Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WHICH WAY UP? (Matthew Chapter 20)

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: “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:20-21).

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).  This was not the only instance in which the disciples disagreed about such matters.  On a day to come, after Jesus had washed their feet and shared the last supper with them (partaking together of elements symbolic of His future sacrifice), “there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest (Cf. John 13:5-15; Luke 22:15-22).  While their leader was making His way down (to suffer on the cross), they were arguing as to who was to be 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 deemed “great” by this world.  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.  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 man’s.  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 servanthood.  He walked on an alternative and better path.  We have been called to “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  At a later date, all of the disciples, except Judas, would undergo a Spirit-empowered transformation.  And, by the Spirit, they were then led to follow 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: “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.”  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.

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