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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:The Greatness of Servanthood
Text:Matthew 20:25-28 (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs: Psalm 97:1,5; Psalm 97:6; Hymn 21:1,3; Psalm 68:3; Psalm 119:17; Hy. 33:2,3,4,6

Reading: Matthew 20:16-34

Text: Matthew 20:25-28
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Life is service. We are called to service, to ministry. We are, today, between Ascension Day and Pentecost. It is significant that new elders and deacons are being ordained to office on this Sunday, between Ascension Day and Pentecost. This was not done by design. Rather, this Sunday that we typically ordain new office bearers just happened to fall here in the church year, between Ascension Day and Pentecost. But I like to highlight the significance of this.

This past Thursday evening we, as congregation, gathered for worship on Ascension Day. We commemorated the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to the right hand of God. From heaven he cares for us his church.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in Eph. 4. He wrote that when Christ ascended on high, he gave gifts to his church. Among his gifts are the offices in the church. Paul wrote that Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. Christ gave them "... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..."

Did you hear that? Our Lord Jesus Christ gives the pastoral offices (minister, elder and deacon) to prepare the congregation to be servants. The pastoral offices themselves are to be characterized by service. The lives of God's people are to be characterized by service.

I proclaim to you the Word of God under this theme:


1. Do not desire to be served; 2. Rather, be willing to serve.

1. Every so often you read about the Lord Jesus calling his disciples together to set them straight on something. Here, in Matthew 20, we read about such a time. He needed to remind them that they were not to try lord it over one another. The disciples had gotten into a bit of a fight about who was the greatest. The Lord taught them that they were not to try exert themselves over each other.

The context is that the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, two of the disciples, came up to the Lord Jesus, along with her sons, to ask a favour of the Lord. She knelt before the Lord and said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."

James and John had probably told their mother what the Master had said to them in 19:28. In 19:28 the Lord had said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

This was heady stuff for simple fisherman. And like any mother who only wants the best for her children, Mrs. Zebedeee, when she heard this, went and asked the Lord if her two sons could have the two choice thrones-one at his right hand and the other at his left hand.

James and John were in on the request. They were right there with their mother. Matter of fact, when Mark wrote about this episode, he did not even mention their mother. He wrote that James and John had come to him with this request. (Mark 10:35ff).

How soon they had forgotten so many things the Lord had already taught them. Earlier, in Mt 18:1, the disciples had come to the Lord Jesus and had asked him, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He had picked up a child and said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

The parable recorded in Mt 20:1-16 teaches the same thing. The parable of the workers in the vineyard. We won't go into it. I'll just remind you of the application the Lord Jesus made at the end of it in v. 16 where he says, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

In many ways and in different contexts the Lord Jesus taught the disciples to drop their "me-first" attitude. And then there came James, John, and their mother, asking for the # 2 and the # 3 thrones in the kingdom of heaven! The Lord Jesus explained to them that it is not his task to make a snap, off the cuff decision right then and there as to who is to occupy those two thrones. That decision belongs to his Father and it was made in eternity.

Now when the other 10 disciples caught on to what was going on, they became very angry at the two brothers. V. 24 says that they became "indignant". They turned against James and John. Their anger showed that they shared the attitude of James and John. They were scared that James and John would, in a sneaky and underhanded way, seize the positions of honour in the kingdom of heaven which they, secretly, coveted for themselves.

The Lord Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them."

That's the way of the world. That's the order that prevails in society. Rulers tend to flaunt their power. They lord it over their subjects. Those called great in this world seek their greatness in authority and power. Someone, reflecting on this aspect of the human condition more than 100 years ago, wrote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

The Fifth Commandment requires that we honour those over us in the civil sphere. But can we not say, with respect, that we often see the corrupting influence of sin among the politically powerful?

How many are really and truly committed to serving the people of the land? Thankfully, many are. But there are also many who are more concerned about their own positions. Are not most governments governed by the polls? They seem most concerned with staying popular and doing whatever they can to ensure they will be voted in again.

And we see the same taken to the nth degree in dictatorships. Power hungry people biting and kicking their way to the top. Once they are on top they show themselves to be nothing but tin-pot tyrants. Instead of existing for the people they think the people exist for them. They lord it over the people. They oppress them. They throw their weight around. They maintain power by threats and intimidation. They do all they can to keep the citizens down, under their heel.

You see that in the communist countries. And countries ruled by religious fanatics. You can see the truth of what the Lord Jesus says. These dictators are only great because they manage to keep their people under their heels. Their greatness is defined not by their good policies and their just way of ruling but by how they manage to keep those whom they governed down. They have never heard of what the Lord said in Micah 6:8-He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Oh no, exertion of authority is where it's at.

And isn't that the way of the world? People spend all their energies to get to the top, and once they've reached the peak, they make everyone under them feel the weight of their authority. This is the tendency of man. By nature we like to lord it over others. We like to wield authority and to let others know whose boss. We want to be recognized. We want to be respected. Given the choice between being master and servant, we would all choose to be master-i.e., if we let our old nature get its way. We like to be served. Because the more that we have people under us, the better we look.

But what does the Lord Jesus say? 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....

That is the way it should be among us-among the disciples of Jesus Christ. We should not have the attitude of the world. The Lord taught us that greatness is to be found in service. He who would be first must be the willing slave of all.

In his kingdom the Lord Christ calls great and makes great those who act opposite the unbelieving world. In his kingdom greatness is to be found in self-giving, in serving others, in a self-sacrificing willingness to be one another's slaves.

That's a hard saying of the Lord Jesus, isn't it? But that's what he says to us: ... whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave....

We should not think that the Lord is establishing a whole new hierarchy-one in which the slave is boss. What the Lord Jesus says could be taken in a wrong way. It could be abused. It could, if not understood properly, lead people to seek servanthood in order to exalt themselves. To strive to be last so they will be first. To go out of their way to be the least so they will be the greatest.

That would be a perversion of what the Lord says. Then the motive for being the least, for serving, is completely wrong. The Lord is not establishing a new hierarchy-an upside down order. Rather, he is rejecting completely the competitive attitude of the disciples. He rejects all striving for greatness and priority. He rejects the "me-first" attitude. He says "no" to human jealousy and lust for power.

In this way we are to walk in the footsteps of our Saviour. To follow him in this. He calls us to the same attitude he has. As Paul taught us in Phil. 2, when speaking about the servant attitude of our Lord: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." To act as he acted.

That is the point the Lord made in v. 28. He said, "... 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." He pointed to himself as the example of servanthood / service. He did not come out of conceit. He did not come because he wanted the people to adore him. Out of a lust for power and glory. Because he wanted to lord it over anyone.

That's not why the Lord Jesus came. He came to serve.

He called himself "the Son of man." From the OT, and then esp. Dan. 7, we learn that this name, "the Son of man", was a title for the Messiah. In Dan. 7 (v. 14) the Son of man, the Messiah, is clothed with majesty and glory. From all eternity the Lord Jesus Christ was great. For all eternity he shared the divine glory with his Father. He had nothing to prove. He was God. With his Father he shared all power and glory and exaltation.

This glorious One, this exalted One, the eternal Son of God came to earth not to be served-that wasn't what motivated him to come. He didn't say, "I am going to earth in order to be served." He came to serve. He came, in obedience to his Father's will, to serve the people of God-to serve us. That's why he came.

To serve, and further, to give his life as a ransom for many. That word "ransom" means "to release", "to set free". In the ANE this word was used for the price paid to redeem a slave. A slave could, over the years, save up his money and so ransom himself. Or someone else could pay the price. For instance one country could buy back prisoners of war from another country by paying a ransom. We still use the word "ransom" today. If someone is kidnapped, the kidnappers may demand a ransom-a certain amount of money. That the family, for instance, buy back the freedom of the hostage.

The Lord Jesus paid such a ransom. He bought back those enslaved to sin. But not with silver or gold. He paid with his life.

That is the price the Father required. The Father had said that the wages of sin is death. That was the price the Son paid. He did so willingly. The Father was pleased to accept the death of his Son to pay for our sins.

And so we have here in Mt. 20:28 a very important text that teaches clearly the doctrine of the atonement. The Lord Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many. He died as our substitute-in our place. We deserved to die. We deserved to be crushed eternally under the weight of God's wrath. But he underwent that for us. He substituted himself for us. That was his great act of service. And this great act of service has set us free from eternal death and damnation. And that's the gospel.

As I said, this verse is a very important text for the doctrine of the atonement and of the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we must also appreciate the context of this verse. The Lord Jesus used this amazing truth-the almost unbelievable fact that he gave his life in order to save us-he used that fact to encourage his disciples (us) to show the same attitude to one another. That is his main point here.

He is teaching us that his own willingness to humble himself even to the point of giving up his own life for us-that willingness must be reflected in us. Yes, the sacrifice of Christ is unique. Only his sacrifice had atoning value. We can, in no way, duplicate the sacrifice, the great service, performed by Christ. However, he does call upon us to mirror his love. He does call us to follow him in the spirit of service, of giving, of sacrifice.

Don't reflect the world with its spirit of kicking and biting one's way to the top of the heap. Rather, be an image of Christ who came in humility-who came to serve and to give himself for the benefit and well-being of others. That's the message. The Lord Jesus came as the faithful High Priest to bring the perfect sacrifice for the good of others-us. He calls us to be priests/priestesses who are willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

The office-bearers of the church, and especially the deacons, reflect (in an official capacity) the office of priest. The office of giving, of mercy, of love, of tenderheartedness. In the vv after our text we read that The Lord Jesus had pity on those two blind men. In pity he touched their blind eyes and healed them. And today Christ wants his compassion and care to come to his church through the pastoral offices. The elders are to guard and promote the purity of doctrine and life in the congregation. To govern, to discipline. They are to guide, instruct and comfort with the Word of God. The office of deacon is purely the ministry of mercy. It proceeds from the love of our Saviour.

But, you will understand, that it is not only the pastoral offices in the church through which the care and love of Christ must proceed. As the form also says, the Lord Jesus came into the world to serve. In his mercy he fed the hungry, healed the sick, and showed compassion to the afflicted. "Thus he gave an example, that his church should do likewise." The pastoral offices, and especially the deacon, must exhort the members of the body of Christ to show this mercy and love.

Let us be eager to show love and mercy to one another. To serve one another. Let us be done with pride. Let us not try to make things go our way. Let us not be so concerned about our rights, our opinions, our ideas. To try arrange things so they will benefit us and not our br. or sr.

The Lord Jesus condemns the "me-first" attitude. He holds up the opposite attitude-the one of service, of love, of giving. The office-bearers are to give an example in this. they are called to service within the congregation. To comfort, guide, walk along side of, encourage, warn and admonish. To apply the healing word of God.

To encourage the rest of us to show that beautiful, healing attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ. That attitude of giving, of service, of mercy, of placing others first instead of yourself.

May the LORD God give our new elders and deacons the wisdom and strength to perform faithfully every aspect of their calling. By the grace of God may they give in their ministry a good example to us of the service to which all of us are called by Christ Jesus. May that "... prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..." May they, by example and instruction, teach us how to be great by becoming servants. How to be first by being last. How to be like Christ who came not to be served but to serve. And may we all be faithful in our calling to be servants of one another and so follow faithfully our Lord Jesus Christ who clothed himself in humility, who knelt down before us all-as it were, washed our feet--, who gave his life in order to ransom us from slavery to sin.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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