Becoming Jesus’ Disciple #5

"Jesus’ Spiritual Secret"

Matthew 20:24–28

Introduction:

                    1. As a politician and business leader he had great power and influence.

His home was opulent. His multi-national corporations were into everything from agriculture to manufacturing to commerce. He could influence world leaders to do what he wanted. He was amazingly talented in art, literature, science, business and politics. Some would say that he was the most powerful and successful person in the world.

2. This most unusual world leader wanted something more. He wanted to do something that would go beyond all the typical definitions of success. He wanted to impact the lives of others for good. He wanted to leave a mark that would last for generations to come. He wanted to be truly great.

3. He left his home. He abandoned his job, his money, his titles and his perks. He traveled to a place where he could not be recognized and would not be known. He got a job as a semi-skilled craftsman and worked at it for years. It was a stunning switch from his old life back at home. He did okay but eventually quit his job to take another demotion. He became a servant. He performed menial tasks that only the poorest unskilled laborers would do. It turned out to be a tougher job than anyone would have predicted — so tough that it killed him. He died and was buried as a nobody — others having no idea who he really was.

4. No one would say that he wasn’t great in his old job but that greatness was most powerfully seen in his new job.

5. His name is Jesus. St. Paul described him saying that Jesus "who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6–8)

6. This was Jesus’ spiritual secret. Not that he didn’t tell but that most could not understand. His approach to life, ambition and success was radically upside-down from common wisdom and practice.

7. Jesus’ secret was revealed in a conversation and controversy triggered by the request of Mrs. Zebedee.

I. Surprise principle of discipleship

1. Mrs. Zebedee approached Jesus to ask a favor. She fell on her knees and requested that her two sons, James and John, be granted the most favorable relationship with Jesus on his left and right. She was severely criticized by the rest of Jesus’ followers, probably because they wanted those positions for themselves.

She’s had her critics throughout the years since she first asked. Personally, I see her positively. Mrs. Zebedee wanted what every godly mother wants — she wanted her children to be as close as possible to Jesus.

2. The story led to a great teaching moment when Jesus first explained the surprise principle of discipleship. Let’s hear it from Matthew 20:20–27 (pages 1530–1531).
Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 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--

3. Jesus observed the obvious. We live in a world where people want to be the boss. Those who become rulers like to tell other people what to do. We enjoy the head of the line, receiving deference from subordinates, expecting others to listen to our stories, laugh at our jokes and go along with our ideas. Titles are important. We want to have everyone at the high school reunion be impressed with our success.

4. Jesus said that his disciples are to live by a totally different principle: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave."

5. Who would have guessed? Who would have known?

6. Compare what Jesus was saying to the difference between the U.S. dollar and the Italian lira. The current exchange rate is about 2100 lira = $1. But suppose you didn’t know that. Suppose you thought that one million lira was a fortune. You sell everything you have and do everything you can do to become a lira millionaire, never realizing that it’s only $500. You gave up everything for almost nothing.
Jesus was saying that the currency of worldly importance has very little value. The real value is in servanthood. If you really want to be rich, if you really want to succeed, if you really want to be great — become a slave.

7. The surprise principle of discipleship is that greatness comes through service.

8. This principle led to the telling of Jesus’ spiritual secret.

II. Spiritual secret of Jesus

1. Jesus said that he "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

2. Have you ever had the boss come to your office? You thought you were in trouble. You wondered what the boss wanted you to do. You feared you might be fired. Then the boss gave you a promotion, offered you a raise, asked about your family, or what the boss could do to help you. Afterwards you thought, "Now that’s a great boss!"

3. Jesus came to our world. Not to judge. Not to condemn. Not to demand. He came to serve. He washed the feet of his friends. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He helped the poor. He forgave sinners. He volunteered and gave his life to save others from sin and hell. Afterwards we think, "That Jesus is really great!"

4. What was Jesus’ secret? How did he keep his dignity when he was mocked and spit on? How did he remain holy when Satan himself tempted him to sin? How did he convince billions to believe in him? How did he stay so faithful and favorable to God the Father?

5. The secret is service. "The son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve."

6. Remember: To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus.

To be a disciple is to be like Jesus.

To be like Jesus is to become a servant.

7. Jesus’ secret must become our attitude. An attitude of servitude.

III. Attitude of servitude

1. An attitude of servitude is choosing to desire a role of serving, helping and blessing others.

2. Attitude: What can I do for others?

• How can I make someone’s life easier?

• What can I do to help out someone else?

• What could I give up to make the poor richer?

• How can I put others ahead of myself — especially those who are weak, disadvantaged, disabled, discriminated against, poor, unimportant, hurting?

3. The attitude of servitude permeates everything we think and do.

Our next door neighbor takes great care of his home and yard. He does a marvelous job shoveling his driveway and sidewalk. One snowstorm five years ago he shoveled his walk and kept right on clearing the snow off the sidewalk in front of our house. He’s shoveled our walk every snowstorm since. He is a Christian. He is a disciple of Jesus. He has a servant’s heart. He has an attitude of servitude!

Wooddale parking lot has exceeded capacity several recent weekends. Some observers went out to count spaces and cars, and to study traffic flow. One of the recommendations was to have someone direct traffic at the yield sign where two of our campus roads converge. The reason? Too many people are stopping their cars to let others go first. They have an attitude of servitude, helping others. It slows traffic but I love it! Just like Jesus!

Morrie Johnson died six years ago next week. He was 81 years old and suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. His son Gary is a Wooddaler who would often visit his Dad at the Ebenezer Home where he lived his final years. Morrie Johnson was a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ whose illness stole too much of his memory and too many of his life skills. Gary told me something quite wonderful about his Dad. In the midst of Alzheimer’s he kept helping other Ebenezer residents — he would help to feed them, care for them and serve them. As a disciple of Jesus Christ the attitude of servitude was so central to his soul that he kept on serving others no matter what.

That’s the way I want to be. Like Jesus. Like Morrie Johnson. Serving others. It’s what a disciple of Jesus is and does.

IV. Actions of service

1. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we delight to turn our attitudes of servitude into actions of service.

2. Disciples are doers! We don’t just think about serving others, we actually do it.

3. Do you know that as Minnesotans we live in the state that leads the nation in serving others (called "volunteerism").

• 66% of Minnesotans 18 years and older volunteer (compared to the national average of 56%).

• Minnesota volunteer hours are worth $6.5 billion annually.

• Older Minnesotans had the largest recent increase — up 10% to 63%

• The age group that volunteers most is 35–44 year olds (76%)

• Two-parent families with children volunteered more than any other household type (80%).

• Women volunteer at a higher rate than men (77% vs 60%).

• Education levels vary widely — 53% for less than high school to 80% for college graduates.

4. There are many ways for disciples to volunteer to serve:

Social Services

Tutoring. Mentoring. Building homes for the poor. Fixing cars. Giving free professional services (doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses), hospitals, schools, prisons, nursing homes.

Acts of Kindness

Shoveling snow. Mowing lawns. Raking leaves.

Painting houses. Giving rides.

Leaving best parking place for someone else.

Phoning shut-ins, disabled, elderly.

Changing someone’s tires. Cleaning-up another’s mess.

Christian Ministries

Child-care in the church nursery. Teaching Sunday School.

Ushering. Directing parking lot traffic. Providing financial counsel. Befriending. Praying. Offering computer skills. Short-term missions projects, church music.

5. The list is endless. The opportunities are infinite. There is always more for a servant to do.

6. The attitude should accompany the action. Servants show-up on time. Servants stay until they are finished. Servants don’t require praise or thanks or pay. Servants always try to benefit and please others.

7. Some measurements of physical health are easy to take. Body temperature can be checked with a thermometer under your tongue or in your ear. Just read the numbers. The same goes for serving others — how often? How many hours? How many people?

Conclusion:

1. Jesus’ spiritual secret is no secret any more. He came not to be served but to serve.

2. Philippians 2:3–5
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

February 17–18, 2001 Wooddale Church

Note: Statistics from Minnesota Office of Citizenship and Volunteer Services newsletter, Volume 25, Number 3, Fall 2000, page 1.

                          © Leith Anderson 2001