Theme: Christ, the Servant
This week’s lesson encourages us to examine Christ’s ultimate act of service for us.
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
“Not to be served, but to serve.” What a difficult lesson to learn. Yet how necessary.
How little we know of serving others, even after many years of Christian living! Yet how essential to discipleship! Humility reminds us of the need to die to ourselves, take up our cross, follow Jesus and serve others. It is one of the hardest things we have to learn.
Learning to serve others rather than themselves was a hard lesson for the disciples. At the start of chapter 18 the disciples were arguing about who should be greatest in Christ’s kingdom. To them, as for us, a kingdom meant pomp and power, not a cross. They assumed that Jesus was going to take over the throne of his father David, and they were jockeying to see who would stand closest to that throne, exercise the greatest influence and receive the greatest honor in that day.
Jesus answered them by an illustration. He drew a little child into the middle of the group, saying, ““Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3-4).
We would think that the disciples would get the point, particularly since it had been reinforced for them visually. But in the very next chapter we find the disciples actually turning children aside (Matt. 19:13). They would have been telling their mothers that Jesus was too important, too busy, but they were really thinking that they were too important and busy. Jesus rebuked the disciples. He said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 14).
A third incident is the one we are studying now. It came before the triumphal entry. On this occasion the mother of James and John came to Jesus asking if her sons could sit on the right and left sides of Jesus when he ushered in his kingdom. The other disciples heard about it and got angry with James and John, which shows that, although James and John were the chief offenders on this occasion, the others were thinking in exactly the same way. They were angry because they resented James and John having gotten the jump on them.
Jesus took time to instruct the two brothers. He asked if they were able to “drink the cup” he was going to drink. This was a figure of speech referring to his suffering. He was saying that greatness in his kingdom had to do with suffering. It meant denying themselves, taking up their crosses and following him closely.
James and John did not understand this, of course. So they replied in naive self-confidence,
Jesus told them that they would indeed drink from his cup. James would become one of the first Christian martyrs (see Acts 12:2). John would suffer for the faith by being imprisoned on the island of Patmos. “He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” (v. 23).
What does the illustration of the children teach?
How do we know the disciples were thinking similarly to James and John when they asked Jesus the question?
What image is used of Jesus’ suffering?
Look up ‘service’ and ‘serve’ in a Bible concordance or reference book. Study the many applications to your own life.
Ask someone to someone to point out to you the many times you act in pride rather than humility, then work at becoming more humble.