Tonight in verses 17-34 of Matthew 20, we will look at a few examples of how Jesus interacted with His disciples and how He revealed more of the will of God.
Verses 17-19 have Jesus telling the twelve about how He will be tortured and crucified in Jerusalem. Unlike previous occurrences, this instance does not record a reaction from the apostles when Jesus tells them He will be killed. By now they know that Jesus is convinced that He will die in Jerusalem.
Verses 20-28 show a mother trying to get the best for her children. Zebedee’s wife comes to Jesus on behalf of her sons James and John, who are apostles. We first came to know of James and John in Matthew 4:21 when they were mending nets with their father and they began following Jesus. By now some time has passed and their mother is convinced of Jesus’s teachings about how He is the Son of God and that there is a new kingdom. But her understanding of this kingdom seems to be that it will be an earthly kingdom. She requests from Jesus that her sons James and John be given the honored places of sitting at either side of Jesus when He reigns.
But Jesus has to correct the three of them. His ultimate message to them is that these places of honor are not his to grant, only God in heaven can do this. The brothers are able to suffer and die just as Jesus will, but this does not ensure that they will sit on Jesus’s right and left and rule in the kingdom. In fact, we understand now that God is the one sitting and ruling on the throne while it is Jesus that is sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 14:62).
Let us not be confused by this talk of sitting and ruling at the left and the right. It concerns how the power structure is organized in heaven. The one sitting on the throne, or in the middle, is God and He has all the power. Sitting to the right or left simply means those that would be second-in-command and these places are places of great honor. Granted, there is much of this that we cannot yet comprehend, but the basic power structure is something we can relate to.
There is a difference, however, in how we understand power and how Jesus explains heavenly power. It is explained in verses 25-28: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
It is again this mysterious theme of the greatest being the least and the least being the greatest. It seems so counter-intuitive, but if we want to be great in God’s kingdom, we need not to think ourselves as great, but consider ourselves as humble servants. God wants us to be lowly in spirit, gentle in heart, and giving of our resources, our gifts and talents. Using our abilities for the glory of God is our true purpose, so to seek and serve the Lord will be what brings glory to Him and likewise, we will be glorified in Him.
In the final verses of this chapter, we see Jesus having mercy on two blind men. It is encouraging to see this because it is Jesus practicing what he preached!
Tonight I encourage you to not seek attention for yourself or ways that others can be impressed by you or your abilities. Rather, see how you can bring glory to God by using your talents to help others. In this way, the glory of God will work in you!