Christmas Message

12/20/2015 SCC Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus Christ describes himself as a servant.

(1) In Luke 22:27: For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Servant hood is the condition or state of being a servant to others, of ministry to others rather than the service of self. It means willingly giving of oneself to minister for and to others and to do whatever it takes to accomplish what is best for another.


In the context Jesus probes the contrast between how the gentiles exercise authority v 25, they lord it over people, but the apostles who will lead the church will not operate this way v 26. Leaders are to lead without any pretense of being more than they are. The commitment is not to power but to service. The commitment is not to separate from those who are ruled but to identify with them. The contrast to the world’s definition of leadership could not be greater.  It is not found in the power to take or exercise control but in the ability to give and share.

Now Jesus proves this contrast with a further question: from the world’s perspective who is greater, the one who sits at the table (to eat, to be entertained, to be supplied) or the one who serves the table? Of course, the one receiving all of the meal is generally regarded as superior to the one who serves it. The anticipated answer is that the one who reclines is greater.


NB: But now Jesus contrasts this notion with his own example of service but I am among you as one who serves. This remark is designed to confront the disciples with a contrast and a choice. If Jesus is great and he does not live like the world according to its notions how should his followers live? The call is clear—lead by serving and do that like a household servant.


1. True servant leadership is characterized as giving without authority. This is true leadership not positions of leadership.

2. In every situation, no matter the rank or position the real leader will always be the one who does the most giving. So position oneself to be the giver—the servant waiting tables—rather then the receiver—the one benefitting from the service of servants.

3. In a marriage, family, a corporation, a church, among a group of friends fishing or walking, the leader will always be the ones doing the most giving.


(2) Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45:  Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Setting 17-19:

Jesus has just given another and even more detailed prediction of His death and suffering v 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. 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.



Probably John and James and their mother came to Jesus to ask to sit on His right and left in the kingdom. Jesus first asks James and John a question—Are you able to drink the cup I am going to drink? They said they were able. The cup was probably the same suffering that Christ would suffer. Christ said they would suffer like He will. 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. But to sit on the right and left is not Christ’s to give. This decision is not based on favoritism or ambition but the Father’s sovereign choice—only for those it has been prepared for. They were anticipating a throne; instead He received a cross. They were anticipating sitting at his right and left; instead criminals were hung there.

PT: Everything happens according to the plan of God. Jesus answered that it would happen according to God’s plan. There are no accidents. You need a theology of circumstances, which are random chance events that we must actually manage. God utilizes these in such a way to transpire His plan for us. 



Now we have a dispute among the disciples v 24. Probably similar to the one in Mark 9 they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest or Luke 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. The others became indignant, not because of the inappropriateness of James and John's request, but the fact they got to ask first. These chosen Apostles still exhibited selfishness and sin.

PT: The first step toward servanthood is deciding to get over your penchant to want to be served and to have authority over others. What you want to have is influence not authority. Leadership is influencing people to change rather than dictating to people the change you want. Authority over others is counterproductive to servanthood. Selfish ambition has no place in service to others.



Jesus used this occasion to talk about authority. Lord it over 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 so it would make sense then to pursue greatness this way spiritually.

NB: The world’s style of leadership is having power to control the masses. Their leadership is like lording it over people. It’s like exercising authority over people. Christ never authorized such a style of leadership. Power is about controlling people. Servanthood is about giving to people.



First, greatness comes by being a servant v 26. It’s reflected by 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 illustrates this when He washes 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, the way to greatness is intensified as slavery v 27. A slave’s work is 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 and sacrifice.

Third, Jesus is the perfect pattern of slavery and servanthood v 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. In 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. This is the theological heart of the Gospel. It came in response to personal ambition. Human ambition must be given back to God as a gift. Christians must emulate Christ's self-giving.

NB: Jesus did not come for authority but service. This is the tie in to Christmas. Way back in the beginning, his birth, this course was charted. He came a baby in swaddling clothes. Born in a stall. Birthed in obscurity. As he came so he lived. He did not come to be served. He was not incarnated in flesh for this reason. Christmas remembers servanthood. Slavery. Service. Giving. His coming, his birth, had a purpose, Deliberate. Planned. Coming to serve and to slave with an eye toward His death. Evaluate your own servanthood by Jesus coming and serving. Make this your Christmas gift to yourself. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4-5). Your personal selfishness is a problem. It gets in the way of service and slavery. Jesus did not come that way at Christmas. We must follow His example.