Matthew 20:25-28 – Kingdom Culture
“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” – Matthew 20:25-28ESV
I grew up in rural Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. When sunset would come, I remember running outside to climb the fence and then up onto the roof of the chicken shed. I would sit there, knees tucked up, watching the sun set fire to snow-capped peaks and blue hills. The whole world seemed to still, gaping in wonder at the shouted evidence of God’s creativity and love of beauty. I made up a thousand songs of worship above the sleeping chickens; I cried out the glory of God as fire faded to twilight, a yellow line along navy peaks as the stars began to flare to life out of the veil above me. When I finally climbed back to earth, I carried with me a stillness…a quietness… I knew I had just sat in a privileged seat to watch God at play. It was as though Jesus and I sat for a moment to enjoy wonder together.
In John 1, we learn Jesus “was with God in the beginning” and “through him all things were made.” That beautiful sunset, the hushed twilight, my steady-beating heart, the rearing mountains, the rolling hills, the shining stars… The hands that took the nails wove those from nothing; the head that bore the crown of thorns imagined them into being with no inspiration but Himself. The tension of what Jesus was capable of and what He allowed to be done to Him is always shocking. The way He led compared to the loyalty He could easily have compelled is stunning.
In Matthew 20:25-28, the disciples are angry because James and John wanted special privilege from Jesus in heaven. Earlier in Matthew, they had argued about which of them was the greatest. And it’s not surprising they did so. Rabbis (Jewish teachers) had incredible power and social influence in Israel. It was an incredible honor to be chosen to follow one, and among Rabbis, Jesus displayed power far beyond the norm. He rose the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed thousands from next to nothing, and openly challenged the teaching of the Pharisees (the religious ruling authority of Israel). Even the disciples had been able to perform miracles in Jesus’ name. They undoubtedly expected Him, as the promised Christ, to become the earthly king who would overthrow the Romans and liberate Israel. As His faithful followers, they expected to rise with Him.
But the Kingdom of God isn’t about personal gain and earthly power. Jesus demonstrated it when He, the Creator of the Universe, entered the cold, unsanitary precincts of the crowded stable in a rush of pain, blood, and afterbirth to walk the earth as a member of an oppressed, defeated people group, speaking truths that drove the powerful to murder Him using the most brutal, dehumanizing means possible.
And why? Why?
Because being great in the Kingdom of God isn’t about personal glory or even happiness. It’s about loving people with your words and actions. It’s about setting aside what you deserve, have a “right” to, have earned… and being a slave because of love. Jesus set aside what He had a right to – the endless worship of all creation – to show us what His love and Kingdom are all about. And not out of obligation, but “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), “the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).
- Think of the most loving relationship you’ve had in your life. How does it feel to have someone love you like that?
- How would it impact your view of yourself if you found out this person who loved you was only being loving toward you out of obligation?
- How does the way the Kingdom of God works compare to the way you see American culture working?
- What is one way your life would change if the nature of the Kingdom of God influenced your life more than it does currently?
- Who is one person already in your life whom you could live out the culture of the Kingdom of God toward? Pray about one way you could live out the Kingdom of God in their lives and do it this week.