20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. 21 “What do you want?” He asked her. “Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to Him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink My cup. But to sit at My right and left is not Mine to give; instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 When the 10 disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” — Matthew 20:20-28
Whoever Would Be Great Among You Must Be Your Servant
by Tiffany Evins
Since the beginning of human civilization, people have worked to establish themselves within a “pecking order.” It is in our very nature to want to know our value and worth, and to determine where we fit within our society. In this encounter, the mother of disciples James and John humbly, yet boldly, asks if Jesus would set her sons in places of honor when He establishes His Kingdom.
To have two sons who have left everything to follow Jesus and become His disciples is no small sacrifice on the mother’s part. Think of how you would feel if two of your children risked everything to follow this unpredictable Man of faith. It is clear from this mother’s request that she has accepted her sons’ decision, but now she wants to confirm that her sacrifice and their dedication will be duly rewarded. In essence, her request communicates: “I have given You my two sons, who were supposed to look after me. In return, I want to make sure You look after them.” She is looking for assurance that her sons’ service to Jesus will reap future positions of honor.
In response, Jesus redirects her inquiry about power and leadership in an entirely new direction. Jesus paints a picture of a radical Kingdom, where those who have quietly served in the background are brought to the forefront. In the Kingdom He is establishing, the hierarchy of leadership is vastly different. While almost every political system on earth is maintained by favors, or even bribes, the leaders of the Kingdom of Heaven are marked by their servitude and humility.
Jesus’ life is the singular most powerful testimony of this paradoxical dynamic of leadership. He came to earth with all power and authority available to Him, yet He did not exercise it. Instead, His ministry was marked by humility, meekness, and love. Jesus fully submitted Himself to the Father’s leadership in all things, and the Father rewarded His faithful service by giving Him authority to judge all people.
The rulers in Jesus’ Kingdom will not be those who have fought their way to the top or who have worked hard to amass power. They are people who have carefully cultivated an attitude of humility and servant leadership, trusting God to lift them up to places of honor and responsibility. Just thinking about serving under such a person of character puts my spirit at ease. If only we all reflected the humble servant heart of Christ in our service, as well as in our leadership, the Kingdom of God would truly be reflected on earth!
- If you are anything like me, it is often difficult to trust that faithfulness in simple, everyday tasks has an impact on the Kingdom. After reflecting on this passage, can you identify with James’ and John’s desire for assurance of future reward for their present faithfulness? In what area of your life would you like assurance from God that He sees you and that your efforts are not going unnoticed? Pray to Him and ask Him to show you how He views your heart and efforts to serve Him.
- In what areas of your life do you find it the most difficult to lead or serve with humility? What underlying factors do you think contribute to this? (Fear? Pride? Impatience? Lack of trust?) Think of a couple of ways you could selflessly serve your family, co-workers, friends, or neighbors and write them down. Consider intentionally putting one in practice this week while asking Jesus to instill His humble heart of service within you.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.