Summary: Jesus tells us that in order to be great, we must be willing to become servant to all.
Jesus Explains His Kingdom
At one point during my seminary days, my wife and I gave up our jobs in Walters, Virginia so that we could return to Southeastern Seminary and so I could finish my degree. The plan worked out beautifully. I was able to move back into my home in Youngsville and I was able to fit all of my classes into 1 last semester. However, when we arrived, the jobs that my wife and I had lined up didn’t materialize. Jewell’s job wouldn’t start until Christmas and my prospective employer began laying off, so I was not allowed to start work at all.
During this devastating mountaintop experience, God humbled me greatly and He also taught me some of the most incredible lessons of my life. One of those lessons involved eminence. Much of my self esteem evolved from my position and my accomplishments. But now, I had no position and my accomplishments seemed more insignificant than ever as life quickly moved from celebration to survival.
I withdrew our life savings and realized that if we cut our expenses then we had just enough money to make it to graduation. Plans are beautiful things, but they rarely materialize into the same golden hues that we paint behind the closed doors of the art rooms of our minds. Indeed, they usually morph into a grayish, squid-like animal with multiple tentacles waving in every direction; nearly impossible to grasp and equally impossible to hold. In November 2004, our plan breathed a life of its own life. Six weeks before Christmas, and out of money, we had to turn to God with a simple petition. “Lord, we need enough money to give our kids some gifts for Christmas and we need enough money to pay our bills.”
During this time, God began to put it on the hearts of some very normal and average people to help us out. And this is how I learned about “greatness.”
Let me tell you about Gavin and Sharon, a couple who lived in a single wide trailer in the middle of a corn field in Walters, Virginia. Gavin and Sharon lost their child in a tragic automobile accident. They also lost their vehicle and Gavin’s injuries made his work as a carpenter extremely painful. For months following this accident, he was not able to work at all. I joined with several friends from my church and we raised enough money to replace their vehicle. Eventually, Gavin was able to return to work.
While visiting some dear friends in this little town, I ran into Gavin again. During our conversation, he asked me if I had a financial need. I don’t know how he figured it out, but I believe that God showed it to him. I politely told him that times were tight, but we would make it. About a week later, I received a check from this family for $300.00. Gavin told me, “God has blessed us Tony. And he wanted us to help you out. I returned to work and we have a little extra money right now and He wants me to give this to you.” Here was a man that had lost a young child, lost the family van and would feel needles running through his arms and neck every time he swung a hammer for the rest of his life, and he was able to say to me, “God has blessed me.”
Brothers and sisters, many of us are scrambling to get to the top of the corporate ladder. You are looking for importance. You are trying to build self-esteem. You want to be somebody. You are looking for greatness, but greatness is not there. Many of us have poured our lives into our families. We are trying to build a great family. These are not bad things to do, but truthfully, a large part of our motivation is to achieve eminence. But alas, the satisfaction of greatness does not come from being the perfect mom or dad. We try to be the best at everything we do, hoping that just maybe, somehow, we will become the best at something and people will look at us and say, “Isn’t he great” or “isn’t she great.” But greatness is not there. True greatness is a reward of service, not a position to be gained. Friends, Gavin is just a poor carpenter out in the deep woods of Virginia. But, to me he is one of the greatest people I know.
Our text demonstrates this principle in a negative connotation with a surprising audience. Jesus has just finished telling his disciples several key details about His kingdom. He tells his disciples that they will be rewarded for what they give up on earth (19:27-30), He tells them that they will sit on twelve thrones in His Kingdom, and then He tells his disciples that he is going to die (20:17-19). Immediately following this revelation, James, John and their mother Salome approach Jesus with a selfish, but significant request. Join me as we read Matthew 20:20-28 together. (allow time to turn in the bible to Matthew)