Printable PDF: 3-22-2020 Lent 4 Sermon
Vicar Lindemann ~ Matthew 20:17-28 ~ March 22, 2020 ~ Lent 4
Jesus Worked Like a Servant
17Now 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 19and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” 20Then 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. 23Jesus 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.” 24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus 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. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just 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 20:17-28
The Servant Works for You
If you call someone a servant, is that a compliment? It can be. It’s a compliment when you describe someone as giving a public service, or that they had a servant-like attitude in their career. It’s more like an insult if you say something like, “What do I look like, your servant?” Being a servant is an admirable quality in someone else, but when people describe us, we can think of a lot more flattering descriptions that we would rather have them use than servant. Instead of a servant, wouldn’t you rather someone say of you, “That person is a real leader,” a great manager or teacher, influencer or warrior. But a servant, follower, or helper? Not my first choice. In a time when everyone was looking for recognition, the Lord of heaven and earth, who created all things, Jesus described himself as a servant. That great Servant works for you. His service teaches us to drink the cup he gives you and to recognize that he will always out-serve you.
1. Drink the cup he gives you. (verses 17-23)
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus had shown his disciples his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration and had been teaching them how the last will be first and the first will be last. Now he was about to ride in on a donkey to live out his last few days on the earth. And even with his near suffering on his mind, he wanted to serve the disciples. He took the 12 aside with him and served them with the truth about what was about to happen. He tells them about the cup he is about to drink, “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!” This is the Servant’s service. He let all this happen to him. Jesus did not put up a fight, take things into his own hands or even tell them to stop. He willingly submitted. Jesus drank the cup he was given. “Drinking the cup” is a phrase the Bible uses which has a similar connotation to “taking your medicine”. He drank the cup given to him by the Father, even though it was horrible.
But after Jesus gets done explaining his service, the disciples James and John quickly shoo away that thought from their mind and ask Jesus for a favor. To James and John, following Jesus meant something different than service. James and John were close with Jesus, they had been learning with him and following him everywhere for three years. They got in with Jesus on the ground floor. So, they wanted to make sure that once Jesus did his work, they would be recognized for following Jesus and wouldn’t have to do the hard work anymore. They were not interested in serving. To try to get this favor from Jesus, they got their mother to ask for them, so that Jesus would be more likely to say yes. They were trying their best to get the better position.
Their tactics and their claims did not flatter Jesus. He showed them what was wrong with the way they were thinking. Instead of answering their mother, he turns to the brothers and says, “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Instead of pointing out what’s wrong with their tactics and their claims, Jesus wants them to think about the cup that he will drink. He wants them to reconsider how he serves. But the disciples, craving that position of honor, answer yes without hesitation. So Jesus teaches them about the cup God was giving them. He told them they will taste his suffering, but it wouldn’t earn them anything. Their motivation for service was not to be getting recognition or rewarded or the better position. Rather, Jesus taught them to trust God and drink the cup he gives, just like he was doing. Jesus was telling them to serve and trust God to see them through.
James and John’s request makes a lot of sense at first. They saw a way where they could secure a better position and they were willing to work hard to get it. If you saw a way where you could secure a better position wouldn’t you put in all the work you had to in order to get there? That’s the way our world works. I’ll put in work at school, so I can get good grades for myself; I’ll put in the hours at work, so I can work my way up; I’ll live hard and sparing so that I can have enough money in my bank account. That will put me in a better position, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what kind of recognition or better position have you ever gotten for serving or being a Christian? That is rare. Since that is rare, serving and living out your life as a Christian is not naturally at the top of the list. Since no one recognized when you were doing it, who will even notice that you’ve stopped? It’s hard to go the extra mile for someone if I don’t get recognized for it. It’s hard to put others above ourselves.
God asks us to do that very thing. God’s plan is that we serve. The cup that he gives each of us is that we serve others and put God first and ourselves last. It goes against everything in us to do that. That’s because sin has turned our focus inwardly on ourselves. The first thing we think of is always ourselves, and we can’t bear the thought of not being in control.
It is the wrong focus to look for a better position in God’s kingdom for ourselves. The right focus is to look to God’s plan, and to be motivated by Jesus’ cup. Jesus trusted God’s plan. Jesus did the opposite of what James and John were trying to do and the opposite of what we sinfully seek first. Jesus trusted what God had prepared for him. For all of Jesus’ service, he gained nothing for himself but served the world with forgiveness of sins. Jesus drank the cup given to him to save us. He served everyone by living perfectly for us and suffering and dying for us. The servant works for you. Only when we look to the work of the great servant, can we drink the cup that God gives to us. His plan is that we also serve, and he gives us opportunities to serve. When you have opportunities to go the extra mile for someone else, do it not to serve yourself or even them but because of the cup Jesus drank for you. In a time where everyone is worried about what they can do to serve and protect themselves from disease, think about how you can serve, not only your family, but your neighbor, and your Christian family.
Serving is not our natural reaction, but when we see the things that the great Servant did to serve us, then we drink the cup he gives us. So we serve. Once we get past the obstacle of starting to serve, we meet another obstacle. When you do serve, it is easy to think that your service is not worthwhile. Whatever the good reason is that you might think that, Jesus teaches us that service is always worthwhile. No matter how much or how great your service, Jesus will out-serve you.
2. He will out-serve you. (verses 24-28)
When the rest of the ten disciples found out what James and John were doing, it says they were indignant, they felt wronged. Why were they upset? Did the rest of the ten have “service” figured out? No, they were upset because they were jealous of the better position for which James and John were looking! They caught James and John cheating to get a spot that they thought was rightfully theirs. It’s like the disciples caught James and John hoarding all the cleaning and food supplies and were upset because they wanted to have their own stockpile of the same thing. In the coming days, the disciples would always argue about which of them was the greatest. Their mindset shows that they had just as wrong of an idea about how greatness works with God as the brothers did.
Jesus taught them about true greatness. He pointed out the things that the world thinks of as great. They wanted to become rulers who make it to the top, important people who have authority over others. This is not greatness to Jesus. Jesus turns it upside-down with his definition of greatness, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Can he be serious? Who would consider a servant great? The whole point of being a servant is showing with your words and actions that someone else is greater than you!
We are like the disciples. We think that others have a better spot than us and we get jealous of them, and sometimes I even feel like a victim. I think that I deserve better than what I’m getting because of my service. To us too, Jesus says that true greatness is being a servant. Jesus flips our world upside-down.
To show that he is serious, Jesus gives the example of what he’s talking about. “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.” Jesus served his disciples. Jesus served us. We didn’t just need a little help; we didn’t just need someone to go the extra mile for us. We needed a servant who would give his life and die for us. Jesus did that. He paid our price by being betrayed, condemned, mocked, flogged, and crucified. That great servant hung on the cross to serve you, and to earn forgiveness of sins for you. He served you with new life by giving up his life.
Because of Jesus’ work for you, you don’t pay for your sins, you don’t have to fear punishment. Simply believe in Jesus, and it’s yours. But consider again his example, and what he says true greatness is – serving. He gives us this opportunity to follow his example. So we serve our Lord by serving others, like he served us. This perspective makes it a lot easier to serve, because then when we serve, we realize that whatever service we offer, he will out-serve us. And that’s ok. We are happy to serve Jesus in whatever way we can because he served us with his life and death. So let everyone know you are there to serve. Let your neighbors know you are there to help. And even if they use your service, they run you out of all your supplies and don’t even say thank you, you will be following the Lord’s example, who did not spare his own life to save you.
Jesus drank his cup of suffering and death to serve you. Drink the cup of service that he gives to you. Since the Servant works for you, we also serve others. But whatever we do, the Servant will always out-serve you, because he serves you with forgiveness of all sins and life in heaven with him. Amen.