Summary: A very practical study on the necessity of servanthood, what servanthood is and is not, and the qualities of a Christian servant-leader.
I. Being a servant is necessary for the believer and for Christian leadership.
20 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 "What is your request?" he asked.She replied, "In your Kingdom, will you let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one at your right and the other at your left?" 22 But Jesus told them, "You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink?""Oh yes," they replied, "we are able!" 23 "You will indeed drink from it," he told them. "But I have no right to say who will sit on the thrones next to mine. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen." 24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, "You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. 26 But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. 28 For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many."
In this question to Jesus, James and John were interested in glory, position, and rank. They wanted to be associated with Jesus, so that they could share in his glory. And it was at this time that Jesus chose to reveal something very important to them. That following Him, and even being a leader of his church, would not be like what they were thinking at all. It wouldn’t be this splendid rise to power that they were expecting. Keep in mind that the disciples didn’t understand the Kingdom of God, and they thought that at any moment Jesus would somehow overthrow the Roman government and set up God’s Kingdom. And at this point they had very selfish intentions. Imagine that there is someone at work who you are sure is going to be promoted soon. You may start to buddy up to that person, because you want to hitch a ride with them to the “top.” This is something like what the disciples had in mind. They were going to come into power with Jesus. And James and John were saying, “Hey Jesus, we’ve put in our time working hard for you, now we want to be sure of what our reward will be.
And Jesus used this opportunity to give them a glimpse at what it was really like. He revealed to them that it was not all going to be glorious and that they would have to suffer for him. Like Romans 8:17 says, “But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” And they even agreed that they would go along with this. He asked them directly if they would be able to share in his suffering and they answered “yes.”
But Jesus still had another lesson to teach them. He had to teach them that if they wanted to be leaders in his Kingdom, they had to be servants. He explained that worldly leaders are tyrants. That is, they use the people under them for their own gain. Their mindset is “What can my subjects do for me.” But for the leaders of Jesus’ Kingdom it would be completely different. The leaders wouldn’t be the masters over their subjects. They would instead be servants of those under them. They must give themselves for those under them. Their mindset must be “What can I do for others.”