Celebrity or Servant?
In Matthew 20:20-28 Jesus contrasts the way His Church is to operate with that of the way the culture is set up to function. Prior to this Jesus discloses to his disciples that He will be betrayed, scourged, crucified and then resurrected on the 3rd day (Matthew 20:18-19). None of this seems to have made any impression on His disciples, because soon after this (vs 20) the mother of James and John comes to Him with a request for positions for her sons in His coming Messianic Kingdom. The other disciples are indignant.
In Matthew 20:25-26 Jesus calls all of His disciples together to clarify how God’s Kingdom works and tells them that the Gentiles have a leadership style that’s top down - “lord over” people and is self-serving. In this system, men grasp for power and control those beneath them because they rule and subject others to their will. Jesus lets’ His disciples know that in God’s Kingdom, it will not be this way among them. It will be totally opposite. It will not be a hierarchy. His Church will be organized with a shepherd – one who serves and seeks the best interest of another.
To be truly great in God’s Kingdom a person serves. Our position of authority, then, is one of humility, meekness and unselfishness. We look after the interest of others and put them before ourselves. We minister in grace, not rule in power. The worldly power system has no place in God’s Kingdom or among Christ’s followers.
Luke 16:15 declares, “… For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” In God’s Kingdom the approval of the Lord means more than anything else.
He explains to His disciples that He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life (die) as a “ransom” for many (vs 28). This word, “ransom”, affirms that Jesus’ death redeems us by “substitutionary atonement”. He gives Himself as the “liberty price” for our sin. As such He pays the price for us to be free from sin and then takes its punishment also. In doing this for us Jesus demonstrates real servanthood.
My seminary theology professor expressed to me that my “substitutionary atonement” understanding of Jesus’ death was an antiquated 11th century Anselm view. In fact, he voiced that he was surprised that I had not “progressed” further than that in my faith. In my shock, I responded that I did not know that I needed to “progress” beyond the understanding that Jesus died for me and paid the price for my sins and I, in fact, needed to better understand what Jesus did and its application in my life. Becoming and functioning as a servant leader is a big chunk of that understanding. Jesus entreats us to serve Him, regardless of our role, and to follow His example to be a servant. Leaders in Christ’s Church are servants, not celebrities.