Sermon on Matthew 20:17-28
Text: Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 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. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — 28 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.”
“Nebraska – The Good Life” is an advertizing slogan that was developed for the state in the 1970’s. You can still find the slogan on signs welcoming you to the state. You can understand the thought process behind the slogan. If you want to get away from all of the hustle and bustle of the rest of the country, come to Nebraska. You will find that you are living the good life, when you come to Nebraska. Now, as wonderful as living in the state of Nebraska is, you also will have to admit that it is not always perfect. For example, look at our weather. During the spring and early summer, there is the danger of hail storms and tornados. In late summer you can have a lack of rainfall. In winter, we may have blizzards or freezing rain. We have to admit, it may be living the good life in Nebraska, but it is not the perfect life. This morning, we are going to talk about LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. We will see 1. It Is What Jesus Did and 2. It Is Our Response To What Jesus Did.
Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. Because Jesus knew what was going to happen when he got there, “he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’” Jesus took the disciples away from the crowds that were following him, so that he could get their full attention. There would be no distractions from what he was about to say to them. This was the third time that Jesus told his disciples about his suffering and death. This time, he added the details that he would be handed over to the Gentiles to be crucified. The Jews had no right to condemn anyone to death. That had to be done by the Romans, who occupied the land. They were the ones who would crucify the criminals for the things that they had done.
The Romans did not crucify just anyone. Crucifixion was the form of execution reserved for the worst of the worst. It was for those who led rebellions. It was used for pirates. When you saw someone on the cross, you knew that he was a bad person. What crimes did Jesus commit that would make him worthy of such an execution? The hymn writer asked the same question in the hymn “My Song is Love Unknown.” After speaking of the thirst and cry for Jesus’ death, he writes in verse four, “Why? What has my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run; He gave the blind their sight.” In other words, he did not do anything to deserve this on a legal level. As Pontius Pilate himself said of Jesus, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23:4)
More than that, Jesus never did anything wrong, at all. He was perfect. It was not that long ago that we, in spirit, stood on the Mount of Transfiguration and heard the Father say of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The fact that the Father said this about his Son, shows us that he had never done anything that was against his Father’s will. He was perfect.
Why would Jesus endure all of this? Jesus gives us the answer in verse 28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus said that he did not come to be served. As the Son of God, he had every right to be served. However, if Jesus came that way, we would have been lost forever. The reason for this is that we would still be in our sins, with no possibility of getting out of the punishment that we deserve. Every single time that we were selfish or angry with others or whatever other sins we may have committed, would have been cause enough to send us straight to hell for all eternity. However, as Jesus said, he did not come all those years ago to be served, but to serve. He did everything necessary for our salvation. He was perfect. He lived the perfect life, because you and I cannot do so. Jesus endured the humiliation and pain of the cross to serve us and to give his life as the ransom necessary to free us from the punishment that we deserve because of our sins. It was only this perfect sacrifice that could pay the debt we owed to God. Jesus willingly gave up his life and rose again to serve us, so that we could be with him forever in heaven. Jesus lived the good life, the perfect life, for us.
Soon after Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen, we have the mother of James and John coming to Jesus with a request. She asked this of Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” We know that this woman was a devoted follower of Jesus. She had provided for his physical needs. However, she still had a wrong idea about Jesus’ kingdom. She thought that Jesus’ kingdom was going to be some sort of an earthly kingdom. As a result, she, in conjunction with her sons, asked for two positions of privilege and power when this all happened.
Although the request was motivated, at least partially, by their desire for their own honor and glory, their ambition was not completely selfish and improper. James and John wanted to devote themselves completely to his service. That is why Jesus did not rebuke them for their request. He did, however, want them to know what was in store for them. Jesus asked, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” The cup that Jesus was going to drink was full of pain and suffering. Jesus asked them if they could drink that cup. After answering that they could, Jesus said, “You will indeed drink from my cup.” They would suffer for the name of Jesus. As a matter of fact, James was beheaded by King Herod 10 years later. John was exiled to the island of Patmos. They would drink from Jesus’ cup, right down to the dregs. As far as their request, Jesus said, “To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
Next we read in verse 24, “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” The other disciples became angry not only with the two brothers for their request, but also that they had not gotten to Jesus first with this request. They were looking out for themselves and what they could get out of this relationship with Jesus. That is why 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, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Jesus said that the people of this world are interested in power and authority and who will serve them and what they can get out of it. Sometimes this authority is taken. Servitude is forced on someone else.
Jesus said that this is not to be the case with his followers. We are to be the servants of others. We are to put them ahead of ourselves. This goes completely against our natural grain. We want to be number one. We want to be served. We may even feel that this is our right. That is why Jesus gave us the perfect example of servitude. He points to himself, as we heard earlier, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” If anyone ever had the right to be served, it was Jesus. Yet, he set aside the right to be served and became our servant. Now we, in love for him, want to serve others. How can we do this? The possibilities are numerous. For example, think of your family relationships. How can you serve the people in your family? What can you do to serve your spouse? How can you help your children? How can you help your parents? Then, don’t just think about it. Do it. What about at work? How can you display a servant’s heart there? Are there things at work that do not get done because no one wants to do them? Why not serve the rest and do them? What about at church? How can you serve your fellow believers? Are there talents and abilities that you have that you could be using that perhaps you are not? I know that we have the natural tendency to want to be served. Yet, we have opportunity to thank our God when we serve others. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” We will find our joy in serving others. This is one way of living in response to what Jesus has done for us.
Usually, when people talk about living the good life, they mean that they are living in luxury. They do not have to work hard. They can rest and take it easy. This is the opposite of what is shown in our text. Living the good life means hard work and service. Jesus showed that by leaving his throne of glory to serve us through his humble life and painful crucifixion. He, the Lord of all, became the servant of all. Now, as we serve him, we will serve others. It will not always be easy work. It will not always be appreciated by the ones we serve. There may even be people who will try to take advantage of our servant’s heart. Yet, we want to remember that we are not only serving them. In reality, we are also serving our Savior. When we do so, then we really will be living the good life. Amen.
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