Tuesday 22 February 2011

You've been served! (Matthew 20:20-28)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
Matthew 20:25-26

This passage has long been used to support a kind of biblical model for leadership. Church leaders are often reminded they must first be servants – servants of Christ and of God’s people, the church. Even the word “ministry” means “service”. (So, the Prime Minister is literally the “First Servant”.) It radically changes our perception of what constitutes the role and the privileges of a leader. He must be – according to verse 26 – a servant; someone whose job is to meet the needs of another. Or as the English Standard Version rightly has it, he must be a “slave”; someone who does not stand on his or her own rights (a slave had none) but was placed under the authority of another.

In the immediate setting, taken from Matthew’s gospel, two of the disciples – James and John – have requested places of honour. Well actually, the passage says their mum approached Jesus. It reminds me of a friend in Singapore who once told his dad he wanted to be a pastor (He now is). “Dad, I think I want to be a minister,” he said. His father paused for a while, before answering. “Good. Maybe you could be Minister of Finance.”

Similarly, this mother wanted to secure high-ranking positions for her two sons. Perhaps they could be Ministers of Education and Defence. She says to Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Verse 21)

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.
Matthew 20:22

Notice that Jesus responds to them – that is, not just dear old Mum. James and John are equally mistaken in what it means to follow Jesus. It soon becomes clear, that all twelve disciples are just as clueless. They find out what James and John did and became “indignant with the two brothers” (verse 24) – which is why Jesus has to call everyone together (verse 25) to clarify what true greatness entails.

Essentially, Jesus is talking about greatness. In place of “high officials” in the NIV, the ESV has the more literal “great ones”, translating megaloi. This in turn, echoes Jesus summary of what greatness means – Whoever wants to be great (megas) among you must be your servant.

Additionally, this clues us in on the fact that Jesus is responding to a much earlier situation involving greatness. As far back as Chapter 18, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus points to a young child and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Now notice what Jesus has just done. They wanted to know who would be great. Jesus tells them who would be saved. This issue of greatness isn’t just about privilege and position. It concerns entry into the Kingdom of Heaven itself. Not position but salvation. Furthermore, God does not choose based on merit or ability. He chooses the humble. “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)

Yet Jesus doesn’t end there. He begins with the world (The rulers and great ones exercise their authority and privileges). And he contrasts the disciples (Not so with you). But he ends by pointing to himself – the Son of Man.

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:28

The point that Jesus is making, is not so much – You must serve. Still less – You must lead. Indeed, if all we see here is a model of leadership (the Servant-hearted leader) – as useful an example that might be in our churches and governments – we sorely miss the point. Jesus is not simply talking about position. He is giving a picture of salvation.

In a way, Jesus is asking you a very important question. The question is not whether you have served God. Rather the question is: Have you been served by God?

We do not serve God. Indeed, we cannot; unless God first serves us. The Son of Man gives his life in our place. That is what a ransom is – it is payment in place of another. Jesus pays his life for ours. Through his death on the cross, Jesus gives his life as a ransom for many.

The good news of the bible is God coming as a man – humbling himself as a servant – to serve us on the cross. He takes our punishment for sin and we receive his reward of righteousness. In Jesus we see God as a great Saviour through his Son as our great Servant King.

So, question at the end of the day is:
Have you been served by the Son of Man? Has Jesus given his life for yours?

Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

No comments: