Matthew 20: 20-34, Real Greatness is in Serving and Following.
General Idea: This passage is about missing the point. After Jesus explains His path of suffering and the cross, the mother of James and John appeals to Jesus that her sons be given special favor to lead. Perhaps she became fixated on what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:28 where He tells of the throne and glory to come. The glory is alluring and palatable, but the way of the cross seems too harsh. So, she ignored the cross and went straight to the glory. How often do we like to do that? Jesus saw an opportunity to teach on what real glory is, that it is not the throne we seek; rather, it is in partaking of the cup that points to His glory that gives us ours. The cup is the suffering that has a cost, a cost that many will not pay. Our Lord paid the ultimate price for the cup that we are given as a gift; but, even as a gift, to drink of it has a cost, too, a cost of consequences of righteousness that challenges the sinful world and its backlash to stomp out all that is good.
Another opportunity arose to show His disciples what "glory" and "following" means in the example of two blind men seeking their sight, seeking mercy from their condition. They did not listen to the crowds but kept their focus on Jesus and followed Him. Jesus demonstrates that His Kingdom is not the kingdom people expected, filled with power and rule, but rather salvation and service.
1. The mother. In Greek and Hebrew culture, a mother may make appeals on behalf of her sons. And, often these appeals held more weight that that of the father or even the son himself (2 Sam. 14:2-22; 1 Kings 1:15-21).
a. Here is where the stereotypical "Jewish mother" (or any ethnicity for that matter) comes from, strong willed, determined, and placing her sons first. Jesus takes the time to listen, something most rabbis rarely would do.
b. The right side was more prestigious in ancient cultures.
c. The cup to come included a person on His left and on His right, positions that James and John would not have wanted (Matt. 27:28).
d. The Cup refers to Jesus' death and martyrdom (Matt. 26:27-28; 39; Mark 14:23-24; 36). It does not refer to the actual communal cup from the Last Supper as referred to as the "Holy Grail." This is the legend of the cup of Jesus and the quest in the Crusades to find it. This distracted people from Christ and put the emphasis on works.
i. Our faith is put into His Godhood, not in His former possessions!
ii. This could also have a double meaning-an image from the O.T. Prophets on judgment, and the outpouring of God's wrath (Psalm 60:3; 75:8; Isa. 51:17-23; Jer. 25:15-29). This was also a colloquialism meaning to share in another person's fate.
iii. For the disciples to drink this cup means they will experience suffering, and not the glory they were seeking! Jesus takes God's wrath in our place and we become identified in Him (Rom. 8:17; Phil. 3:10-14; 1 Pet. 2:21).
e. Baptism here refers to identification with Jesus' suffering and death (Luke 12:50; Rom. 6:3-4).
f. Is not for me to grant. Jesus is pointing to the Father's authority.
g. As we lower ourselves, we heighten our worth and ability in Christ!
2. Greatly disturbed. James and John could have put their mother up to it, as exhibited by the reaction of the other disciples. As Mark records, they went to Jesus, too (Mark 10:35-37). The other disciples would not have reacted so harshly if it were just the mother. Perhaps they desired such positions for themselves and were jealous.
a. Gentiles here is used as a negative, referring to people who are tyrants, ruthless with pride, careless, and wicked (Matt. 5:47; 6:7; 18:17).
b. Rulers refers to kings that are wicked. It evokes an image of Jezebel, one of the wickedest rulers in history (1 Kings 16-21).
c. Great/servant denotes a reversal in normal and cultural thinking, and places the lesser as the greater. Discipleship and growth in Christ is characterized by humbleness and service (1 Pet. 5:10).
d. To serve. This is another image from Isaiah's Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:10-12). This also means that since Jesus the Master served, what excuse do we have not to? We may not have to, but what would that make a Christian who's Lord serves and he or she does not? The imagery is heinous wickedness, which is not in the center of God's will! So, if Jesus Himself came to serve, how much more should we? Do we (2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 4:12)?
e. Ironically, and due to his incredible growth in faith and understanding later that he did not have in this passage, James take the cup. He was the first Apostle to be martyred, the first to receive the real glory! John was the last to die, and the only Apostle not to be killed; rather, he was exiled onto the Island of Patmos (Acts 12:1-2; Rev. 1:9).
f. A ransom for many means to pay for or redeem a slave from imprisonment. Christ paid that price to get us out of slavery to the Law and sin (1 Pet. 1:18-19). This is the substitutionary nature of Christ's death called "propitiation." In His perfection, Jesus takes our place and gives us His purity. Notice the word, many. Christ offered Himself to all of humanity, but only the "many," meaning the elect. Not all receive Salvation; if that were so, all would be saved and we would have "universal salvation," a false doctrine (John 17:9; 1 Tim 2:6).
3. From Jericho. There is a road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jericho is five miles west of the Jordan and around 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem. This was a very heavily traveled trade route, and sometimes dangerous because of "highwaymen," people who preyed on others and stole their goods (Luke 10:30-35). Jericho was a new and wealthy city, and attracted the homeless and beggars who sought food and refuge. These blind men would be the lowest of the socio-economic system; hence, that explains the way the crowds treated them. They depended on handouts and caring family members, a very harsh way to live.
a. Went out is one of the so-called contradictions as Luke reads, "Jesus approached." Matthew says, "Jesus was leaving." and Luke says, He "was entering." But, if you go there, you will notice the old city that you pass by, which was better known, before entering the new city built by Herod. Both were called Jericho. There is no contradiction since they would be between the two Jerichos (Luke 18:35)!
b. Son of David. This is a title for Jesus, referring to His being the Messiah (Isa. 11:1-3; Jer. 23:1-6). The blind men recognized Jesus as the Messiah or else used this term to get his attention and favor. Due to their example of faith, it seems they were sincere.
c. Lord. Mark reads Rabbi, which means (personal) my teacher.
d. Have mercy on us was a common call to beg for alms. Here, it seems more passionate than it would normally be. It would seem that Jesus had more important things to do than help the lowest person in society, but Jesus models to us what servant hood is about, and how pride gets in the way of His way!
e. The blind men exhibited trust in Jesus' ability, an example to us how not to be discouraged. The key is where our hope is placed. When we lose our hope, it is because our focus has gone from Christ to our situation.
f. Jesus is redefining the cultural expectations of a messiah, and points to the Scriptures for the definition of what the Messiah is supposed to be.
Jesus is the One who serves. The blind men knew this! The blind men knew what they needed and wanted, and that was more than just alms. They kept their focus and did not let the crowds sway them from the path. They exhibited determination and hope, two essential characters that help keep us rooted in our faith and our eyes upon our Lord. We are called to remain persistent in prayer. When our determination and hope takes the right path in God's will, the test will be where the focus is. Is the focus just on you or on His glory? Are we maturing and then pouring our lives into others? We need to be careful that our persistence is not selfish. It must seek the cup, not the throne. We already have the throne; it is ours, it is waiting; we do not need to seek it once we are saved. So, keep your faith real so that your devotions and prayer life are not always focused on selfish concerns. Our prayers are to train us in intimacy and focus on Christ-not just to seek what we can get (Heb. 4:14-16)!
Those of us in ministry are never to look at ourselves as above others because we are not; we serve Him who serves! A prideful church leader is a heinous sight before our Lord and is the one who is truly blind! Blind to His Word! A leader is to lead others into the depths and precepts of Christ, and is not superior in any way. We do this by our love for the Lord empowering our love for others (Gal. 2:20-21; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil 4:12)!
1. Have one of your parents ever gone to someone on your behalf and advocated that you be given a special favor? How did you feel?
2. Have you ignored the cross and gone straight to the glory? Why?
3. What do glory and following mean to you and your church as a whole?
4. Jesus demonstrated that His Kingdom is not the kingdom people expected. What did they expect? What did you expect before coming to the Lord?
5. Why did the mother of James and John appeal to Jesus that her sons be given special favor to lead?
6. Do you think that at that time, James and John would have wanted the cup that Jesus refers to?
7. Consider James' and John's journey of faith and the lives they led up to their martyr and death. How did their faith grow from seeking the throne to partaking of the cup?
8. The cup means we will experience suffering and not the glory we may be seeking. Does this scare you, or turn you off from growing in the faith? Why, or why not?
9. How is it that discipleship and growth in Christ are characterized by humbleness and service? How have you exhibited this? How have you failed (we all do at times)?
10. What do you want Jesus to do for you?
11. Read 2 Corinthians 4:5 and Philippians 4:12: Since Jesus the Master served others, what excuse do we have not to? We may not have to, but what would that make a Christian who's Lord serves and he or she does not?
12. The imagery is that if we do not serve when the God of the universe does serve is heinous wickedness, which places one out of the center of God's will! So, if Jesus Himself came to serve, how much more should we? Do we do this in our Church? If not, why not?
13. Why do you suppose some so-called "Bible scholars" are obsessed to find contradictions? Have you ever found one? If you could, what would you do?
14. How and why did the blind men recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, when most of the disciples, at this point, were not sure?
15. How are the blind men an example of faith and sincerity?
16. What is a key point you can get from this passage for you not to be discouraged?
17. How is it that as we lower ourselves, we heighten our worth and ability in Christ?
18. What can you do to help your mindset see the cup and not just the throne? What would your Christian life be like if you did?
19. How can you keep your focus and not let the crowds and distractions of life sway you from the His path?
20. Are you and your church maturing and then pouring your lives into others? If not, why? How can your church do a better job at this vital call from our Lord?
© 2004, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org