The Servant

The Servant

Matthew 20:20-34

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”

 

            The word “authority” elicits several different responses.  When we think of authority, we think of power and position. A person in authority exerts control over others. We see this viewpoint described in the Oxford Dictionary, which defines authority as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.  It is a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative sphere.”  

Along with this view of power, the word also provokes fear and apprehension in those who see power and authority as abusive, as people abuse their authority for their advantage and gain. For some, those in authority are then to be feared, questioned, and even opposed.  

The opposite of authority is the slave, who is dominated and controlled by others.  A slave does not have a will of his/her own but lives only to do the master's will. So, we see slavery as the ultimate act of dehumanizing people. 

Throughout the Bible, we see God as the one who possesses all power and authority over the whole universe. He is the one who has ultimate and final authority over all. Because of our negative view of authority, we question God’s authority. We balk at the idea that God controls our lives and exercises His sovereignty over us. We see it as a threat to our freedom.  

            In this passage, we find the mother of James and John coming to Jesus to ask Him to appoint them as His top leaders in His kingdom by placing them in the highest positions of honor.  When the other disciples heard their request, they became angry, for it seemed that James and John were orchestrating a power grab by seeking the highest positions; positions they wanted.  Recognizing the division among the disciples, Jesus called them together.  The problem with the disciples was that they failed to understand authority within Christ’s kingdom and that it fundamentally differed from the exercise of authority in a fallen world.  In the world, authority is used to benefit the one in power.  They demand that others follow their orders and decisions.  In a business pyramid, the leader is on top, with those on the bottom serving the leader. 

            In his response, Jesus radically redefines leadership. He turns the pyramid upside down by pointing out that the true leader in His kingdom is not the one who demands allegiance and obedience but the one who becomes a slave to serve others. Greatness comes not by power but by servanthood. To drive this point home, He points to Himself as the ultimate example.  Even though He possesses absolute authority, He does not exercise that authority for His benefit. Instead, He comes to serve us.  Godly authority is ultimately driven by servanthood rather than power.  The ultimate expression of this servant leadership is seen in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where He performed the ultimate act of service (giving His life) solely for our benefit, even though we are least deserving.  

            He illustrates this in His interaction with the two blind men in Jericho.  When confronted with their incessant cry for Christ to have mercy on them, Jesus responds by asking the question of a servant, “What do you want Me to do for you?”   In the question, Christ demonstrated to the disciples the activity of a servant; He serves the needs of others.  Rather than use His unchallenged authority for His benefit, He exercises His authority for us. This becomes both our comfort and our challenge.  We find comfort in the knowledge that the one in control of our lives and sovereign over us always exercises His authority for our best interests, even when we do not understand why.  Second, it challenges us to act in the same way towards others.  Instead of demanding that people serve us, we are to serve others for their benefit. We are to embrace the character of a slave so that we might demonstrate Christ to others.

            

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