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Demonstrating a servant attitude
Scripture: Matthew 20:20-28
Track 8 of 12 in the Being with Him means Looking Like Him series
Running time: 33 minutes, 09 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, April 25, 2004
"Demonstrating a Servant Attitude"
"Being With Him Means Looking Like Him"
(Matthew 20:20-28)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

Well, I understand Mrs. Zebedee. You'll meet her in the text in Matthew Chapter 20 here in just a minute. The mother of James and John. She's the one who came to Jesus and wanted to know if they could sit on his right and left hand sides.

I know that mother because she was my mom. It was a small graduating class when Gail and I got out of this small Bible College over in Idaho about three decades or so ago. We were sitting up on the stage in a church building, not unlike one of many you have seen. It was a packed house. It was a nice warm May evening. Things were a little warm in the building. My father was about as deaf as a post, which meant that he probably had heard nothing of what had happened up to that point during the service. We had, however, been listening to the preacher preach the graduation sermon for an hour and about twenty minutes.

Somewhere about an hour into that process I heard this voice that I was hoping that I was the only one who would recognize. It sounded something like this. "Why doesn't he just shut up and let them graduate?" That was my mom! I tried not to look, to be, you know, that dead giveaway. There was just something about that mother in her, you know, that protective motherly instinct. Either that or she was just really tired of listening. I'm not sure which.

That's something about what happens in this text, in Matthew Chapter 20. Jesus has been talking since Chapter 19 about some rather interesting things. He ends up over here in Chapter 19 in verse 28 and he makes this comment

"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

And you can almost see James and John and mom going, "oh, we're gonna sit on thrones and we're. . . . . .We want the good ones. We want the one on the right and the one on the left." And so that's the question that gets raised here in this chapter. Look at Chapter 20 then, down here in verse 20. Matthew 20:20

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 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to be down in Ingraham, Illinois, down near Mt. Vernon, with Bob Lowery and fifty preachers talking about the nature of preaching in the 21st century and Bob was going over some of his Revelations material. Ah, I made mention to them that I would be preaching from this particular text this morning and let them know, as I'm letting you know, that back in about 1983 or 85 (something like that), that Bob Lowery wrote an article on this text. I want you to know that what I'm about to tell you is a lot of what he said. So if you don't happen to like it, you can blame Bob.

The bottom line coming out of the text is really very simple. Based on our fundamental approach around here that if we will spend enough time with Jesus, we'll begin to take on His character. We'll begin to look a lot like Him. His character is that of being a servant. That's His nature. It's just who He is, which means, I think, fundamentally, that if we're going to be growing disciples, we will also demonstrate that servant attitude of Jesus. That it will become our characteristic as well. And it seems to me that there are, in fact, some characteristics of what it means to have a servant spirit, a servant attitude and they show up very clearly in this text.

For example, growing disciples submit to the Father. That experience of submission becomes so utterly clear in this particular text. Look at verses 20 through 23 again.

She comes, (verse 20) comes and asks this favor. Jesus says, what do you want. She says I want my two sons to sit at these important places. Verse 22: "You don't know what you are asking," Verse 23: You will, in fact, drink what I drink. You will experience my suffering which he has referred to in verses 18 and 19 of the text. But then he says, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. That belongs to the Father.

It's one of those subtle reminders in the New Testament where Jesus makes it abundantly clear that he came to do the will of the Father. It didn't make any difference whether he would like to give that rightful place. It doesn't matter that he may have thought James and John, you are the appropriate people to sit there. It wouldn't have made any difference, because that was not his role. His role was to do the will of the Father. It was the Father's job to decide who sat where and Jesus simply, one more time, reminds us that he has submitted himself to the will of the Father.

There's another subtle little reminder in this text that struck me, I guess in a way that it hasn't recently. Verse 24 reminds us that the other ten disciples were indignant about this experience. When James and John sought to bypass the will of the Father, get their own way, take their places of prestige, it then created disruption in the rest of the disciples. Because there is power when we all collectively submit to the Father together, as a whole. Jesus is such an incredible model of what it means for us to simply put ourselves at the feet of Jesus, and to allow ourselves to be led by him in the direction that he thinks we ought to go without trying to, in some way, insert our will into His.

I could give you a list of churches the length of my arm where people in church have sought to do their own will, rather than listen to the collective will and wisdom of the church. And how many churches have divided over those things.

We don't always agree with each other about the way we do things, but there is a submission to the will of the Father that says if the leadership of the church is moving in a particular direction and we trust our leaders, our responsibility is to come alongside that and to follow, because we dare not create indignation, division within the body.

So Jesus says about Him in Hebrews Chapter 10, quoting him; "I have come to do your will O God." It is this constant sense in Jesus' life that whatever it is that God is directing Him to do, that's what He's going to do.

James and John come. I don't know whether James and John prompted their mother to say this or whether mom grabbed them by the lapels and said "come on, we're gonna go to Jesus". I don't know who instigated this situation but mom comes and says this is what we want. Jesus asks this profound question back to them. Can you handle this? And their naivete was, sure we can. Bottom line he says, yeah, you will. You will suffer because that's what's gonna happen and then he says I have to follow the will of the Father.

I have with great interest, over the last three or four years, but particularly in the last year listened to the stories of this place. Many of you don't remember the days of meeting in the YMCA and you don't remember the days at 25th and High Street. You don't remember when this was an empty cavern. You may remember when it was an actual store. But there were some leaders in this church twenty years ago who said, "this is where we think God is taking us" and I think. . . . .forgive me gentlemen, I know that some of you are still sitting here. I think there was a naive optimism that said, "sure we can do that". I don't know if everybody understood how much it was going to cost. I don't mean financially. I don't know if everybody understood the depth of the cost, the hours of labor, the investment, the time, the energy, but there was this sense that this is where God is taking us. This is where we have to go. If this is the will of the Father we have no choice but to submit and to go. See, that's the nature, that's the character of someone who looks like Jesus. Whether it has to do with the church moving forward or simply carrying out the will of God in our particular lives. We simply submit to where it is we believe God is taking us and that often means simply submitting to the needs of the people around us.

I remember one year we were taking a bunch of kids to camp. The church that I preached in, in Oregon, and another church down the road about fifty miles used to get together, load up in vans and drive about 450 miles. Because we wanted to go to a particular camp in the mountains of Idaho where we really liked the program.

We were coming out the east side of Portland on Interstate 80 and there on the side of the road was this old beat up station wagon and some lady standing there with a gas can. So we did what any self-respecting preacher would do. We pulled our van over. Jack pulled his van over. We walked back.

Jack was a mechanic. We figured, well, if there was a problem, he could help fix it. No, just ran out of gas. Just need to get enough money to get some gas in the can and we'll be on our way. So we forked over a couple of bucks for her to get gas.

I walked up and sat in the van and watched in my rear view mirror while we were kinda getting loaded up and ready to go. I watched another car pull up and stop and hand her a dollar. Then I watched another car pull up and hand her a dollar.

You know, it suddenly began to dawn on me. You know you could sit on the side of the freeway all day long and nobody would ever know if you went and bought gas. You could just sit there and collect dollars from people like us and probably make a pretty good living with the gas can.

Sometimes you never know if the person who needs help really needs help. What you do know is this. It is the will of the Father to submit to the needs of people. And so you act in the good faith, that what you are doing is honoring to God and you would rather obey God than worry about losing a buck. That's the nature of Jesus. To submit to the will of the Father and to demonstrate that submission to his will by simply serving the needs of the people around him.

Which is, by the way, the second characteristic of being a servant in this particular text. A growing disciple not only submits to the will of the Father, but the growing disciple serves the needs of people. This is probably the most overlooked part of this entire text. But if you look at verses 24 and 25 and following, he says, you will, in fact, you've heard it about these Gentiles. That Gentiles lord it over people and their high officials exercise authority. It shouldn't be that way with you. If you want to become great, you must serve. If you want to be first, you must be a slave. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Growing disciples serve people. And it is such an obvious thing and so easily overlooked. That the nature of what we do is, in fact, to simply pour ourselves into the service of other people.

You know it almost begs explanation because it is such an obvious and simple concept. That if in some way God is pouring himself into you and Jesus has become the One whom you are trying to model, then there can't be much that would surprise you about the expectation that part of your Christian experience is that of serving.

There's a ceramic dust pan, you know, one of those old BBS project things that we used to do. It hangs in the kitchen at a church in northern Indiana and on the ceramic dust pan is a Beatitude. "Blessed is He Who Cleans Up".

Are you all aware that among the very first criteria that the elders look at in selecting new leaders for this church is this question? In what area are they currently serving? Because the assumption is that you cannot lead in this church until you have first demonstrated that you have served in this church. Jesus said you know about worldly leaders. You know what the leaders of the earth are like. The leaders of the earth like to exert power. They like control. They want to dominate. Jesus says it's not to be that way among my disciples. If you want to be first, if you want to lead, you assume the role of a servant. You take the place of a slave.

And so they came to the Last Supper and who is it that washed the feet of the disciples? The Master himself, Jesus, as he demonstrated the very fact that what we do is we learn to serve.

It is never easy to be able to try to sort out how to say this in a church, because we understand that we are a volunteer organization. What that means is there is basically no teeth that you can put into anything. You open the doors and you invite people to come in and they come and they meet Jesus. And He makes this profound difference in their life and their lives begin to change. And you say to them, a part of what ought to happen to you is that as a result of this experience, you should begin to serve Him in various ways and they say, No thanks, we really rather not do that. Well, what do you say, Bye. You can't say, Well, we're going to withhold your wages or we're going to fire you.. It's a volunteer organization and nobody has to do anything. But those who grow into an appearance like Jesus find themselves, not rebelling against service, but asking, How can we serve? Where can we plug in? Because there is something inherent in becoming like Jesus that just internally forces you to say, What can I do? It doesn't always happen within this building for sure.

Service sometimes occurs on a Tuesday afternoon with Edmond down at Redmon Lee. Service sometimes occurs when you find yourself going across the street to one of our older members houses and taking them a meal. Service sometimes occurs when, you as a Christian, sees somebody in need. And you stop alongside the road and fix their car. But service sometimes occurs when you say, You know I could work in the back in the nursery. I could go to elementary worship and help ride herd over a hundred elementary kids. We give special point for that. It may be that you walk in on Sunday morning and you realize that, for some reason, who knows what, the person who was scheduled to be at the door passing out bulletins isn't there. Maybe they've gotten sick. Maybe they had a flat tire on the way to church. So you say to yourself, I could do that! And so you grab the bulletins and you stand there smiling, and hand them out. And you don't worry about whether somebody has asked you to do that or not. You just do it because that's what Christians do.

I have watched as some of our brothers and sisters from this church have parked their cars in the far regions and just picked up trash all along the way. I know that there are people who come and they clean and get ready for Sunday simply because the heart of Jesus calls us to serve. That's always been true.

I've listened with great interest to the stories of the days when this building became something other than what it was and turned into a place where worship could occur. I'm hesitant to mention the names of those who spent literally hours and hours and hours on this building, but you know who you are. You know the volunteer time that you spent cutting holes in concrete floors, of running wiring, of hanging lights, of painting walls. I could stand here, probably for the next thirty minutes and just tell you about the number of hours that were spent in the warehouse and in this back hallway this summer. People who don't want recognition, but who simply want to do what they perceive Jesus calling them to do and that is to serve. It is the nature of faith to serve.

One of the things that I particularly like about May is graduation for a couple of reasons. One is, it means school is over. That means summer vacation starts. The other is graduation, because I love graduation. And I like Seminary graduation better than I like college graduation because there's one special thing that happens. They will come up this side of the stage in Lincoln and they will walk to the front where they will be handed a diploma by the President and they'll get their hand shaken as they get this degree that they have achieved; Master of Arts, Master of Divinity, Master of Arts and something. They'll come over here and step down on this stoop and Bob Lowery will lay their Masters hood over them. It's one of those things that distinguishes them from the undergraduates. They get this fancy thing that they get to hang down their back once in their lifetime unless they go into academia, which means they get to wear it twice a year. They'll step down to the bottom step and when they get to the bottom step they'll be met by one more person and that person will lay a towel across their arm. To remind them that they came to school not to become masters, but to become servants.

I like that imagery because it is so profoundly what the church is about, developing people with the heart of Jesus to serve other people. Not all of those people of course, come into this place. In fact, until you and I learn to serve the people who are not in this place, or places like this, this morning, we have not finished out job.

The last thing that happens in this text in verse 28 is that Jesus says, and to give his life as a ransom for many. There is a characteristic of a growing disciple and that is they sacrificed for the "many" of God. Most scholars think that's a reference specifically to Isaiah 53, versus 10 and 11. Isaiah 53 is that great chapter where the suffering servant is put to death for the salvation of the world. And at the hand of God, this suffering servant suffers so that (Isaiah says) so that "many" may come to God. Jesus picks up that imagery of the "many", the outside, and recognizes that one of the characteristics of a disciple who is becoming like Jesus is the recognition that we will do whatever it takes. We will sacrifice whatever it takes in order to see to it that the world has an opportunity to become one of the people of God.

For Jesus that meant the ultimate sacrifice of his life. But that shouldn't surprise you because in Luke 19 he gave his own personal mission statement. Luke 19:10 says, I came to seek and to save that which was lost.

I am, quite frankly, puzzled and a bit struck by the fact that we live and work in such a consumer world where what typically is out here is the attempt to somehow market a product in a way that it makes the rest of the world think they have to have it. I mean, that is the nature of marketing. Convince me that I need this! My fear is that the consumerism comes to church and we have a world full of people out here who look and they ask this question. What does the church have to offer me? What can I get from the church? If I go to your church, what would I get? . . . .get. When ultimately the question is never what can I receive. The question is always what can I give? In fact, what wouldn't I give? What do I hold so dearly to me that I wouldn't give it up to see lost people come to Jesus? What do you hold so important to you that if it was the difference between the salvation of your friend and that particular thing, that you'd hold on to the thing or the idea, or the attitude and let that person go to hell. Jesus had nothing. There's not one thing so important to me that I hang on to it including my own life.

See, there is no way to be a Christian and to be concerned about the lost of the world and be selfish. It just cannot co-exist in the same place. I thing about the people who have given their lives in order for people to hear about Jesus and then I find myself unable sometimes to even sacrifice my own discomfort in wanting to talk to somebody.

One of the things you're hearing about and it finds itself intruding in everything we're doing, I hope in not a negative way, but a positive one, is that now through the first of May and into our one service with each other over in Baldwin, you're hearing a lot about this campaign moving forward and growing deeper and you're hearing about dollars and cents and buildings. You're hearing about steel and bricks and mortar. Please hear this. This is not about buildings. This is not about concrete and steel. This is about people and creating an opportunity to do a better job of reaching people.

There are just a whole bunch of you sitting in here today who have no memory of the YMCA and that's appropriate, because the sacrifice that about 250 people made twenty years ago has made it possible for you to be in this place worshiping when you may not have had that opportunity had they not made that sacrifice.

The question is, who's going to be sitting in some other building, who knows where, twenty years from now because of choices we're making today about what to sacrifice and what not to sacrifice.

I was reading again about Southeast Christian church. We don't compare to Southeast except in spirit and in heart. Their building cost them right around 90 million dollars. They average somewhere around 20,000 people on Sunday morning. But, here's where we're the same. When they appealed to their congregation to make a three year commitment to see to it that there would be space adequate for people to come to know Jesus, one particular family, in their family gathering, single mom and her children saying, we're already tithing to the congregation. We just honestly don't know how we could possibly give any more than we are giving on our limited income. And that's a legitimate statement to which the son, believe it or not, the teenage son said, mom, we don't need cable TV. Let's just give that up for the three years of this campaign and make that our commitment.

Now some of you wouldn't think of that as sacrifice. For that teenage boy, that was a major move to becoming like Jesus. Because he took something that was of value to him and he gave it up for someone else. That's the nature of Jesus. I've heard those stories.

I've heard stories of the Dudley sisters. I've heard stories of Roger Ratliff nearly being electrocuted. I've heard the stories of the sacrifice that people gave of wedding rings to make it possible for you to be, today, where you are.

I don't know who's out there that will be impacted by the future of this congregation. All I know is that they are out there and what they need in here are people who look like Jesus who are characterized by a submissive spirit, a servant heart and a sacrificial nature, who are willing to say, Am I becoming more like Jesus than I have ever become before? Who are looking at themselves and saying, Is there a place where I can begin to plug in and make a difference, where I can begin to pour myself into service so that somebody else will have an opportunity to worship? Or, willing to look at themselves and say, Is there something about me that I need to sacrifice, some physical thing, some attitude, some heart matter that I need to give up in order for people to have faith in Jesus?

It might be as simple as on Sunday morning, you sliding one seat over and sacrificing your favorite place in that spot so that a newcomer can sit down beside you. It may be just the simple sacrifice of ten minutes of your time when you turn around to someone before you walk out the door and you say, you know we've never had a chance to meet, my name is. . . . .and I want to welcome you here. I'm not talking about giving up your life. I'm just talking about giving up a little of your life for the sake of Jesus. And why would you want to do that? Because He gave it up for you, that's why. He gave absolutely everything up for you and He did that before He ever knew you and before you had ever heard of Him, for one simple reason. So that He could offer you an invitation to know Him and what He has to offer to you. We're trying to do the very same thing. Just be a church that holds its hands out to its community and says come and get to know Jesus the way we know Him and let Him shape you in His nature. And let Him start by giving you life.

If you don't know Him, we're encouraging you to get to know Him. If you don't know how to do that, we're encouraging you to ask. Give us a chance to share with you the story of Jesus and if you're not ready to ask, just hang in there and keep listening because one day it's gonna catch and it's gonna make sense and then you'll know.

Let's stand together.