The Great Reversal Part 6

The Great Reversal 

Part 6

Jesus Teaches on Serving

Matthew 20:17-28

Matt. 20:17    As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. 18 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Mana will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. 19 Then they will hand him over to the Romansa to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

20Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

22  But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

23  Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

24  When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Imagine three different situations:

Driving in a limousine:

House cleaning service:

Breakfast in bed:

Sounds good doesn’t it?

What were you thinking about?

If you are like me, you are probably… siting in the back of the limousine, not… driving it.

You imagine someone who has been hired to come and clean up your house, not one of the cleaners.

You are being served Breakfast in bed, not the other way round.

Most of us when we think about service, we think about someone serving us.

The reading from the gospel shows us Jesus’ Great Reversal in this whole issue of servanthood.

Our passage begins with Jesus foretelling his gruesome suffering and death on the cross.

When you think about it, it is one of the most ironic places in the bible when after Jesus foretells of his suffering, a caring parent asks for a place of prominence from Jesus for her boys.

But Jesus has to correct her, her two sons, his disciples… and us, about the nature of true servanthood.

Let’s take a closer look:

20 Then, (meaning right after Jesus tells them about the cross) the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons.

She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

In other words, “Give them a place of prominence. Honour them, by serving my sons.”

As a parent I can relate to John and James’ mom. She is a good Jewish mother.

We want the best for our children.

However when we think of being honoured, we do not usually think about servanthood.

Some New Testament scholars maintain that she may have been Jesus’s aunt Salome, Mary’s sister, and the two sons would be cousins to Jesus so perhaps that’s why they wanted special treatment and ask to take the top seats in the Kingdom of God.

The request shows us what the two disciples had in mind when it came to power and leadership. They wanted to be first, they wanted to be more powerful than the other disciples. In fact by asking to be Jesus’s left and right hand men they might have even been imagining ruling over the other disciples. Achievement and ambition are difficult attitudes to weed out.

22  But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

What is this bitter cup of suffering?

There are references to it in the Old Testament; Images used by prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

In Isaiah 51 the image of a cup containing the wrath of God was used to express what had happened to God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The prophet says, “Wake up, wake up, O Jerusalem! You have drunk enough from the cup of the Lord’s fury. You have drunk the cup of terror, tipping out its last drops.”

This passage and many like it speak of what happens when the One Holy God is grieving over a very sinful  and evil world. He steps in to give the wicked and arrogant the just reward for their evil deeds.

It’s as if God’s Holy anger is turned into a dark, potent wine and poured into a cup that rebellious people will be forced to drink, down to its last dregs. Quite a somber  and scary picture!

But hold on, there is an amazing reversal coming.

It is the Son of God himself who is going to willingly drink the cup of God’s wrath in our place, for our sins and the sins of the whole world!

Jesus knew full well what is going to happen to him. The humiliation, desertion, the betrayals, the suffering on all levels.

I’m sure  you have all experienced these things at one time or another yourselves, so you know at least partially how that feels.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, further on in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says His soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. He asks His Heavenly Father if it is at all possible, to let this cup of suffering be taken away from Him.

It’s the ‘Please Lord, no.’ prayer.

How difficult it is sometimes to pray, ‘Not my will but yours be done, Lord’….. as Jesus ultimately did.

You can’t help but be amazed by Jesus’ patience as he stares down death on a cross… while at the same time his followers are bickering about worldly ambition.

At this point the disciples don’t realize what it all really means for them. They are thinking power and prestige; a throne of their own. They wanted to be first.

23  Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

James and John feel confident that they will be able to endure the cup of suffering… and indeed as Jesus has prophesied here so they do.

Later on in the bible we discover that James was martyred quite early on by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem.

St. John, though spared a martyrs death, was banished to the isle of Patmos for the remainder of his long life.

But in the immediate future we know they will all run away and desert Jesus to drink the cup of suffering alone.

Jesus tells them that only His Heavenly Father knows who will sit beside Him.

It shows that not even Jesus (at this point)  is privy to everything His Heavenly Father is doing, and that’s ok with Him.

It’s not His ‘right’ he says to make the choices the disciples are asking of Him. His Father has a plan. Jesus doesn’t know every detail but He trusts and humbly obeys His Heavenly Father in everything, even unto death. That in itself says everything.

The conversation is overheard by the other disciples.

Verse 24: “When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.”

The other disciples are angry, they are annoyed,  not because they have a different idea of greatness, but probably they want the best places… themselves.

The two brothers just spoke up first.

The disciples are jockeying for position and power. They are behaving in a worldly way, all wanting to be first, all wanting to be important.

Had they forgotten the sermon on the Mount? Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the lowly…Jesus, as we know, reverses that whole concept of first and last.

Peter had been thinking about greatness in the Kingdom and Jesus answered, as we saw last week, in the Parable of the vineyard workers.

Verses 25-28:

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them.

26 But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. 28 For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.’”

So this is the crux of the matter. Jesus has tried several times to get His message of what the Kingdom of God is going to be like.

Jesus ministry has begun: The Kingdom is coming on earth as it is in Heaven;

The light is breaking through the darkness.

But it’s so different from the world.

Greatness in the eyes of the world is determined by status and power. Greatness in the eyes of God is determined by serving and sacrifice.

I find it interesting that of all the titles that Jesus uses about himself, the one he uses most often is the “son of man”.

In Daniel chapter 7 we find A majestic figure called the son of man, given absolute sovereignty and rule over everything. It says this:

Dan. 7:13    As my vision continued that night, I  Daniel, saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

It is the portrait of a majestic mighty figure!

One you would expect to be served:

And yet Jesus, comes to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

He came to serve, to serve you and me.

He looks at you and discerns what your needs are, and he finds joy when he serves you and me.

It is such a reversal of what the world is like and yet ages ago, once again, the prophet Isaiah saw the truth.

Speaking of the suffering servant Isaiah writes…

“He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!….And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins.”

Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He knows what fate awaits Him there. He goes willingly. He is following the biblical model of Kingship, not the world’s model. The biblical model is the kind where the King is the servant, who gives up his very life as a ransom, a payment, for the world.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We are reminded of this every Sunday at Holy Communion.

verse 28 again:

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

Some translations have:

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

Verse 28, just as……… I know it seems like a small detail.  But what I think Jesus is trying to say is this:

“You think service is being served, no, no, no, true service is about laying down your life, for someone else. Just as I will do for you.”

In other words, Jesus has a very high standard for the way we are to live our life. I know I am preaching to the converted I am just reminding all of us.

I believe we are to be intentional in developing a lifestyle of service.

What does it mean to serve like this?

At home?

With my family?

With friends?

With outsiders even?

We can only live like this, when we are captivated, and filled and captivated once again, by the grace and love of Jesus.

So we need to pray.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: