Servant Authority
by Sandy Simpson, 10/99

Text: Matthew 20:20-28

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—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.”

When I grew up in Palau there was an unwritten rule we had as children. When I was playing with my sister and other boys who were younger than me, I was the leader. I could tell them just about anything and they would have to do it my way. One of the nasty things I used to do was to lead them into the jungle to somewhere they had never been then sneak off and hide. They would start to get worried and call my name. Pretty soon, if there were girls in our group, they would start to cry. It was then that I would reappear as a big hero saying reassuredly,  "Lako medakd (Don't be afraid)  Ngak a tiang! (I'm here!)"  I guess sometimes I could be a cruel leader. Kids can sometimes be mean. But if  there were other boys there older than me, I would have to follow them, and they would find ways to torture me.

That's the system of this world. Even when we become adults our island cultures tell us that the oldest, highest clan, richest and strongest are the leaders. These leaders do not always look out for our best interests. Sometimes they are cruel and selfish.

Jesus used a mother's request to teach an important lesson about how different authority is for a Christian.

The wife of Zebedee - the mother of James & John - asked Jesus for a favor. Like a typical mother she just wanted the best for her boys. Jesus asked her what she wanted. But the favor that she asked of Jesus, He could not grant. This is one of the few times Jesus did not grant a request to someone who asked Him, such as the time when He refused to do a miraculous sign for the Pharisees and Sadducees, instead telling them to repent.

Jesus then asked James and John if they could "drink his cup". It's obvious they did not fully understand what they were asking. Nor did they comprehend the significance of the answer they gave Him. Maybe they thought Jesus was talking about being able to drink and eat like He did. Or maybe they thought He was talking about traveling and healing people and teaching. What they didn't realize was that He was talking about being crucified on a cross.

Could they share in Jesus' death by being tortured for the name of Jesus? Could they die for the sins of the world? Could they be martyred -- murdered because of what they believed about Jesus?

The words they spoke were a self-fulfilling prophesy. Jesus said that John & James would be persecuted and share in His suffering. It says in Acts 12:2 that James was the first of the Twelve to meet a martyr's death, killed with the sword by Herod. John was imprisoned and beaten by order of the Jewish Sanhedrin; was sent away to the isle of Patmos by Domitian;  and some say, was tortured by being put into a cauldron of boiling oil, though John did not die because of that. Jesus' answer to them was a foretelling of how they would suffer for Christ, instead of enjoying places of worldly honor and profit under Him that they were foolishly seeking.

Jesus, addressing the seating arrangement and who would sit beside Him on the throne, told them that this was for the Father to decide. Even in this question we see the humility of Christ.

Phil. 2:6-7  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
This is true humility. Only God the Father would decide who would be seated with Christ on the throne.

Now, another amazing fact is that later it was revealed to John, the same John whose mother had tried to work a deal for him. It was revealed to this same man those who would sit around the throne of Christ.

Rev. 4:4  Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and  seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
So John would get to sit with Christ after all! Not until John had suffered for Christ and been humbled was this information revealed to him. The twelve disciples and the twelve heads of Israel will surely be the 24 elders on the 24 thrones.

But these are thrones around the throne of Christ. There was another revelation made to John about who would sit with Christ on His throne.

Rev. 3:21-22  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
This promise is for those who overcome. The third chapter of Revelation talks about the letter to the Laodecians. The word "Laodecia" means "rights of the people". Many Christian scholars think that this letter especially refers to the church in the end times, the church today. The church in the end times will be lukewarm and yet think they are rich spiritually and materially. But to those who overcome and realize that they are really wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked ... those that truly humble themselves ... to those who let Jesus in when He is knocking at their door ... it is to those that the Father has promised ultimate closeness to Jesus in the new heaven and new earth.

The other disciples were mad at the two brothers. They were probably jealous and didn't think it was fair for two brothers to ask such a thing of Jesus.

It is then that Jesus, the Cornerstone of the Church, had the opportunity to teach a valuable lesson about true spiritual authority.   He was able to paint a very clear picture of the authority structure of the church to the disciples, whom the Bible says are the "foundation" of the church. We can see an illustration of this in a triangle or pyramid.
We'll use this shape to represent the authority structure of the world. The world system has always been a "top down" structure, starting at the apex of the pyramid and going down to the bottom. In kingdoms we have the king at the top, then the princes, common people, slaves. In a democracy we have the President at the top, the VP, the Sec. of State on down to the citizens. In business we have the CEO at the top, upper management, lower management, office workers and the janitors. 

Unfortunately, sometime in the third century, the church started to have a top down structure. This is also when the church began to be in error. The church of Rome began to have a "top down" structure that started with the pope, then cardinals, then bishops, then priests, then the people. Well, what about that? 

Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 
This all sounds like a "top down" structure. But the problem is that people have not seen an important fact about these gifts of the Spirit -- man looks at function and title, God looks at aim and goal! Read on. 

Eph. 4:12  to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
These are not gifts given for title or to give people job descriptions. They are given because there are people out there who need our help! The church needed the Apostles. They were the ones who were the foundation of the church. They were the ones who saw Jesus in the flesh and were taught by Him personally. They wrote the New Testament Scriptures.

Though the gifts of apostle and prophet are different today than in biblical times, the gift of evangelism, pastoring, teaching and others are still the same. A person who is an evangelist does not just have a title so he can rule over people. The reason that he has the gift to be an evangelist is so that he can tell others the good news. Why do we have pastors? Are they supposed to rule the church and get everyone to support them and bow to their demands? No. They are to serve the church by helping people to come to a fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ, to equip the saints to become more like Jesus every day.

The true structure of Christianity is symbolized as an inverted pyramid!

Where is Jesus? He's at the very bottom. He is the Cornerstone. Where are the Apostles? Next to the bottom. They are the foundation. The closer you get to the bottom the more you will be like Jesus.

Authority comes from service. The more you serve the more true authority you have. Today in the church everyone is a "minister/servant". There is a difference between these two words. The word translated "minister" means a servant. But in verse 3:7 it is translated "slave". Do you want to be truly great according to the structure of God's kingdom? Go down as low as you can! Do you want to be the greatest? Go down to be the lowest of all! Whoever has the least of self is greatest in the Lord's eyes.

The church does not have the same system as the world. No lords, no kings, no dictators. Our only King, Lord and Master is Jesus Christ. The rest of us are servants -- slaves.

This story is a rebuke to Christian men and women who try to get ahead with unholy ambition. Those who think they are leaders in the church should be the first to listen to this lesson. Today we have Christian leaders calling themselves Apostles and Prophets. Some say of themselves they are greater than the Apostles and Prophets in the Bible. They had better think about that. There will be 24 elders in front of the throne of God. That is a set number, the 12 sons of Israel and the 12 disciples. The absolute neo-apostolic rule of the Catholic pope, Greek Orthodox leaders, Kansas City Prophets, and Third Wave revival leaders is not biblical.

Our authority comes from the Word ... the Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ ... and He is at bottom! Notice how all the weight of the inverted pyramid is on the point. Jesus carries all our burdens. He died to set us free from our burden of sin. He lives today in heaven to mediate for us with the Father and we can cast all our cares on Him.

Matt. 11:28  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Jesus came to heal, to teach, to save -- not just so He could be king. He was looking at aim and goal, not function or title. Remember the story of the feeding of the 5000 -- it says that Jesus had "compassion on them". He feeds us because we are hungry. He heals us  because we need healing. He teaches us because we need knowledge and wisdom. He died for us because we need salvation. Jesus is goal-oriented!

Because Jesus has humbled Himself in every way, even to death on a lonely cross, today He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Those who serve the most will someday share in His glory.

Gal. 6:2  Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
We must serve because we have compassion on people who have needs. If we think only of our own needs, we lose. We must serve to truly be useful in the kingdom of God. If we do not serve, we shrivel up and die.

The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, before he died, gave his very expensive and old violin to his home town Genoa in Italy, the city where he was born. But he gave it to the city with the instructions that the instrument was never to be played again.  The was unfortunate because wood has a unique quality.  As long as it is used and handled, it remains in good condition. When it remains unused, it begins to rot and decay.  That very expensive and old violin is, today, worm-eaten in its beautiful case.  It has no value except as a reminder of the great violinist.  That moldy instrument is a testament to the fact that a life taken out of service to others loses its meaning.

Only one life, 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last.