“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:25-28, ESV)
People love power. We probably hate powerlessness almost more than anything else. When we lack power to change circumstances – like disease, or the suffering of a loved one, the inward tension can be almost unbearable. If we lose our jobs, or cannot find a new one – left at the mercy of human resources people who know nothing about us except what they see on a sheet of paper or their personal and subjective impressions in a frightening, brief interview – it can be excruciating. When the Government enacts laws we don’t agree with, or fear, we feel discomfort and pain. We desperately want to the power to change whatever distresses, frightens or otherwise threatens to leave us helpless in any way.
The apostles were just like us. Bound under Roman dominion, subject to “secular” powers in a theocratic state – they hated it. They and so many others were looking for the One who would come and free them from such oppression. They thought Jesus was that one. That in His Messianic mission, He would restore Israel to its rightful place among the nations – marked out as God’s elect people. When once again they would be the head and not the tail. The mother of James and John was so sure this would happen, she went to Jesus seeking to secure her son’s position in the newly dawning kingdom. She wanted them to sit beside Him as He ruled – as He most certainly one day would.
What she did not understand, was that the rule of Jesus Christ is unearthly and spiritual in the first instance. Its external manifestation comes through the conquering of peoples souls, not their armies.
Jesus does what He can at this moment to disabuse them of worldly notions in this regard. It is fallen people who seek power over others. Only God ultimately rules. And only He can rule justly and holily and perfectly because He does not seek such power in order to subjugate. He uses His power to rule indeed, but in ruling, to serve. For He can give no greater gift to us as our Creator, than to bring all into subjection to His all wise, all loving, all just hand. A reign under which all who who are willingly ruled are the objects of His highest love, concern and blessing. And He would have our hearts to be ruled by the same Spirit He is.
Turning their eyes from the quest for power, He fixes them upon Himself. What are they to see? Christ in all of His majestic kingship? Not now. Not yet. That day will come. Now – they and we are to focus on Christ the servant. Not a lackey. Not our “go-to guy.” Not at our beck and call like a slave. No. One who serves us, not according to our fallen likes and dislikes, not after fads, fashions and fleeting whims. Served as we desperately need as perceived and designated by our Father.
How then does He serve us best in His coming? The text leaves no question. He serves us, by giving His own life as a ransom. He gives Himself in our stead. He gives up His life so that we can be set free. Free from the penalty due us for our sins, and, from the bondage that sin has held over us since our first parents sinned. He knew that He had come for this specific purpose Beloved – to die in our place. To take what we deserved, so that Heaven’s store might be open, and that we might receive from the Father what Jesus deserved. He came to be the exchange.
And, He came to do so not for the private interests of one or two – James and John, or You and Me. He came to be a ransom for MANY. For a vast host. For “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” (Revelation 7:9, ESV)
This is why He came. This is the meaning of Christmas.