Servanthood In The Kingdom

Servanthood in the Kingdom

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:20-28)

In verse 20 and 21, we see that two of the 12 disciples, James and John, came to Jesus along with their mother who kneels before Him and asks this question.

“Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

And what a question it is! Asking for the positions of highest honor in His kingdom for her two sons. It seems that their eyes are fixed on an imminent coming of the kingdom of God here on earth, which would be proclaimed when Jesus the Messiah reaches Jerusalem. And in their mind’s eye, they can see it all now. There they are, sitting on Jesus’ right and left, his most powerful and trusted counsellors, James and John, the “sons of thunder”, Number One and Number Two in the glorious kingdom of the Messiah.

Jesus refuses to grant this request, saying that it is not his to decide. While we do not know the reaction of James or John or their mother, their ambition for power and position has not gone unnoticed. The other ten disciples cannot believe that James and John would ask to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus. Scripture says they become “indignant” toward the two brothers (v. 24).

Were the other members of the Twelve upset because James and John fail to practice the humility Christ commended in His followers when He said we must come to Him as little children? (Matt. 18:1–4) Or are they perturbed because the two disciples have been trying to take glory for themselves without sharing it with the others? Whatever the motivation of the other 10 disciples, Jesus uses this teaching moment to illustrate again the servant leadership he wants them (and all of us) to model to the world.

To seek greatness and power, Jesus tells us, is at odds with kingdom values. (v. 25–28) He illustrates this with the phrase, “the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them”, a reference to the Roman system where humility was seen as weakness and might was always right. On the other hand, God’s children serve one another. Greatness is found in putting others first and in seeking the welfare of others above our own. (Phil. 2:1–11).

A leader in the early church, John Chrysostom wrote this, “Loving the first place is not fitting to us, even though it may be among the nations. Such a passion becomes a tyrant. It continually hinders even great men”. That is true in both worldly endeavors and in the church. In the kingdom, the last are first and the first are last.

Christians are servant-leaders because that is how our King and Master operates. He came to serve and give His life “as a ransom for many” (v. 28). Certainly, we cannot give our lives for others precisely as Jesus did since we cannot atone for someone’s sin. Yet we can imitate Christ’s service by not clutching tightly to any “rights” we think are ours, letting them go for the sake of another’s good. Then we are able to see others as friends, just as Jesus sees them. (John 15:13–15). Whatever it may look like in our lives, the only way to be great is to put the needs of others above our own.

Lord, thank you for your goodness and faithfulness to your children. Give me eyes to see the needs around me. Give me a heart to move as you would towards those needs. Help me sacrifice my will to yours so I may serve you better. And to God be the glory, now and forever. Amen

Credit: Ron Kelley

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