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THE TRUTH ABOVE SERVING GOD

The Final Journey   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Over the nearly 2000 years of the church’s existence there have been many who have had a wrong opinion of what it means to be a minister of Christ. There have been many who have seen the titles of minister, reverend, or pastor as a title of respect and or position. One picture of this that comes to my mind is that of the Pope of the Church of Rome. Whoever happens to serve in that exalted office is always seen in a regal type of attire. He wear a special ring that others are required to kiss in order to show their allegiance to his regalness. But this is far from the picture that Christ painted as to what a real minister is to be.
In fact, the Greek term that is translated minister is diakonos, from which we get the English word “deacon.” Literally the term means servant, or when used in its verb form it means to serve or wait on tables.
For the last several weeks we have been journeying with Christ on His final journey to Jerusalem. During this journey we have seen that the Pharisees sought to trap Him in His teaching on divorce and marriage. We’ve also seen the twelve’s rather low view of marriage and children too. We have looked at the interview with the rich young synagogue ruler, and then the teaching moment that arose from that discussion. And we have looked at the parable that Jesus gave to the twelve regarding the laborers in the vineyard, with the emphasis on the first being last, and the last being first.
Today we come to in which Jesus gave the twelve the truth about serving Him. As we consider this passage we will look at how Jesus was a true servant of God, how the twelve were self-serving, and at the example that Christ left for us to follow.
This morning I want you to see that since Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth in the form of a man was to serve, we, who are His followers, above all other things, should seek to be servants.
Let’s read our passage together.

JESUS WAS THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD

Let’s consider what it meant for Jesus to be a servant of God. Ultimately it meant that He would die on the cross. Let’s look at His prediction concerning His pending death.
This is the fourth time that Jesus told members of the twelve that He was going to die. The first time He made a statement about it was in .
Matthew 16:21 NASB95PARA
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
On this occasion the emphasis was on the role which the elders of Israel working with the chief priests would play in His coming death. And it was at this time that Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him for the very thought that this could happen to the Messiah. And of course Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter for trying to keep Him from His appointed mission.
The second statement came in . On this occasion it was just Peter, James, and John who were involved in the conversation as they returned form the Mount of Transfiguration.
Matthew 17:9 NASB95PARA
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
The third statement came a little later in the same chapter, .
Matthew 17:22–23 NASB95PARA
And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved.
This instance seems to emphasis the Gentiles involvement in His pending death. This brings us to today’s passage which states for the first time that He would be crucified. Crucifixion was a uniquely Roman form of execution. It was the most brutal way that a government has ever used to execute what was considered to be the most heinous of criminals. As brutal as it was, there were historically documented instances of people surviving crucifixion. If Rome wanted to make sure that person would actually die, then they would scourge and flog him before his crucifixion. Then because of the massive amount of blood loss, and sometime exposure of vital organs, the government was assured of the criminals death.
If you will recall, the parable from last week was all about grace. With that in mind, D.A. Carson wrote: “These three verses may look back to the preceding parable by implying the grounds of God’s grace—viz., what his Son did on the cross.”
[1] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 429). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
One of the key factors in servanthood is obedience, and that is seen especially in the life of Christ who, as Paul wrote, was obedient to the point of death on a cross. Notice verse 28 for a moment: Jesus served God’s purpose through His substitutionary death on the cross. That is what it meant for Him to be a servant.
Let’s turn our attention now to how

THE TWELVE WERE SELF-SERVING

As we consider this we will look at the self-serving intentions of the sons of Zebedee, and the self-serving indignation of the ten.

THE SELF-SERVING INTENTIONS OF THE SONS OF ZEBEDEE

Often the apostles are pictured in the various Gospel accounts as being kind of dense. They don’t seem to really understand what it was that Jesus had taught. Or perhaps they considered that what Jesus taught applied to someone else and not themselves. I think that this denseness comes shining through the episode of Jesus’ encounter with their mother.
When you piece together information from the various Gospel writers it would seem to indicate the James and John were actually Jesus’ first cousins on His mother’s side. Their mother’s name was Salome, and she was the sister of Mary. Thus, she would have had an open door for a close association with Jesus. And since it seemed that He was heading to Jerusalem to claim His kingdom, at her son’s prompting, she approached Jesus with a request. Since they were His own blood-kin she wanted to ensure that her sons were given the highest exalted position in Messiah’s kingdom.
This, at a human level, is not really an odd request. We call it nepotism, and it still happens all of the time. A common complaint is about a person who is not qualified for a position and gets promoted over a person who is, simply because they are family.
But on the spiritual level this request shows that either James and John were not listening to Jesus’ recent teachings, or else they just did not get the point. I mean the whole parable emphasizing the first being last and the last being first should have given them a clue. Not to mention Jesus’ prediction of His pending suffering and death! Leon Morris wrote: “It was not a minor misunderstanding, but an error at the heart of what service in the kingdom means.”
[1] Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (p. 508). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
Lest we be too hard on them, we need to realize that sometimes we don’t get the point of what is being taught either. Our minds are prone to wander, no matter how good the speaker is. And sometimes we miss a very important point.
Morris went on to state: “Despite all the teaching Jesus had given, they had still not realized that the kingdom meant lowliness, sacrifice, and rejection in this world. Who would ask for places of honor in such a kingdom? Who could ask for places of honor in it? To ask the question is to show that one has not understood what the kingdom is; it is impossible to seek greatness for oneself in it.”
Notice Jesus’ reaction to this audacious request. Look at .
Matthew 20:22 NKJV
But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.”
What does the reference to drinking the cup mean? Craig Blomberg wrote:
“‘Cup’ was a common Old Testament metaphor for suffering, especially that caused by God’s wrath. Jesus asks if John and James are prepared to experience rejection and persecution for their faith.”
Psalm 75:8 NASB95PARA
For a cup is in the hand of the Lord, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.
Isaiah 51:17 NASB95PARA
Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.
Carson wrote: “the brothers do not know what they are asking. To ask to reign with Jesus is to ask to suffer with him; and not only do they not know what they are asking for, they have as yet no clear perceptions of Jesus’ sufferings.”
Let’s consider who it is that determines who will be exalted to sit on the right and left of Christ’s throne.
“Here, as elsewhere, Jesus makes it clear that his authority is a derived authority. These positions have already been assigned by the Father: Jesus cannot assign them at a mother’s request.” (Carson)
Carson wrote: “the brothers do not know what they are asking. To ask to reign with Jesus is to ask to suffer with him; and not only do they not know what they are asking for (cf. 10:37–39; ; ; ), they have as yet no clear perceptions of Jesus’ sufferings.”
Obviously, James and John were acting in a self-serving manner when they prompted their mother to make this audacious request of her nephew. But they were not the only self-serving ones in this account. Let’s look at

THE SELF-SERVING INDIGNATION OF THE TEN

A part of my routine as I begin to study a passage in prep for a sermon is to ask myself questions — sometimes I already know the answers but most of the time I don’t. The first question I asked from this section was this: “What do “the rulers of the Gentiles” have to do with a bunch of Jewish fishermen?
One thing is that due to the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, these fishermen were painfully aware of the brutal practices of the rulers of the Gentiles. Crucifixion was not an obscure event, there were times in which the roadways were lined by crosses which contained the so-called enemies of the state. Though Rome allowed the occupied nations relative freedom in religious practices, when it came to civil practices Rome trumped local practice. That is the one of the reasons why Jesus predicted that He would be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles (vs. 18-19). Rome had taken away Israel’s power to carry out an order of execution.
Though the rulers of the Gentiles, as well as the rulers of Israel, at this point in time, tried to lord over everyone their authority, Jesus told the twelve “it is not this way among you.” It was like He was saying: “I don’t want My church to follow after the ways of the world; the church is no place to play king of the hill!”
Instead, Jesus went on to say “but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” Here we come back to the whole first and last thing!
Notice that two distinct terms are used for service in this passage. The first term, translated servant (minster in the KJV), “is from diakonos, from which the term deacon is derived. The original Greek word was purely secular, referring to a person who did menial labor, such as house cleaning or serving tables. It was not necessarily a term of dishonor but simply described the lowest level of hired help, who needed little training or skill.” (MacArthur, pg. 241).
In verse 27 Jesus intensified His statement by stating “whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave (servant in the KJV).” John MacArthur notes:
“A servant,(diakanos), was to some degree his own person. He often owned little more than the clothes on his back, but he was free to go where he wanted and to work or not work as he pleased. But a slave (doulos) did not belong to himself but to his master and could go only where the master wanted him to go and do only what the master wanted him to do. He did not belong to himself but was the personal property of someone else.” (pg. 242)
Someday soon, probably in Sunday School, we are going to do an in depth study of what it means to be a slave of Christ. That is because that is what we are!
1 Corinthians 6:20 NASB95PARA
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
The fact that we have been bought with a price means that we are slaves. And if we want to find blessing in the kingdom of Christ then we need to come to grips with the fact that were His slaves, and they we are here to do His bidding.
Let’s consider now

THE EXAMPLE OF SERVICE

Notice verse 28 once again.
In my daily Bible reading, on Thursday I read which speaks of Jesus’ betrayal, His appearance before the Sanhedrin, and His appearance before Pilate, among other things. During His interview with Pilate He was asked “Are you the King of the Jews?” to which Jesus finally replied:
John 18 NASB95PARA
When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed. Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
John 18:36 NASB95PARA
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
In a way that correlates to what Jesus said here in . The kings and political leaders of this world seek to be served. But Jesus came to deacon! That is, to serve.
I remember hearing about a conversation between my former pastor and one of my fellow deacons. The deacon had pointed out to the pastor that the word “pastor” literally means shepherd. And that shepherds were pretty low on the biblical totem pole. And the pastor replied that deacon literally means to serve, to wait on tables, which was even farther down the totem pole. I think that if the leadership of any given church were to truly recognize the humility of their office, then the church would be much better off.
2 Timothy 2:12 NASB95PARA
If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
Let’s look at the last statement in verse 28: and give His life a ransom for many. This is most probably an illusion to .
Isaiah 53:10–12 NIV84
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
There is a sense in which Jesus is once again saying that He is the fulfillment of the OT prophecy concerning Messiah. The sad truth is that the teachers of Israel did not recognize that this passage referred to Messiah. They thought that the nation of Israel itself was the suffering servant from Isaiah. That is one of the reasons why they so easily rejected Him.
But this statement is not just a statement of purpose. It is also a road-map for all believers to follow. Decades after John sought to promote himself to the highest position in the kingdom, he penned these words:
1 John 2:6 HCSB
The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked.
[2] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 431). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
How did Jesus walk? He humbled Himself and walked in obedience. And so should we.
Let’s pray.

Closing Song: No. 675 I Gave My Life For Thee

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