“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 musts 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.’”
(Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)
Right on the heels of Jesus telling His disciples that “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,” (Matt. 20:18-19) the mother of James and John comes to Jesus with her sons by her side, and asks that they be given the highest positions in His kingdom. To sit at the right hand of a ruler was a place reserved for the second highest in authority over a kingdom. We see that as Jesus presently sits at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven waiting unto the time to return for His bride, the church.
Jesus first response is to state that those positions are not His to grant, but they are for those “for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Jesus’ authority is in willing submission to the Father, as He indicates numerous times that He has not come to do His own will be the will of the Father who sent Him.
What then develops is a teaching moment for the kind of attitude that those who seek to be leaders in His kingdom must have. The other disciples heard the discussion between James and John’s mother and Jesus about these high positions, and they became indignant, their rights or privileges might be infringed upon, as they might also have claim to positions such as these.
Jesus softly rebukes them all with the verses quoted above. This vying for position and power was not attitude that would mark those who truly sought be great. It’s not an attractive quality for someone to seek their own benefit to the oppression of others. Not only is it not attractive, but it is ungodly, and brings harm to the name of our Lord as it is lived out.
Jesus has set the example for us, and Paul does a great job of expressing this in Philippians 2:5-8. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Christ was so willing to submit Himself under the authority of His Father that His obedience took Him to the cross and that after suffering a scourging that would sometimes be fatal in and of itself.
As we are discussing leadership in our church right now, and some of that will look somewhat different when it all is put in place, those who are asked to lead in order to be not only most effective, but most blessed in what they do will need to have this model of servant leadership in view, and try to live it out as best they can. With Christ as our model, and serving rather than ordering in our hearts, there’s no telling how richly we will see God bless our church in the days to come as we step out in faith, seeking to be obedient to Him as we build His Kingdom.
His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen