How Can We Be GREAT, According to Jesus? #195
Hello friends, and happy Friday to you! I am again aware of the fleeting nature of time during this pandemic…it honestly feels like the weekend was the day before yesterday. Speaking of yesterday, we are talking about THE SAME thing we talked about 175 episodes ago when we read Matthew 20 then. Don’t worry – it’s an entirely new podcast, no reused material…just letting you know that we are revisiting Jesus’ Key to Greatness. I think this is one of the most important – and overlooked – teachings in the Bible, and it is good for me to tether myself to this teaching over and over and over again, because in my flesh – I do not want to be a servant…but that is the Jesus way. Let’s read Matthew 20 and find out all about it.
This is not an isolated teaching of Jesus, but it is repeated many times throughout the New Testament, and Matthew records that Jesus taught this principle more than once (Matthew 23:11″The greatest among you will be your servant.“) and at least a third time in Mark 9:
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”34 But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.”
(Luke 22:27 also adds this powerful nugget of truth, to what Matthew has already reported “For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.“
You know if Jesus repeats Himself three times that what He is repeating is essential, crucial, central and foundational. If we want to be great – and it is not wrong or sinful to want to be great – we must live our lives SERVING. Most of the people in the Western world will spend the majority of their lives trying to be somebody – to be successful, famous, admired and envied…but Jesus tells us that this is not the path to greatness – it is the broad road to destruction.
Here’s some great thoughts on this passage from Pastor Tony Evans. I wish I could read them with his amazing voice!
When James and John, the Sons of Thunder, sought a place of honor in Christ’s Kingdom, the other disciples gave them a hard time. But Jesus never corrected the two men for what they wanted. He only corrected them for how they wanted to go about accomplishing it: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant . . .”Jesus didn’t tell the men not to wish to be great. He told them not to try for greatness in the way that the world does—using power, intimidation, fear, and leverage. The rulers of the Kingdom are much different from the rulers of the world. True greatness is achieved through service. It is outward-focused and others-driven.
I also love how Tim Keller exhorts us to be servants:
When you’re around a servant you feel valued. You feel affirmed. You feel listened to. You feel helped. You are helped. A servant is not somebody who needs a whole lot of affirmation because you have all the affirmation and honor. A servant is not somebody who says, “I work my fingers to the bone in this church. I’ve done this and this and this. Nobody seems to cooperate. Nobody gives me any thanks. I lent some money, and it looks like I got ripped off. I’ve had it.”
Jesus says, “Don’t you understand in my kingdom it always entails cups? If you’re going to serve, of course, you’re going to get it on the chin sometimes. I took the big cup, so you could take the little cups. These are little cups.” Don’t you see? A servant knows that. A servant says, “How could I feel self-pity when I see what I’ve gotten from him?” Let me put it to you this way to conclude.
When the disciples James and John said, “Lord Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask,” Jesus looked at them, and in his heart he had to be saying, “I’m drinking the cup for these people?” In the garden, Jesus says, “I’m only asking one thing. I’m asking, you selfish little things, that you stay awake with me and pray for me while I wrestle on the ground over what I’m about to do for you.” He comes back, and they’re asleep. What does he do? He served them. He dies for them.
In fact, he says, “… the spirit … is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He says, “I know you meant well.” He finds something to compliment them for. The heart of a servant. Those people represent you and me. Jesus died for people who are stubborn. Are there people in your life who are stubborn? How are you treating them? Jesus died for people who are always wanting from him and never wanting to give anything. Are there people around you who always want to take and never want to give?
Don’t you see? Jesus died for people who slept through his hour of greatest need. Aren’t there people around who you’re really mad at right now because they slept through your hour of greatest need? You’re looking at people around you saying, “They should have known I’ve been upset.” What are you doing? Are you withdrawing from them? Are you attacking them? Are you being cold to them? Or do you keep in a position, a stance, of servanthood toward them? Have you given up on them? If you have, may I put it this way? How dare you?
Look at what Jesus did for you, and the more you’re melted by that and the more you draw on the resources of that, the more you’re going to be able to be the servant he is. Yes, he ransomed us, not with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. He ransomed us, not just to make us happy, but to prepare a people for himself eager to do what is good.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
And finally, some good words from David Platt:
Instead, when Jesus says He is our servant, this means Jesus gives us what we need. So pay attention real close here, because what I’m about to say is absolutely key to your understanding Christianity. Jesus has just told James and John that they are going to suffer, that following Him is going to involve radical sacrifice of their lives in service to others. He has just given them a radical call to discipleship. But don’t miss it: This radical call to discipleship is accompanied by a radical promise of service. And Jesus says to these disciples, “What I am calling you to do is not natural.” It is not possible on your own. To renounce the ways of this world and to give your life as a slave in this world, you cannot do this. But I am here to serve you, and to give you everything you need to live this out….
Now apply that to everything in the Christian life. Jesus promises to give us what we need as our servant on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. Oh, I talked this morning with a brother whose wife just passed away, and I told him, “Jesus is there to serve you.” When Jesus leads us into difficult places or calls us (rich young man) to do difficult things, He enables us to do what He calls us to, because He is our servant.
Well, what about Paul? Paul says in the New Testament that we are servants of Jesus. The Bible talks about us serving Jesus. So aren’t we His servants? Yes, no question. We are Jesus’ servants. The Bible definitely talks like this. But don’t miss it—don’t miss what this does not mean. This does not mean that Jesus needs our aid, that Jesus needs our help. When we talk about ourselves as servants of Christ, we often either explicitly or implicitly think of Jesus needing our help, or of God needing our help. But I want to remind us of Acts 17:25: “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.” God is Almighty, and He needs no support. We cannot service Him. He never gets tired, He never gets hungry, He never gets lonely. He does not need us; we need Him.
So what does the Bible mean, then, when it says we are servants of Jesus? Well, this means that we submit to Jesus’ authority, that He reigns over us as Lord and King and Ruler. And this is the beauty of the gospel; put it all together. The Lord and King and Ruler over the Universe, the One who has all authority in all the universe—He has stooped to serve you.
David Platt, “Miraculous Mercy,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2012), 3502.
By the way: Today’s other Scriptures are Joshua 12 and 13, Psalms 145, and Jeremiah 5 – let’s read them now!