And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:24-28 ESV)
Yesterday we studied the audacious request by James and John to be appointed to the top two posts within Jesus’ kingdom. It’s no surprise that when the other ten disciples heard it they were indignant at the two brothers. The pride of James and John created a schism within the disciples. This is not a surprise either. Pride ruins relationships. Jesus, being the great leader that He is, defuses the situation by calling them to him and teaching them the true path to greatness.
James and John were pursuing greatness as the world (the Gentiles) does: through political power-plays, and currying favor based on familial relationships. Moreover, people in power exercise authority over others in an attempt to exalt themselves and promote their “greatness”.
But, as usual, Jesus turns this type of thinking upside down. The way of the world is never God’s way [Isaiah 55:8-9]. Jesus tells us that whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. The true path to greatness is not power. It is service.
God calls on all His children to serve one another [Romans 12:1, 11; Galatians 5:13 et. al]. We are not to pursue selfish ambitions [Philippians 2:3-4]. We are not to seek glory for ourselves. Instead we should humbly give up our lives for the sake of others.
This is exactly how Jesus modeled greatness. He did not come to earth to be served but to serve. He left heaven, giving up His deity to become one of His own creations. He served us by teaching us how to live.
He also served us by dying on a cross to pay for the sins that we – not He – committed. As a result, God exalted Him above all else [Philippians 2:5-8]. He gave His life as a ransom for many. The definition of “ransom” is “payment made for the release of a prisoner”. Jesus paid for our sins setting us free from an eternity in hell, which is the penalty for sin [Romans 6:23].
Notice that Jesus didn’t give His life as a ransom for “all”, but for many. Only those who believe they are sinners and who seek and accept God’s offer of forgiveness have their sins paid for by Jesus, become part of God’s family, and enter heaven [John 1:12, 3:16; Acts 16:31 et. al]
To be sure, it is not bad to pursue positions of influence in the world [1 Timothy 3:1]. But it is wrong to pursue the worldly path to greatness and use our positions of influence to control others. Rather, the higher up we go within an organization the more of a servant we should become. Too often, though, rising through an organization chart inflates our ego and bolsters our pride. It is then that we are ripe for a fall [Proverbs 16:18].
According to the world the more people you have beneath you the greater you are. But according to God, you become greater the further beneath others you intentionally place yourself.
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