Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Called Give (2 of 3)

Part 1 gave three categories for church members – those who seek what they can get from church, those who seek more for their own benefit, and those that give. This post will show how James and John fit the first two categories, but were challenged to live in the third.

The essence of Matthew 20.20-28 is about a mom making a request on behalf of her sons, and Jesus' response in regards to that request. The request: for her sons (James and John) to sit next to Jesus in His Kingdom. This represents the attitude of: "What can I get?"

Verses 20-21 begin with the mother of the sons of Zebedee – James and John – coming, with here sons to talk to Jesus. She knelt down. While we do not know why, it is likely because she didn't want others to hear (v. 24). Regardless, Jesus expected something asking, “What do you want?”

Her request was bold! She wanted her two sons to be in a prominent place in His Kingdom – right next to Jesus. Perhaps, she thought this to be eternal (in both Matthew & Mark, this story is right after Jesus predicts His death for the third time). But the disciples were chosen by Him to learn from and to serve with Him on earth. Jesus promise to these disciples was to follow and become fishers of men. James and John were fishermen by trade so this statement would have truly resonated with them. But now, the promise that Jesus made in the past, apparently wasn't good enough. It is as if they are saying, “Jesus, thanks for all this so far, but we need more. Can you just give us two particular seats in your Kingdom?”

Maybe they thought they should ask before someone else does? For these two (and their mother) it wasn't enough to be with Jesus – it was to be in a special place. What can I get? Of course, we, as followers of Christ, we should want to know Him better, to love Him more, to be more faithful to Him. But to make demands of Jesus – even if we were to do it in the form of a question, which they did not – is pretty arrogant.

Think about church membership – someone may come, may spend time with Jesus, but are evaluating based upon the present hopes, rather than on the past promises. Evaluation is certainly good – it is how we grow. But to demand more from God than He promised is to be more worried about getting than giving.

This leads us to verses 22-23, and to the group that asks "What am I missing?" Although some overlap exists with the previous group, this group is often active in the church, but for their own purposes, not for the benefit of others. Amazingly, in relation to the request, Jesus doesn't give an outright “No!” In traditional rabbi form, He answers one question with another. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Basically, He is saying, "I am about to suffer. I will be earning my seat. Are you also willing to suffer in order to earn the seat you desire?"

Their answer: “Yes!”

Jesus: “You're right. You will suffer. But just as my place is given based upon what I do, so too will yours. And I don't get to pick my place...and you don't get to pick yours. That is the choice of the Father.”

Again, it isn't wrong to want more of God? But what is our motive? Our reason? The truth is that Jesus wants to give us more than we can imagine. But what will we do with it? Do we want it for ourselves, or for others? Ultimately, everything we get is a gift from God. But what are we willing to do for Him? Jesus asked James and John the same question He asks us today: Are you willing to do your part for the Kingdom, in order to receive the blessings you seek?

Maybe we want more from Jesus? But we don't change anything about our lives. Maybe we want His blessings, but we aren't willing to do anything different so that He can bless us. Jesus knew that James and John would do their part. But the blessings were still from the Father.

But when our motives are wrong, it will create problems. Our attitude will affect the attitude of others (v. 24). Maybe they were jealous they didn't think to ask first? Whatever...there was hostility brewing. And that led Jesus to a teachable moment. Because rather than asking what He can get, or what more He can get, Jesus asked, What can I give?

In verses 25-28, Jesus reveals the need for His followers to serve. People who are not focused on the His Kingdom focus on power and position. Normally, the higher the position, the greater the power. But Jesus says, His Kingdom doesn't work that way. The greatest is the one who serves the greatest. And no one served others greater than Jesus. This teaching was against everything the culture then, and the culture now, taught. This doesn't mean that we are to be walked over – Jesus was always in control. But it is about being willing to give what we receive – and even more. We all know that we can't outgive God, but we don't often act that way. We horde our time, our talents, and our treasures. Jesus knew His role was to serve others - to give of Himself. And He asks for His followers to give as they live as well. The problem is that this is HARD to do!

And therefore, when we begin to think about it, we move from the giver, to the wanter, to the getter. We move from Group C, to Group B, and then to Group A where we often get stuck – at least for awhile. And we often rationalize to ourselves that we are entitled to more – deserving to be in whatever group we currently find ourselves. This rationalization is not healthy, but it is human. And this kind of thought process is likely a part of why the mother of James and John made the request in the third place.

In Part 3, a deeper look at a possible reason for the mother's request will be revealed. Perhaps, she was appealing to Jesus as a member of her extended family.

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