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encouragement theology

The King Came to Serve

Thoughts from Matthew 20…

What makes a person great? As I look back at the great men and women in history, there doesn’t seem to be any single answer. Some had extraordinary talent, such as military leaders like Julius Caesar or Napoleon, or as scientists, such as Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell. Some were gifted storytellers, such as William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. Some were great statesmen, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill. 

I love the stories such as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, where ordinary, insignificant people rise to greatness when faced with overwhelming challenges. 

But what is God’s definition of greatness? As I read through his Word, I am overwhelmed by the fact that the Lord’s definition of greatness is completely different from my own thinking. He doesn’t identify major talents, abilities, personalities, or even the amount of work that makes a man or woman great. Greatness in His eyes is built on one single factor.

The great person is the one who serves. It is not the authoritative leader but the willing servant who is great in God’s eyes.

Matthew 20:26-28
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.”

There are three scenes Matthew 20 related to greatness. In the first scene, the subject is about Jesus Christ himself. He has already told his disciples that He will die but now it is much more immediate and specific. As He is speaking, they are headed to Jerusalem where He will be betrayed, persecuted, tortured, and crucified. He will die the most humiliating and degrading death on a Roman cross. That is what is in store for the Lord Jesus Christ. But that’s not all, because after three days he will rise again.

The second scene, shortly after his announcement, happens when James and John bring their mother for a special request to Jesus Christ. They would like a special position in His Kingdom, to be able to sit at his right and left when He reigns as King Supreme. They are prepared to do whatever it takes, believing that they have the strength to suffer through the worst torture for this admirable goal. But they’ve missed the point of greatness in His kingdom. The great one isn’t the one who sits beside the King, the great one is the one who is willing to be a servant. Not just a day laborer, but one who totally lays aside his rights, and is a worthless slave to others. Jesus himself was their example because He did not come to be served but to serve had to give his life as a ransom for mankind. He gave his life for the very people who hated him!

And finally, we see the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ in action. He was walking through the city of Jericho when he was accosted by two blind men, screaming for his attention. They knew who he was, that He could heal them, and so they begged for his mercy. He is a coming king, and won’t He help them? “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. “We want to see!” was their reply. Not only did the Lord heal them, but He held them up as an example of great faith. Jesus demonstrated His own service as He went through this town. He was ready to go and give His life to die, yet He stopped to minister to the needs of these two outcasts.

How many times do we shut down messages from the Lord because it seems like bad news? When we close our ears to anything but good news, we are missing His point. We cut out our ability to hear him and our ability to serve because we are no longer listening to the Master.

How many times do we look for an honored or a lofty place, when He would rather have us serve? We may never receive honor from other people, but the true definition of greatness is the one who willingly becomes a servant.

And finally, how many times do I focus on myself when a person with real needs walks directly by me? We need to be willing to stop what we are doing and be interrupted by real needs God‘s kingdom.

May we grow in true greatness as we find opportunities to serve our Lord and to serve others!

Previous post: The Last Will Be First


Matthew 20:17-34
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

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.” 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.” 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.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 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. It shall not be so among you. 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.”

And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

His life will end in torture and death … but He will rise from the dead!

Matthew 20:17-19
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Mark 10:32-34
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Luke 18:31-34
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

This is the third recorded time for Jesus to tell His disciples of His upcoming death (see also Matthew 16:21-23 and Matthew 17:22-23). At all three of these times, He told them that he would suffer at the hands of men, would die, and would be raised on the third day. 

But this third announcement was very close to the time of the cross and was much more specific. Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, so He was already en route to His suffering and death when He announced this message. It is also clear in this passage that He only told the twelve disciples this time (the other two occasions may have included others). But the most unique part of this announcement is that He will be crucified. He had previously said that He would suffer, but this time He specifically says that He will be “mocked and flogged and crucified”. He had made allusions to His method of death before (e.g. Matthew 16:24, John 3:14), but this is the first actual prediction of the cross.

Yet, even though this was the third time that Jesus had made this simple announcement, the disciples did not understand. Luke’s account says, “his saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34).

“The religious leaders, blinded by their selfishness and self-righteousness, were to add to all their other sins that of delivering Jesus up to the death of the cross. So far could mere religiousness, apart from spiritual life, carry its devotees.” – H.A. Ironside2

His friends want an elevated position … but the greatest one is the servant!

Matthew 20:20-23
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.” 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.” 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.”

Mark 10:35-40
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Salome, the mother of James and John, was also Mary’s sister and so was a relative of Jesus (see here). She appears to use her family influence here to ask a special favor of the Lord, to request an honored position in His kingdom. 

Both Matthew and Mark record this account. Mark’s account shows James and John coming to Jesus with their request, while Matthew’s account shows their mother (Salome) coming to Him. Yet in both accounts, the focus is on James and John. It appears that they initiated the request to Jesus, with the likely hopes that their mother’s presence would help their cause.12

While we can quickly dismiss their actions as being prideful and self-seeking, it is important to first remember some of the good points about this request. First, we cannot easily dismiss Salome’s dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ. Even after the disciples all ran at His arrest, she was one of the faithful women to stay with Him at the cross (Mark 15:40, John 19:25). She also came with the group of women on Sunday morning to prepare His body for extended burial (Mark 16:1). 

Second, this request shows the faith of James and John regarding the Lord’s kingdom. He had barely finished announcing His death when they came with this request. While His announcement of His suffering and death was a grievous blow to the disciples, this request shows that — even after this announcement — they were still looking forward to His coming kingdom. Both James and John were truly praying, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). 

And finally, Jesus never rebuked them for their spiritual ambition. They wanted a level of high authority in the kingdom, with a seat at the side of God Himself! The other disciples were “indignant” about the request, but Jesus turned it into a teaching moment on the importance of humility. They were not wrong to ask great things of God, but they were wrong by failing to realize that the greatness comes through serving. 

Matthew 20:24-28
And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 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. It shall not be so among you. 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.”

Mark 10:41-45
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

James and John’s request caused the other ten disciples to be indignant. They were not grieved over wrong actions, but rather were jealous of a position that they also wanted for themselves. Despite the Lord’s teaching about humility, they were still contending among themselves for who would be the greatest.

The way of the world is to flaunt your authority and demand respect. That is how the world measures greatness. But true greatness does not come through achievement or by asserting your value. True greatness comes by giving up your rights, humbling yourself, and being a servant to others.a

Jesus Christ Himself set the example of greatness by coming to serve. He left the glory of Heaven to come to serve others and to give His life.

“Before this time Christ asserted that He would be crucified, but He had never said what this would accomplish. Now He reveals that His life would be a ransom for many. … His death will provide the means whereby the many shall gain entrance into the kingdom.” – Stanley Toussaint1

We know that the disciples were slow to understand the Lord’s message of service and humility. It was only a few days later when He sat with them in the upper room to celebrate the Passover meal. Once again, they started arguing about who was the best, until the Lord Jesus Christ stripped down, took up a towel, and started washing their feet (see here). The great one is the one who serves.

His followers want to hush the blind beggars … but He listens to them, commends them, and heals them!

Matthew 20:29-34
And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

Mark 10:46-52
And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Luke 18:35-43
As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

This scene is recorded by all three Gospel accounts. Jesus came to Jericho and encountered two blind men.b The crowd tried to silence them, but they continued, shouting even more, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus called for them and directly asked what they wanted from Him, and they asked to recover their sight. He touched their eyes and they were immediately healed.

Like the occasion with the demon-possessed men of Gadera (see here), Matthew’s account tells of the two blind men who approached Jesus, while Mark and Luke focused on only one man, Bartimaeus. Both men were healed, but Bartimaeus was apparently the more vocal of the two.

The men cried out to Jesus Christ as their Messiah (“Son of David”), asking primarily for His mercy. It is especially significant to remember that Jewish tradition believed that it was a sign of the Messiah to heal a blind man (see here). None of the Old Testament miracles healed the blind, and so they believed that this miracle was reserved for the Messiah’s return. Therefore, the blind men were not only asking for help, but they were claiming the promise that the Messiah had now come — and He could heal them!

Note that this is the last public miracle that the Lord performs.1


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 19:30-20:34, pages 229-236

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 20, Kingdom Standards

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 63, Christ’s Answer to Faith’s Plea, Luke 18:31-43

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 19:27-20:34, pages 60-62

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 10:32-52, pages 119-120

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 18:35-43, pages 201-202

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER XXIII: THE LAST INCIDENTS IN PEREA, THE YOUNG RULER WHO WENT AWAY SORROWFUL, TO LEAVE ALL FOR CHRIST, PROPHECY OF HIS PASSION, THE REQUEST OF SALOME, AND OF JAMES AND JOHN (St. Matt. 19: 16-22; St. Mark 10: 17-22; St. Luke 18: 18-23; St. Matt. 19: 23-30; St. Mark 10: 23-31; St. Luke 18: 24-30; St. Matt. 20: 17-19; St. Mark 10: 32-34 St. Luke 18: 31-34; St. Matt. 20: 20-28; St. Mark 10: 35-45.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.xxiii.html

[8] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER XXIV: IN JERICHO AND AT BETHANY, JERICHO, A GUEST WITH ZACCHAEUS, THE HEALING OF BLIND BARTIMAEUS, THE PLOT AT JERUSALEM, AT BETHANY, AND IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON THE LEPER (St. Luke 19: 1-10; St. Matt. 20: 29-34; St. Mark 10: 46-52; St. Luke 18: 35-43; St. John 11: 55-ii. 1; St. Matt. 26: 6-13; St. Mark 14: 3-9; St. John 12: 2-11.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.xxiv.html

[9] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 11, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/29-jesus%E2%80%99s-strategic-route-to-jerusalem-and-the-triumphal-entry.html

[10] Stephen Davey, The Master Craftsman, Matthew 20, 1/20/1991

[11] John MacArthur, The Sufferings of Christ, Matthew 20:17-19, Jun 19, 1983

[12] John MacArthur, How to Be Great in the Kingdom, Part 1, Matthew 20:20-25, Jul 10, 1983

[13] John MacArthur, How to Be Great in the Kingdom, Part 2, Matthew 20:26-28, Jul 17, 1983

[14] John MacArthur, The Blind Who Saw, Matthew 20:29-34, Aug 7, 1983

[15] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 20:1-34, pages 1161-1162

[16] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 10:32-52, pages 1232-1234

[17] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 19:30-20:34


Notes

[a] Matthew 20:27 says, “and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”. This word for slave here is doulos (δοῦλος), the lowest form of servant in Roman society; one with absolutely no personal rights.

[b] There appears to be a contradiction between the Gospel accounts regarding Jesus’ location in Jericho. Matthew and Mark both indicate that He was leaving Jericho when He encountered the blind men. Luke’s account, however, says that this happened as he “drew near” (was approaching) the city. How do we address this perceived problem?

There have been several explanations for the geographical difference between the three Gospel accounts. Any one of these possible answers illustrates the fact that, while we don’t always know all of the answers, we can trust God’s Word to be consistent and without errors or contradictions. There is a logical explanation for every perceived problem. Some of the most common explanations for the location difference in Matthew 20 are:

  • One possible explanation is that there were actually two encounters with a blind man: one upon entering Jericho and the other upon leaving the city. According to this explanation, Luke’s “blind man” was different from Bartimaeus in Mark. Matthew’s account is either an expanded view of Mark’s account or a summary of both encounters in Jericho. While this explanation is possible, it is hard to get past the exact consistency across all three accounts. If there really were two encounters at Jericho, then the dialogue and actions are almost exactly the same for both. Therefore, we are better off to look for a stronger explanation.
  • Another explanation relies on the fact that there are two Jericho locations. The ancient Canaanite city of Jericho was destroyed by the invading Isralites in Joshua 6. The city was rebuilt again (a mile away) during the reign of Ahab over Israel (1 Kings 16:34). According to this explanation, Jesus was leaving the ancient site (Matthew and Mark) and entering the current city (Luke).
  • Another similar explanation relies on the fact that Jericho was a major city in the area. Therefore, the Gospel accounts may be distinguishing Jericho region vs. the city itself. Jesus was leaving the city of Jericho (Matthew and Mark), but He was still entering the greater Jericho region itself (Luke).
  • The final explanation relies on the fact that this was a long-running encounter with the blind men. All three of the Gospel accounts show that the blind men were persistently calling after Jesus while the crowd was trying to hush them up. Therefore, this explains the difference between the accounts because the blind men were pursuing Jesus throughout His entire journey through Jericho. They found Jesus as He drew near to the city (Luke), followed Him through the streets of Jericho, and He finally healed them as He was leaving the city (Matthew and Mark).

We don’t have enough details about the scene to give a conclusive answer to where, when, or how the blind men were healed. After studying the passage, I lean toward the final explanation (that this encounter lasted through the entire city), but any of these explanations show that there need be no contractions between the Gospel accounts.

2 replies on “The King Came to Serve”

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