Sermon title: JESUS’ EXAMPLE OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Matthew 20:9-10, 17-28
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, June 30, 2019
Thursday will be the 4th of July,
the annual celebration of America’s
Declaration of Independence from England.
It will be our 243rd Independence Day celebration—
243 years since those living here
announced that they were officially
breaking free from the rule of the King of England.
But, for 169 years,
settlers in America lived under British rule—
from the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607
to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
We still see evidence of that here in New Bedford
just a few blocks away from here
in the stretch of road that’s named “King’s Highway.”
There’s a “King’s Highway” in Rochester, too,
and on Cape Cod—also known as Route 6-A.
Just as we have a federal highway system—
with Route 195, for example,
backed by federal government money
and meeting higher construction standards
than local roads,
so, too, colonial America
had highways commissioned by the King of England.
Unlike ordinary dirt public ways
that could be muddy or even flooded, when it rained,
the king’s “high” “ways”
were public ways built up
to higher elevations
so that water would run off.
So, the king’s “high” “ways”
allowed faster travel
without getting bogged down.
The king of England ruled colonies all along the Atlantic coast,
so a King’s Highway once stretched 1,300 miles
from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina.
Its construction began in the mid-1600’s
on the orders of King Charles the 2nd.
Americans later fought and died for our democracy
after declaring independence in 1776,
but in the wars that occurred
during the 169 years before that
Americans fought for King and country—
the King of England.
Long before it became the name of a Christian music duo,
“For king and country” was a traditional battle cry
of British soldiers.
Soldiers have died for their king all down through history.
But, as Christians, we have a King who died for us.
That is a staggering thought:
a King who died for us.
It was such a strange concept
that it took Jesus’ disciples years
before they grasped it.
Even when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem
that final week before his crucifixion,
the disciples expected him
to take power as King
and drive out the armies of the Roman occupation.
He was received as King
by the crowds that welcomed him
on that first Palm Sunday.
But then he went to the cross
and died for our sins—
promising to return with kingly power
at a future date that would remain secret.
So, Jesus was full of surprises.
He often did the unexpected.
And he also taught in a way that was unexpected,
and used his teaching to convey lessons that were unexpected.
An example of this is found in the 19th Chapter of Matthew,
beginning at Verse 30,
where he gave the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.
Just a couple verses from that parable
were included in our Responsive Reading this morning.
But, beginning at Matthew 19:30,
our Lord set the stage
for what he was about to teach.
It was a surprising teaching,
and so he repeated the main point twice,
first at the beginning of the parable,
and then again at the end—
so that we wouldn’t miss
the unusual point he was making.
He had just finished talking about
the rewards and blessings
his followers would receive
when they entered his heavenly kingdom.
Then at Matthew 19:30, he said.
30 But many who are first
will be last,
and many who are last
will be first.
To illustrate what he meant by that,
he went on to give the parable:
1 "For the kingdom of heaven
is like a landowner
who went out early in the morning
to hire men
to work in his vineyard.
2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day
and sent them into his vineyard.
A denarius was a Roman coin,
worth a day’s pay at that time.
And the agricultural workday was typically 12 hours long.
It went from Six in the morning,
to Six in the evening, by our modern clocks.
They divided it into 12 hours, as we do,
but they began numbering the hours
from the beginning of the workday,
rather than counting from midnight.
So, when Jesus says in the next Verse,
3 "About the third hour he went out
and saw others
standing in the marketplace doing nothing—
that third hour would be our 9 A.M.
4 He told them,
'You also go and work in my vineyard,
and I will pay you
whatever is right.'
5 So they went.
These temp workers, or day laborers, didn’t quibble,
because if no one had hired them
by the third hour of the work day,
they faced the prospect of being
unemployed all day long.
So, without balking at the invitation to work,
they accepted the landowner’s offer
to pay them “whatever is right.”
6 "He went out again
about the sixth hour and the ninth hour
and did the same thing.
The sixth hour was Noontime,
and the ninth hour was 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
About the eleventh hour he went out
and found still others standing around.
The 11th hour was our 5 o’clock.
I know Jimmy Buffet immortalized that time
with his song, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”
And today’s office and factory workers
may knock off at 5 o’clock
and head to the bar room for the “happy hour,”
but those agricultural workers in Jesus’ parable
still had an hour’s work ahead of them.
The landowner in Jesus parable
found more unemployed day laborers
still standing around in the marketplace
at 5 P.M.—“the 11th hour.”
He asked them,
'Why have you been standing here
all day long doing nothing?'
7 "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
"He said to them,
'You also go and work in my vineyard.'
They would have looked at each other and shrugged,
since it was just an hour before quitting time,
but at least they finally had a chance to earn something,
so they joined the work crew in the vineyard.
8 "When evening came,
the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
'Call the workers and pay them their wages,
beginning with the last ones hired
and going on to the first.'
9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh
hour came and each received a denarius.
They would have been surprised and thrilled
to get a whole day’s pay
for working just that last hour.
10 So when those came who were hired first,
they expected to receive more.
But each one of them also received a denarius.
11 When they received it,
they began to grumble against the landowner.
12 'These men who were hired last
worked only one hour,' they said,
'and you have made them equal to us
who have borne the burden of the work
and the heat of the day.'
13 "But he answered one of them,
'Friend, I am not being unfair to you.
Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?
14 Take your pay and go.
I want to give the man who was hired last
the same as I gave you.
15 Don't I have the right
to do what I want with my own money?
Or are you envious because I am generous?'
Then Jesus again gave us the application,
the lesson he was teaching through this parable:
16 "So the last
will be first,
and the first
will be last."
Christian commentators down through the centuries
have applied this to Israel and the Church.
The Jews were the first invited,
as God’s “Chosen People,”
to receive the blessings of God’s kingdom.
And, for around 1,500 years,
they worked hard to keep the Law of Moses.
But then, when Christ came,
he opened the Church to the Gentiles—non-Jews—
and invited us to receive these blessings
by faith, not by doing the works of the Law.
The Jews were jealous.
You could almost hear them say,
like the laborers who worked the whole day,
“We worked hard for 1500 years,
keeping the Law of Moses,
and now you’re giving these non-Jewish Christians
salvation by faith,
without all that work.
That isn’t fair!”
The Apostle Paul traveled from town to town
and would first visit the local synagogue
and teach the local Jews how Jesus came
and fulfilled the prophecies
about the promised Messiah.
Many of the Jews were glad to hear that.
But then, Paul would add
that Jesus opened the way of salvation to the Gentiles,
and most of the Jews would then turn against him
and would persecute Paul and the Gentile believers.
The Jews were “first”
to be given the message about Christ,
but they will be the “last” to accept Jesus.
The rest of us Gentiles were the “last”
to hear about Jesus,
but the “first” to embrace him
as our Lord and Savior.
As Jesus said,
16 "So the last
will be first,
and the first
will be last."
That message can also be applied
to us as individual Christians.
One person may have spent a lifetime serving Christ,
like Billy Graham
who died at the age of 99,
and another person
may turn to Christ on their deathbed,
just moments before they die.
Both receive the same eternal life in heaven.
If we’ve served God all our lives,
and we hear of someone who received Christ on their deathbed
and immediately went to glory,
we shouldn’t be jealous,
as those who worked all day in the parable
were jealous of those hired at 5 o’clock.
The Lord chooses to give his free gift of salvation
just as freely as he gives it
to life-long Christians.
Jesus wants us to rejoice with them—
not to grumble,
as those workers grumbled against the landowner.
Our Lord himself sets the perfect example for us,
in this, and in everything.
As he was heading for Jerusalem
for the final time,
he knew that the cross was waiting for him there.
It must have been on his mind all the time.
Continuing in Matthew 20:17, we read,
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!"
The parallel accounts in Mark and Luke
add that Jesus said he would be “spit upon”
and “treated shamefully.”
The flogging he faced
would be with a scourge—
an extra-cruel whip
with pieces of bone or metal attached
to rip open the flesh.
And crucifixion was a horribly slow and painful form of execution,
where the condemned person
suffered excruciating pain
for hours, if not days, before dying.
Jesus had all that to look forward to,
and he shared it with the disciples.
But Luke 18:34 tells us,
“The disciples did not understand any of this.
Its meaning was hidden from them,
and they did not know
what he was talking about.”
So, they selfishly pursued their own interests.
Continuing in Matthew 20:20,
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons
came to Jesus with her sons
and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 "What is it you want?" he asked.
"Grant that one of these two sons of mine
may sit at your right
and the other at your left in your kingdom."
These sons of Zebedee were James and John.
And they brought their mother along,
to make this request with them.
They wanted special treatment in the Kingdom—
positions higher than the other Apostles—
right next to Jesus,
seated at each side of him on his throne.
Maybe they were sheepish and embarrassed
to make such a selfish request.
Maybe that’s why they brought Mrs. Zebedee, their mother, along.
Maybe they thought
the Lord would be more likely
to grant their selfish request
with Mrs. Zebedee kneeling before him.
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.
They really didn’t know what they were saying.
They still didn’t grasp what this “cup” was—
this horrible ordeal facing Jesus in a few days—
this “cup” that Jesus himself dreaded so much
that later in the Garden of Gethsemane
he would fall with his face to the ground,
and pray to his Father in heaven,
"My Father, if it is possible,
may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will,
but as you will."(Matthew 26:39)
James and John really wanted
those prominent positions
in the Kingdom—
whatever it took.
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."
So, the Zebedee boys would share in Jesus’ “cup” of suffering,
but that wouldn’t earn them
the top positions they coveted.
they would have been so embarrassed
by this whole incident,
that they’d keep quiet about it.
But either those two young brothers,
or their mother,
let slip what had happened.
We read next,
24 When the ten heard about this,
they were indignant with the two brothers.
But it wasn’t that the other 10 Apostles
had a better attitude.
On a later occasion they were all arguing among themselves
as to who was “the greatest” among them.
So, Jesus gave them
one of his many lectures
to set them straight.
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."
Our Lord Jesus came to serve—
like a servant—
like a slave—
and finally to give even his life for others.
And that’s how he wants us to behave.
He set the perfect example of servant leadership.
As King of the universe,
he could have visited earth
in royal splendor,
set himself up on a throne in Jerusalem,
and had everyone serve him
and wait on him.
Instead, he was born in a stable,
as a helpless infant child,
with an animal’s feeding trough for his crib.
He worked in a carpentry shop,
as an apprentice assistant,
taking orders from a carpenter
and helping out,
until his earthly father died,
and he had to do the carpentry work himself
to provide for his widowed mother.
Then, from the age of 30 onward,
he walked from village to village
healing the sick, teaching
and calling sinners to repentance.
After they walked over dusty dirt roads in their sandals,
he did the lowest servant’s job,
washing the feet of his disciples.
And then, finally,
he went to the cross
for people who were so wrapped up
in their own selfish interests
that they didn’t even appreciate
what he was doing for them.
And that’s us today.
That’s how Jesus found us—
broken sinners like his Apostles,
with messed-up lives that only God could fix.
But all these things Jesus said and did,
he did for us.
He’s our perfect example to follow.
And he’s alive today,
listening to our prayers
and reaching out with his powerful hand
to help each one of us
eventually live up to that example ourselves.