WELCOME BACK to our deep dive into Matthew’s Gospel.
Today, I want to preach the crazy message, “We go up to go down.”
I know what you want to ask me: “Brother Mike, okay ka lang? Stressed ka ba? You’re blabbering gibberish.”
I agree the statement makes no sense. But in today’s Feast, I’ll explain that this non-sensical message was the core message of Jesus.
The Problem of Not Listening
In our Bible story today, Jesus predicts His coming death. Again. And every time He talks about His dying, the apostles don’t get Him. They hear His words but not His heartbeat. Which is our problem too!
The first time Jesus predicts His death, Peter says, “Over my dead body!” or something to that effect.
And Jesus calls him Satan.
The second time, the apostles do something worse: They argue who was the greatest among them.
The Entire Scene Is a Comedy
For the third time, Jesus predicts His death and what do His disciples do? They jostle for political power. It’s so hilarious, I bet Matthew expected his readers to laugh. It was a sitcom.
Here’s His prediction:
As usual, His disciples didn’t get it.
This is how they respond:
Just in case you’re thinking Mama Zebedee is an overzealous Stage Mom who is dragging her reluctant boys to sing in the birthday party, think again.
In Mark’s version of this story, there was no Mom. James and John were the ones who asked for the plum positions. This was a family plot to grab power. They wanted to go up to stay up.
We’re Going Up for a Purpose
Jesus said, “We’re going up to Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem was the capital of ancient Israel. That’s where the big shots were.
If you wanted a seat among the powerful, that was the place to go.
And who doesn’t want to go up? We hear this all the time today: “Aim for Number One,” “Go to the Top” and “Climb the Corporate Ladder”.
But that’s the craziness of His Kingdom: Jesus was going up so He could go down. He was going up to become powerless to serve the powerless.
And did you notice? He said to His disciples, “We’re going up…” not “I’m going up”.
It was like Jesus saying, “Guys, I’m going to suffer to rescue the suffering. I’m going to die to give life to the dying. That’s my plan. May we do this together? Will you also go up to go down?”
Jesus’ version of “Going Up” is very different. It actually means two not-very-appealing actions…
Listen to how Jesus replied to Mama Zebedee and the Zebedee Boys: But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (v.22)
Cup of suffering?
I’d rather have a cup of coffee or tea or hot cocoa. But suffering?
We live in a culture that hates inconvenience. We don’t like it when our Grab driver is late. We get angry when our WIFI is slow. We frown when our emails are not replied in a few hours.
So why in the world will we put suffering in a cup and drink it?
But that’s the call of Jesus.
Are you willing to go up and suffer for others?
Listen to how the Z-Boys answered Jesus:
Do you know who God assigned those special places to?
Get ready to be stunned. A few chapters later, Matthew tells
us who they are:
His Besties Are Very Different
But God chose condemned criminals—the most despised people in the world—to be beside Jesus. Let that shocking truth sink in for a while… Even to the very end, Jesus hung out –literally– with His favorite people— the scum of the earth.
(And in religious Israel, the holy too.)
Who are your favorite people? I’m sure criminals don’t appear in your Top 10 List of Besties. But they are in Jesus’ List.
His Throne Is Very Different
Second mistake of James and John?
They didn’t know that Jesus’ throne was a cross. That His crucifixion was His coronation.
And so the thrones beside His throne were also crosses.
May I say something radical? The goal of every Jesus follower is to be crucified. It’s just a question of how. And by God’s design, what happened to James and John are the two ways of being crucified. Because they indeed drank the bitter cup.
The Two Kinds of Crucifixion
When they were young, James and John were blinded by selfish ambition.
But through the years, they matured spiritually and finally got it.
In Acts 12, James became the first Apostle to become a martyr.
That’s the first way to be crucified.
John shows us the second way. Historians say he lived a long life, serving as the Bishop in Ephesus. He was perhaps the only Apostle that didn’t die a martyr.
Most of us won’t die as martyrs either. Instead, like John, we die each day to our own selfish ambitions– and live for others.
Which is the second meaning of “Going Up”…
The other disciples totally misunderstand Jesus too: 24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.
Were they angry because the Z-brothers had no delicadeza for asking if they get Cabinet Positions? Not really. I’m guessing naunahan lang sila. They too wanted the same seats of power.
Because the brothers were being total knuckleheads, Jesus had to explain His upside-down Kingdom in the plainest language possible: 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
What Is Your Life Dream?
If you ask people today, “What do you want to do with your life?” you’ll get various answers.
If you ask persons my age, the answer might be, “To have lots of money in the bank, buy a big house, drive a big car, have two kids, and by 65, retire and play golf every day.”
If you ask millennials and Gen Z, the answer might be, “To retire at 35, travel the world, work from a beach, start an online business that runs on auto-pilot, have my significant other beside me for us to enjoy life together, and do what I want to do, when I want to do it, where I want to do it.”
But don’t you notice? Whether it’s the classic answer or the updated answer, it’s still all about “me”. It’s all about my desires and my dreams.
And that’s why many aren’t happy.
Because God created us for bigger things than “me”.
If a Jesus Follower is asked that question, I think her answer will be a little different. She’ll say, “I want to be crucified with Jesus, and through my life, be a blessing to others.”
Jesus said, Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25 NIV)
May I share a personal story?
The Quiet Life Won’t Be Very Quiet
Because I’m young at heart (Naks), I actually resonate with the second answer more than the first. After being married for 23 years, my wife and I live still in a small house. My work makes me travel a lot, and once in a while, I can work from a beach. I also do have an online business to support my family and give to God’s work.
But do I live a life of freedom where I do what, when and where I want to do? Not really.
I’ve been serving God as a missionary for 40+ years. And this is what I always tell my wife: If I wanted to live a quiet life, I just have to do one thing: Stop serving. And I’d eliminate 75% of my problems. No joke. Because most of my “suffering” comes from my “serving”.
Here’s why. When the people I care for have problems, they become my problems too. That’s why my problems keep multiplying.
Grow More To Serve More
A few months ago, I had Coronavirus Disease (COVID). And I found my heart longing for a slower and quieter life. I imagined myself moving to a farm, so I can wake up each morning surrounded by nature—so I could pray and write the entire day. That is my picture of bliss.
The crazy thing is that when I started planning for it, I also thought of a million other things I’ll do that’s connected with my move to the farm. For example, I wanted to care for the people I will hire for the farm—paying them higher wages and teaching them to invest so they can retire as millionaires. I also asked myself how can I help my neighbors around the farm. And that’s when I started laughing. My life won’t be very quiet after all.
God whispered to my soul, “The purpose of your existence is not to have a peaceful life, but to be crucified each day for others. But when you suffer for others, that is when you receive the greatest peace.”
By the way, I know myself and my weaknesses. On a human level, for me, dying for others is totally impossible. I’m just too selfish to do it. But by His supernatural grace, with Jesus, I’ll go up to go down.
I will grow more so I can serve more.