“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him 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 20:26-28
To be great in Christ’s kingdom looks different, has a different cost, comes from a different understanding, and is seen through a different lens than what many may expect. This was definitely true for James, John, and their mother. She, along with her sons, desired James and John would be great in Christ’s kingdom, along with evidence of such for others to see. From their viewpoint, one sitting at Jesus’ right hand and the other at His left would be sufficient.
You may know the story well. Christ’s response brought challenge and clarity they didn’t expect. It’s true that they had faith and confidence regarding Christ’s kingdom, but they also had a huge lack of understanding about it, as they clearly expected a temporal kingdom, with worldly pomp and power. This was true even in light of Christ so often telling them of sufferings and self-denial. They wanted the honor without the trials that come with being in the employ of the King.
Yet what did Christ tell them in verses 26 and 27? His words were two-fold: 1) Reorientation regarding true greatness, and 2) True greatness on display in Christ’s life, ministry, and mission. Yet again, the rise of pride countered by the chief example of humility and self-sacrifice. So wonderful, isn’t it? In essence, Jesus said, “You want to be great? Serve your brothers. You desire to be considered first? Become their slave.” Notice Christ didn’t only correct and instruct them in this, but also told them of how the principles were active in His ministry, as well as what was to come. He was there to serve, not be served. Further, Jesus would give His life as a ransom for many.
Beloved, if we’re honest, are we much like the Zebedees in desiring the honor according to our own definitions and view, all the while missing where the true honor and greatness lies? Do we desire what amounts to worldly exaltation, when our desire should really be about being faithful servants of the servant King in His kingdom? Similar to selfish ambition, this lesson is another strike to the heart of the tyranny of self and self-promotion.
Parents, this is an important lesson we must continue to impress in our children. Our time with them is so short in the bigger picture. They too need to learn to have a Christ like focus to serve, rather than be served. Be intentional with such lessons. Think about how you’ll teach them this week and do it. We all need to be more serious about self-denial and our focus on service to our Lord and others as being under His employ in His kingdom, knowing the trials and sufferings that come along with it, all the while rejoicing that we are recipients of His grace and have been called to do so.