When it came to the teachings of Jesus, he often left his listeners scratching their heads.
But more than that, Jesus wanted those who heard his words to examine their hearts.
When it comes to the topic of service, Matthew 20:20-28 reveals how Jesus took an opportunity to teach his disciples who different things are in the kingdom of God as compared to the culture they lived in.
Here’s the set up for this passage:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
So, what’s going on here?
Essentially, an ambitious mom is asking Jesus to place her sons, identified as James and John, in the positions of power and authority.
Hey, what mom doesn’t want the best for her sons?
Now, when it comes to many of His conversations, Jesus is known for asking thought-provoking questions. And here in verse 22, Jesus turns his attention toward the two men and offers this:
Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
What an expression! “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”
What does Jesus mean by this?
Simply put, Jesus is asking them if they are willing to follow Him on the path that leads to suffering and death.
When I think about their response, I really have to wonder if they had any idea what Jesus was talking about!
Notice what Jesus says next in verse 23:
He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Each of the disciples, except for John would go on to die a martyr’s death.
John would eventually live in exile on an Greek Island called Patmos.
Jesus knew this, and thus He was able to affirm that these two disciples would follow in his footsteps.
Now, verse 24 reveals that the word about this power grab was getting out among the other disciples:
And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
This scene reminded me of how growing up my sisters always remembered to call out “Shotgun!” when the family loaded into the car. For some reason, I always forgot.
The other ten disciples were upset because James and John, by way of their mother, were essentially calling “shotgun” in Jesus’ kingdom.
And rather than say, “Good for you,” they instead cried out, “Not fair!”
Here’s a takeaway from all this commotion: selfishness will only lead to dissension and division.
No wonder one of Jesus’ highest values for his disciples was unity.
Well, this uproar among His men led Jesus to offer one His most important teaching sessions among his disciples:
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (Matthew 20:25)
Essentially, Jesus was affirming the fact that “out there” in the normal course of life, people pursue power and prominence because it means they get to call the shots and be in charge.
It’s pretty typical to want to be the one who has other people doing our bidding.
But then Jesus utters seven eye-opening words at the beginning of verse 26 that were meant to bring the disagreement among the disciples to an end:
“It shall not be so among you.”
In a matter of a few words, Jesus essentially tells his guys that when it comes to the operations of His kingdom, things are going to look a lot different from the kingdoms they have been used to observing!
And then Jesus offers the heart of his teaching in verses 26-28:
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is revolutionary, isn’t it?
We might say that Jesus teaching here is upside-down and inside-out!
The question is this: will we embrace what Jesus is telling us about being part of His Kingdom?
Are we ready to think differently than the world around us?