What do you see when you look at THIS? A duck or a rabbit? It doesn’t CHANGE from one to the other. IT stays the same. What changes is the WAY WE LOOK AT IT.
One picture. Two different perceptions.
Which is just what we’ve got when it comes to the picture of Jesus. Here in Matthew Ch 20. Two conflicting, opposing pictures.
Some people look at him. But they’ve got WRONG EXPECTATIONS. They look at him through the lens of God’s Old Testament promises. Promises about a kingdom and about a king. And they expect ONE thing. A victorious king who’ll win military victories and rescue them from foreign oppressors.
But the reality is Jesus is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Upside down. And SO MUCH BETTER. Because his KINGDOM is completely different. And so MUCH BETTER.
Yes, he’s a victorious king who rescues. But it’s from a much greater enemy than people realise. And he’s going to DO it in a completely UNEXPECTED way.
All the way through Jesus’ ministry, he’s been teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of God. We saw that LAST WEEK. The Sermon on the Mount, all about God’s UPSIDE DOWN Kingdom. How the blessed weren’t the RICH, but the POOR. How the blessed weren’t the HAPPY, but the MOURNERS.
And rather than raising an ARMY, Jesus is healing lepers, and cuddling kids.
And, ch 11, even JOHN THE BAPTIST started to have doubts. Perhaps the guy who knew Jesus best. Who came to prepare the WAY for him.
He expected fire and wrath. Expected preaching about vengeance and judgment and warfare.
But, instead, Jesus came healing the sick and preaching GOOD news. And John just couldn’t SEE it. “Have I backed the wrong horse?” he thought.
And then we get to Ch 16. Jesus asks the disciples what people expect when they look at him. And when he asks the disciples what THEY think, Peter gets full marks, v16. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
And yet EVEN THEN, his expectations are wrong. V21. Jesus explains that being God’s Christ – his chosen king- means SUFFERING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION. But Peter wants something else. He wants a teacher to follow around the country, making life better. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to YOU!”
Jesus rebukes him. “That’s blindness! That’s talk from SATAN. Get BEHIND me.”
Into the NEXT chapter (17) Jesus tells them AGAIN that he’s going to be betrayed, killed, and then rise three days later. It’s WONDERFUL NEWS. He’ll DEFEAT death! But the disciples were filled with GRIEF. Wrong expectations.
And as we move through chapters 18 and 19 we see Jesus ADJUSTING those expectations. Teaching about how ANYONE in the kingdom has to TAKE UP A CROSS TOO, just like Jesus. Has to LOSE his life before he can SAVE it. And about how the GREATEST in the kingdom must be LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN.
(pause) Which brings us to TODAY’S passage. With the disciples still struggling to see who Jesus is. They see ONE thing, but they’re going to find out he’s SOMETHING ELSE.
So, verses 17-19 of Ch 20, for a THIRD time, Jesus outlines the road map ahead. Even MORE detail this time. They’re headed for Jerusalem, he’ll be BETRAYED, condemned to DEATH, mocked, flogged and CRUCIFIED. Then, on the third day, he’ll be raised to life.
THIS TIME, we’re not told how disciples respond. The last two times, they haven’t responded well. But here, Matthew moves straight on. And I reckon that’s because what comes next IS their response. The next story shows EXACTLY how the disciples understand things. That is – NOT AT ALL.
It’s a story about TWO BLIND MEN.
Two blind men
James and John’s mum has an idea. Or perhaps James and John put her up to it. But she comes to Jesus with a request. V21.
“Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
The common Jewish view of God’s kingdom, as they read their Old Testament prophets, was that it would come through MILITARY CONQUEST.
Israel would once more be the centre of the world. And it would be glorious. Like in the days of King David. And he’d do it through his chosen king, the Messiah, or Christ.
And that’s what the mother of James and John seems to think TOO. She’s saying to Jesus, “I like the idea you’re going to be a KING. When the victory happens, since I asked FIRST, can my two boys get best spots in the new regime?”
And, not for the LAST time in these chapters, Jesus is going to give MUCH MORE than they realise. He answers them all. V22.
22 “You don’t know what you are asking.
They still haven’t got it. He’s spent so long talking about a kingdom of SERVICE and SACRIFICE and REJECTION. But they’re asking for HONOUR AND RECOGNITION AND POWER. To even ASK it/ means they haven’t GOT IT AT ALL. They’re seeing the wrong picture.
He goes on, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
He’s thinking of the cup of SUFFERING. Of God’s judgment. It’s a picture from the Old Testament. (A bit later on, in the Garden of Gethsemene, he can hardly bear what’s coming – the suffering of the cross. And he prays, asking that God might take that CUP FROM HIM.)
HE knows what’s in store. V22. But James and John have NO idea. “We can drink it too,” they answered.
Jesus replies that they WILL drink the cup. V23 After he returns to heaven, the disciples WILL suffer for Jesus’ name. Many of them were crucified.
And they’ll do it WILLINGLY. Because THEN they’ll understand the nature of Jesus, and the kingdom he brings in.
But at the moment, they can’t SEE it. v23
“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.”
Everything will turn out according to God’s plans.
And the irony is, in God’s wisdom, when Jesus comes in his kingdom the people on his right and left WON’T have any power, or receive any glory.
When he’s raised on the cross. When he wins peace and forgiveness and restoration. When he brings his KINGDOM. Who are those on his left and right? Two CRIMINALS. Who die WITH him. That’s the nature of the kingdom Jesus is bringing!
I bet James and John didn’t see THAT side of Jesus’ kingdom.
And the REST of the disciples aren’t much better EITHER. Look at v24.
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
This is no righteous indignation. They’re not rebuking the brothers because they’ve got Jesus WRONG. It’s nothing more than petty envy! They wished they’d thought of it first! So much for humility and putting others FIRST!
So close to the end, and still Jesus’ closest followers have so little clue. So he calls them together. AGAIN. V25.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you.
It’s a DIFFERENT sort of KINGDOM. Because I’m a different sort of KING.
Instead, whoever wants to become GREAT among you must be your SERVANT, 27 and whoever wants to be FIRST must be your SLAVE- 28 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.”
A ransom. A price paid for the life of a slave. And here, Jesus will offer himself as the one to take the punishment that many deserve. The one to bear the wrath – to drink the cup – of a righteous God against unrighteous people.
And it’s a price that pays for our freedom. Satisfying God’s justice. Calming his anger. THAT’S how Jesus’ kingdom comes – how Jesus is CROWNED. THAT’S the sort of king he is – a SERVANT king!
(pause) And it sets the SUPREME EXAMPLE of what his kingdom is LIKE. The giving up of life. To be GREAT in the kingdom means being A SERVANT. LAST. LEAST.
Can you SEE Jesus like THAT? If you CAN, are you LIVING THAT WAY? Are you being a SERVANT? A SLAVE?
Jesus is actually saying it’s a GOOD thing to want to be GREAT. A GOOD thing to want to be FIRST. He says, “Whoever wants to be GREAT in the kingdom…”
Is that YOU? Do YOU want to be great? To be first?
Don’t forget it’s about being great in GOD’S kingdom. First in God’s kingdom.
And to be first and great in God’s eyes. Means being LAST and LEAST / NOW. It’s GOOD to want that.
How are YOU working out being last and least NOW? How are you serving God’s people HERE? How are you putting THEM first, and yourself LAST?
Are you, in the words of Philippians 2, in HUMILITY, CONSIDERING OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES?
What does an attitude of considering others better than you LOOK LIKE?
And is your ATTITUDE one of putting yourself last? Are you happy if NO ONE ELSE NOTICES what you do? Is it BETTER if no one notices?
How are you putting your GOALS and your AGENDA LAST and other’s first?
How are you putting your INTERESTS and your PREFERENCES last/ and other’s first?
And it’s not just something for the NORMAL everyday Christians to do either. It’s THE LEADERS who should be setting the example BEST.
It’s the leaders. The adults. The parents. The elders. The ministers. The mature Christians among the less mature. The older teenagers at Youth group among the younger ones. They need to be LEAST and LAST. TO SERVE.
If you want to be GREAT in God’s kingdom/ that means being the OPPOSITE / NOW. Being the least. The LAST. Because Jesus was THE KING. The GREATEST. And he came to SERVE.
That’s the clearest picture we can get of Jesus. Of who he is. Why he came. And what his kingdom is like.
But the two blind brothers can’t see it at all. And the rest of the disciples aren’t any better.
Two MORE blind men
Which takes us to two MORE blind men. From v29. Two men who can’t see PHYSICALLY, but who can see who Jesus is perhaps even BETTER than James and John.
Jesus and the disciples are heading up to Jerusalem. And they attract the attention of two blind beggars sitting by the road. They hear it’s Jesus, so they yell out (v30) “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
It’s the first time since the genealogy in Ch 1 that Jesus has been called the SON OF DAVID. And it’s come from two BLIND men. But they’ve seen Jesus CLEARLY. God had promised that his Messiah would be a king from David’s line. And he’d be the one to bring in the kingdom. And now Jesus was doing it, and the blind men are pleading for him to have MERCY.
Jesus asks them what they WANT him to do (v32). They answer (v33), “Lord, we WANT OUR SIGHT!”
They might be BLIND, but they’ve seen Jesus JUST RIGHT. V34.
34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
And these two seeing men KEEP following Jesus. All the way to Jerusalem. Into Ch 21. Where we see a story of two DONKEYS. Well, if you count James and John as two donkeys, then it’s a story of two MORE donkeys.
They get close to Jerusalem. Jesus sends two disciples into Bethphage. He tells them to untie two donkeys they’ll find there. And bring them to him. A mother and her foal.
And then Matthew tells us Jesus did it to fulfil a prophecy from Zechariah. A promise from God that his king would come – would bring in his kingdom – not riding on a mighty warhorse, proudly declaring military conquest. But riding on A DONKEY. No saddle, no stirrups. Not high above everyone else. At eye level. Legs swaying awkwardly in time with the rolling of the donkey’s waddles.
Hardly fitting for A KING. Unless you’re a SERVANT king. Whose kingdom is one of service and suffering and humility.
And it’s just that message Jesus declares as he makes his way into Jerusalem.
The crowd have cut branches down, and spread their own cloaks down on the path for Jesus and the donkey to walk over.
Despite Jesus’ best intentions, despite the message he sends with the donkey, the crowd STILL expects an EARTHLY king. A military conqueror.
Hosanna, they shout – God SAVES! And he’ll do it through his promised Son of David. It’s A REBEL CRY against the Romans! Surely, with him coming to Jerusalem, the rebellion is about to start.
They’ve got the GOAL right. But they’ve just got the METHOD all wrong. They’re EXPECTATIONS are wrong. Because he’s a DIFFERENT SORT of king. The SERVANT king. Who came not to BE served. But to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
And if we jump past the next few chapters of Jesus teaching in Jerusalem we see that different kingship. That SERVANT kingship. Over to Ch 27. We see the king who lays down his life.
“Honouring” the king (27:27-31)
Look at how the soldiers HONOUR the king. V27 of Ch 27. Jesus has been sentenced to death. And the Roman soldiers take him down to the barracks for some fun.
They think it’s hilarious that this weak, abandoned, silent man is sentenced to death as THE KING OF THE JEWS. He’s the best this miserable nation can come up with.
The whole garrison gathers. They strip him, find a scarlet robe to drape across his bare shoulders. Then someone finds a thorn branch. They twist it into a rough crown, and jam it down on his bowed head. They find a broom handle to put in his hand as a royal sceptre.
Then the fun begins. They kneel before him. And ridicule him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him, and take the staff off him and hit him on the head with it.
But he won’t play along. He’s no fun. He just TAKES it. Turns the other cheek.
He BEARS the shame and the insults precisely because he IS the king of the Jews. Just a different SORT of king. He’s the SERVANT king. The heavenly Son of Man who looks for acclaim from ANOTHER source.
When the soldiers get bored, and work out he won’t react. They dress him in his own clothes again. And lead him out to crucify him.
Your Kingdom Come (27:32-56)
He’s too weak to carry his cross, so they grab Simon from Cyrene to carry it FOR him. (v32)
And Matthew picks up details that remind us of the TYPE of kingdom Jesus is bringing in. Back in the Sermon on the Mount – Ch 5 – Jesus said that whoever obeyed his teaching would be GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. And then he taught (v38).
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. IF SOMEONE STRIKES YOU ON THE RIGHT CHEEK, TURN TO HIM THE OTHER ALSO. 40 AND IF SOMEONE WANTS TO SUE YOU AND TAKE YOUR TUNIC, LET HIM HAVE YOUR CLOAK AS WELL. 41 IF SOMEONE FORCES YOU TO GO ONE MILE, GO WITH HIM TWO MILES.
And here we have Jesus PRACTISING what he preaches. Turning the other cheek. Giving up his tunic and cloak. And then being forced to go two miles. Because that’s the way to live in the kingdom of the Servant King. That’s the way for his kingdom to come.
HE did it, and he calls US to do it TOO.
(pause) They come to Skull Hill. Golgotha (v33). He’s crucified there. Lifted up in front of them. But not in honour and exaltation. The passing crowds slow down just long enough to hurl INSULTS at him.
And the soldiers sit at his feet. Not in submission to his rule, but to gamble for his clothes.
And his offsiders, one on his right and one on his left, are not his loyal counsellors, his right hand men, rewarded for their faithful service. But two CRIMINALS, meeting the same shameful fate as him. And they’re ridiculing him TOO!
While his TRUE disciples are nowhere to be seen.
And over it all, the ironic sign above his head (v38). The crime he’s executed for. “This is Jesus: The KING of the Jews.”
Ironic, because it was meant by Pilate as AN INSULT. Not just to Jesus. But to the whole Jewish race. To keep them in their place.
Yet it speaks better than he knows. Because Jesus IS the king of the Jews. King of THE kingdom. And they WON’T stop him / simply because they’ve murdered him.
And his death is coming soon. V45. From midday to 3pm there’s darkness over the whole land. The sun fades because THE SON is fading.
He doesn’t last much longer. V50. One final cry. Then he GIVES UP HIS SPIRIT.
And as the Son of God dies, it seems like his whole Creation begins to mourn. Everything was made BY him, and everything holds together BECAUSE of him. Now, at his death, it’s like creation begins to fall apart.
The sky is dark. The earth shakes, and rocks split.
The curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. The barrier that separated God and man completely destroyed. Many holy people raised to life. Tombs shattered.
All of them A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME.
And while the earth shakes and rocks split, Jesus shake things up LITERALLY. But before long, he’ll shake the world METAPHORICALLY.
Because the message of Jesus’ defeat of sin and death will spread from one end of the world to the other.
And the result is he’s changed the world like NOTHING ELSE.
Christians who’ve taken up their cross. Who’ve followed. Who’ve put themselves LAST. Made themselves LEAST. Have gone out into God’s world and INFECTED it with the kingdom of God’s Son, King Jesus.
They’ve replaced ambition with SERVICE instead. Replaced Hate with love. Pride with humility, anger with patience. complaint with long-suffering. Bitterness with forgiveness. Despair with Joy. Death with Life.
Faithful followers who take his message of forgiveness and death-defying grace. And who LIVE OUT his servant-hearted selflessness. And who share that – LIVE that – among the people they meet.
And it’s WORKING.
It’s an unlikely strategy for world-domination. But that’s Jesus’ unexpected, unlikely, upside-down kingdom.
God’s kingdom IS conquering the kingdoms of the world. Just not in the way people EXPECT.
Two generations later, the Romans thought they could wipe out Christianity by feeding Christians to the lions. But THAT didn’t work.
In 1950 Christian missionaries were banished from China, and the communist party thought they’d stamp our Christianity. Even the MISSIONARIES wondered if it would. But God’s kingdom could NOT be broken. Half a million Chinese Christians in 1949 has now grown into between 40 million and 130 million depending on who’s counting.
Jesus is God’s powerful king who brings in his UNEXPECTED kingdom, and powerfully shakes up sin and death. Then AND now.
Is Jesus’ death shaking YOUR world?
Is it rocking YOUR pride and you pretensions and your self-sufficiency?
Is it rattling the cages of your ambition, and your comfort and your plans?
Is his servant death making a difference in your work, and your family? In your relationships and your priorities?
Is the death of Jesus making a difference in YOUR life – LIKE it has IN THE WORLD?
Bow before him. Honour him as the King of God’s kingdom. Worship and serve and FOLLOW him. That’s the way to respond to the Servant King.
The servant king who calls US to serve TOO. To be great in God’s kingdom. To be God’s people under God’s rule means being LEAST AND LAST.
Is it JESUS’ agenda you’re following, or YOURS?
Is it about YOUR plans? Your priorities? Your decisions? Or does it all depend on doing things JESUS’ way. Humbly serving OTHERS. Regularly, habitually, putting yourself LAST.
What a great place this church would be if we all lived like THAT in our dealings with each other, and with our community!
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, WHOEVER WANTS TO BECOME GREAT among you MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, 27 and whoever wants to be FIRST must be your SLAVE- 28 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.”