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Matthew 20:20-28

The Gateway to Greatness

  • Samuel Wilson
  • Weekend Messages
  • February 02, 2020

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

The Gateway to Greatness

Matthew 20:20-28

Illus. Who will it be?

This morning we are going to see as Jesus gives direction to His disciples, while giving the description of the way to walk, when one wants to enter into the gateway to greatness in God’s kingdom. Jesus directs them in the way they should go, but His words are also very important for you and me to know. It is here that Jesus, the expert of eternity and the greatest example of greatness, gives us the keys to living victoriously, getting us to the place where we understand what it truly means to be great.

Read: Matthew 20:20-28

While it is an excellent desire to be great for God, it is important to recognize the way God wants us to be in order to get there. To be great in God’s kingdom was not what the disciples thought, it would not be based on the cultural norms of their day, or according anything they had ever heard another say. And in pursuit of greatness for God, the same in true in our day.
Because Jesus came to live sacrificially and show us the way, the answer to what greatness in the kingdom looks like, is not an answer that is left in the gray, not determined by the words of another, or the way of our day, rather it is determined by the words Jesus had to say, and the life He lived. Here we will see as Jesus defines the basis upon which greatness is determined. Of all the pursuits of this life and the things we give great attention to, Jesus’ way and words should be essential to how we live, and why we do what we do.

I. Listen to Jesus

The mother of James and John comes to Jesus after His third and final “passion prediction.” He was revealing to them what was to come: His death, burial and resurrection. (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19)

Jesus was telling them what was to come, yet each time, the response of the disciples reveals that they do not understand what exactly He is suggesting.

After the first prediction, Peter told Jesus “This shall never happen to you!” To which Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s (Mt. 16:23)

After the second passion prediction, we know that. An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest (Luke 9:46).

Here after the third prediction, their personal pursuit of being the greatest continued.

But the pursuits were not according the way Jesus walked, rather, the glimpses of greatness they had seen in their world.

Jesus was telling the disciples what was to come, but the reality of it all was not clear to them.

Luke 18:34, But the disciples understood none of these things.

Luke 22:24, A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

Their thoughts were still set on their idea of what “greatness” looked like in their day, and which of them fit that description.

Who was the greatest? Was the conversation and conflict among them.

Jesus had already stated that the greatest would be like a child, that the least among them was the one who was great (Luke 9:46-48).

Romans 12:10, Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Philippians 2:3, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

With their desire for greatness in mind, James, John, and their mom decide to put together a plan whereby their mom would ask Jesus to command that their craving for greatness come true.

I find it interesting that the two, called the “sons of thunder” enlisted the help of their mom.

Matthew 20:20-23

She asks that once Jesus kingdom was established, that her sons to be seated next to Jesus, one at the right hand and the other, the left….

In ancient royal courts, those chosen to sit at the right and left hands of the king were the most powerful people in the kingdom. The mother of James and John wanted her sons to sit in the most honored place in the kingdom.

Illus. Sports.

They knew Jesus’ kingdom was coming, but did not understand yet that His kingdom was not of this world, it was not centered in palaces and earthly thrones as they had seen, but in the hearts and lives of His followers.

And we all have hopes, dreams and ideas as to what greatness in our lives and the lives of our children might be. But it is important that we are continually letting the Lord shape those desires according to His will.

In your life it is important ask the question, what and who is greatness according to?

Matthew 6:9-10, Pray then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Pray according to His will, because so often, like James, John and their mom, we don’t know what we are asking.

Let Him direct your desires

Illus. Glad that didn’t happen!

Jesus’ response came with a statement and a question, you don’t know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?

They did not understand His words about suffering, they did not understand the journey to the cross.

Jesus continually reminded that it would be the cross before the crown.

The “cup” Jesus was about to drink was the “cup” that He would mention in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

It is there that we see Jesus Himself pray according to the will of the Father.

John 6:38, For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

The cup, is the cup of suffering that He would drink in order to accomplish salvation for sinners.

While they would face persecution and suffering, they would not drink the cup that only Jesus could drink. They were not able. And in their response, did not realize what they were asking for.

James, first disciple to be martyred. (He was put to death with sword Acts 12:2. John, would live the longest Christian life among the disciples, facing much persecution before being forced to live the last years of his life in exile on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9)

It is here that Jesus directs them back to the will of the Father. Where they would sit and be for eternity was for the Father to determine and what was most important was that they understood the model Jesus was making for them, living His life submitted to the will of the Father.

When we hear, see, and read Jesus’ words, they should change us and guide our way.

Jesus had previously told the disciples if they wished to follow Him, they needed to take up their cross (which meant dying to self, Mt. 16:24-26), that the greatest would become like a child. But it still wasn’t sinking in.

Jesus was headed to the cross, the mother of James and John was named Salome. She was one of the women at the foot of the cross when Jesus was dying on it.

When she looked up, she would not see next to Him two thrones, but two crosses. She would understand what Jesus was saying very soon. She, they, did not know what they were asking because they did not understand what was to come.

As they approached Jesus they were thinking that greatness in His kingdom looked the same as what they had seen in their day. What we see, culture and society. And James and John weren’t alone.

Matthew 20:24, And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.

The others heard what had gone down and become indignant (displeased, offended) with James and John.

Why would they be upset? Based upon their continuous conversations and arguments about who was the greatest, as well as, the way Jesus responds. It would be safe to assume that they were upset because they didn’t think of trying that first.

The response and impact on the other disciples give us great insight into the importance of considering the ultimate outcome of our prayers.

James 4:3, You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Illus. You don’t want that!

Illus. “I’ll give up anything.”

The disciples had a great desire for their greatness to be described and determined. They all wanted it, but it was based on the way of the world, not on Jesus’ ways.

Matthew 20:25-26

Jesus is speaking to their desires for greatness and making clear that what they are desiring is according to the way of their world.

Your desires are like the desires of the world!

He says, the rulers of the Gentiles, those outside of Israel, the Lord it over, their great men exercise authority.

An example would be the Roman empire, rulers and high officials Lord it over people, they demand submission, flex their muscles to show how powerful they are and the people are forced into submission.

Matthew 20:16, The last will be first, and the first will be last.

Illus. High striker.

Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

Are you willing to let Jesus’ ways and words direct your desires?

Mirror the Master

Matthew 20:26-28

Why should they be willing to serve? Why should they be willing to lay down their lives?

Because their master set the example. Jesus explained that He came not to be served, but to serve.

Philippians 2:5-9

Jesus humbled Himself, but God highly exalted Him. He walked according to the Father’s will, surrendered His way. Every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

As for you, if you wish to become great, be a servant. Mirror the Master.

Illus. What did He do?

John 13:13-15, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them

Matthew 20:20-28
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He *said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”


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