lust for the spotlight and wanting to be heard is a very difficult drive for us to stop.  There is only one way we stop and even then, this sin will still show itself occasionally, the cross of Christ. 

Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.

This phrase, one on your right hand and one at your left, is only used one other time in Matthew’s Gospel.  It’s nowhere anyone would want to be…

Matthew 27:38 (ESV) 

38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 

In order to sit next to Jesus in His Kingdom they have to be hung with Jesus, one on His left hand and one on His right.  There is no crown without suffering.  Jesus tells them, they don’t really know what they’re asking.

2.  You Don’t Really Know What You’re Asking

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.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Jesus tells the two overambitious brothers that they really don’t know what they are asking Him.  The cup our Lord refers to is the cup of suffering.  Are they ready to suffer like Jesus in order to achieve their request?  The answer is no.  They say they are but when we look to the cross, they have long fled away.  Like Peter whose talk was cheap and when things got serious left Jesus alone.  

Jesus is teaching that His Kingship is directly connected to His suffering.  He is the rightful heir to the Davidic Throne but He will not achieve His throne until after He suffers for His people to save them all from their sin.  Then King Jesus will have a people to rule and reign over.  

23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup,
Quite literally, they will suffer.  They will drink the cup of suffering. 
James is martyred for his faith…


Acts 12:1–3 (ESV) 

12 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 

The Apostle John was a prisoner on the Isle of Patmos…


Revelation 1:9 (ESV) 

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Our Lord then, tells James and John that the thrones are not His to grant.  In other words, who sits upon them has already been determined by God.  

3.  Greatness According to the World

24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

The disciples are very angry at James and John for attempting to cut to the front of the line or to inch them out.  The sad reality is that all of the disciples were still lusting for power and having daydreams of high authority in the Kingdom, even after all Jesus has been teaching them.  

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… the meaning here is that in the world order, those who are in power use their authority to overpower others.  Literally, the Greek here is, Bear Down On.  We see this everyday in our world.  Those who are high on the social ladder use their authority not to help others below them but to further advance their own agenda and bear down on those of lesser social status.  This happens everywhere from the playground to the workplace to national governments.  Status is used as a weapon to hurt others.  Those of lesser status are used by those with greater status for their own purposes. 
I want to make sure we understand something.  Those in power from the Major to the president of the United States use their power for their own agendas.  They do not care about you.  You are only on their radar when you serve a useful purpose for them.  When that purpose is no longer there you are entirely forgotten.  

Our Lord uses the term Great Ones in referring to the worldly people high in status which is a contrast to the term He’s been using for those who are great in God’s Kingdom.  There He uses the term Little Ones.  

Matthew 18:6 (ESV) 

but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 

4.  Greatness According to God

26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 

Jesus is very clear isn’t He.  26 It shall not be so among you. 
In the Kingdom of God those who assume the lowest status, namely, the slave to others is the greatest.  The last shall be first.  This truth applies to everyone for all times who are born again.  When we are saved, it is God’s desire that we take on the status of doulos or hard-working servant of others.  We are called by God to serve those within the body of Christ.  Jesus tells us we must be servants. 
People ask me frequently what is there they could do?  Beloved, look around, all around and see there are needs everywhere because there are people everywhere.  This church has needs.  Go to someone and ask them.  When we are praying for others in our church, go to them and ask what they need.  Press them a little because most will say nothing.  Jesus tells us we must be servants of other because we are not like the world.

When the world sees a need, they exploit it for their advantage.  When we see a need we must go to that person and seek to help them by serving them.

Look with me briefly at what Paul tells us about this same theme…

1 Corinthians 14:6–12 (ESV) 

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 

What is Paul telling those in Corinth?  What is He telling us?  If you want to see the Holy Spirit working and manifesting Himself within the Church excel in building up the body.  Jesus tells us be a servant.

5.  Our Greatest Example

28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Jesus is the Greatest in the Kingdom of God on many levels.  One way He is the greatest, He served us most.  He tells us very clearly He came not to be served (like our world’s great ones) but to serve (depicting greatness in God’s Kingdom).  His purpose was to meet our greatest need.  We were alienated from God.  Our sin had cut us off from God and His blessings and had made us objects of wrath.  Jesus came and met our deepest need.  He paid the price of our sin and extended to us by faith perfect righteousness.  He placed us into God’s Kingdom by His life and death on the cross.

The Greatest became our slave.  He served us and met our deepest need. 
Now as His people, we are to meet the needs of others…


26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 

Conclusion

Are you serving others in this Body?  

Resources Used

The Gospel of Matthew by R T France

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