Week 49: How to Be Great
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.” Matthew 20:20-28
I think many of us have a desire deep within us to be great. We want to be great at work or great parents or a great athlete…the list goes on. Ultimately, we want to be known as a successful person. And in this strange encounter, I mean for real, who sends their mom to try and get them a promotion? Jesus does not miss an opportunity to turn our idea of greatness and success on its head.
Now, to the mom’s credit, she does have one thing right. She approaches Jesus with the right posture, she was bowing. And, she understands that proximity to Jesus will determine success. But, what she doesn’t understand, like many of us, is that success and greatness in God’s economy cannot be equated with a position of power.
The mom and her sons are thinking that when Jesus, the Messiah, kicks the Romans out of Jerusalem and then He takes His rightful seat on the throne, that IF they are at His right and left hand then they would become senior VPs over all of Israel.
Jesus lets them know, that in the Kingdom of God, everything is different. In fact, in order for Jesus to rule and reign forever, He must first suffer and die. When He mentions “the cup,” He is referencing the cup of the wrath of God poured out in judgment.
We know this from His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. And Jesus lets these boys know that they will suffer for following Him, but the spots on His right and left will be determined by His Heavenly Father.
And we know that two thieves will take those two spots. Now, word gets out to the other disciples about this incident and they are angry. They’re probably angry because they think “why didn’t we think of that?” And so Jesus brings them all together to sort of level set. And in order to do that, He first deconstructs the current world view of success and greatness. And then He reconstructs a Kingdom view of success.
He starts with the Gentiles. And when Jesus mentions Gentiles, He doesn’t merely mean people that were not born into the lineage of Abraham and the nation of Israel. He means people that don’t even believe in God.
Now immediately, the disciples would think of the pagan Romans that ruled over Israel at this time. And Jesus is saying that these kind of leaders leverage all of their authority for their own sake. They believe that everyone is under their authority to serve the boss. These subjects are merely a means to their own end.
And the disciples know exactly what it is to be treated this way, but because they have been living under Roman oppression their entire life. Jesus is giving them a warning, that they are beginning to adopt this definition of greatness and they’re picking it up from the brutal Romans. Then He says “it WILL NOT BE SO in my Kingdom.”
And so, He reconstructs what greatness and success and leadership look like for those that are a part of the Kingdom of God. He says, that if you want to be great, then get focused on serving instead of being served.
That means, that we should look for opportunities to give, instead of always being on the take. This means, that we should give credit at work, instead of taking credit for the successes. This means, that we look for opportunities to make much of other people, instead of thinking “what’s in this for me?”
And then Jesus takes away all of our excuses by letting us know this is why HE came. That HE stepped out of the glory of heaven and off of His eternal throne and He humbled Himself to be born as a peasant child, in a feeding trough in Bethlehem.
And as He grew up, knowing that all authority on heaven and earth had been put under His feet, instead of being served, He served. And He didn’t just serve us when it was convenient or easy or when everyone was looking. He served us by ransoming our hearts at the cross. So, in the Kingdom of God, if you wanna be great, then serve; like Jesus did for us.