Monday, January 30, 2012


Matthew 20:20-28

Jesus had just reaffirmed to his disciples His future destiny. He was to be delivered up, condemned, abused, and crucified. Three days later He would be raised up (Matthew 20:17-19). It was “then (that) the mother of the sons of Zebedee” came to Him with her request (Matthew 20:20). Her request? “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:21).

The question and Jesus’ response led to a discussion regarding Christ’s future suffering and the ability of the two sons to endure the same. That discussion then caused the other ten disciples to become indignant with the two (Matthew 20:24). But before we examine further this particular situation, it might prove helpful to look at another similar future event in the life of the disciples.

To wash another’s feet was the task of a servant. That’s why Peter at first refused when Jesus prepared to wash his feet (John 13:8). But Jesus humbled Himself in that manner—He rose from supper, laid aside His garments, poured water into the basis, washed their feet, and wiped them with the towel with which He was girded (John 13:5). He asked them if they understood what He had done for them. Then He explained: “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:13-15). The context of the foot washing was the celebration of His last supper. He, their Master, washed their feet and shared the last supper with them--the elements of that supper symbolic of His future sacrifice for them (Luke 22:15-22). It is in this context, two graphic demonstrations of His servant hood, that we find these surprising words in the gospel of Luke: “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:23). While their leader was making His way down (to suffer on the cross), they were arguing as to who was on top!

The world has its own definition of greatness. It highly esteems the rich and powerful. Famous movie stars; great athletes; powerful politicians; multi-billionaires--they are assumed to be great for what they have achieved. And the desire for greatness lies in heart of man. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life are ever active and yearning for more pleasure, possessions, and power. It’s a “dog eat dog” world, and according to the world’s way of thinking, it is okay to do whatever it takes (“to eat whomever you have to eat”) in order to make one’s way to the top. To be “king of the hill” is what matters. The disciples had some of that in them. Jesus speaks of dying on a cross. The disciples argue over who is the greatest. Jesus washes their feet. They kick dirt at each other.

Jesus differentiated between the two different ways by which greatness is defined. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The rulers of the Gentiles “lord” it over them. The word translated “lord,” means “to bring under one's power, to subject one's self, to subdue, to master.” That is the role that the world esteems. To be a position to be able to tell others what to do; to boss them around; to be served—that is what most people yearn for.

“It is not so among you.” God’s way is different than the world’s way. The world esteems the master. God esteems the servant. If you want to be great, as God defines great, then you must learn to serve. Jesus exemplified servant hood. We have been called to “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). At a later date, the disciples, except Judas, all underwent a Spirit-empowered transformation. They were Spirit-led to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. They became “great” not by aspiring to greatness, but by living a life of self-sacrifice. They ultimately realized that which Jesus taught them—the way up is down.

C. J. Mahaney commented on this matter: “In his excellent commentary…William Lane notes that Jesus is referring to ‘the reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank.’ A profound and historical reversal is taking place here—one that has to occur in each of our lives if we’re to have any possibility of becoming truly great in God’s eyes. It means turning upside down our entrenched, worldly ideas on the definition of greatness.”

Christ’s example to us is one that should affect our lives in all of our relationships. We are all commanded to “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Church leaders are to be servant leaders (1 Peter 5:3). Husbands are to love their wives in a Christ-like, servant-minded, manner (Ephesians 5:25). Fathers are to be servant leaders in their families. We are all called upon to serve others. No matter what the world thinks, God says that humility is a good thing (1 Peter 5:5-6). A humble attitude that is exemplified in a readiness to serve others is highly esteemed by God (Cf. Philippians 2:3-11). The song says “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom learn to be the servant of all.” A lot of voices out there say otherwise, so let’s be careful to not be dissuaded. The way up is down.

Charles Spurgeon, “Assuredly He who is greatest and chief among us has set us the example of the utmost love-service. No servants waited on Him. He was Master and Lord; but He washed his servant’s feet. He came not to be served, but to serve. He received nothing from others; His was a life of giving; and the giving of a life. For this purpose he was the Son of Man; with this design He came; to this end He gave His life a ransom for many. No service is greater than to redeem sinners by His own death, no ministry is lowlier than to die in the stead of sinners.”

Pastor Jerry

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