"Jockeying for Position"-Matthew 20:20-28

This Week’s Core Virtue

Love - I sacrificially and unconditionally love and forgive others.

1 John 4:10-12 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Scripture: Matthew 20:20-28  Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 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.” 22 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.” 23 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.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 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. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Message of this Passage:  Matthew’s gospel has thus far revealed the disciples’ failure to comprehend the full importance of Jesus’ predictions about His death. The first time Jesus mentioned it, Peter protested our Savior’s need to die for His people (16:21–23). Soon after hearing of Christ’s death a second time, the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them, not who was most eager to suffer with the Messiah (17:22–18:6). By now you would think the Twelve would get it, but they don’t, and they display their ignorance again immediately after Jesus predicts His death for the third time (20:17–19).

This time, James and John, brothers who are uniquely close to Christ, are the ones who grossly misunderstand what kingdom greatness really means. Their request to sit on either side of Jesus in His kingdom — to have preeminent honor— shows that they miss the point of what it means to be exalted before God.  Apparently, though it is futile to do so, James and John are seeking glory without suffering, a crown without the cross. John Calvin comments, “None will be a partaker of the life and the kingdom of Christ who has not previously shared in his sufferings and death.”

James and John affirm their readiness to drink from the cup of Jesus. To drink from Christ’s cup means to share in His suffering, though not in precisely the same way, for only Jesus can bear God’s judgement against sin. Perhaps without knowing it at the time, the sons of Zebedee confess their willingness to die for their Master. At first this confession rings hollow, but in time the brothers, by the Spirit’s power, will freely suffer for Christ — James as a martyr and John as an exile. They start out arrogant and ignorant but finally learn, Matthew Henry says, that “religion, if it is worth anything, is worth everything; but it is worth little, if it is not worth suffering for.”  

For Discussion:

  • Take a moment to read Matthew 20:20-28. What does this story teach us about what it means to serve others?

  • Why are we so driven to seek recognition – especially above others?

  • What gets in the way of us having an attitude of serving others?

  • Jesus changed Jewish perception of a messiah. Why do you think it was difficult for Jesus’ listeners to grasp his revolutionary idea to see a messiah in a new light? Is it difficult for us to understand it today? If so, why?

  • Jesus said they would be drinking from His cup. What was their cup?

  • He came to give His life as a ransom for many. What does that mean?

  • Why do the disciples get angry? What does it show about their hearts? Where in your life do you share their indignation?

  • Why does serving others for our own personal gain enslave us? Why should we be liberated by sharing in Jesus’ cup?

Matthew Henry writes, “It is the duty of Christ’s disciples to serve one another, for mutual edification.” This is God’s economy, after all. Having more isn’t winning. Being served isn’t best. Being honored isn’t greatness. The people of Jesus are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus — who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.