The Persons Who Must Be Overturned!

March 29, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 20:20-28

1. Today's gospel reading is the story of when the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with [her] sons, bowed down, and made the following request. "When you sit on the throne, please say that these two sons [of mine] will be seated one on your right and the other on your left," (verse twenty-one). As for the sons of Zebedee, they are James and John. The same story is found in The Gospel According To Mark, but there it has James and John themselves making the request to Jesus. Thus, it most likely means that originally the aforementioned persons made the request and the mother joined in on it.

When You Sit On The Throne

2. "When you sit on the throne," said the mother. She believed that Jesus would sit on the throne. It looked like James and John did as well. They believed that Jesus would sit on the throne. They believed that Jesus was the messiah, the king anointed by God, the king appointed by God. They believed that he was the king who would righteously judge the world, govern the people according to the will of God, and bring God's salvation upon this earth. The time is coming when Jesus will be sitting on the throne. It will surely come. For that very reason then, they believed that he was heading for Jerusalem and they had followed him to this point.

3. But, there were many difficulties and struggles at hand as they went, going to Jerusalem, and it was clear that if you followed Jesus, hard work and sacrifice came with it. Therefore, when they were asked by Jesus, "Can you drink my cup?," James and John answered right on the spot, "We can." Both James and John had prepared themselves for the struggles. It looked highly probable that in the eyes of the disciples that at least two big forces stood in Jesus' way.

4. The first was the government of the Roman empire. In a political sense, it was the Roman empire that actually was governing, and within that system of government, if Jesus were to announce that he was the king established by God, then as a matter of course he would inevitably have a head-on collision with the Roman empire. It would be considered one of the many insurrections that had come up within the empire to date. And then the second was the religious government of the Jewish authorities. The disciples knew that Jesus was hated by the Jewish religious leaders. If he were to announce himself as the messiah, then he would inevitably collide with them. His Jewish countrymen were a greater barrier to blocking Jesus' movements than the Romans had ever been.

5. Thus, at least two great forces were ready to try to block the government of Jesus. Even while this reality of the world was visible to them, they still said to Jesus, "When you sit on the throne," and in a certain sense this statement is truly astonishing. They believed that this character originally from Nazareth would overturn the government of the massive Roman empire, overturn the government of the Jewish supreme court as well, and build his own kingdom. They were saying, "When you sit on the throne ..."

6. There certainly was the very real fact that huge numbers of crowds were following after Jesus along with the disciples. At the time of the miracle of the bread (14:13ff), just counting the males, five thousand persons were pursuing Jesus and had arrived [in his audience]. In all there might have been more than ten thousand persons. In chapter twenty-one is found the scene of [his] entrance into the capital city of Jerusalem, and great numbers of crowds spread their own clothing on the path, others broke branches from the trees and spread them on the path, and those coming from behind and those going ahead both shouted as follows. "Hosanna to the son of David! Let there be blessings on the one who is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the highest!" The presence of this hysterical crowd heightened expectations. Truly indeed, this One will sit on the throne. The kingdom is coming true. It sure looked and felt like it.

7. But even if a crowd of ten thousand had been following [Jesus], it would be extremely unrealistic to think that it could overcome the Roman imperial government by the strength of that number. However, this is not an issue of numbers. If we ask in the first place what was the only reason that so many had been following, it would be because they had been touched by the power of God, because they had seen God as the truly living God displaying power in the world through this one called Jesus. In a word, there was in the massive crowd that followed Jesus a feeling of hope, that "Something will happen." Through Him the power of God is being displayed and something amazing will happen. Thus, no matter how mighty the political and the military systems of the government of the Roman empire might be, no matter how secure the ancient religious system of the government of the Jews was, they would be no problem at all [for Jesus]. Since [Jesus] was coming from God, it was a given that [these systems of government in power] would be overturned. As a result, both James and John believed and even their mother had said, "When you sit on the throne."

One On The Right, One On The Left

8. But, after [the part of the statement of] "When you sit on the throne," she continued with "These two sons [of mine], please say that one will sit on your right and the other on your left." As I mentioned at the beginning, this looked like the request of James and John. It means please let us stand higher than the other disciples. If we go deeper with it, it seems to mean please make us higher up than Peter in particular.

9. Insofar as what I read to you last week, we had the story of Jesus going up the mountain and bringing along the three men, James, John, and Peter. Then later after that in the Garden of Gethsemane in the scene where Jesus is praying, the story is found where he is still bringing along these same three. In this way then this trio was specially treated in a certain sense. Of course, [I'm pretty sure] Jesus did not set them "higher" than the other disciples. But the parties concerned must have still felt that way. The reality that there had been fighting for the top position among the three did come into view. Furthermore, the other disciples had those very same thoughts as well. Seeing them trying to get the jump on them, forestalling for power, the other ten had taken offense at that, which means that they all wanted to be higher than the other disciples. Besides this, in the gospels, we can find the figure [of them] fighting over "Who is the greatest?"

10. [We've] all followed Jesus the same way. [We] wish for the rule of Jesus the same way. We want the kingdom of Jesus to come into fulfillment. Yet, we cannot grow as one because "Who is higher in that kingdom?" becomes an issue. It's not the argument of only those disciples because the reason this story is left behind is that both the later church and the later disciples will have the same [stuff in them]. And the same thing takes place among us. Who is the boss and who is the subordinate are always an issue. When we're looked at as a boss, we're smiling with glee, when we're looked at as a subordinate, we're ticked. We complain, "Why do I have to be obedient?," and if circumstances allow, we aim for the top with all we got wanting so badly to be in the position to make others obey. We unconsciously compete for dominance and we take up tests of strength in our relationships. In those relationships we should hardly expect to grow as one. Even in the church [this] is present.

11. Why do people who believe in Jesus and seek the rule of Jesus get that way? We've seen one thing. It is that they have only looked at Jesus as the king who overthrows the governments of their enemies with power, who subjugates them with power, and who builds his government with power. Thus, they have only looked at him as the one who would bring them salvation with power. Since the disciples had only seen Jesus as the messiah who would bring salvation with power alone, it is not unreasonable that they would come to think that power was ultimately the deciding factor. Since they were only seeking for a Christ who would bring salvation with power, it is not unreasonable that they would start to have tests of power in their relationships, even in their close relationships. Having greater power over others started looking important, standing on the ruling side looked important. They started to always make an issue out of rank. It was a matter of course.

12. But, as seen from the perspective of Jesus, that is a way of being, or figure, that is the farthest from the world of salvation. For that reason, Jesus presented a figure of the messiah that is totally at odds with the one the disciples had drawn in their minds. He says, "Just as you know, among the Gentiles the leaders rule the people and the great wield the authority. But among you it must not be that way. Whoever wants to be great among you, be a person who serves everyone; whoever wants to be the highest, be the servant of all. Just as the son of man did not come in order to be served but to serve and in order to offer up his own life as a ransom for many persons ... ," (verses twenty-five through twenty-eight). Thus, Jesus made clear that he did not come in order to be a king to rule over enemies with power, as the disciples and the crowds had expected him to. Jesus came "in order to serve" and "in order to offer his own life as a ransom for many persons." He is the messiah who had come in order to offer up his life by hanging on the cross for the atonement of sin; he is the messiah who had come in order to serve in that way.

13. It was neither the government of the Roman empire nor the government of the Jewish authorities which were in opposition to Christ in any true sense and which were obstructing the fulfillment of salvation. It was neither the Roman political system nor the Jewish religious system that must be truly overturned. It is the hearts of the disciples themselves, who were refusing to humble themselves and to become servants and who always made an issue of rank, which must be overturned and which must truly accept the government of Christ.

14. Certainly Jesus is the king anointed by God, and we confess that the Lord of the resurrection is sitting on the right hand of God the Father. But, the figure of this One whom humankind has encountered on this earth was the figure of a person who serves, it was the figure of a servant. Passion season is the time we remember that figure. The king of kings, the Lord of lords became small and served us. In this way then, he has taken our sins upon his own back. And even now the Lord is still continuing to show us this serving figure. Jesus is saying to us even now as he presents himself, "I came to serve you. I give myself. I give my life. Eat my body. I give it to you. Drink my blood. I give it to you." We confess in regard to this One, "You are the messiah." The person within each of us must be overturned by Him.