Title: True Greatness
Text: Matthew 20:17-28
FCF: We often struggle being selfless
Prop: Because Jesus is our source for everything, we must follow Christ’s Humility
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 20. Last week we really nailed down a very large section in the narrative of Matthew, which communicates a central concept that has been woven to the last couple chapters. That concept being the general character quality of all those who will enter the Kingdom of God, which is neediness. Neediness of God. Infinite need is met with infinite inheritance, but as infinite as that inheritance is, it is only given according to need.
As we step into the next episode here, we need to remind ourselves of the broader concept introduced at the beginning of the narrative in chapter 19, which is Matthew’s investigation of Israel’s ignorance of the nature of the Kingdom of God, even though they have been graced to have God’s word for centuries. And this affects not just the religious elite, not just the common Israeli, but even Jesus’ disciples totally misunderstand the nature of the Kingdom of God. And we will see this again, vividly in today’s episode.
Again I’ll ask you to hang with me through another longish sermon. But I promise that the value far exceeds the cost.
Look with me at verse 17 of chapter 20. I’ll be reading from the NET but follow along in whatever version you have in front of you. If you don’t have a bible, raise your hand and let someone know.
I.) Jesus’ mission was to die and be resurrected, so we must follow Christ’s humility. (17-19)
a. [Slide 2] 17 – As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve aside privately and said to them on the way.
i. Because Jerusalem sits at just shy of 2500 feet above sea level, it was customary to always say “going up” to Jerusalem, since it was a city on a hill.
ii. Where are they on the way from?
1. [Slide 3] Well as we observed at the beginning of chapter 19, much of the chronological context has been omitted from Matthew about the journey of Jesus and His disciples from Galilee, through Samaria, and crossing the Jordan to the other side, which would have been Perea.
2. Later in the text in verse 29, Matthew indicates that they were leaving Jericho, which is on the west side of the Jordan river across from Perea.
3. So they are on their way to Jerusalem, from Perea, and they are most likely either in Jericho or passing close to it.
iii. Jesus now brings his disciples aside privately to convey to them a message of great significance.
iv. What is that message? Well it isn’t a new message.
b. [Slide 4] 18 – “Look we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the experts in the law. They will condemn Him to death.
i. So far Jesus has predicted his death 4 times to some of the disciples, and his death and resurrection he has predicted three times to all of them.
ii. So far, this is the most detailed prophesy He has given them.
iii. That the scribes and chief priests, in other words, the religious and political leaders of Israel will condemn Jesus to death.
iv. Rome’s way of keeping a revolt free empire was to allow conquered nations to control the day to day operations of their own governments. Ultimately, regional control would fall to Roman appointed leaders – most of the time being locals that were given authority for a price.
v. However since the Maccabean revolt, the religious and political leaders of Israel were not permitted to sentence someone to capital punishment. If there was a crime for which capital punishment was required, then they would need to hand such a prisoner over to Roman authorities and they would decide if such a sentence was warranted.
vi. But Jesus even predicts how the religious leaders will condemn him to death…
c. 19 – and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged severely and crucified. Yet on the third day, He will be raised. “
i. Such is the sufferings of Jesus.
ii. He was mocked – toyed with or belittled. As bullies often treat those they are bigger than. It is almost unfathomable, that the King of Glory would subject himself to such a fate at the hands of His creation.
iii. He was flogged, or scourged. This was a beating used in Romans times that no one was supposed to recover from. It was intended to kill the person for whom it was applied.
iv. He was crucified. One of the more brutal executions in history.
v. But the sufferings of Jesus would not be the end of Jesus. The son of man will be raised to life.
d. Again, in the three gospels that mention this, we are not told of any reaction to this truth. Perhaps the disciples thought that Jesus was exaggerating. Perhaps they remember that Peter tried to express his disapproval last time and Jesus called him Satan.
e. In any case, they did not respond. Did they get it? Probably not.
f. But Jesus has gone to great lengths to make His mission clear to His disciples.
[Slide 6 (blank)] And what is that mission? To come and die at the hands of the religious leaders and Gentile authorities by way of crucifixion, but also to be raised again. But as if the disciples have not been listening to anything He has said since before they left Galilee, the next episode is sure to shock us at the depth of ignorance in the disciples.
II.) Followers of Christ will share in His sufferings and submission, so we must follow Christ’s humility.
a. [Slide 7] 20 – Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked Him for a favor.
i. The Sons of Zebedee are James the greater and John author of the gospel of John, I-III John and Revelation.
ii. Matthew 4 helps us with their identities.
iii. James the greater was the first apostle to be martyred by Herod Agrippa I in the early 40s.
iv. He is not the author of James, half brother of Jesus, Elder of the church of Jerusalem. That is James the lesser or James the younger.
v. The identity of their mother is not clear. There is good indication that this is Salome, who may also be Mary the Mother of Jesus’ sister. Meaning that she is Jesus’ aunt and that James and John are his cousins. However, all of this is not certain.
vi. Mark does not indicate that the mother is present. In fact he makes it seem like the two sons brought this request. This certainly is not a contradiction. When you ask someone to present a question on your behalf, it is not inappropriate for us to still call it your question.
vii. Furthermore, Jesus is about to answer using the plural form of the pronoun “you”. This clearly indicates that he answers to both the sons and their mother, or just to the sons. Most likely given the context, just to the sons. This would harmonize Matthew and Mark well.
viii. But what is their request?
b. [Slide 8] 21 – He said to her, “what do you want?” She replied, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, on at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
i. Jesus’ statement, we could read very callously… but I choose instead to think that He asks as if he was a father desiring to give great gifts to his children.
ii. But like when Waverly asks for me to tell her sister to stop touching her toys, Jesus sees selfish ambition in the request of these two men.
iii. Really they are trying to set themselves above the rest of the 12, showing a gross misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God.
iv. God’s kingdom in their eyes would be no different than any other kingdom on earth. To gain power, to establish prominence, you seek favor from those who are powerful.
v. They rightly conclude that Jesus will be King of the Kigndom, but are wrong on virtually every other aspect.
vi. And even amid such arrogance. Amid such ignorance, Jesus has the patience to answer with love.
c. [Slide 9] 22 – Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.”
i. Jesus is saying, You have absolutely no understanding of the immensity and magnitude of your request.
ii. You wish to be given a place of honor? You wish to sit next to the Son of God and Man on His royal throne in the Kingdom? Do you honestly think having your mother ask me for it would be enough? You want such a place? Have you any idea what it would take? Let me help you understand.
iii. Are you able to drink to completion, the cup that is before me?
iv. We are left to wonder…what is the cup? Well there are a few possibilities.
1. [Slide 10A] The cup is the wrath of God.
a. A common expression of judgment and wrath from God in the Old Testament was a cup or a bowl. In fact, in the last days there will be 7 bowl or cup judgments where God pours out His wrath on the wicked.
b. Jesus then is asking James and John if they are able to bear the wrath of God that Jesus is about to take upon Himself for all mankind.
c. Although this teaching is clear throughout the New Testament, and although I think this teaching is even found in verse 28 which we will get to shortly, I do not believe that this is what Jesus is referencing specifically.
d. Why? – Because Jesus is about to tell James and John that they will drink of it. Which means that James and John will bear the wrath of God. Does that mean they are both in hell?
2. [Slide 10B] The cup is the suffering of Christ.
a. This view accommodates the prediction that Christ is about to make that James and John would drink the cup.
b. It also seems to coincide with what Jesus just said in verses 17-19.
c. However, Jesus’ question here “Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink” is constructed in such a way as to indicate a negative answer.
d. Perhaps this indicates that it is only with the Spirit that James and John could drink the cup, in other words they were not able to suffer for Christ as they are but with the Spirit’s power they could and would
e. But the fact that Jesus intends a negative answer from them seems to indicate that the Spirit’s power is not on His mind.
3. [Slide 10C] The cup is the destiny of Christ.
a. In the Old Testament cup can be used for wrath true, but it can also be used for blessing.
b. Generally speaking the cup can be used for any eventual outcome that God has sovereignly placed before someone.
c. This is what I believe Christ means here by the cup. The wrath of God, His Sufferings, His exaltation, His honor, His glory, His defeat of Satan, His freeing the captives of Sin… All of this is the destiny of the victorious Son…
d. So His question to the two is, Are you able to endure such things?
e. And the obvious answer is no. Certain aspects of Christ’s destiny could never be our destiny.
f. But some aspects of that cup – they will in fact drink. In fact, most of Christ’s destiny is inherited by His followers, as we have seen and will continue to see.
v. [Slide 11] Of course, not understanding the magnitude of what Christ had said, they say YES WE CAN!
vi. Up to this point, perhaps the disciples assumed Jesus spoke in hyperbole about the sufferings He and His followers would need to endure. Perhaps they assumed an earthly kingdom context, where there would be losses on the God’s side but that He could raise them up to life again.
vii. Perhaps this motivated their speedy and sure answer.
viii. Nevertheless Christ’s assessment, that they had no idea what they were talking about, remained true. Still, aspects would become true, which is where Jesus goes next.
d. [Slide 12] 23 – He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
i. So Jesus’ statement here is prophesy of the martyrdom of James the Greater and the poisoning and boiling of John the Apostle who, surviving both, was sentenced to exile on the island of Patmos.
ii. Not the full cup, not the exact destiny, but indeed they would suffer with Christ.
iii. However, the thing they asked for, the seats next to Jesus… are not His to give.
iv. Although there is some difficulty in understanding the inner workings of the trinity, and what place they all functionally hold in the eternal state – it would seem that even though Christ would be elevated to be above all other names, that at His name everyone and everything would bow and confess that He is Lord of all – that is not meaning that Jesus is Lord over God the Father. God the Father will maintain His place as the functional superior, to even the exalted Christ. And one major theme throughout the life of the incarnate Christ is His continued submission to the Father.
e. So we have seen that Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that His mission was to endure the cross and die and yet be raised.
f. And here in this episdoe we see Jesus predict that His disciples will share in His sufferings, and like Him, they will also submit to the will of the Father.
[Slide 13(blank)] Now you may think that James and John were alone in their ignorance. You would be wrong. As if the other 10 could not take a hint, they too show ignorance, arrogance and an unloving heart, as they react to what James and John just tried to do.
III.) Followers of Christ will in His share in servant leadership, so we must follow Christ’s humility.
a. [Slide 14] 24 – Now when the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers.
i. This anger is not righteous anger. This anger is not the others jumping on the two for being so arrogant or presumptuous.
ii. This anger is pure jealousy. They are angry because they wish they had thought of asking for the seats next to Christ first. They are angry because they would like superiority over one another.
iii. Again, the rest of the disciples misunderstand the nature of the Kingdom of God, to function as any other kingdom.
iv. But Jesus is about to destroy that sentiment…
v. Whether they understand is uncertain, but for us it will be clear with the help of the Spirit.
b. [Slide 15] 25-27 – But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave –
i. What is Jesus saying?
ii. Gentlemen, the kingdom of God does not operate like the Gentile Kingdoms.
iii. In the Kingdoms of this world and this age, might makes right. Power and influence determines what gets written in the history books.
iv. And the powerful determine the direction of the entire Kingdom, with or without their consent.
v. Therefore to advance, to be given a position of authority, is to be granted the privilege of being able to force others to your will. To demand service.
vi. But this is not how the Kingdom of God functions.
vii. As I have been trying to tell you since you asked that ridiculous question in Galilee about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom… as I have continually tried to show you through illustration and parable… now I will make it plain.
viii. Do you want to be great in God’s Kingdom? Do you want to be First?
ix. Then be least. Be a slave. Be a servant. If you wish to lead, you must serve. If you wish to sit on a throne, you must wash feet.
x. Only the humble, the needy, the insignificant, the small, the tiny, the dependent, only they could ever hope to be called great in the Kingdom of God.
xi. And then Jesus ties a bow on this. He brings it back to, what has really been the focus of this entire thought; He brings it back to His mission.
c. [Slide 16] 28 – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
i. Jesus’ work on the cross is an act of infinite servitude. Infinite humility.
ii. Paul instructs the Philippian Church to have the humble mind of Christ in them toward one another, and uses Christ’s mission on earth as the example of that humility.
iii. Jesus did not come to reign as a King – Like the Jews expected Him to… like the disciples expected Him to.
iv. He came to serve. How?
v. To give his life as a ransom for many. What does this mean?
1. [Slide 17A] To give His life.
a. The essence of the mission of Jesus was the cross. The core of the mission of Christ was to be killed and in so doing He breaks the power of sin, the power of death, the power of Satan, the power of darkness.
b. He crushes the head of the leader of the family of death while bruising the heel of the leader of the family of life
c. He breaks the power of Satan, demons, sin and death, and makes it possible for mankind to be free to God, righteousness and life eternal.
d. He adopts these people not as a nation to Himself but as part of His royal family. A family that Satan can never hope to touch. A family who can submit to God and resist Satan, who would then have no choice but to flee.
e. Before the death of Christ, this was done by animals. Before the death of Christ, the appeasement of God’s wrath and the distance between man and God could only be mitigated by a perpetual sacrifice, that never really did away with sin in the first place. It was a covering.
f. But now, through the death of Christ – HE IS OUR ETERNAL SACRIFICE, and WE…are washed clean.
2. [Slide 17B] It was a ransom for
a. A ransom is a payment made to a lord to buy a prisoner or slave from their confinement.
b. The bible never comes close to indicating that this payment was made to Satan. Although Satan certainly has ownership over this age, and wields death and sin as weapons against God and His plans, Satan is not the master of sin and death, nor is he the owner of our souls.
c. God owns all things. In Him all things consist. He holds the keys of ownership to death and hell. Therefore, this payment is not to Satan to free us from his clutches… it is to God to free us from our punishment for and enslavement to sin, and therefore saving us from the sting of death. The sting of death is that once dead, you are subject to the wrath of God. You see these weapons that Satan uses, are the very laws that govern the relationship between God and Man. Laws created passively by God Himself. By Who He is. But since God’s wrath has been paid in full on the cross of Christ for our sin. And the righteousness of God has been granted to us by Christ’s Faith. What does this mean?
d. He has disarmed the accuser of the weapons he wields against us, because He has freed us from sin both its penalty and its power. All who keep desperately depending on the Cross of Jesus Christ, are free from becoming a victim in this cosmic war between the forces of darkness, and the forces of light.
e. And one day the accuser who is also a sinner will be a victim of death too. The weapon he has wielded all this time will be applied to him, as he is cast into the lake of fire and sulfur called the second death.
f. The word “for” here means “in the place of”- This is the penal substitution of Jesus Christ.
g. Where once Satan would use sin and death to alienate us from God, effectively aligning our hearts with his plans and goals… Now Jesus Christ has made peace for us with God, reconciling us to Him, appeasing His wrath, and making us His sons and daughters.
h. This is the atonement friends. This is what penal, substitutionary atonement means. And it is core to our faith.
i. No other version of the atonement accommodates the full scope of scripture as this view does.
3. [Slide 17C] Many
a. Now many would disagree with me, and I cautiously throw my hat in here…
b. But I would say this speaks to application and not to provision.
c. What I mean is this ransom was was applied in the place of many.
d. It was not provided to many, but applied to many.
e. Many good men would disagree and say it was provided for many and applied for many.
f. If you are confused about what I am teaching – let me be blunt
g. I do not believe that Jesus is saying that He intends to only provide a ransom for some. Instead, I believe that Jesus is saying He intends to only apply a ransom for some.
h. To be more blunt. I am not a holder of a limited atonement.
i. My reasoning for that is because there is more at stake with the death of Jesus Christ than simply the hearts of men. We are a component of the spiritual war between the forces of darkness and light – but since the payment is to God, it makes sense that it is complete.
j. Again – many people would disagree and I intend to let them J
d. [Slide 18] So what does this mean? So far we have learned that Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that His mission was to come and give his life as a ransom for many, and then be resurrected. Jesus also predicted that His followers would suffer as He did in this life, and that ultimately, like He does, they would submit to the Father.
e. And finally here, we have learned that Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that if they were going to be great in His kingdom, they would have to share in His servant leadership. That like He was sent to serve by being a ransom payment, they would need to serve and be made a slave to others. To assume a position of humility, need, dependence, and insignificance.
So really we have learned 3 truths. We have seen these in relation to Jesus telling them to His disciples. Now we must see what Matthew is communicating to the Jews in this, and then what that means for us.
As we know, Matthew is writing to saved and unsaved Jews alike. He is trying desperately to prove that Jesus is the King of Israel, the King of Kings and the King of glory.
But One hang up for the Jews, and it is still a hang up today, is how could God die?
In this narrative, which so far has been all about desperate need, and humility, Jesus, although needing nothing, and although having no reason to be humble, came to earth to assume the role of a servant. And the ultimate act of that servanthood was His death and resurrection. It paid the ransom to God for sin and remove the sting of death.
Jesus is telling His disciples that they too should not be vying for who would be greatest in the Kingdom, because His Kingdom does not operate with such laws. Instead, they should be servants and slaves of others. And then they will be great. He tells them that they will suffer as He will suffer and that they will submit to God as He must also.
If you had to boil down what Jesus is saying to His disciples, and what Matthew is saying to the Jews, it is this.
[Slide 19 (end)] All who are genuine followers of Christ, consider Christ the source for everything. They are desperately needy of Him.
Therefore, they will have the same attitude of Christ’s with regard to humility. They will humbly suffer as He suffered. They will humbly submit as He submits. They will humbly serve as He served.
I have had many discussions with many people about the root of sin. What is the root of every sin? Some say rebellion, others idolatry and others pride. One person tried to prove it was pride by asking what is the middle letter of sin? I coyly said rho. That was a little Greek joke if you didn’t get it. The Greek word for sin is hamartia spelled alpha, mu, alpha, rho, tau, iota, alpha. He was not impressed.
In any case, I can say fairly confidently that pride is connected to many if not all sin, of both commission and omission. Therefore, humility is central to obeying what God has called us to be.
When Jesus says, they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another… is love still love if it is not humble? Paul in I Corinthians 13 seems to say that humility is central to love. In Philippians 2, Paul seems to indicate that Christ’s attitude of humility is necessary to love one another.
Must you be humble to suffer for Christ? I think so. How can you suffer for Christ and not be humble? Would anyone who is selfish suffer for someone else, let alone someone they cannot see, hear, or touch? Would someone self-consumed be motivated to die for the sake of someone’s name; for the sake of someone’s honor or reputation?
Must you be humble to submit to God the Father? Of course! Any time you submit to anyone there is a great amount of humility necessary. Of course when comparing ourselves to God, perhaps it seems more foolish to not submit than selfish… but you get my drift.
Must you be humble to serve others? To be a slave to others? Even to the point of dying for others? To die for a King may even be easier than to die for another of the King’s subjects. A great amount of humility and selflessness would be necessary to serve others, even to the point of death.
So where could such great humility come from? From us? From within us? Could you muster enough humility to do such things?
Mankind is naturally selfish, naturally prideful, his heart is turned in on himself. And I don’t think this requires a whole lot of evidence to prove it.
And this is exactly what is being taught here. In a lengthy discussion about being desperately needy. Needing God desperately. Now Matthew gets even more specific. You want to be great in the Kingdom of God? You must be desperately needy of the humility of Christ.
In this, the mystery of our union with Christ becomes more clear. We are in Him and He in us, and as we are so joined, our inheritance, our destiny, for better or worse is yoked with His. And if we are to reign with Christ, we must suffer with Christ. If we are to reign with Christ we are to submit with Christ. If we are to reign with Christ we are to empty ourselves for others as Christ did for us. His Humility, flowing through our fingers. His Humility from our tongues.
Such teaching is so central to the Christian experience and to the church, and yet…
Pride is a sin that runs rampant in the church. Why? Everyone struggles with it. And since it is a sin that everyone struggles with – it becomes a sin that no one pays attention to.
I was speaking to someone this week that relayed a story to me about a missionary he was speaking with. This missionary went to a church in Indonesia to learn about church culture there. He arrived and immediately the elders of the church asked him to join them as they performed church discipline on a member. He agreed.
On the way to the man’s hut, the missionary asked the elders why they were performing church discipline on the man. The church leaders, with a straight face told the missionary that the man was prideful.
The missionary began to laugh. But they did not. They asked him, why are you laughing? The missionary said, I have never heard of a church doing church discipline on someone for pride.
The elders now with confusion on their face asked, is no one prideful in America? How can a church never discipline for pride? The missionary did not have an answer. And neither do I.
Proverbs 6:16 says there are six things the Lord hates even seven that are an abomination. This construction simply means that this list is not exhaustive. But it should be a starting point for discovering what the Lord hates and considers abomination. And the first item on the list, is haughty eyes. Or someone who thinks highly of himself.
So question. If God hates pride so much and everyone in the church struggles with it, so no one says anything– isn’t that a problem? Shouldn’t that concern us a little? What are we gonna do about that? What should we do about that?
Let me beg of you something. DO NOT LET ME BE PROUD. If you sense arrogance in me… tell me. Why? Because you are probably right. And the only way to show that you love me… if you do… is to stop me from being proud.
We just received a pastor’s appreciation basket, because October was pastor’s appreciation month. We are very, VERY thankful that you did this. I was overwhelmed with your generosity. But you know what would show me even more appreciation? Don’t let me be arrogant. PLEASE.
This is not license for you to disrespect the position that God has placed me in. I’m not saying attack me. So put your clubs away. What I am saying is… love me, by correcting me and instructing me patiently in righteousness.
Many, who mean well, come up after a sermon and tell me – GREAT SERMON. You did such a good job. Every time you do that, it is a test for me. Praise the Lord, most of the time I pass. Most of the time He gives me the grace to give glory to Him. And I’m not saying you are doing something wrong, or even commanding you to stop… but you know how you can REALLY show me it was a good sermon? Come up to me and tell me how God has moved you, what changes you are going to make in His power, and what sins you are crucifying because of what God spoke through me. THAT is telling me how great a sermon it was. Because honestly – if the sermon is not eliciting such action – then it wasn’t a great sermon at all.
Christ’s humility is core to the Christian experience. Because being like Christ is core to being a Christian. Being in Christ and He in you, means you inherit not only His destiny, but His mind. You have access to His righteousness and power to obey the Father in Christ’s Humility. You have the humility necessary to suffer for His name, and serve others as a slave. We who are in Christ inherit this.
So beg Him for it. Be needy for it.
The greatest in the Kingdom… are those who desperately need the humility of Christ to suffer, submit, and serve, just as He did.
Is this you?