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MATTHEW 20:20-28 - Called to Serve

There’s something very human about a mother attempting to promote the interests of her sons – even if they were old enough to look after themselves. Within the family we invariably protect and promote one another. There is an added poignancy here in that the mother concerned was most likely aunt to Jesus.

The passage follows a section (chapters 17 to 19) in which Jesus had spoken of his impending death – the work for which he had come to earth in fulfilment of the Father’s plan.

Evidently the disciples still didn’t grasp, or didn’t want to come to terms with, what was to follow. That in turn distorted their understanding of the Kingdom of God/heaven (see Matthew 19:27-28) and their role in it. Jesus taught that the Kingdom was a spiritual, eschatological and eternal reality – not physical – and that it was revealed where Jesus was Lord and king in believers’ lives, in the church and in glory.

As then, so now, every follower of Christ has a role in promoting the Gospel – but like the New Testament believers we too need to grasp clearly the nature of that Gospel.

I recall a particular book that had a significant impact on my understanding of the nature and consequences of following and serving Christ – “Called To Serve” by Michael Green. As the title implies our call as believers is not to status but to service – and that should undergird all that we do as the People of God.

1. Ministry and Suffering

James and John aspired to status and human significance and used human terminology to describe that. The cup (verse 22) in Scripture is symbolic of a believer’s lot – either for blessing or disaster, salvation or wrath. These two were thinking primarily of earthly exaltation, while Jesus’ focus was entirely different.

He certainly anticipated a coronation – but his throne was a cross that he carried to a place of crucifixion, his crown was made of thorns, and the companions to his left and right were criminals who suffered the same fate.

James would indeed be the first apostolic martyr (Acts 12:2) and John was to live in exile.

It seems to me as I study the Scriptures and as I seek to persevere in following Christ that I cannot escape the inevitability of suffering with him – I cannot expect to be treated any differently than he was treated (see for instance the Epistles of Peter). The comfortable, convenient, pick and mix Christianity of 21stcentury western Christianity is foreign to the New Testament and in fact is beginning to fade today in the light of the struggle for authentic faith as against worldly myth.

It seems that in the New Testament period, and often since, pain refined faith, identified believers with the Saviour and also with a suffering world.

Unless and until we learn to weep with those who weep (see Romans 12:14) we will have limited impact on those around us.

2. Ministry and Service

We are not called to be important in the life of the Church. That’s quite a challenge and not at all easy for those of us whose identity has been related to a role in the Body of Christ. We have to repeatedly learn that our security, significance and self-worth are all found only in Christ.

We are called to follow Christ and to be servants in the same way that he served. None of us has a right to position or earthly power in the Church of God.

All that we have which is of importance is by grace and grace alone – forgiven – saved – promised eternal life.

We are servants – fellow servants with Jesus and following his example

His service led to his sacrifice. That of course was unique in nature and efficacy. But in his total self-giving he also left us an example to follow. We cannot be effective in giving, loving and serving without sacrifice.

I have another little book – “Have we no Rights” If you can get a copy, perhaps on line, have a careful read of chapter 12. It concludes as follows:

“All that He takes I will give;

All that He gives will I take;

He, my only right!

He, the one right before which all other rights fade into nothingness,

I have full right to Him;

Oh, may He have full right to me!”


The Gospel imperative is a vital call for every one of us –




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