Sermon Notes

March 26, 2023

The Humility of King Jesus

Matthew 20:17-34

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 20 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 one’s 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.” 29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
There are six very important statements that I would like to discuss this morning.

“We are going up to Jerusalem.” v. 18
Jesus has initiated the final steps toward the completion of His mission. This is more than a change of scenery; this also implies Jesus is heading towards His enemies, and eventual execution (Mark 8:31). There can be no doubt. Jesus fully understood who He was and why He had come to earth in the first place. He was, in truth, "the Christ, the Son of the living God," just as Peter had described Him (Matthew 16:16). Jesus had not come to overthrow, rule, and judge the earth at this time. He had come to die. He had come to make a way out of sin and death once and for all.
We see Jesus’ humility as He takes the final steps toward the completion of His mission.

“And He said to her, what do you want?” v. 21
The "mother of the sons of Zebedee," (James' and John's parent), has approached Jesus with great respect (Matthew 20:20). She has kneeled before Him in humility to make this specific request. Some scholars speculate that this woman may have been Salome. possibly Jesus' aunt (His mother Mary's sister), and that James and John were His cousins. That may be why she felt bold enough to ask such a thing. What she asks is huge. In this era, the closer someone was seated to the king, the more power that person had in the kingdom.  Jesus had not come to do any such thing at this time. However, He had come to plant the seeds of the kingdom of heaven, the eternal kingdom over which He will reign forever. That makes this request of Him even more enormous. If Jesus said yes, He would be declaring James and John as second only to Him for all eternity. Jesus will show patience and understanding in denying this request that they do not understand.
We see Jesus’ humility as He dealt patiently with this request.

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” v. 26
The disciples were in conflict about who among them would be the greatest in Jesus' kingdom. Jesus has pointed out that this is a very Gentile-style attitude toward power and authority. What's fascinating is that Jesus does not tell His disciples to give up on the ambition to be great. He does not even tell them to stop competing for the position of "greatest." Instead, Jesus tells them how to win—He gives practical advice on how to excel in this godly "race" (1 Corinthians 9:24). If you want to be great, Jesus says you must become a servant (John 13:12–17).
The Greek word for servant, diakonos, usually referred to a hired worker, especially one who helped to maintain another person's household. Servants received commands from greater men; they didn't give them. Servants might be nice people, but they were nobodies. In fact, in the ancient world, it was assumed that rulers and royalty were literally better people than servants and subjects, and that's why each was born into that status. Rather than clarifying this startling declaration, Jesus simply re-emphasizes it in the following verse.
We see Jesus’ humility as He modeled servanthood.

“And whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”  v. 27
The disciples have continued to show that they simply do not understand the nature of Jesus' coming kingdom. They are expecting that at some point, the Messiah will use His miraculous powers to overthrow Israel's oppressors and establish His own political kingdom on earth. The disciples have begun to compete for the top positions in that kingdom, the ones that will give them the most power, authority, and status (Matthew 20:20–24).
Jesus said that whoever would be great among them must be a servant to the others (Matthew 20:26). Now He adds that whoever would be first among them must be their slave. Jesus uses two different Greek words; He has already said the path to greatness for the disciples comes by being a servant, diakonos, to others. Here, He says the route to number one status comes by being a slave, from the Greek word doulos.
Jesus often said hard-to-understand things to the disciples. This, however, was exactly backward of their experience. Ancient wisdom equated nobility, status, and power with value; such people were assumed to be essentially better than those who were poor or unknown. Great men gave orders, made important decisions, and received service from lesser men.
Jesus describes true greatness in His kingdom as belonging to those who serve others and the very top spot as belonging to the one who lives as a slave to those he serves. This is a lesson Jesus will eventually demonstrate in a personal way when He washes the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper (John 13:12–17). Who would voluntarily live in such a way? Jesus insists in the following verse that is exactly the life He has chosen among them.
We see Jesus’ humility as He continued to reveal the nature of His coming kingdom.

“The son of man came not to be served but to serve.”  v. 28 Jesus has told His ambitious disciples a shocking thing. If they would be great, they must become a servant to the others. If they would be first, they must become slaves to each other (Matthew 20:25–27). Is Jesus just spiritualizing the idea of greatness to mean something religious? Who would willingly lead the life of a servant or slave if he really wanted greatness? Christ points out that this is exactly the life He has been living among them. Using the title He often applied to Himself, He says the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve others.
In fact, He came to voluntarily give His own life away as a ransom for many (1 Timothy 2:5–6). Jesus' death on the cross, which will happen quite soon, is the ultimate act of service by the greatest human ever to live (Mark 8:31).  In Philippians 2:5–8, Paul explains it this way: “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, by 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."
In the end, this unimaginable act of service to humanity led to Jesus becoming the greatest of all for all time: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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" (Philippians 2:9–11). Jesus is calling the disciples (and all who are in Christ) to follow the same path to greatness: humble, sacrificial service to each other.
We see Jesus’ humility as He would voluntarily give His own life.

“What do you want me to do for you?”  v. 32
Jesus has heard the cries of two blind, roadside beggars. As He and a large crowd pass by them on the road to Jerusalem, they have called out repeatedly, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" The use of that name showed that these two men believed Jesus to the be the long-promised Messiah of Israel. They also believe Him able to heal their blindness. Despite being told by the crowd to be quiet, they have continued to appeal to Christ (Matthew 20:29–31).
Now Jesus stops and calls back to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus has heard them and is responding, giving them a chance to ask for what they most desire from the Messiah. Their persistence has paid off and is more important than the men might realize. This is Jesus' last trip through this area, as His arrest and crucifixion are merely days away (Matthew 20:17–19). Had the blind men hesitated, waited, or given up, they would never have gotten another chance to call out to Jesus.
We see Jesus’ humility as He responded to the needs of two blind beggars.

If you were to hear the voice of Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you,” how would you respond?
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