Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 9, 2015
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
— Matthew 20:20-28, ESV
People are prideful, people have problems, and prideful people have a particular problem that only one person can prevent.
The Problem of Pride
Pride is essential admiration that leads to ambition. As ugly as it sounds on the surface of a biblical discussion (the word “pride” is not looked upon favorably in Scripture, just read the Proverbs), pride is not always a problem. If your admiration is for someone else and your ambition is to please them, then such pride produces few problems. Christians should be proud to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and strive to please Him in all things. Husbands and wives, parents and children, good friends, etc., should be proud of one another and put the other’s interests above their own. It’s even okay to be proud of your favorite team, as long as it is the Georgia Bulldogs.
But pride becomes a problem when the admiration if for our own selves, or our own family, or our own race, and our ambition is to put “us” at an advantage over “them.” Such pride is selfish, sinful, and inevitably leads to strife, as it does in the very passage at hand, where Salome’s (the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John, and perhaps even the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary; the only other Salome in the New Testament was a stripper, and no one thinks it is she doing the talking in this text) politicking on behalf of her boys creates and indignant attitude in the hearts of the other disciples.
Pride, the sinful kind, lurks in every heart. Two murdered policemen and two cop killers are in the news this very week, because the thugs pridefully thought their lives and illegal drug trade were more important than the lives of honorable law officers who were just doing their duty. Pride breaks out and breaks up families when adultery seems more personally pleasing than fidelity to family. Pride is the invention of every sin and lurks in the heart of every sinner. And, we are all sinners.
The point of this passage is that not just the “bad” people have a problem with pride. Otherwise good people can get it, too. There have never been three more faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ than Salome, James, and John. Yet even they seized a moment to make themselves look more faithful than the other followers. They put Jesus first, but wanted second and third place for themselves, boasting about their ability to drink from the same cup as the Lord (which in a way, they would do, as James became the first apostolic martyr and John the last). Even spiritual pride is sinful and can cause problems among even the people of God.
I am not a bad person, but I am a bad husband, father, and pastor when my blood boils with pride. Then, there have been times when I have acted in humility yet been severely wounded by family members or well-meaning church members whose actions were far more prideful than thoughtful. Selfish pride is sin, sin hurts, and about the only way to eradicate the sinful pain of pride is through the process of problem solving.
The Pride of Problem Solving
The only way to solve the problem of pride is to find pride in problem solving. Jesus deftly handled this prideful power grab by pointing to the great paradox that is the Christian life. Contrary to worldly life, the Christian life is not about stepping on people on the way up, but serving them on the way down. It is not about causing problems because of your own pride, but humbly helping people solve their problems. It is in a word, servanthood.
I love the idea of politics, police and military action, medicine and education, even the ministry, and virtually every vocation as “public service.” Christians especially should be servants of the people by promoting faith, hope, and love in every calling and every endeavor. Of course, there are abundant examples in every arena where pride trumps (pun intended) public service, and problems are compounded. But when it works, when we display a servant’s heart, grace and goodness overflow.
Jesus made it work. He alone has the prerogative of pride, yet He emptied Himself of any vestige of it in order to come to earth and do His work on behalf of the people. To those fortunate enough to be alive during His public ministry, Jesus set His sights on solving their problems of discouragement, disenfranchisement, hunger, ignorance, thirst, pain, suffering, even death. He taught them along the way not to step on others on the way up, but serve others on the way down, just as He had done.
James and John learned the lesson, too, along with all of the other disciples, except of course for the one who learned too late. They preached the gospel to solve peoples’ problem of spiritual lostness, they taught Scripture to solve peoples’ problems of spiritual ignorance, they helped widows and orphans and other people with food, clothing, and shelter. They did it all without ever clamoring again for high office or recognition at great personal cost to their own lives.
Do we get it? Are the decisions we make and the actions we take bound to promote ourselves or serve others? Are our lives lived to put Christ and His kingdom first, the needs of others next, and our selves last, as Jesus taught? Are we problem makers because of our own stubborn pride, or are we problem solvers because of our love for Christ and desire to serve other people?
Is there one problems you can solve for someone else? Do it, especially if it costs you something, especially your pride. Humble yourself, and share an invitation to Christ and His church with someone who is unchurched, offering them a ride and a meal if necessary. Humble yourself, and take some of that money you've been withholding from God to spend on yourself, and give it away to church or charity. Humble yourself to serve someone is some way, and you will go a long way in solving the problem of pride.
Yet there is one problem that only Jesus Himself can solve.
The Problem Only Jesus Can Solve
Jesus closes this classic sermon on servanthood by offering Himself as the one servant, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Son of Man/Son of God/Messiah of all the Bible, who can solve man’s greatest problem. The last statement (also recored in Mark 10:45) is one of the most pivotal verses in all of verbally inspired Scripture. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
“The Son of Man” seemed to have been Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. It was a subtle claim to His messiahship. He was and claimed to be the Son of God, but humbly chose not to use that title to draw unnecessary attention to Himself. He was, is, and always will be God, but left trinitarian theology for His followers to sort out. But during His brief first advent, Christ pricelessly pointed out that He was one of us, a flesh and blood human being, for an immediate and ultimate purpose.
Jesus’ immediate purpose was to preach, teach, heal, and otherwise help other people all that He could. He gained a following and taught His followers to be servants. He is the ultimate example of how one human being should love and treat another, and to miss this example or fail to follow it is to live a lost life.
Jesus does not want you to live a lost life, and He does not want your life to be lost, either. This is why His ultimate purpose in His first coming was to “give his life as a ransom for many.” This means more, much more, than moral example. This means spiritual sacrifice.
A ransom is a price paid to set someone free. As much as you and I may try to model Jesus, or Mohammed, or Buddha, or any other religious leader, we will never be free from the presence of sin. The power of pride, lust, greed and other sinful desires is a constant struggle for every human being, no matter how noble. But it is the penalty of sin that we really need to worry about, and only Christ and Christianity supply a satisfactory remedy, or ransom, and the ransom is Christ Himself.
By grace alone through faith alone in the perfect person and finished work of Christ alone can we be saved from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death. Such saving faith helps us overcome the power and lure of sin and live holy and godly lives. And sure faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ will reward us at the end of our days, or at the second coming of Jesus, with our removal from even the very presence of sin, and its ensuing suffering and death, forevermore.
Following Jesus’ moral example of servanthood is good. It will make you a good person, helpful and beloved. But good people go to Hell every day, when they fail to trust in the price Jesus paid to set us free from the penalty, the power, and ultimately the presence of sin and sinful pride. Please do not be too proud to admit this and accept the redeeming life and ransoming death of Jesus Christ, for this is a problem that only He, through faith in Him, can solve.