4th Sunday in Lent
1. With Jesus as your motivation
2. With Jesus as your model
Text: Matthew 20:17-28
“Oh! There they go again. The ‘dynamic duo,’ the ‘fearsome twosome,’ the ‘braggart brothers’ are at it again. They always get to be in on the private conversations. They always get to see the special events. They are always first in line at the loaves and fish potluck. They act like they are his best friends. They act like they know more. They think they are so special. And they have to get their mommy to help them out! ‘Boanerges.’ ‘Sons of Thunder.’ Bah! What arrogant jerks! Who do James and John think they are?!”
We can imagine what kinds of thoughts were going through the minds of the other disciples. The mother of James and John came with her two boys to Jesus with a request. The English rightly reflects that she didn’t really ask a question. Jesus asked, “What is it you want?” Her response wasn’t, “Could you please,” or “Pretty please.” Her response was a sort of command 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.” We can imagine what the disciples thought about this, but the Bible succinctly summarizes and says, “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.”
Maybe you’ve seen this before in a church. Those people that think they are so important. They think their thoughts are so important. They have to give their input on everything. They think their way is always right. They think they are never wrong. They act like they are more important because they are on all the committees. They hang out with the cool people. They would never do the “dirty work” around the church, and they would never hang out with people beneath them. These people think their sin doesn’t stink.
The sin of pride has been around since the Garden of Eden, and it plagues Christ’s followers as much now as it did back with the original twelve. Today we listen to Jesus as he teaches his disciples and us. Quite simply he tells us Serve!
If you follow carefully the timing and words in Matthew’s account here, it is really quite astonishing. This seems to be one continuous event. Jesus and his disciples were going up to Jerusalem. This was Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem for his suffering and death. As they were traveling he pulled them aside and prepared them for what was about to happen. He told them that he would be betrayed, mocked, flogged, and crucified. But he also shared with them that they should not worry because he would come back to life on the third day. Jesus was telling them that he was about to accomplish his work as the Savior. But verse 20 continues, “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus.” Then. It gives us the impression of “right away” or “right after this.”
Think of all the things this mother could have (or should have) asked Jesus: “How do you know all of this will happen to you?” “So you are the promised Messiah then?” “What is the significance of rising on the third day?” “Will your forgiveness and salvation be for all—even for my two dear sons?” She could have even come and requested that James and John be given a stronger faith and greater knowledge of Scripture. But these things about which Jesus had been teaching were furthest from her mind. Rather, she wanted to know if her boys could have the most prominent and prestigious places in heaven.
Maybe the Zebedee family just didn’t care about Jesus’ purpose and mission. Maybe they were ignorant about Jesus’ purpose and mission. Maybe the Zebedee family just took salvation for granted—they assumed they would be in heaven but they wanted to know where they would be in heaven. Whatever their meaning and motivations, they were clearly in the wrong. They were more focused on personal gain than on spiritual gain. They were more focused on power than on Jesus’ passion. They were more focused on themselves than on Jesus or others.
We do this all the time. In fact, we do it naturally. It is part of the sinfulness that we all have by birth that wants to think of “me” first. I want to be successful. I want to achieve. I want to be rich and I want to be famous. I can do it myself and I don’t need God. This is part of who we are by nature. Quite obviously you can see these self-centered attitudes all around us in the world. Just look to the business world, the sports world, or the world of entertainment and celebrities.
But we Christians do it too—just more subtly like James, John, and their mother. We inadvertently trample on others. We ignore others. We hurt the feelings of others. We talk about others behind their backs so that we can build ourselves up. We talk about how strange certain people are and sometimes we even laugh at them. We get upset with those who don’t serve as much around the church. We think or say things like, “Why don’t they help as much? How come they don’t give as much? They don’t deserve the benefits of this church or school if they don’t pull their weight like I do!”
Sometimes we Christians even have that sort of a slyly selfish viewpoint toward non-Christians. “We know better. How could unbelievers be so foolish? How could they reject Christ! They will get what’s coming to them some day!” Or we can even think like this toward other Christian churches. “What horrible people! They have so many false teachings! We teach the truth. We know so much more about the Bible. We are better Christians.”
Pride wedges its way into our hearts in so many different ways. It may be subtle, sly, or secretive, but it is still selfish and sinful. The old saying is, “Pride goes before the fall.” That may be true, but pride is also part of the fall—into sin that is. Pride is just another sin that convicts us of being guilty before our holy God. Pride is just another sin that makes us worthy of God’s punishment. Pride is just another sin that separates us from life with our God.
So Jesus teaches us differently. Verse 25: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” In today’s setting Jesus might have said, “You know that the President and Congress and the Supreme Court and governors and the rich and famous lord their power and authority over you. “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.”
What a challenge! When everyone else in the world is pushing and pulling for power and prestige, Jesus is telling us that it is better to serve and be a slave. If we want to be first we should be last, and if we are last then we will be first. What a challenge! This is not natural to sinners! Who can do this? How can we do this?
Jesus teaches us this, too. “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.” A ransom is a payment that brings freedom. A slave could be freed for a ransom price. A hostage could be freed for a ransom price. We were slaves to sin. We were held hostage by the grips of Satan and hell. But Jesus came to pay the ransom price for freedom. It wasn’t gold. It wasn’t silver. It wasn’t a stack of $100 bills. It wasn’t paid with a platinum Mastercard or Visa. Jesus gave his life and paid with his holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death.
His perfect life of righteousness and obedience and his substitutionary suffering and death were the payment that God demanded. This is why Jesus came. This is why he was going with the disciples up to Jerusalem. He tried telling them. He was going to be betrayed, mocked, flogged, and crucified because this would be his work of salvation in paying for and forgiving sins. And to prove that this payment was enough, he rose back to life on the third day. Jesus gave his life as the ransom payment and sacrifice to the heavenly Father so that we could be freed from sin, death, and hell.
Jesus teaches us that this ransom payment is the motivation and the model for us to serve. In other words, Jesus is our why and our how for serving. Why would we want to serve? Why would we want to help others? Why would we want to show love to others? Why would we want to serve the Lord? Why? Because Jesus served us!
The apostle John learned his lesson well enough. Jesus asked the brothers if they could handle what was coming, if they could “drink the same cup.” Unwittingly they said, “we can.” Jesus told them that whether they knew it or not, they were indeed going to suffer and go through many of the same kinds of things Jesus did. They would learn to be servants of the Lord like Jesus. John clearly learned what this meant. Later on he wrote in his first letter, “We love because he first loved us.” That is about as clear and concise as one can be. We love others and we love God—we serve others and we serve God—because Jesus has loved and served us. If Jesus can love and serve a sinner like me, then surely I will love and serve all others and him at all times. Jesus is our motivation.
And how are we to serve? Just like Jesus. He is also our model. Just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve, so also we are to do the same. As Jesus showed self-sacrificing love to others, so we show self-sacrificing love. As Jesus was kind and compassionate, so we will be kind and compassionate. As Jesus was patient and forbearing, so we will be patient and forbearing. As Jesus was forgiving and understanding, so we will be forgiving and understanding. We love because Jesus loved us and we love just like Jesus loved us. We Serve with Jesus as our motivation and with Jesus as our model.
You probably remember the bracelets that became so popular a little over a decade ago. W.W.J.D. they said—What Would Jesus Do? Those bracelets are alright. They had a good message—but only half the message. A better bracelet message would teach us the way Jesus taught his disciples. A better message might be W.D.J.D.—What Did Jesus Do?
When we consider Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom payment for our sins—when we consider what Jesus did—that then is both our motivation and our model for serving others and for living in this world. Jesus is why we are free. Jesus is why we are forgiven. Jesus is why we are going to heaven. Thus, Jesus is why love. Jesus is why we serve.
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