Ever be in the middle of a conversation and the other person says, “Not to change the subject, but…” That’s like driving down the freeway and Siri suddenly says, “Exit here,” and you have to cross over three lanes of rush hour traffic, dodge the concrete dividers, miss the exit and then back up into on-coming traffic so you can stay on the pavement to get off the highway.
Or you spend 30 minutes talking to someone about your grandkids and they have the audacity to interrupt to talk about theirs.
Or you’re pouring out your heart to someone and they say something so totally unrelated that it shouts, “What you’re saying isn’t important to me.”
Or like the other day, Jan said: You’ve not heard a word I’ve been saying. And I thought: that’s a strange way to start a conversation.
Matt 20:17 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18 "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up." 20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."
Do what? I’m telling you about my death. We’re only days away. And you want to talk about positions? Okay, let’s talk about positions.
Matt 20:24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall 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."
These guys didn’t get it. Jesus had one agenda and they had another. The plan of God was on His mind. It wasn’t on theirs.
This had happened before, after the Transfiguration – the great moment the Father declared who Jesus was - Mark 9:33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.
So, what did He tell them? Same thing: Mark 9:35 Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."
Wait, what? First to be last and last to be first? That’s not how life works. Jesus, you don’t live in the real world. It’s the ones at the top that get the benefits. The ones at the bottom are nothing. Top dogs eat first. The last get the left-overs.
So, Jesus realized they needed an attitude adjustment. It’s called a reset, flipping the script, changing the mind-set. As Paul said: change comes by changing our minds.
They thought Kingdom operated like the World. They thought you just lived in one like you did in the other. All they showed was how ignorant they were for how life really worked within the Kingdom. They had distorted the true image. Jesus is trying to correct that image.
Paul clarified this: 2Cor 5:15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
Living for the benefit of someone else is a struggle for most. You’ll see it in primary care givers, nurses, moms caring for their little ones. We even promised it in our wedding vows, but rarely do you see it in everyday life.
Jesus had to explain how things were to be different. Under the New Covenant, there was a change of life direction, life intention and life determination. There was a new life with new expectations for how the Kingdom of God worked.
God will be using His people to get His work done. We are His gloves. His hand provides the power and direction. That’s what had been going on in Jesus’ life. He fleshed out what that life was to look like.
John 14:31 so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.
John 17:23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
When people saw Jesus, they saw the Father. When they listened to Jesus, they heard the Father. When people were cared for by Jesus, they felt the love of the Father. Jesus served the Father by making Him known and served others by showing what the Father was like. By serving the interests of the Father, Jesus revealed the goodness of the Father. That’s how glorifying God works. As the moon reflects the sun, Jesus reflected the goodness of God. Jesus was the glove into whom the Father slid hand.
John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
Explained: exegesis - explain in a way that clarifies what is most important. It refers to what a preacher or teacher does. Neh 8:8 They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. They served the people by taking the complicated off the top shelf and placing it down on a lower shelf where the people can handle it.
Isa 55:8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 [So, to help you understand what I want you to understand] For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
Let me stretch you: Jesus is the Word of God. The One by whom God explained Himself. Jesus explained the thoughts and ways of the Father. But since He was God – whose thoughts and ways are beyond us – how did He explain what is beyond us? He took Himself off the top shelf and went down to a lower shelf where the people could understand. Jesus accomplished what the Father had sent Him to do.
If I could become a bird…
Jesus said to His disciples. That’s what servants do. They take a lower position to accomplish a greater good. You’ve got to do the same thing.
Paul explained it: Phil 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Form of God – Who He was - God. Then He combined that with the Form of a bond-servant. How He operated - Servant. He was the God/Servant.
We hardly ever combine the word servant with a role of a leader: General/servant, President/servant, Pastor/servant, Elder/servant, CEO/servant, God/Servant.
It was only through that combination Jesus could accomplish the Father’s plan and be able to say to His men, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Only The God/Servant could fulfill the role as Messiah. One coin. But, for them to understand, He had to show them both sides of the coin. One side God, the other Servant.
The Kingdom of Heaven didn’t work like the kingdom of the world. In the world, the top dog gets the extra portion. In the Kingdom, the top dog gives the extra portion to others. That’s Grace.
Matt 20:25 Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant
Remember, on the last night He spent with the disciples, Jesus washed their feet?
John 13:12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
Why do that the night before the crucifixion? Wasn’t the clock running down? He only had a few precious hours left. Shouldn’t He have been pouring information into the minds of His men, giving them last minute instructions? No, Jesus knew they didn’t need more information, they needed the right attitude. He was about to die, the great climax of why He came to earth, and they had yet to learn the important lesson for how He did the things He did and why and how His life was the example they’d need to follow to carry out their mission.
They were expecting a pep talk for fighting. “This is it, men. We’re fixin to go to war. This is what we signed up for. We can do this. Are you with me? Grab a sword and let’s go.” They expected a rumble. But, instead, Jesus bent down and washed their feet.
What was the lesson? The servant is more important than the position.
On 9/11, when Flt 77 hit the Pentagon, the place broke out in chaos. One plane was still in the air and they feared it was coming there. And yet they continued operating in rescue mode. There was a day care on site with 40 babies of various ages from infants to toddlers. The lady in charge tried to get her people to gather up the little ones and get them to safety. But it was overwhelming. A Marine came by and asked what he could do. She told him. He ran off. She thought he failed her, that this wasn’t worth his time with everything else going on. In a minute he returned with 30 Marines who loaded up cribs and tucked toddlers under their arms and got all the babies out of the building. They made a circle with the cribs, building an enclosure to hold in the toddlers and then made a human fence around the enclosure to protect the little ones until the parents came to get them.
Men of war, stirred to fight, yet serving the needs of babies.
That’s what this moment in the upper room meant. Regardless of what you think you ought to be doing – what position you think you deserve – you are first and foremost a servant. A servant does what needs to be done. It isn’t a job. It’s an attitude.
Phil 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…8 who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
God the Son became Jesus the Man to take away the sins of the world and open the doorway through which children of the world can become Children of God. He was Lord of all, and yet servant to all.
Nobody wants to be the servant. Everybody wants to be served. Everybody wants to be the chief. Nobody wants to be the Indians. Everybody wants to be management. Nobody wants to be labor. So, Jesus levels the hierarchy. We’re all servants. Wait. If that’s so, then who’s in charge? Who’s the boss?
Again, Paul clarifies that for us: Col 3:23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
Remember how the actions of our purpose in life are all interconnected. Like the old, retired preacher in Nevada, “God’s purpose for our lives is to be where we are to be, when we are to be there, doing what we are to be doing, the way God wants it done, and doing it all for His glory.”
What are we to be doing? Serving. Not working on a to-do list where we mark things off as we complete them. We don’t serve for a moment. We serve as our lifestyle. Otherwise, we will only do what we want to do. Serve if that service fits our desire. We’ll select from a pool of opportunities only those things that appeal to us. And with that attitude, nobody will wash anybody else’s feet. And people will stop coming to church because our feet stink.
Servants don’t tell their Master what they are and are not willing to do. Servants serve at the pleasure of the Master. They are the extension of the Master’s desire. They are the gloves He places His hands inside to do His work.
- The mind of a servant must be in agreement with the will of the Master.
- Since it is the Master who accomplishes His work through His servants, the servant does not place conditions on his service.
- The glove doesn’t tell the hand what to do; the hand controls the glove.
- Being a servant requires surrender to the purposes of the Master.