Last time we looked at dying to selfishness in order to benefit from the resurrection life which God in Christ has won for us. We saw that we are to live progressively more like Jesus, increasingly devoted to him. The technical term is sanctification.
We continue with sanctification this week in chapter 20 of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 20 to 29 inclusively.
This is where the mother of two of Jesus disciples comes to ask for privileges for her sons – to sit on Jesus left and right side in his kingdom. And the other 10 disciples take offence.
Jesus has two very interesting statements to make in response to this event – one to the mother’s request and the other to the 10.
To the mother, Jesus points out that such privilege is determined by the Father, and that the route to that privilege is via intense suffering – baptism in suffering ie full immersion in suffering. Furthermore, he predicts that this will indeed happen to them.
In fact Jesus refers to a cup and to a baptism. He uses symbolic language for the suffering he is about to undergo in his arrest, trial, humiliation and crucifixion.
A process of suffering leading to death.
And that describes the process every Christian is called to – suffering and death in some aspect of their SELF LIFE – that is the selfishness which exists at the heart of every human being.
Because God’s Kingdom is the reverse of this world and its self centred, materialist and ambitious culture.
In God’s Kingdom, God rules – not our selfish pride, wants and ambitions. That SELFISH life is to be put to death that we might live out the life of grace and love which Jesus taught and lived.
That we might partake of his Resurrection life and power.
So Jesus points out this fundamental, vital and serious fact to the mother and to the disciples. And to the 10 who took offence at her self centred request, he points out another vital truth about the place of God’s kingdom rule.
Not only is the path to privilege and life in God’s kingdom a path of suffering and death, it is also a place where the ambitious norms of this world are reversed.
Ye know that the princes of the gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you.
Whosever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Now even this is something which clever and devious people can fabricate to make themselves look good.
We need not, however, worry about that.
We do need to be concerned, however, by what is in our own hearts, our own attitude, and whether God sees there genuine, sincere devotion based in humility and service.
Of course the genuine heart attitude is best understood by, and among, those who have discovered the reality of this process.
This fundamental process of godly change resides in a person’s heart of hearts, and cannot be falsified. It is a process which knows the rewards of God’s power and grace for the sincere follower of Christ.
Nothing can compare to that reality.
It is too easy to become embroiled in all the day to day politics of a local church and fail to see and live the fundamental process God is taking us through.
The problem with any ecclesiastical organisation is that the life of the organisation so easily distracts us from the real and practical purpose of God – to change us to be like Jesus, to show his grace and patience in all we do, and to hold to his truth come what may.
A word of grave warning. There are many today who preach an easy path to God’s blessing. BEWARE. There is no easy path to God’s blessing. The only path to the true presence and power of God in our lives is via the cross experience of Christ.
The world about us says, – What is in it for me ? How does this promote my interests, my reputation ?
But with Jesus the question is – how does this cause me to be more obedient to God, and to manifest his resurrection life ?
That is a very different starting place; a very different perspective; a contrary set of values and ambitions.
Yet with great reward.
For example, we start to see things as they are.
Notice that the self centred response of the disciples and the mother causes them to distort what is important. They have to be corrected.
The disciples are offended. Why ?
Because they minded their position in the pecking order: which of us is most important to Jesus ?
Well, that is for God to decide – not us. We should gladly accept whatever God decides, knowing and believing that he alone knows what is for the best for us.
Time and again things have not worked out as I had wanted them to. Yet with time, I saw the reason why; I was truly thankful that God knows far better than I do, in all things.
One final thought here. The question posed by the mother was about being sat on Jesus right and left hand. But the answer had already been given. In the previous chapter and verse 28 Jesus states that the 12 will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.
Now, not everything recorded in scripture is in strict chronological order, but this point is worth making.
How often has God made something clear to us, but we just don’t take it on board – we don’t heed it. And we don’t heed it or give it due consideration because we are too busy thinking like the world instead of thinking as Jesus teaches us to think and behave.
I for one am guilty of that – are you ?