To Serve, Not Be Served
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 20:28a (Holman) “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, . . .”
Jesus humbly came to Earth. Be grateful He did. Never lose the awe of this. Be thankful His hands healed, His lips spoke, and His eyes wept. Be even more grateful He had hands, lips, and eyes. God became flesh. Mind-boggling, yet true. As stunning as this reality is, it does not exhaust the full extent of Jesus’ humility.
The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, God of very God, came. But there’s more. The life Jesus lived exemplified not dominance, but how we can best serve. He was self-oblivious, “self-forgetting love made visible” (Maclaren).
Jesus humbled Himself, and humbled Himself, and humbled Himself, and humbled Himself. Jesus felt lowering Himself only once, that is, when He left Heaven, was not humble enough. Becoming human, by itself, was not as low as He wanted to go. The condescending love shown at Bethlehem only began His humbling of Himself. He kept descending, lowering Himself on later occasions.
After dropping to the level of our flesh, Jesus knelt even lower, taking the position of a servant, which He illustrated by washing the disciples’ feet. After this He laid Himself further down, as a sacrificial offering for our sin on the cross.
This still did not suffice; He let His body be buried in a cold dark tomb. The humility had to be absolute, as if He were saying, “How low will I have to go for you to believe how much I love you? Would planting my corpse in a desolate stone grave do it? Would “out of sight, out of mind” be humble enough?”
This ongoing descending of Jesus was not an accident or an afterthought. Jesus came for this very purpose. He chose servant-hood in advance as His way of life. We must do the same, though it is neither easy nor automatic to be like Jesus. Sacrificial living is hard, and never an accident. It has to be a chosen lifestyle.
Matt. 20:28b “. . .and to give His life. . .”
Jesus came (v. 28a); an act of voluntary entrance. He gave His life; an act of voluntary departure. By a self-conscious choice of His own will He died. For us, to die is weakness. For Jesus, it was strength. “Christ bade His servant death, ‘Do this’, and he did it. With this, He proved Himself the master of death” (Maclaren).
Sin is so serious that not even God could free us from it without death, a life given. In Eden, human flesh sinned; at Calvary, human flesh had to suffer for sin.
This is why Jesus had to become human. God had to find a way to die, “to give His life”. Jesus couldn’t have done this as an angel, for spirits cannot die.
Our best motivation to be servants is, Jesus gave His life for us. To embrace humble living, we must begin with this premise; before our conversion, our lives were forfeit due to sin. We owed Him everything, and thus had no merit to offer. We could do nothing to earn His favor. Our only hope was to give Jesus our life. We yielded our all to Him then and must still do so, because He gave us His all.
Matt. 20:28c “. . .a ransom. . .”
Jesus here again referred to His death on the cross. His sacrifice was an oft recurring theme for Him. It should forevermore continue to be our reiterated theme also. Always pray you will never get over the cross. Live life in its shadow.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream, Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die.
When this poor lisping stammering tongue Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing Thy power to save.
Thank you, William Cowper, for putting into beautiful poetry the fact we shall even in Heaven continue to sing of the salvation Jesus purchased for us.
He gave Himself “a ransom” is the golden nugget excavated from the mine at Calvary, and the refreshing light flashing from the gloomy dark that overhung the cross. Jesus’ death was not a misstep, or merely an example, or only a martyrdom.
His death was “a ransom”. The word was used for the bounty paid to free a slave, for a payment to liberate people from situations it was impossible to free themselves from. Hear this good news. Jesus’ death is a releasing of sinners from captivity to sin and spiritual death. Our chains are gone. We have been set free.
Matt. 20:28d “. . .for many.”
“For” means “instead of.” Jesus’ death was vicarious, an exchange, a substitution. The One did something that let Him take the place of many.
This is not a statement supporting the doctrine of limited atonement. Jesus did not die only for the elect. His death was a ransom “for all” (I Timothy 2:6). He tasted death “for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). He is a propitiation, the remover of God’s wrath against us, for the sins “of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Jesus’ death was a ransom valuable enough to pay for all, but it is applied only to the many who receive it. His death for all does not assure salvation for all.
Salvation is offered to all, applied to many. For the possibility to be saved, “many” equals all; if all, then you; if all, then me; if all then each (Maclaren).
Matt. 20:29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him.
Thousands of pilgrims annually went to Jerusalem for Passover. Many came on the Roman Road that passed through Jericho. These travelers walking with Jesus expected Him to lead a messianic revolution. Emotions were at a fever pitch.
Jericho was about six miles from the Jordan River, in the region where the river emptied into the Dead Sea.
At 1388 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is Earth’s lowest elevation on land. Jericho, at 846 feet below sea level, is the lowest permanently inhabited site on Earth.
[Mountain Road Slide]
To reach Jerusalem from Jericho requires 16 miles of traveling a steep upward grade of 3300 feet, to 2500 feet above sea level.
Passing through Jericho on the last leg of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem was filled with symbolism. On this road, the Good Samaritan would have done his good deed. The victim the Good Samaritan helped had been traveling eastward when he fell among thieves; Jesus was going westward to die between two thieves.
Joshua came through Jericho on his way to conquering Canaan. Jesus came through Jericho on His way to conquer sin. In Jericho, Jesus’ ancestress, Rahab the harlot, put out her window a scarlet thread, a vivid Old Testament foreshadowing of the blood Jesus was now on His way to shed for sinners like Rahab and like us.
Matt. 20:30 There were two blind men sitting by the road. When they heard
that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
On a busy road was a great spot to beg for money. This day would have been especially lucrative because of the throngs headed to Jerusalem. Tourists tend to have extra money on them, and for sure usually carry more cash than the locals.
When the blind men heard that Jesus was near, they came unglued. They had obviously heard what He did for others who could not see. Don’t miss this lesson. Someone had told them the good news. By having heard the good news, they at least had a chance to respond aright when opportunity presented itself.
Matt. 20:31a The crowd told them to keep quiet,. . .
Oh yeah! As if this would silence them!
The crowd saw the beggars as an annoying nuisance, an embarrassment. Whenever anyone earnestly seeks to come to Jesus, a “crowd” is usually in the way. There are always people who want to obstruct our progress toward Jesus.
The crowd can include peers, students at school, family, co-workers. Your decision to be a loyal Christ-follower can make your crowd feel ill at ease.
When you take a stand, they will often try to change the subject, make a cutting remark, or hurl a smirk your way. This resistance is not a minor matter. Many don’t follow Jesus due to fear of their crowd. Therefore it must be ignored.