Matthew Chapter 20, beginning in Verse 17.
You ever have a brother or sister, when you’re getting ready to jump in the car say, “I got shotgun!” Or maybe at Thanksgiving, or maybe when somebody walks in the door with a big bucket of chicken, somebody will say, “I got the leg! I got the breast! I got the wing!” You know, you’re making your claim, you’re staking a claim, you’re trying to jump on it before somebody else gets it. You know, I got dibs, that sort of thing? Well we kind of see that’s what’s going to happen in this passage. We’re going to see a story about something that happens in the life of Jesus and his disciples, about where a couple of disciples are trying to stake a claim. They’re trying to get dibs on a special position in the Kingdom of God.
And Jesus is going to take that and He’s going to use it to teach us about greatness. Because that’s really what they wanted; they wanted to be great. And they wanted Jesus to grant that to them. And Jesus, interestingly, never criticizes them for wanting to be great. I don’t think God has a problem with people aspiring to greatness. But what He does want to do is give us the path to greatness. To show us the right way to be great. Because a lot of people have a lot of ideas about what it takes to be great or what it means to be great. But if we don’t understand what God says about greatness, then we’re going to completely go in the wrong direction with our lives. We’ll take our lives and use the time and the talent and the resources God gives us for the wrong thing. And we’ll end up instead of being great, being not-so-great in the eyes God. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter what anybody else says. The only thing that’s really going to matter is what does God say about your life? How does your life matter as far as God counts it?
So let’s see what Jesus says to us about greatness. I’ll give you three ideas about greatness and then we’ll call it a day and come back tonight. Here’s what the Bible says beginning in Verse 17:
And as Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem he took twelve disciples aside by themselves. And on the way he said to them, “Behold, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death. They will deliver him to the gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him; and on the third day, he’ll be raised up. Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, bowing down. And making a request of him, and he said to her, “What do you wish?”
She said to him, “Command that in your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on your right and one on your left.”
But Jesus answered and said, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I’m about to drink?” And they said to him, “We’re able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink, but to sit on my right hand and my left, this is not mine to give, but it for those to whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
And hearing this the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them. And their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you. But whoever wishes to become great among you, shall be your servant. And whoever wishes to be first among you, shall 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.”
On a day when we’re seeing these young people start a new phase of their life and they’re contemplating what they’re going to be doing with the rest of their life, I thought this would be a great message for such people. But I believe it’s a message for all of us. Because I think deep down in all of our hearts, no one has the desire not to be great. I think we all desire, in some way, shape or form, in our life, to be measured as great. I think we all have within us, this drive or this passion, that maybe in something I do or maybe in the way that I live my life that ultimately it would be counted as a great life.
Well, that’s what Jesus is sharing with us today; the way that God says our life can be great. And here’s the wonderful thing about it: it applies to everyone. It’s not that some can be great and some can’t, the truth is that the potential is there for everyone to be great. And so this message is for you today. For everyone that’s here. This message is for me. We can all take and apply this to our life.
Let me just start in Verse 20 and go through and give you a few thoughts about being great. It says, “The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons and she bowed down.” Now here’s the first thing I’m going to give you; it’s not really one of the main points, but it’s the foundational point that everything else is built on.
This mother and her two sons come to Jesus and they make a request of him. They know Him, they’re following Him, they’re disciples of Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus, if you’ve never been born again, if you’ve never come into a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what else you do in life, it’s really going to be a failure. The way that success in life begins, the way that greatness begins, all greatness is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus, you cannot achieve greatness. Let me show you something that Jesus says out of Mark Chapter 8. This is the only time I’m going to go to another passage, but if you would throw that up for me Dustin.
“What does it profit a man,” Jesus says, “to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul?”
Should you achieve any measure of greatness in any capacity in this life, and die and spend eternity separated from God in a place called hell, living for all eternity, not in the glory of God, coming to know and grow in his presence and majesty for all…just forever! But instead having spent this short life you’ve got, having wasted it, missing the great purpose and plan that God had for your life – which is to know your Creator, to be in fellowship, in relationship with your Creator – to miss Jesus, would be to blow every opportunity that you have for greatness.
Foundationally, to achieve greatness, it has to be built on a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. There has to be a time in your life where you came to a point where you said, “I know that I’m a sinner and I need Jesus to save me.” There has got to be a time where you cried out and said, “God, I am a sinner! I want Jesus to save me right now. I want to turn and live my life for Jesus.” That has got to happen and unless for you, to you at some point, then everything else is going to be lost. It’s going to be wasted. You will gain the world, possibly, only to forfeit your soul.
So there’s a foundational thing. Verse 20 we see that these have a relationship with Jesus. But now that they have this relationship, they are coming to Jesus, and they’re making a request to Him. You see in Verse 20 and 21 they make their request and Jesus asks this, “What do you wish?” And she said, “I want you to command that in your kingdom these two sons of mine are going to sit, one on your right and one on your left.
Now here’s the first big point I’m going to make, other than that foundational one: If you’re going to have a great life, then you need to have a life of prayer. Do you see what she’s doing? She is coming to Jesus and she is making a request. She, because she is talking to Jesus, is talking to God. That’s what we call prayer. We are communicating with our God. She’s coming to Jesus with the request, just like we come to Jesus with requests when we say our prayers.
And Jesus when she comes to him asks her this question, “What do you wish?” It is very interesting when people come to Jesus that he says, “Tell me, what you want me to do.” He doesn’t say give me some vague, general thing. God, bless me. God, help me. God, watch over me. No, he wants to know specifics. Tell me exactly, precisely, nail this down. You have come to me. Why are you here? What do you want me to do?
See, sometimes what we have is just this idea about life, but it’s very vague. We don’t really know. There’s no real direction that we’re going in. And we don’t have a plan. And we don’t have a goal. And we do not have an objective that we’re trying to reach. Jesus says, “I want you to think about why you’re coming to me, and then when you come to me, get specific and tell me what is it that you want me to do.” Think about what you want, think about why you want it, and make a specific request to Him.
Prayer is very important. Having goals, having something that you want God to accomplish in and through your life. And then bringing that request to Him, honors Him, because it says, “God I can’t do this without you.” God I need you. Without you it cannot get done. It shows a dependence on God. It shows a reliance on God. It shows an understanding of what Jesus taught when he said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
If we’re going to do anything in this life, it has got to be done in and only through Jesus and his power, Him working in and through us. So when you come to God say, “God, I need help.” Well what do you need help with? When somebody’s sick you get real specific don’t you? When somebody has an illness you tell God exactly what you want.
But what about the other things in life? God I want to win ten people to Jesus in the next year. God, I want to share the gospel 20 times in the next month. What are you specifically asking God to do in your life? How are you asking God to help you to glorify him in the way you live? God, I live and I work in a place where it’s hard for me to share the gospel. God I pray you open up an opportunity for me to get another job. I’m not looking for more money, I’m not looking for a bigger position, I’m looking for a place where I can be around lost people and be able to share the gospel with them. That’s a good, specific request to pray.
But you’ve got to get specific. What do you want? Why do you want it? What do you want God to do for you? Your life – your prayer life – is very important. And if you’re going to be a success in this life, if you’re going to achieve greatness, for God and for his kingdom, you got to get on the ball when it comes to praying.
She told him very specifically, “Here’s what I want. I want – I got two kids, got two boys – you got a throne. I want one on one side and one on the other. When you sit, I want them sitting right beside you in your kingdom. And when Jesus heard this he said, “Whoa, slow your roll, sister.” And he didn’t say it like that, that’s not in there, but maybe it’ll wake some of you up if I say it that way. Look what he said in Verse 22: Jesus answered and said, “You don’t know what you’re asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I’m about to drink?”
So the first thing your life is going to be built on is prayer when it comes to greatness, but the second thing has got to be a commitment. You’ve got to be devoted to it. You’ve got to be focused on what you want your life to mean, how you want your life to matter, the things that you want to happen in your life. When these guys came to Jesus – and it is these guys coming – there’s a little nepotism going on here because this woman that comes to Jesus is actually Jesus’ aunt and these two guys are his cousins. Even though they’re part of the 12 disciples, it’s cousin John and cousin James. So maybe they’re manipulating and maneuvering momma to get over there and appeal to Jesus, you know. And here’s Aunt Sally Mae coming and bowing to Jesus and asking for this thing. So they’re trying to work this thing, aren’t they? Jesus we want to be great in your kingdom! When you sit, we want to sit right beside you in the positions of power and greatness! When you sit on the throne ruling your universe, put us right there at your right hand and your left hand.
Good thing to ask for. We’re going to get momma to ask you for us! Sounds a little juvenile, doesn’t it? But you know it’s a good possibility both of these guys are teenagers. In fact, a lot of Jesus’ disciples were probably teenagers. We say young people today can’t serve Jesus. They got to get all sowing their wild oats out. That’s a lie to hell. You can serve Jesus at any age if you’ll put your heart to it.
These guys are coming, their bringing their momma with them; it’s Jesus’ aunt. But listen, you’re not going to achieve greatness just by it being given to you like that. That’s not how it works. And Jesus says, you got to wait a minute. Cause when you’re asking for something, you’re asking for something pretty big. There’s a spot reserved there, but you got to understand that what comes along with this is drinking the same cup that I drink of. Look what he says in Verse 23: My cup, you’ll drink. And he says back in Verse 22 (I’m sorry I skipped ahead a little bit): Are you able to drink the cup that I’m able to drink? Now what cup is he talking about? This is the cup of the wrath of God that’s going to be poured out on Jesus. And he’s going to drink this thing and he’s going to drain it dry when he hangs on a cross and he suffers and dies for our sins. Because that’s how he’s going to save us from our sin.
He explained it back in Verse 18, he said this: We’re going to Jerusalem. (And he’s telling them this before it happens.) We’re going to go to Jerusalem. The Son of Man (that’s Jesus) I’m going to be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes. They’re going to condemn me to death. They’re going to deliver me over to the gentiles (that’s the Romans, the guards) They’re going to mock him, (they would verbally abuse him) they would spit on him, they would slap him, beat him up, they would scourge him, (They would take a whip that would be like knives that would rake across his body, that would cut him all to pieces) and they would crucify him (they would put nails in his hands and feet, hang him on a cross between heaven and earth to suffer and die.) And then he says on the third day he’ll be raised up.
So Jesus is telling them, “My cup, this is what it looks like for me.” Verbal and physical abuse, persecution, jail time, even death. You want to drink that cup? Cause you’re asking to be great. And if you want that, then that’s what it’s going to look like for those that are going to be great in my kingdom. See in this world greatness looks like, well, I’ve got a big bank account, and I’ve got a power position in my company, and it looks like I’ve got degrees on my wall, and it looks like accomplishments I’ve achieved… Listen, when you get to heaven Jesus is not going to give one care about your bank account – the size of it. He’s not going to care about the degrees on your wall or the achievements that you’ve made in the things of this world. That’s not going to mean greatness. It’s going to mean greatness here in this life, but in the next life – the one that really matters – it’s not going to matter so much. But we’ve got this idea about pride and self-esteem in our life where we think we’ve got to build ourselves up and make ourselves into something or someone, so that people look at us and they think well about us and they look at us and they think that we’re somebody! And we can talk about ourselves and talk about our achievements and talk about our life – and Jesus has a whole different plan when it comes to being great. His idea of greatness is, you take up a cross and you follow me. You lay down your life for someone else. You give away yourself in such a way that you are serving others, and giving to others, and honoring others. It’s a different path follow. And you’ve got to be committed to that. You’ve got to be dedicated to it. You can’t just half-heartedly say, “Well, I’m going to tiptoe down this road and maybe I’ll achieve greatness.” No, Jesus says you’ve got to give your life away for this. You’ve got to give your life away for others.
And for some it’s going to look different than for others. Not everybody’s going to hang on a cross and die like this. Some people across the world are doing it. They’re crucifying Christians over in the Middle East right now, among other things. But not everybody has to do this. But the path to greatness is still – whether it’s dying or even jail time or whatever you have to face – it’s still commitment to others and to dying to yourself in such a way that you live for other people.
It tells you in Verse 28 exactly why Jesus goes through all these things: Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and he came to give his life, a ransom for many. That word ransom means a price that is paid to set someone free. It was usually used to refer to a slave that was being set free. Someone that was owned by another, a ransom would be paid and their freedom would be bought. You and I, apart from Jesus, are seen by God as slaves; slaves to our flesh, slaves to the sin of this world, slaves to death because it holds this power over us. But Jesus comes along and through his death on the cross he sets us free. Through his death on the cross he sets us free from having to fear death, the power of sin over our lives, the bondage that we’re in – he breaks the power of all of that from us, so that we could be made free! In our lives, when we’re committed to Jesus and not committed to something else, are lived in such a way that we’re not seeking to be self-satisfied and self-indulgent and self-esteem is the main thing in our life and instead our interests are put aside for the interest of others.
So if you’re going to be great, it’s going to start with prayer. If you’re going to be great, it’s going to involve a commitment to Jesus that seeks his glory above your own. That condemns pride and exalts humility.
You know before I move on, I thought about this this week. This lady that came to Jesus and bowed at his feet and said I want my sons to sit at your right and your left. I told you that’s Jesus’ aunt. Well, when Jesus died on the cross, the Bible reports that she was there. And we know that one of her sons was there too…John. Because Jesus asked John from the cross, I want you to take care of momma for me when I’m gone. And you kind of wonder, do they remember this conversation they had when Jesus looked at them and said, “Can you drink the cup that I’m able to drink?” Because they were watching him drink it. And I wonder later on if momma even thought about this when her son James died? You know that the first of the apostles that gave their life for Jesus was her son James? The one that said, “Yeah, I’m able.” It’s in Acts Chapter 12. You can read about it.
But nevertheless, they had a commitment to Jesus. We need a commitment to Jesus, too. Prayer, commitment to Christ, and then the last idea for greatness is this: It’s servanthood. Being a servant. Look at Verse 25. Jesus called them to himself and here’s what he said: “You know that the rulers of the gentiles, they Lord it over them. And their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you, that person will be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first among you, will be your slave.
Do you remember, not long ago, we had a couple of sermons back to back here on Sunday morning, and in both of those sermons Jesus said these words? He said it in – I’ll read it to you – Chapter 19 Verse 30: “Many who are first, are going to be last. The last are going to be first.” Last week we ended with this: “Thus,” (in Verse 16 of Chapter 20), “The last shall be first, the first are going to be last.” Now here in Verse 27 you hear Jesus say these words: “Who wishes to be first?” The one that wishes to be first. So when we see Jesus before talking in this cryptic way saying, “The last shall be first and the first, last,” and we’re sitting her scratching our heads and we’re going, what is he talking about? What does he mean by that? How did the last become first and the first become last?
Well, here it is. Jesus is telling you how to become first. Because you may say, “Well, it feels like I’m last. And the world tells me I’m last. So everybody looks at me and they say, ‘Well, what you’re doing, that’s not how the world says you should live. What the world says is you’re supposed to live for yourself. The world says you’re supposed to get all you can for yourself! The world says indulge your flesh, live your life for you. Enjoy your life, let it be all about you. Don’t worry about everybody else. It’s all about you.’” And you’re not living for you. And everybody’s living for themselves.
You want to be first, Jesus says, be servant. Here’s what he says: You know that the rulers of the gentiles they lord it over them. Why do people want to be in high positions? Why do they want to be in positions of power? They want to be there so that the people under them can serve them. They want to be in a place where they can command somebody. Go get me a cup of coffee. Take my clothes to the dry cleaners. Take my car and go wash it.
They want to be somebody that can walk in a restaurant and pull a big wad of money out, hand a $100 tip to the maître d’ and get a table in the best spot – immediately – and not have to wait. They want to get the best food. People want stuff and they want power so they can serve themselves, so they can get all the things they want out of life. Right?
Why do the gentiles do this? Why do rulers of the gentiles lord it over them? And their great men they exercise authority over them. Don’t you want to be the guy at the top, not the bottom? Jesus says it’s not so among you. Whoever wants to be great among you, that person needs to be your servant. So you’ve got to think about it like this – you might think about it like a totem pole. A totem pole, you can be at the top and everyone else is under you, supporting you – or you can be at the bottom and you’re the one that’s carrying the load for those above you.
Or you might want to think about it like a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid you can be that person that everybody else is under you, serving you, and supporting you. But Jesus takes and flips it upside down and now it’s an inverted pyramid and now the one who’s the greatest is the one at the bottom, holding everyone else up.
Who’s the greatest? Who does the most? Who serves the most? Who takes the job that nobody else wants? Who takes the least amount of acclaim for what they do? Nobody’s patting them on the back. Nobody’s saying, “Oh you’re so wonderful, you’re so great.” Who’s the one that works harder and does more for less than anybody else? Well, that’s the one that’s great. That’s the one that’s serving. Everybody else wants to be served, this person’s serving.
And Jesus looks around and says, “That one, I see what they’re doing. That one, I see what’s being done for them. I like the one that’s doing something for somebody else, helping people that can’t help themselves, watching out for people and taking care of people can’t take care of themselves.
See, there’s nothing wrong with positions of authority, but even if you’re in a position of authority, you’re supposed to be in that position as a servant. And use your position not to benefit yourself and see what all I can get out of being in this position that will feed me and my flesh and my family and my soul. You’re there for others, to do a job for God for others. And Jesus says that’s the path to greatness.
The rulers of the gentiles they lord it over them. The great men they exercise authority over them. It’s not so among you! Whoever wishes to become great among you, shall be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first, let them be your slave.
So there’s your path to greatness. A life of prayer. A humble life that depends on God. A life of commitment and devotion to Jesus. Not half-hearted, but all in. Crucified with Christ and yet I live. Not I who live, but Christ who lives within me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself for me. Commitment to Jesus. On top of all that, seeing your life, in whatever place you find yourself, serving. Serving others.
Do you know that right now you’re about to get a letter in the mail? It’s called a servant’s heart survey. It’s an invitation for every church member. Now if you’re not a church member you won’t get it. But if you’re a church member, you’ll get this in the mail and it’s going to ask you, “Where would you like to serve next year as a member of Mount Calvary Baptist Church?” You’ll have an opportunity coming up very shortly to circle one, two, three, five different places where you say this is where I’ll give of myself, and my time to serve others for King Jesus.
You need to be a servant. You need to find a place to serve. Every person need to be a member of a church, that’s been born again, baptized, and need to be serving in their church. That’s Biblical. So you need to serve. And then you need to start praying, “God, can you show me ways that I can serve?” Maybe you’re missing opportunities. You need to start asking God, “God, open my eyes. Show me places where I can be your servant. Show me places where I’m missing out. Show me where there’s a need where I can meet that need.”
Maybe it’s as a teacher. Maybe it’s as a worker. But I told somebody this I think this past week. I think when I was at the Dillon Prayer Breakfast I said this, “You know if you’re the person that goes through pews after church is over, and all you do is clean up the bulletins and the trash that people leave behind, and you put the books back up in the backs of the pews that people leave on the seats… Do you know if you’re doing that for Jesus it’ll bring joy to your heart and tear to your eye? Cause if you believe with all your heart that you’re doing it for Jesus, it’ll bring you a lot of joy.”
Friends, there’s not a thing in this world you can do for Jesus that – listen, that it won’t being you joy. It will always bring you joy if you do it for Jesus. And there’s no job that’s too little or too low for us. Listen, our God is a foot washing God. Jesus acted as a slave and got down and washed the filth off the feet of His disciples. He’s not preaching something he didn’t practice. He knew the value of service. He knew what it meant to be a servant of others. Be a servant. Be born again. Be a man or woman of prayer. Be committed to Jesus.
Let’s pray together:
Father, in the name of Jesus, as we come to your right now, God I pray that you stir our hearts and just prepare us for the time when we’re going to be going into this world as your servants, committed to following Jesus as we leave the doors of this place. God we understand our mission starts when we leave here. And part of our mission is to be a minister of our King Jesus as we go throughout the highways and byways of this world. God help us to be faithful servants, help us to look for pleasing others and not ourselves. Help us to please our Master Jesus above all. And God we’ll thank you for what you do for us. Thank you for loving us and for caring for us. And Jesus thank you so much for the cross that we heard about today, and for the death that you suffered, and for the new life that you gave when you rose from the dead. Thank you for setting us free. For ransoming our wicked souls from hell. Thank you Jesus that you’re alive and coming again. We pray we’ll be ready to meet you when you come. It’s in your name we pray. Amen.