Keep yourself in the rearview mirror

Matthew 20:20-28

Jerry A Collins




v     Is it right for us to want to be recognized?

v     How does God expect us to invest our lives?

v     Where should we be looking for our significance?


Most, if not all, people desire the acclaim of other people. I suggest that everyone even fantasizes about this recognition in one way or another. We want to be the focus of someone’s attention. So we spend an awful lot of energy trying to earn that attention from our boss, peers, friends, authorities, parents, children, coaches, or team. This is competing for someone else’s recognition of us. That kind of competition is based in pride and that is the root problem with our ambition for attention. The Bible never encourages us to do that. This is the world’s way of pursuing greatness. Jesus had to deal with this ambitious prideful pursuit amongst His own disciples. The incident is recorded for is in Matthew 20:20-28. Here we learn of the wrong way to pursue greatness in the eyes of God.


Jesus has just given another and even more detailed prediction of His death and suffering vss 17-19, which seems to have fallen on deaf ears. He says he will be handed over to the authorities and then be put to death. But then He will be raised the third day. You can see the progression of revelation about this—12:40, 16:21, 17:9, 17:12, 17:22-23. Right on the heels of this revelation is two of His disciples jockeying for positions of honor and greatness for themselves in the coming Kingdom. Now the world’s way to greatness is neither effective nor adaptable to the Kingdom of God. James and John are about to find that out.


Their mother comes and bows down asking if her two sons may sit on Jesus rite and left in His kingdom 20-21. In Mark’s account it is James and John who approach Him and make this request Mk 10:35. Clearly all three are involved in this scheme with the mother urging Jesus to listen to their request as she repeats it here. We also learn from Mark that the two disciples began their request with another intentionally general one teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. Seems like a child trying to get his parents to promise something before asking, fearing that the specific request may be denied. The effect of this request is the claim that of all the greats who have lived they deserved to have the highest places of honor. Using the influence of family and friends, connections and associations, to get ahead of others is a usual tactic commonly employed to get advantage over others. God is not impressed by who you know or who knows you. Having other people speak on your behalf does not sway God because greatness in His kingdom is never based on that sort of thing. The whole nature of favoritism is incompatible with spiritual greatness. Jesus indicates this as He responds to this request. You do not know what you are asking 22a. In other words, the three of them had no idea what the implications were of their request.


Jesus asks them a question 22b. This cup seems to be the suffering that Christ would suffer He was just speaking of in vs 18-19. To drink that cup meant going all of the way. They confidently claimed they were able to do that. They could endure anything required of them. We know from Mt 26:56 that these two brothers along with the rest of the disciples fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested. Their self-serving ambition is foolish. Jesus did affirm My cup you shall drink. James was the first apostle to be martyred Acts 12:2 and John was the last apostle to die exiled on the island of Patmos. They had not idea at this time what it would mean for them to drink the cup of Jesus suffering. Christ had His own suffering, death and resurrection in mind throughout His ministry. We should, too. There is some sense in which we drink that cup, and we should have that in mind throughout our whole lives. Live your life with your death in mind. It will assist you in living wisely and not foolishly. Jesus tells them in vs 23 not only was it wrong to make this request but it was not even Jesus decision to make. This decision is not based on favoritism or ambition but the Father’s sovereign choice—only for those it has been prepared for. Everything happens according to the plan of God—something to keep in mind about answered prayer too. Their question is similar to prayer requests—asking something of God. Jesus answered it would happen according to God’s plan and favoritism and self ambition is not a factor in this choice. Now we have a dispute among the disciples vs 24. Probably similar to the   one in Mk 9 they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest or Lk 22:24 soon to happen at the Last Supper there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest. They are all guilty of the same selfish ambition.


Jesus used this occasion to talk about authority. Lord it over vs 25 is an intensive word meaning to rule down on people. It can be used for dictatorship and tyranny-like the Caesars, the Herod’s, Pilate—under all of whom the Jews had suffered. Their great men exercise authority using their powerful position, or even their manipulative tactics like flattery, charm to serve their own ends at the expense of others. This is the way the world operates. The elite and powerful have control. So it would make sense then to pursue greatness this way spiritually. Authority and control have always been the world’s method of pursuing greatness. Most of the popular books we read are about the powerful in the past or present. Jesus says this self-serving, self-promoting, self-glorifying way to greatness is the complete opposite of the path to spiritual greatness in God’s Kingdom. It seems that if you consider what is exactly opposite of the world’s ways to most things, you are much closer to God’s way of thinking. That is why the Bible often warns us not to adopt the world’s ideas, strategies or remedies.


First, Jesus says greatness comes by being a servant to one another vs 26. Doing menial labor like serving tables, and house cleaning, as the word was used. This describes the lowest level of help needing little training or skill. Jesus will illustrate this when He washes their feet (selfless—not letting personal circumstances in the way, practical—they had dirty feet, menial—no recognition for this, voluntary—did not wait, undeserving—they would betray Him, insignificant—no personal benefit, sacrificial—no personal comfort). Second, He intensifies the way to greatness as slavery vs 27. A slave’s work even lower and more demeaning. A servant is free to go and do but a slave belongs to a master and goes and does as the master demands—same word used in Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1. Spiritual greatness associates with discomfort & loneliness & insignificance & dishonor & sacrifice. Jesus is the perfect pattern vs 28. It is substitution giving our lives that is the pattern to follow. His life was a ransom for many. He bought others freedom through His sacrifice. This has implications by the way for husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church. There is no authority in the church except Christ. Men having authority is a worldly concept not to exist in Christ’s body. Inn the church we have the responsibility of slavery to one another not authority over one other. The source of conflict with others is our wanting to be served rather than to serve. Keep yourself in the rearview mirror instead of the front seat and spiritual greatness will follow you.