Summary: What's God's definition of "great"?
Matthew 20:26-28 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 28 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." Jesus’ Way to Achieve Greatness
Are you good at what you do? Just think of all the things you do every day – what is it you do for a living? Are good at it? Have you achieved greatness in your profession? Some of you are teachers. Some of you are involved in business. Some of you are involved in construction. Some of you are involved in government. Some of you are homemakers. Some of you are students. Are you great at what you do? Would someone say about you that you are a great teacher? A great employee? A great student? What about personal things? Some of you are husbands and wives, moms and dads, sons and daughters. Are you a great parent? A great spouse? A great son or daughter to your parents? Have you achieved greatness in your life?
I think we all would like to be good at what we do, maybe even great at what we do. But how do you get there? What really is greatness? In the area of business, is it climbing to the top - becoming the president of a large corporation or business? Whoever has the most money, the most power, the most comfortable life, the most friends – is that greatness?
This morning, Jesus speaks to us about the real definition of greatness. I think it will surprise you. You can be great in God’s eyes at everything you do, and today Jesus will teach you how.
Jesus talks about this shortly before Palm Sunday. The disciples could sense that something big was about to happen with Jesus. Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, were wondering if Jesus was about to overthrow the Roman government. Maybe Jesus would use his miraculous powers to defeat the Romans, and he would become the earthly king of Israel, and the twelve disciples would become his twelve powerful vice presidents.
James and John thought this might happen. Their mother got involved, and said to Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” In other words, make my sons number one and number two.
Jesus said to her, “You don’t know what you are asking.” You don’t know what my kingdom is. It’s not an earthly kingdom. Greatness in God’s eyes is not having lots of power on earth. Greatness in God’s eyes is humility. It’s sacrifice for others. That’s why Jesus asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Can you experience the humility and sacrifice that I’m about to go through? James and John didn’t understand, and so they said, “Sure we can.”
When the other ten disciples heard that James and John were trying to get more power, they became upset. So Jesus called them together and explained to them what greatness really is. “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high authorities exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” The earthly definition of greatness is to have lots of power – to be able to boss other people around, to be at the top – me first - but not with you, Jesus said. “Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be your slave.” A slave was someone who would wash other people’s feet, get them their food and drink, clean up after everyone’s done eating. That’s greatness, Jesus said.
And then Jesus describes himself as the slave of the world: “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.” What made Jesus great in his Father’s eyes was that he placed himself below everyone in the whole world – Jesus became the slave of the world – he gave his life as a payment for all sin. This is the message of Lent, and really, the message of Christianity – that God lowered himself and suffered for us as our Savior to take away our sins.
Jesus is telling us this morning that if we want to achieve greatness in God’s eyes, then follow in Jesus’ footsteps, be a servant, be a slave, to all the people in your life. At work, you put yourself below your fellow employees and customers, because you are there to serve them. That’s greatness. When you’re at home, and you want to be a great spouse, a great son or daughter, then be the number one slave in your house – serve your children, your spouse, your parents – put yourself below them. Rather than me-first, God wants us to have a me-last, and everyone else first attitude toward the people he has placed into our lives. Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be your slave.”