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January 20: Matthew 20
Genesis 21; Matthew 20; Nehemiah 10; Acts 20
More than once in the prior chapters, Jesus has faced the pride and self-promotion of his disciples. And now we see in Matthew 20:20-28 that the apple falls from a tree. The mother of the sons of Zebedee - the “Sons of Thunder” - kneels before Jesus (20) and asks him to let these two sit on his right and his left in his kingdom (21). In other words, to let them have the places of greatest honor.
The bright faith and dark dullness on the display from the same person is astonishing. On the one hand, she believes that Jesus truly is the Messiah, and will indeed reign. Yet at the same she brushes past what Jesus just said: that he would be handed over to the Gentiles and be mocked and crucified (19). Pride dulls us. It puts blinders on our eyes, and then we see only what it wants us to see.
Jesus’ answer is gentle, despite what he just said: you have no idea what you’re asking (22). To drink from Jesus’ cup means to share in his suffering. But regardless, the seating chart of his throne room is determined by His Father (23). And He will arrange the chairs not based on relative, personal awesomeness, but on the opposite: the greatest in His eyes are those who serve (26).
Now, when the other disciples hear about the stunt that James and John try to pull, they are indignant (24). But that offense is not because they are humbly offended at pride, but because they want those highest spots for themselves. Pride has a way of begetting and attracting more pride.
But Jesus insists: this must be repented of. This is the way of the world, but not the way of the kingdom (25-26). Even those who lead in his kingdom serve by leading. Jesus reverses all our categories, beginning with himself. He is the Great King who comes as a carpenter’s son. And He is the victorious conqueror, who wins the victory and redeems an uncountable multitude by losing his very life (28).
Leadership in the kingdom still exists; someone must lead, in churches, in homes, in marriages. But kingdom leadership’s primary characteristic must be service, not pushy self-aggrandizement, not preening self-promotion, and not self-feeding entitlement. Thus we may define masculinity as the glad assumption, not of glorious position, but of sacrificial responsibility. Men are the head of the women and of their households, they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). That is, the head is where the crown of thorns goes, in sacrificial love.
Jesus reigned, from a Roman gibbet. Kingdom greatness is not served, but serves.