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Matthew 20:17-20:28
Key Verse: 20:28

Thank God for Jesus in whom there is eternal life, the renewal of all things, the glorious throne and the abundant blessing of this world. This is the reason Jesus wants us to follow him in obedience to God. In today’s passage Jesus again predicts his death, yet in a more intense way, and teaches his disciples what it means to be truly great, reflecting the purpose of his coming to this world.

First, Jesus’ repeated prediction of his death (17-19). Look at verses 17,18. “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death.” Mark and Luke recorded Jesus’ going to Jerusalem and prediction of his death to his disciples right after Jesus’ conversation with a young man about eternal life. To the young man who wanted to get eternal Jesus finally said, “Come, follow me.” It was a gracious invitation. But as for Jesus, he had to follow God’s will to be betrayed by men and condemned to death and killed. To get eternal life or to enter the kingdom of heaven is freely given to us through Jesus. But as for him it would be very costly with the payment of his own life. This is the flow of Mark’s gospel and Luke’s, the meaningful flow.

However, in Matthew’s gospel there is the parable of the workers in the vineyard in between the two events, Jesus’ talking with the young man and his prediction of his death. In the parable a landowner hired workers to work in his vineyard at different times in a day and paid each worker the same wage, a denarius (a day’s wage) regardless of their working hours. The landowner showed his generosity to each of the workers paying according to the contract or their need. He could not pay more or less, because he treated each coworker with the best. The generosity of the landowner is that of God. In his generosity he even did not spare even his own Son (Ro 8:32) to give each one of us the best, that is, eternal life. He could not give more or less. God’s love is generous love that spares nothing.

After the parable of the workers in the vineyard, now Jesus predicts his death. This is the flow of Matthew’s gospel, well compiled. Verse 17 says. “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem…” The conjunction “now” is appropriate. To give us the gift of eternal life, he had to suffer and die. So now he predicts again his upcoming death. It would not be by accident. Jesus predicts it again and again so that the people of the world beginning with his disciples might believe it. So he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” It was the third time of Jesus’ prediction regarding his death. The first was when Peter made a confession of Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 16:21, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” The second time was after healing a demon-possessed boy and telling his disciples the secret and power of faith that when they had faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible to them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” Having faith in Jesus’ suffering and death will be a real secret of faith.

Now Jesus predicted his impending death for the third time. It is more intensified: “…condemned to death, and be turned over to the Gentiles and be mocked and flogged and crucified.” Why Gentiles? The Jews and Gentiles alike all would join in the scheme of crucifying Jesus, the Son of God. It revealed the cruel sinfulness of mankind, both the Jews and the Gentiles. All need God’s grace of forgiveness of sin. It is so that God’s love of forgiveness and salvation may reach to all people. When Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit, an angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Now his people would come also from the Gentiles. Later after his resurrection, Jesus said, “Go…make disciples of all nations.”

Apostle Paul said that the Gentiles’ receiving this love of God in Christ is the mystery. Ephesians 3:6 says, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” It is truly the mystery that you and I are included in this love of God in Christ Jesus. Praise God for his universal, yet personal love that reached to each of us through his Son Jesus’ unjust suffering, humiliation and death.

Second, Jesus’ teaching of the life of serving (20-28). Look at verse 20. “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.” What an unusual scene in the gospel story! Later identified as Salome, she was among the women who attended Jesus at the cross and witnessed the empty tomb (cf. Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1). She was a faithful and sacrificial woman. And the best clarification of the listings of the women identified Salome as the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother (cf. John 19:25). So she was Jesus’ aunt and her sons, James and John, are his cousins on his mother’s side. As she knelt before Jesus, Salome showed her deference to Jesus as her messianic Mater, but she also came apparently to exercise her earthly kinship advantage with Jesus.

How did Jesus respond at her asking a favour of him kneeling down? “What is it you want?” Jesus 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.” What an ambitious mother! The sons must have responded in their hearts, “That’s what we wanted. Thank you Mom for asking on our behalf.” There is a saying, “Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter.” But in this case we can say, “Like mother, like sons.” She wanted to reserve the right and left seats of Jesus’ throne in his kingdom for her two sons. Her request, which was also her sons’ request, was likely inspired by Jesus’ comment in 19:28, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Her request seemed to be based on Jesus’ promise. Yet, she was ignorant of Jesus’ kingdom which is spiritual. She wanted those places of glory and honour untouched until her two sons would occupy them. She was so possessive of her two sons and their future glory, saying, “these two sons of mine…sit at your right and …left in your kingdom.” As she was anticipating her sons’ glory, she was far from God the Father who had to let his Son suffer and die.

Jesus could predict his death, but not the mother’s request. Jesus seemed to be somewhat surprised. He said to the mother and her two sons, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” At this point Jesus was preparing himself to drink the cup of suffering, mocking and flogging and crucifixion. Jesus said this because they wanted to obtain glory without suffering. Jesus was serious when he said, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” However, as if the cup Jesus was going to drink was like a cup of coffee, they answered, “We can” in unison. It was likely that they were ready to do anything if only they could take the highest two positions in Jesus’ kingdom. Their ears became deaf to Jesus’ repeated prediction of his suffering and death, and their eyes were closed to see the significant sacrifice of Jesus. They were blind to see the love of God in the forthcoming sufferings of Jesus. Jesus had already promised them the best, that is God’s love of salvation and eternal life in his kingdom, and wanted them to be sure of the best blessing of God. But when they could not have keep this amazing blessing of God, the universal, personal love of God, they were pursuing and making every effort for something else, which would not truly satisfy them but rather frustrate them. It is so easy for us to be like them.

How did Jesus help them? Look at verse 23. “Jesus 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.” Jesus did not eliminate the possibility of their sitting at the right and left next to Jesus in his kingdom. Those seats were not Jesus’ concern. Jesus wanted them to entrust such a matter to the sovereign God the Father. In history those who have not entrusted such positions to the sovereign God became ugly, brutal and blood-thirsty. It is so not only in the political world, but also in the religious and academic world as well. We should learn to entrust such concerns of positions to God the Father who is sovereign. When Joseph in Genesis was pure and faithful even at the time of sufferings, God made him the prime minister of Egypt. Later on John said, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1Jn 2:17). Obtaining such positions will be momentary and pass away in a matter of time, but those who do the will of God will live forever.

Look at verse 24. “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” It showed that they were all same. In the same spirit of self-glory seeking they could not tolerate these sneaky brothers. The atmosphere was likely that they were ready to punch to the two brothers and knock them down. They were in danger of physical fighting out of momentary emotional anger. How did Jesus help the twelve with boiling blood? Look at verse 25. “He 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.’” They knew so well how their own people of Israelites were crushed mercilessly by Romans. Whenever they saw Roman soldiers’ helmets and swords and spears, they could not control their anger and hatred toward the Romans. The high officials of Roman Empire wanted to exercise their power and authority and rule the world by wielding their sword. And the Emperor seemed to be in control of the lives of people just with his finger motions, his thumb up or down. This was the world of the Gentiles with God. Jesus sensed that his twelve disciples were going in this wrong and perilous direction, which should not be done. So he urged them, “Not so with you.” In time past and present people’s idea is that those who have power and authority will rule and overrule others. In our time people want to exercise their money power, intelligent power, complaining power, man power, woman power, etc. But Jesus clearly said, “Not so with you.” Jesus wanted them to be different from the worldly rulers and its high officials. The disciples were the ones who had been called taught and served by Jesus. Jesus especially taught them again and against concerning his suffering and death so that they might grasp the love of God in Christ Jesus. They have known Jesus, who is the Christ and the Son of the living God. Now their life purpose and direction should be different.

Jesus said continually, “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.” Jesus knew their desire to become great and first. Jesus acknowledged their desire to pursue greatness. He did not say, “You should not become great. Don’t think about it.” He was not negative at all for being great and first. He was not also exclusive, saying, “Just a few people will be great.” Rather Jesus was very inclusive and positive, saying, “Whoever wants to become great…whoever wants to be first…” Jesus wanted everyone to be great. But the issue is how. He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” At that time servants and slaves were the lowest class of people from among the echelons of the society. The servant job was despised and servants and slaves were humiliated. If possible, all wanted to get out of the servant and slave position. It was the social norm that people struggled hard to climb the ladder of success to the higher positions. But Jesus’ teaching was reversing the norm of the society. Jesus knew that history was going in a wrong opposite direction and wanted to change the course of history regarding the concept of greatness. It was truly giving light to the history of mankind. Since then history has been changed through those who accepted this teaching of Jesus. Nowadays people talk a lot about servant-leadership. Leaders should have many qualities, but servant-ship is absolutely required. It is good to learn servant-ship from young age and from home, beginning with cleaning job. I was very impressed with two women who cleaned the place where we had 2011 Canadian Leaders’ conference. All left not even knowing the hall was messy. But two ladies remained and made the place clean and neat into the state before it was being used. Cleaning is the beginning and one important part of the servant-ship. May the servantship be imbedded in our hearts and body.

But Jesus’ teaching did not stop there. It goes far deeper. He said, “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.” “Just as” is Matthew’s favourite expression. In Jesus telling the story of a king’s cancelling the huge debt of a servant, Matthew wrote the king’s words to the servants, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Mt 18:33) “Just as” is different from “similarly.” It is a stronger expression. “Just as the Son of Man,” means the Son of Man is the model, the perfect example. He is the worthy of the object of man’s worship and praise and all serving. No one is as qualified as he is to be served. But he did not come to be served but serve. It is because selfish sinful beings needed his serving. And his serving has direction. It is for their redemption so that they may have new life that is eternal. So finally he gave his life as a ransom for many. In this way his serving was complete. He served them to know the love of God and in return to serve the will of God for the saving of others, following his example. Serving one soul in Jesus’ example until the soul knows the love of God will be a wonderful life of serving in this world.

Thank God for his love that cost the very life of his Son Jesus and brought us life that is eternal. Nothing in this world but the love of God satisfies our souls. In his love may we not see for high positions to be served and honoured but learn the life of serving in the example of our Lord Jesus participating in his sufferings, particularly for the saving of other souls.

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