40 Days of Transformation: Day 6 – leading with servant authority


One of the subjects I’ve been returning to lots recently is the hinge passage in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus teaches his disciples what it means to be a leader in his kingdom (Matthew 20:17-28). I’ve been thinking and being challenged about what delegated servant authority looks like as a vicar, husband and father.  What sort of slave am I?  How do I lead and serve? Is serving confined to preaching and teaching or should I do practical works of service too? I’ve noticed that when I do the practical, like picking up litter in the street, taking a neighbour to the recycling centre or scrap yard or whatever little act of service it is I do, that the gospel of Christ is made real. I can’t be aloof in the pulpit if my hands are dirty.

Here’s a copy of my talk from the Christians in Sport day out at the Grand Prix athletics at the NIA last Saturday. The conversation afterwards turned to the loss of volunteers for athletics clubs. Could the professionalisation of athletics and the big money available to the elite has killed off the grass-roots? We can’t serve God (and neighbour) and Mammon.

Did everyone watch Sports Personality of the year before Christmas?

I’m not going to ask if you voted,
or who you voted for,
because that might just cause arguments.
But I’m going to tell you who I voted for
and what I learned about myself.

Or better still,
if I tell you what I learned about myself first,
then perhaps you can work out who I voted for.
I learned that I am an athlete before I am a Scotsman.

I remember seeing Jess Ennis compete in the High Jump
as a junior and knew she had great talent back then.
I didn’t know then that was watching a future Olympic Gold medallist.

I would like to make a suggestion to the BBC
about
The Sports Personality of the Year.
Over the years, lots of different categories have been added.
There’s the best team,
best coach,
lifetime contribution to sport,
oversees sports personality of the year,
and young sports personality of the year.
But I think they need a new category.

Why don’t they have,
Most competitive sporting celebrity mum of the year?
Most competitive sporting celebrity mum of the year.
Now we can argue.
Who would win?
Judy Murray, mother of Scottish tennis star, Andy Murray.
I’m Scottish, in case you hadn’t noticed.
And I know that most Scottish mums are like Judy Murray.
The Scots have a reputation for being a born nation of losers.
Rather than snatching victory from the jaws of defeat,
the saying in Scotland is
“we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
It’s true.

And my theory for why Scots choke when victory is simple but profound.
Why do Scottish rugby players get all anxious when they are 5 metres from scoring a try?
Why did Colin Montgomerie choke on the 18th fairway in the 2006 US Open?
It’s because, when your mum is as competitive as Judy Murray,
the pressure is huge.
Just imagine being at Murrayfield,
and in the stands there are 15 mums,
veins pulsating,
eyeballs popping,
voices hoarse from shouting,
the pressure has got to get to you.

I got into the Scottish Athletics team and won medals at British Universities
I now I know what drove me to compete in athletics.
My mum is Scottish.
I love my mum loads, but she’s just like Judy Murray.
And so are all my mum’s friends.
No offence to Dougie’s Mum, Irene.
But me and my school friends all grew up trying to be the best rugby player, best golfer best high jumper, or best 400m Hurdler
because our mums were all competing with each other!

Being a competitive mum is not just a Scottish disease
Mum’s all over the world want their kids to do well.

Now, we’ve got the idea about competitive mums
I want us to turn to the gospel of Matthew.
We’re going to take a look at one of the most important
times in Jesus’ life.
It is important because in this account, Matthew tells us that he and the other disciples are just beginning to understand who Jesus is.

Jesus had started doing some great stuff.
He’d healed people, done amazing miracles
and he was teaching with the authority of God,
and so people naturally wanted to hang out with him.

His 12 disciples were continuously amazed by him.
And then there was the mother of James and John
She was a competitive mum
who wanted the best for her boys.

Take a look at verse 20 with me:

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.

Zebedee was the father of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples. And their mum wanted Jesus to do her a favour.

So far so good. It’s okay to ask Jesus for favours.
Jesus likes to do good things for people.
It just depends what we ask him.

“What is it you want?” Jesus asked her.

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.”
In other words, I want what’s best for my sons.
I want them to be great.
I want them to rule in your kingdom,
one on your left
one on your right.

What did she want for her sons?
Power and authority,
glory, fame and honour.
Her attitude was:
“Jesus, you’re the one who will one day rule the whole world.
Let my sons rule with you in your kingdom.
I am a competitive mum.”

Now. The great thing about the mother of the sons of Zebedee is that she’s got Jesus’ identity right.
Jesus is the ruler of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is the ruler of the nations.
Jesus is bigger than our cultures.
Jesus is bigger than the Scottish
and he’s bigger than the English
And he’s bigger than the Americans, though they don’t like to think anyone is bigger than them.
Jesus is ruler of all the nations of the world,
whether or not the rulers acknowledge this.
And this mum wants her sons to rule with him.

The problem is, she doesn’t know what she’s asking Jesus for
and that’s what he tells her. Jesus is always straight with us.

Look again at verse 22.
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.
“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

The answer to that question,
in the way Jesus asked it
is always going to be “NO! We can’t drink your cup.”

It’s a bit like saying to the primary school kid on sports day,
“do you think you could beat Mo Farah over three miles?”
The answer is always “No”

It would be like asking the under 11s primary school football team
do you think you could beat Barcelona?
The answer is always “No”

But these boys, who are as clueless as their competitive mum say
“We can drink it.”

But this cup is the crucifixion of Jesus.
Look back up at verse 17.
The Old Testament calls it the cup of God’s wrath.
The cup of God’s anger for our sin and rebellion against God’s rule as king.
We can drink that cup but none of us should want to.
And Jesus doesn’t want us to drink the cup of God’s wrath either.
That’s why he went to the cross, to drink it for us, because he loves us.

Everyone who trusts in Christ will never have to drink that cup
Because Jesus has drained it on our behalf.
That’s the good news which lies at the heart of Christian faith.
Even though we deserve God’s wrath for the way we have treated God,
Jesus takes the cup away.

Jesus is the ultimate super-sub.
The situation we all face before God’s wrath is hopeless.
It’s like the Scottish rugby team is 75 – nil down with 12 minutes to play against the All Blacks in the World Cup Rugby final.

But then imagine that Jesus steps on to the pitch and wins the game single handed.
He takes the Melrose Cup, then hands it to us,
So that we are the champions, because of him.

23 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.”
You see, God the Father decides who rules with Jesus.
And we need to get this bit really clear, only Jesus, the Son of God can drink the cup we all deserve to drink.
And then he gives us honour and glory as a free gift. We don’t need to compete for it. This is the grace of God.
But that is not the end of the lesson Jesus is teaching his disciples.
There’s some more. How many disciples were there? 12!
The other 10 were furious when they heard that James and John had tried to earn promotion.
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 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.”
Jesus was talking about rulers like the Romans, cruel, oppressive, militaristic. Just think about North Korea, Kim Jung Ill or any other government which oppresses its people.
26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 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.”
Jesus is the eternal ruler of the nations, but he does not rule like other rulers.
Jesus is not corrupt.
Jesus is not in it to make himself rich.
Jesus is not interested in making his life comfortable whilst everyone else suffers.
Jesus is not power crazy, like the leader of a military coup.
Jesus is not interested awards for doing good, so that he will look good.
Jesus came not to be served but to serve.
Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.

And anyone who wants to be in his kingdom
Needs to do two things.
1. Thank him for stepping in to drink the cup of wrath in our place.
Gaze on the cross and realise that he is doing that for you, he loves you enough to die for you.
2. live or rule like Jesus did, a servant of others,
in other words,
make the needs of others
and their good
your goal in life,
do charitable things as a follower of Jesus.
Serve as he served you, with his life.
And live under his rule, as he is your good king,
Jesus wants what is best for you in life
And will only command you to do things which are good.

Matthew 20:17-28

17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.
21 “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.”
22 “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.
23 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.”
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 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. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 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.”

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Matthew 20:17-28

17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.
21 “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.”
22 “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.
23 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.”
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 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. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 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.”

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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