by Jim Low
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 20:28
They sought a crown, but Jesus gave them a cross.
The account in Matthew 20:20-27 shows us the mind and ministry of the Savior we celebrate in this season of Advent. As Jesus began a final journey to Jerusalem to accomplish his ultimate Mission, a mother with her sons (James and John, “the sons of Zebedee”) came to him with a brazen request: “Command that in your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on your right and one on your left” (v. 20-21). In his response, Jesus cut through their self-seeking attitudes (a recurring theme with the disciples; see Matt. 18:1, Luke 9:46) and confronted them with one of the greatest reality checks of all time.
Jesus made it clear that the definition of true greatness in God’s economy is far different than man’s. Despite common perceptions and the practices of worldly leaders, greatness doesn’t come from commanding others or flaunting one’s authority (v. 25). It’s not about position, prominence, or prestige. Furthermore, the way of salvation, the road to eternal glory, is not paved with comfort and convenience. Christ’s followers, in fact, should presume the opposite.
Jesus rebuked and challenged these men whom he loved, two of his closest followers. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (v.22) James and John thought so. Despite their confidence, they didn’t get it. Later, they would understand. In the years to come they would suffer greatly because of their commitment to Christ. They would experience firsthand their Master’s words, “my cup you shall drink” (v. 23). Eventually, James would face martyrdom (Acts 12:2) and John would be tortured and exiled (Rev. 1:9), but not before they were used mightily to spread the Gospel and establish Christ’s Church.
And that’s the beauty of it when we submit ourselves to the sovereign hand of God, when accept that his ways are not our ways. God’s ways are far greater (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is in the business of bringing hope to hopeless situations. He turns tragedy to triumph. He brings life out of death. He sent his Son as a humble servant to sacrifice himself for you and for me.
At some point, his disciples realized that Jesus was not the kind of king people expected him to be. His message and his methods contradicted the self-centered instincts of those he came to save. Herein is our message and the One who modeled it perfectly: “…Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you will 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” (v. 26-28).
How amazing that our Lord would humble himself as he did. He has all authority and every right to treat us as slaves, to treat us according to our sin. But he chose another way—the way of servanthood, the way of suffering, the way of the cross—that we might know him, be united to him and live with him forever. May we learn from him and live to reflect his example. May we boldly proclaim his goodness, his grace, and the salvation he offers. May our self-serving ways be transformed, day by day, to reflect the heart of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the greatest Servant of all.