The Measure of True Greatness (Matthew Sermon 96 of 151)
April 19, 2009 | Andy Davis
At the end of the century, at the end of the millennium, Time Magazine put out a number of issues in which they were entertaining the question that's really in front of us in our text today: What is the nature of true human greatness? And they had one issue after another. I have one of those issues, I was looking at it some time ago and that particular issue focused on the greatest minds of the 20th century. The greatest intellectual achievers, those that did great things by their thinking. By their inventiveness.
So they talked about the Wright Brothers, who came up with the first heavier than air flight machine, or Alexander Fleming, who developed penicillin, and Enrico Fermi, who split the atom. Jonas Salk, who defeated polio with his vaccine which he developed over a number of years. Albert Einstein of course, that we all know about with his special and general theories of relativity. Robert Goddard did pioneering work in liquid rocketry that enabled us 50 years later or so to go to the moon. Tim Berners-Lee, the man really responsible for the internet. I'll just move on at this point. William Shockley, who fathered the transistor and brought the silicon to Silicon Valley. Now these are great minds, great achievers. This is what passes for greatness in the eyes of the world. At least in terms of intellectual achievement.
Other issues focused on other achievers; politicians, military commanders, poets, architects, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, all of these were picked up and looked at in turn for human greatness. This issue is in front of us all the time, some time ago I was watching an NBA playoff game and one player was playing extremely well and the announcer said, “You are watching what true greatness is all about.” Well, I just heard that like I hear everything, I heard it theologically. I said, “No. True greatness is all about Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and that's what I have the privilege to preach about today; true greatness, the greatness of Jesus Christ.
And also the greatness that comes to those that enter his kingdom and more specifically for us, how he measures greatness, the measurement of greatness. Look at verses 26 through 28. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first, must be your slave -- 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.” So Jesus does not denigrate the inquiry, saying what is true greatness. He doesn't put it down to ask what is a great life, how can I be a great person? And he doesn't put it down. What he does is shift the entire playing field from under our feet so that we look at it entirely differently.Tto Jesus Christ, true human greatness then came down to this: humble servant-hood. Putting the needs of others ahead of your own for your whole life, and whoever was most willing to lay himself down for the good of others would be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This standard is simple to understand but I can testify, it's hard to live. I have been fighting this struggle, I've known about this since the first weeks that I was a Christian. This is not a new idea, I must become a servant but oh I have found it difficult to do.
How Not to be Great: Self-Promotion (vs. 20-21)
Greatness by Self-Promotion
Well let's begin, as the text does, negatively, how not to be great. And at least from the text, self-promotion is not the way to become great. Look at verses 20 and 21. “Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. ‘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.’” So this is greatness by self-promotion. Now, this is common in our time. Putting yourself forward. Espousing all your best attributes, putting it in a resume presenting it to others but it's not new. It's been going on since the beginning of time.
James and John were practicing it here with Jesus 20 centuries ago. Secular kingdoms have been dominated by this kind of approach. In the Roman Empire, counselors to the Caesars would orchestrate political scandals for their rivals so that they could topple them down by shame. That failing, they might just have them poisoned. But in any case, they're going to advance by putting others down and by presenting themselves well. Cicero who was one of the leading orators of that time was especially expert at destroying enemies with innuendo of immorality. He was good at it. I was disillusioned to find that out. I always thought of him as this pure moral kind of guy but he was actually excellent at putting himself forward by putting others down. In European courts of the Middle Ages, lords and nobles would fight jousts with one another to find out who was the strongest and who could sit at the king's right and at his left and be in a position of power.
In the modern era, we don't know that much about kings and their courts and emperors and all that. It's more of the corporate setting, the board room, what happens in the corporate world. I was reading recently off the internet; a summary of a book entitled, Twenty-One Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Win in Office Politics. So don't listen to this in order that you might learn something that you can then put into practice, but this is what the book was saying. It discusses techniques like stealing credit for someone else's success, trapping someone in a compromising situation and then blackmailing them, using flattery to gain the confidence of a fellow worker and then sticking the knife between the ribs at just the key moment at the board room during a meeting. Well, this kind of thing has been going on for a long time. Advancing yourself by destroying others, by presenting yourself well.
Nepotism: Their Mother Made the Request
James and John were, I think, maneuvering to get the best seats in the Kingdom. Actually though, if you read the text carefully, it wasn't them per se. It was their mom. I was thinking this might be a good Mother's Day sermon but I'm actually glad it's not Mother's Day. But yeah, it was mom. Now I think that James and John really put mom up to it, because in Mark's gospel mom isn't even mentioned, and here in our account, mom gets ignored after the first foray. From that point on, Jesus is dealing directly with James and John.
Now indications are that James and John's mother, Zebedee's wife was named Salome and it's quite possible that she was a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which would make her Jesus' aunt and it would make James and John, Jesus' cousins. So what we have here then would be a case of nepotism, using family ties and connections. Pulling strings along family lines to get a position of importance in the coming kingdom. This has been going on for a long time, nepotism.
Napoleon sat brothers on thrones throughout Europe when he could do so. James, his brother, was King of Naples, mismanaged it so badly that he was made king of Spain. Until he abdicated and lived in Bordentown, New Jersey for a number of years. Napoleon's brother Louis was made king of Holland and his brother Jerome, king of Westphalia. This is what you do, you get your brothers in there, you get your cousins, your relatives. So this is common. Family members using their influence to gain positions of honor and power. So what is the request?
Look at it again, verse 20 and 21. “Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. ‘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 your left in your kingdom.’
Now notice her reverence, her humility, kneeling down in front of Jesus. The request however, is even more comprehensive in Mark's gospel. In Mark 10: 35 and 36. It says this. “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee came to Him, ‘Teacher’ they said, ‘We want you to do for us whatever we ask.’” So we're gonna hand you a blank check, we would like you to sign it and then we'll fill in the amount. Jesus wisely says, “What do you want me to do for you?” So he's very careful, an open-ended request. Now kings sometimes like to show their power and their glory by being able to grant these kind of open-ended requests. “Whatever you want, up to half of my kingdom,” they're willing to say. No king in history has been as able to cash a blank check as Jesus. No one had so much power and wealth at his fingertips as does Jesus, the King of the Kingdom of Heaven.
But he is very wise and very careful and he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” So the mother in our account in Matthew has this request, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Now these would be the two most important positions of influence and honor in the coming kingdom of Christ. They would have free access to Christ. They would have, so they probably believed, influence over Christ's decisions and with it would come immense privilege and power and prestige and possessions, all of the things that our little idolatrous hearts crave so much.
And so James and John are pushing themselves forward to gain the most influential seats in the kingdom of Christ. It's a play for power. My friends, it's a play for greatness and so Jesus has to respond.
Jesus’ Response: Places Are Assigned by God (vs. 22-23)
First Response: You Don’t Know What You’re Asking
And so he responds in verses 22 and 23 by saying, those places are assigned by God. He actually has multiple layers to his answer. The first layer is basically to correct their ignorance. He says to them in Verse 22. “You don't know what you're asking.” He strips their presumptions bare. Like all the other disciples, like the disciples were constantly, until the coming of the Holy Spirit and even afterwards, not really understanding the kingdom and how it would come.
Their understanding of the kingdom is woefully inadequate. They do not understand the nature of Christ's kingdom, they don't understand how greatness will be weighed or assessed in the kingdom. They don't understand what it would take to sit in those seats, they just don't understand. So he says, “You don't know what you're asking.” He starts there.
Second Response: Can You Drink the Cup?
The second layer of his answer is to refer to a cup. Verse 22 he says, “Can you drink the cup I'm going to drink?” Now what cup was this? Whatever it was, it seems to have been prerequisite to taking those seats in the Kingdom or else Jesus wouldn't have brought it up.
The drinking of Christ's cup is essential to sitting in those seats. Now the cup was the issue but what cup was Christ going to drink? Well, in a very short time in Matthew's Gospel, we're going to see Jesus taking James and John along with Peter with him into the garden of a Gethsemane and we're gonna see him overwhelmed. Mark's gospel says, he was astonished. We're gonna see him shaken to the core of his being and he's going to go a little further and he's gonna fall to the ground and great drops of blood like sweat are gonna flow down his face and he's going to pray, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” Now he doesn't identify the cup but we know it must be the cross and digging deeper, it must be the cup of God's wrath poured full strength into that cup, that he would drink it to its dregs. That Jesus would bear the wrath of God for us.
At the physical level, it would mean rejection by human beings, it would mean persecution, it would be a shame, it would mean pain, torture and death. So there are many layers or levels to this cup that Jesus was going to drink. Clearly, no light thing but a thing of immense cost, of immense difficulty. Can you drink the cup? And I'm going to drink. James and John said, “We can. We are able to do it.” Go back a little bit and the verse, “You don't know what you're asking.” Well, they don't know what they're saying here. They don't have any sense of the weight of that commitment. They don't know what Jesus's cup is. Whatever it takes, they'll do it, that's what they're saying. It's a bold assertion here. Oh, how prideful are our ignorant hearts. How much we trifle with weighty things. Things of immense worth and value. We think very little of them. We are so confident in ourselves aren't we? We think we can do it, we ought not to be so confident.
A mature Christian loses that self-confidence and grows in confidence in Christ only, for we are the circumcision. We who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh but I think James and John were putting conference in the flesh here and so they say “We can drink that cup.”
Well then Jesus says very strikingly, “You will indeed drink from my cup.” You will indeed drink from my cup. Now Christ's cup as I said, is the cup of God's wrath. His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. They would not drink that Christ alone could drink that cup, that was for Jesus alone but if you could picture some drops falling from the cup, if you could picture some of the physical aspects of Christ suffering, the human rejection, the pain, the suffering, the persecution, the shame, you will indeed drink from my cup, James and John. James would be put to death with the sword by King Herod, the first of the 12 apostles to die, that Martyr's death in Acts 12. James would indeed drink from Jesus's cup. And how about John? Well, he'd outlived them all but he would suffer greatly.
Church tradition tells us that in Ephesus, he was boiled in oil but God miraculously spared his life. Then he was exiled to the isle of Patmos, suffering persecution for the testimony of the word of God, testimony of Christ. So John also drank from Christ's cup. Only Jesus drank Christ's cup but we are called on to suffer for Jesus we are called on to live a life of self-denial of taking up our cross and following Jesus. James and John would indeed drink from Christ's cup.
Third Response: Those Places are Assigned by my Father
However, Jesus says, those places, the one you asked about, the ones at my right and my left, they're not for me to grant. What an astonishing statement that is. This is God in the flesh and he's saying, I don't have the right to tell you that. I don't have the right to give it to you. Those places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father and He'll give them out.
So Christ leaves them in the dark about whether they're gonna take those seats or not. Will James and John be sitting at Jesus' right and his left? I can't say. I can't say. I don't know. Jesus doesn't tell us so they might actually sit at his right and his left but that's not gonna be settled now with Mom coming and asking. Not at all. It will be settled in that future world. And notice that Jesus does not deny that there are such places sitting at his right and his left, that there is power, there is honor, there is glory to be won for the kingdom. He doesn't deny that. And notice the word here, “prepared.” Those places are for those for whom they have been prepared by my Father. I actually believe the heavenly father prepares both ends. He prepares the place for the people and he prepares the people for the place. Maybe today you're getting prepared for your final place in heaven.
By listening to this sermon, you'll learn how you can rise in the estimation of God. How he can see you as great. A great son or daughter living a great life, doing great things. You will learn what true greatness is from the word of God but he's preparing, he's getting you ready for the place and he's getting the place ready for you. Preparation. So there will be places of honor. Christ wants us to know that but what he does now is he educates us all on how they will be given out. On what basis will they be assigned and he deals with that in verses 24 through 28.
How Greatness is Assessed in the Kingdom (vs. 24-28)
“When the ten,” it says in verse 24, “heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus 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. 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 -- 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.’”
Feelings of Indignation
Well, this phase of the education begins with the feelings of indignation in the hearts of the ten. They're indignant, it says, with James and John. The Greek word is used sometimes for the teething pain of an infant. Sometimes for the feeling of a pebble in your sandal. It's a feeling of mild if not perhaps even strong irritation. So the other ten apostles are annoyed, they're irritated with James and John. Kinda hypocritical if you think about it. I think they're annoyed because they wish they'd thought of it or they wish they were Jesus's cousins or they could finagle for positions. I don't find them any more humble than the others. I actually think their annoyance is every bit as prideful as James and John pushing themselves forward. There's really no difference.
But they're irritated, they're annoyed, and so Jesus must deal with this sordid situation right now. Now, he's already dealt with it. Oh, he's dealt with it again and again. You remember him back in Matthew 18. They were arguing about which of them was the greatest and he had a little child come and stand among them and he said, “Unless you humble yourself and be like this little child, you'll never even enter the kingdom.” You've gotta be transformed. He'll deal with it again, the night of the last supper when as they enter the upper room, they're arguing about which of them is the greatest, they can't seem to get off this topic. Which of them is the greatest? And so Jesus gives them a demonstration of who among them is the greatest. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” and so he took off his outer garment and he wrapped a towel around his waist and he got down and he washed His disciple's feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around his waist.
So he's got to deal with this issue because they would be the future leaders of the church. They were the pillars, humanly speaking, the foundation on which the church would be built and this pride is a stinkweed. It's a wicked root that bears much bitter fruit and so he's got to deal with his pride and so he calls them together, he assembles them together and as he would soon tell Pontius Pilate in a different sort of sense, there he would say, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest but as it is, my kingdom is of another place.” It's a heavenly kingdom. It's got a heavenly nature, a heavenly essence to it and so in a similar way, he's gonna say to his leaders “My kingdom is not of this world.” It's not like that, it's not like the gentile kingdoms.
Lesson by Contrast
It's a different kind of kingdom and so he teaches them a lesson by contrast, look at verses 25 and 26, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”
So Jesus is here speaking of the glories of Gentile rulers and kings and lofty officials, they had seen it, the Jewish nation had been well educated in Gentile rule, they'd seen it with King Herod, who really wasn't Jewish but it was a Gentile usurper and who was a wicked man. They'd seen it with a string of Gentile emperors ever since the exile to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar and then the Medo-Persian emperors, one after the other. Alexander the Great and all of the Greek rulers and now it's the Romans. They had seen these Gentile rulers, one after the other, and notice what Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them.” So here Jesus is speaking, I think, of both the motive and the manner of Gentile government, Gentile rule. The motive is self-glory, making much of yourself. In some cases, even the point of self-deification.
Alexander the Great had a coin minted of himself in Egypt with the horns of Jupiter Amon on the side of his head. Clear claim to deity. He really believed he was a god. He spoke of his biological father as “the man supposedly, my father.” [chuckle] And the same attitude was found in other Greek rulers like Antiochus IV who called themself Epiphanes, “the manifest one,” a clear claim to deity. The Romans picked up on this. So Octavius came to be known as Caesar Augustus, the title Augustus is a claim to deity. So they're claiming to be divine so also their underlings, like a Pontius Pilate has a motive of self-glorification, making much of himself. So that's the motive of their rule.
How about the manner of their rule? How do they carry themselves in their rule? Well, their outward displays of prestige and power and glory. There are trumpets sounding at the approach of the Roman governor. There are banners that are fluttering in the breeze, of maroon and gold. There's a manner of superiority and an attitude towards those that are under them. They carry themselves with this kind of attitude. So they love the places of honor and the most important seats and lofty greetings and words of praise, the trappings of power. I was reading about Louis XIV, the Sun King, King of France and he built Versailles, his palace, magnificent display of his wealth and of His power and there's one particular room called the Hall of Mirrors and it's just covered with mirrors all around, ceilings, walls all around. And he would meet foreign dignitaries there on a raised dais, on a glorious throne. He would meet them and they would inevitably shrink in their own eyes before this glorious personage, this Sun King.
Well, that's how they do it. “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and the high officials, they exercise dominion or authority over them. Not so with you.” Not so with you. Oh, that the church would learn this lesson. We have been fraught with people, with leaders who have not understood this lesson. During the years right before the Reformation, Pope Julius carried himself like a conquering Emperor. He used to ride around on a white horse with a full coat of armor and with these kinds of trumpets and banners. He was like an earthly king. He was the Pope. The head supposedly of Christ's Church. Christ's vicar on earth. Oh, that we would learn this but it's not just out there my friends, it's right in here. It's in our own hearts. We need to hear this lesson. When we get positions of power, we are tempted to lord it over and exercise authority, not so with you.
How Greatness is Measured in the Kingdom
Verses 26 and following, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first, must be your slave -- 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.
Now, ambition for heavenly glory is not evil. Actually, I think it's good. You should yearn for and desire to gain as much glory and honor as possible in the future. We already talked about that with the issue of rewards but let's remember where we're starting from. What Jesus says is whoever wants to become great among you. What does that imply about our starting place? We weren't great at the beginning. “Kingdom of heaven is like a tax collector and a Pharisee who went to the temple to pray and the tax collector stood off to the distance and beat his breast and would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but said ‘Be merciful to me, oh God, the sinner.’” Well, that's where all of this starts. Remember that when you talk about your own greatness, I think it's easy to forget that we are saved by grace alone and so Jesus says greatness in the kingdom is earned by servanthood. Humble yourself now, stop living for yourself, stop living for your earthly advantages, your earthly pleasures, earthly prestige and power and glory. Deny yourself daily, take up your cross, make yourself nothing. Meet the temporal and eternal needs of others and live that way, every day. And when you have achieved some level of genuine servanthood, go even lower. That's what he's teaching here.
If you want to be great, you must be a servant, he says. A diakonos, from which we get the word deacon. Diakonos did menial labor in the house, scrubbing floors, cleaning rooms, waiting tables, living to see that others had enough food and clothing, everything that they would need, that their needs were met. That's a servant in the household. You wanna become great, be one of those. Do you wanna become first? Then you'll have to become a slave. Well, that's a doulos. Now, the diakonos, the servant can leave if he wants. His life is his own, he owns himself, he's a free man. A slave is owned by another. You're not your own, you're bought at a price, you don't have the freedom to come and go. You live at the will of the Master.
Jesus said, “You wanna be first, then be a slave.” So in effect Jesus is giving us a downward journey, diakonos to doulos, from servant to slave, lower still. And this is what Jesus himself has done.
Jesus the Greatest in the Kingdom (vs. 28)
Christ’s Example of Humble Servanthood
So he says in verse 28, “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.” So Jesus presents himself as a humble example, “just as the Son of Man,” that's he himself. Christ, the prime example of meek and lowly servanthood. He himself traveled that journey, that downward journey, infinitely farther than any of us ever could.
And what was his motive for everything? And Christ's motive, it was not selfish but selfless. It says “The Son of Man did not come.” Why did you come Jesus? Why did you enter the world? For what reason were you born? Why did you come? He said, “I didn't come to be served. I came to serve.” That's what he's saying. He wasn't looking for anyone to sit him on silk pillows and bring him bread and meat and another cluster of grapes to squeeze into his cup and drink it's sweet drink. He wasn't looking for that, to be some kind of earthly potentate, having all of his needs met and his feet anointed and rubbed and having servant girls dance for him and have himself fanned. He didn't come for that. Frankly, he had left infinitely higher than that.
He sat on the throne of glory with His Heavenly Father and around him, thousands upon thousands attended Him and 10,000 times 10,000 stood before him, ready to serve him. That's the glory he left and he took off those robes of glory that he shared with his Heavenly Father and He made Himself nothing and he entered the worlds, taking the very nature of a servant, which is a human being. That's what we are. That's what we were created to be, servants of God and He took on human form. That was his motive. He came to serve.
He came out of love. To lift us up out of the muck keep of sin. To cleanse us, to redeem us, to put a song in our mouths. To put a robe, a white robe around us. Lift us up, that we might dwell with him forever in heaven. That was his motive. His motive was love. And what of his manner? Well, he always appeared lowly as well. He was born of a poor Jewish couple. He was laid in a manger where animals eat. It's a lowly way to enter the world, an abject poverty and humility and he carried himself that way his whole life. He didn't take on trappings of wealth and power, he didn't demand that people respect him or honor him, he put up with slights, he put up with insults.
Aren't we right in saying that you're demon possessed and your father was a Samaritan? What an insult. Questioning the legitimacy of His birth. Jesus put up with all those things, he carried himself with humility. He was weak and lowly, just in terms of himself. He entered the world humbly, he lived humbly. He lived in perfect submission to the law of God. Every moment fulfilled all of God's commands. Luke chapter two tells us that He was submissive to his own parents. We learned from other scriptures that Joseph was a carpenter. We learned also that Jesus was a carpenter. That same title is ascribed to him as was ascribed to Joseph. So my guess is he was Joseph's apprentice. Can you imagine Jesus submitting himself to Joseph in the carpentry shop? I can. Can you imagine Him taking orders as a 15 year old? I can imagine that. Being submissive to his father. It's all speculation. I don't know when Joseph died but we can imagine that he would have been trained that way, that he was humble. He was Joseph's God, He was Joseph's creator. He will be Joseph's judge and yet He submitted meekly to Joseph's commands on how to handle a piece of wood.
Kinda like, “Alright, Joseph, after you're done, I'll teach you how to create a piece of wood, alright? You teach me how to do that and I'll... “ He didn't do that. Rather, he humbled himself. He made himself lowly and when it came time for Jesus to begin his earthly ministry, he did so in the most humble manner imaginable. He submitted to John the Baptist, baptism of repentance for sin. John didn't wanna baptize him, he said “I need to be baptized by you and you come to me?” He said, “Let it be so now, we must fulfill all righteousness.”
And so, he humbled himself, he lowered himself and was covered with the waters of baptism for repentance he didn't need. He had nothing to repent from. He was sinless. And in his ministry, he was healing huge crowds of people and the way I read the healings, He tried to have personal encounters with people he healed. He would have been able to heal 10,000 people with a word but you remember the woman subject of bleeding, who touched the hem of His garment and thought to get away unnoticed? Jesus wanted the encounter with her. He wanted to touch people, to speak to them, to encounter them and so you can imagine how exhausting a ministry of healing like that would have been. He poured himself out, day after day, for multitudes, huge crowds, that would come from Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, Samaria, the region across the Jordan to be healed and see how humbly he rises and goes with the centurion to heal his servant.
Lord, my Centurion lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering. Matthew 8. “I will go and heal him,” He says. And then in the very next chapter, Jairus comes and says, “My little girl has just died but come and put your hand on her and she will live” and Jesus gets up and goes with him. Jesus is humble, he is led, he's a doulos. He's a slave. Anyone and everyone, it seemed, could impinge on his time.
Never once did he murmur. Never once did he lord it over anyone claiming “Do you know who I am? Do you realize what kind of honor you ought to be giving me?” He doesn't do that and all of it culminated in his death, 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. This was the ultimate servanthood. His substitutionary death on the cross, the greatest act of humble servanthood in history. If you consider that Jesus retained his divine power through the entire process while he was being scourged and mocked and beaten and spat upon and nailed to the cross and at any moment he could have come down off the cross and shown himself to be divine and he withheld himself at every moment, you see then the nature of his humility. It's not like he lost his power and couldn't do anything about it, it wasn't like that at all, he was restraining himself at every moment and showing his humility and here, Christ asserts, I think, that his primary reason for being born was to give his life as a ransom for many. He came to die. Now the other things were necessary, the life had to happen but he came to die. To give His life as a ransom for many. This is the measure of greatness.
Now, what do we mean by this? These are significant words for our doctrine of the atonement. In what sense did he give his life as a ransom for many? Now, the word ransom means the payment of a price, sometimes it's used to refer to money paid to rescue prisoners of war or money paid to get slaves out of chains. It's money paid to get someone out of trouble. Along with this, it's striking that Jesus' life is a ransom and it's paid instead of. There's a little Greek prefix, which means instead of or in the place of, it's ante. He gives himself as a substitute ransom. There's kind of an intensification here. Substitutionary atonement.
Christ's life then was forfeit. It was paid out for many for their distress. Now in the Middle Ages, some Medieval theologians misunderstood this ransom concept and they thought that Jesus paid a ransom to the devil. Something like the devil had kidnapped us and Jesus had to pay the devil's price. My friends, the devil is a created being and the greatest of all sinners. He is great in his wickedness. Hell, the lake of fire is made for the devil and his angels. The devil, it says, is filled with rage because he knows his time is short. What does God owe the devil? He owes him nothing. This ransom was not paid to the devil, not at all. Rather the ransom was Christ's life paid because the death penalty required it. That we deserve to die for our sins.
This was established back in Genesis 2:17, in which God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it, you will surely die.” The death penalty established right there, Ezekiel 18:4, “The soul who sins will die.” Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Jesus had to give his life as a ransom so that we might be free to live forever. So he paid the debt of many. Says in Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions.” Listen to the substitutionary side. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds, we are healed. We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Do you not see the substitution there?
Oh, can I urge you to come to Christ. If you've never trusted in him, look to Jesus as your substitute, you have no other hope! You have no other hope. You cannot stand before God on Judgment Day on your own merits. You must have this death penalty paid for you or you'll pay it yourself in hell. Look to Christ. Don't look to your own good works, trust in him.
Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many. Free us from the death penalty. Therefore my friends, the position of greatest in the Kingdom has been filled. It's been filled. No other applicants need apply. Position has been taken. Jesus is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven but if you wanna be second greatest or third or tenth greatest, he's showing you how to do it: imitate him in his servanthood.
Be Alert to Your Pride
Now, what application can we take from this? Well first, can I urge you to be alert to your own pride? Do you think James and John were aware of how prideful they were as they stepped up there? Are you aware of how prideful you are? Am I aware of how prideful I am? Be aware of this stinkweed. Begin to walk by the power of the Spirit controlling you moment by moment so that you learn how to serve.
Be Ready to Drink from Jesus’ Cup
Secondly, be willing to drink from Jesus's cup. He drank the cup to it's bottom but yet, there are some drops for us. You cannot go to Heaven without suffering Jesus' suffering and there are two kinds in particular, that Christians must be willing to suffer.
You must be willing to suffer temptation. Jesus himself, it says in Hebrews 2:18 suffered when he was tempted. The unbelievers, they don't suffer temptation, they just sin. We have to be willing to say no to wickedness, to stand firm with the armor of God on us and to suffer until the temptation evades. Calling on God for protection and help during that time of testing. Suffer temptation and you have to be willing, secondly, to suffer rejection and persecution by this Christ-hating world and I think the more faithful you are to serve in Christ and others, the more persecution you will endure, as it says in 2nd Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
In the Book of Hebrews 13 says “Jesus also suffered outside the gate to make the people holy through His own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”
Understand the Places of Honor in the Kingdom
Thirdly, understand that there are places of honor in the kingdom. There are place of honor and they will be given out to people.
Understand the Path of True Servanthood
Fourth, understand the path of true servanthood. To serve another means put their needs ahead of your own. Consider others better than yourselves. Deny yourself, take up the basin and towel. Do these hard things. Give others the seats of honor. In personal conversation, talk less and listen more. Be an encourager. Find ways to encourage others.
It troubles me sometimes when I hear about church members talking about what they're not getting from the church. Do you realize how much that violates the spirit of the passage I'm preaching on? The Son of Man came not to what? Be served but to serve. If the church is preaching the word, if there's lots of Christians there doing spirit-filled ministries and good things are happening, you're in the right place. You don't need to go shopping for another church, alright? Then I would urge that you just take Jesus' attitude and say “How can I serve others here?” not “How can I be served and have my needs met?” That's the ethos that Jesus is giving us here for one another. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.
I want to focus on three areas in particular; serve with your money. Every Lord's Supper, we have a benevolence fund, a Deacon Benevolence Fund. We give that money out to people within the church and in the community whose needs are pressing. That amount or those cases are increasing and getting more intense. That shouldn't surprise you. I'm sure you're reading the newspapers. We need more money for the Deacon Benevolence Fund. You will be serving others if you deny yourself in some way, in your everyday life and bring more money than you've ever brought before to the next Deacon Benevolence offering. So just look and see when the next Lord's Supper is and let's see if we can double or even triple the amount of money that's brought into the Deacon Benevolence Fund. That money is given out first and foremost to needy people in the church and secondly, to those in the community as the Lord leads. So with your money.
Secondly, with your prayers. Can I urge you to get the two prayer lists that the church has. There's a prayer list we use on Wednesday that has general issues, hospital issues, salvation issues, different things, that's the church's general prayer list. Get a copy of it. Secondly, Keegan Callahan puts out one for our missionaries, we said we would hold the ropes for these folks. You can serve them by praying the request they ask us to pray. So, I would urge you get those prayer lists and serve others by doing that.
Thirdly, with your spiritual gifts. One of our goals here for this year is that every member of First Baptist Church would have a recognizable spiritual gift ministry. What is yours? What is your ministry here at this church? It's a pattern, it's not a foray. It's not an occasional thing, it's something that you do regularly. A consistent pattern of using a spiritual gift. Now spiritual gifts are special abilities given by the Spirit of God to meet horizontal needs with others. How are you serving others with your spiritual gifts? And if you're not, I would urge you to not look at a list of spiritual gifts but look at a list of needs of things that can be done, needs that could be met in this church or in the community and start serving and you'll find your spiritual gifts.
Honor Christ for His Humility
One final application is I want you to honor Christ for his humility. Honor Christ for what he did and I can't do it any better than Paul did in Philippians chapter two, speaking of Jesus Christ, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Close with me in prayer.