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The Son of Man came not to be served by to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
– Matthew 20:28
My mom was a great southern cook. At least six nights a week, she cooked a full meal for everybody who showed up at the table. There were eight of us and most nights, at least one or two of us had a friend who wanted to stay for supper. We had a neighbor, in fact, a big ol’ guy, who would show up completely by coincidence most evenings right around 6:00. It would never have occurred to my mother to turn him or anyone else away. There was always a way to stretch the meal so that everyone had enough. My mother had what Warren Lathem calls a theology of abundance. She always believed there was enough. I, on the other hand, had in those days what Warren would call a theology of scarcity, because I had four brothers, and I was just sure that if I didn’t protect my plate, I’d go hungry.
Like my mother would let me go hungry.
In a theology of scarcity, we believe there is only so much so we get very protective of our plate. But in a theology of abundance, we get it that God is in control.
Jesus taught that in the last days, we’d become confused about that. We’d become very concerned about protecting our own lives and lifestyles, worried that if it isn’t up to us it won’t happen. So the question this morning is simply this: Is God enough?
Will you take a moment to prepare the soil of your heart to receive this word? Close your eyes for a moment, and listen to this: Just after Jesus says, “I came to serve, not to be served,” he comes up on two blind men on the roadside, who hear Jesus is passing by. And they cry out two things: “Lord, have mercy on us,”and, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”
Both great prayers. Can you imagine Jesus passing by right now, passing right in front of you? And as he passes by you, he asks, as he asked those two blind guys, “What do you want me to do for you?” And you answer: Lord, have mercy on me. Let my eyes be opened. Can you imagine that as your cry to Jesus this morning? If so, make that your prayer. Lord, have mercy on me. Let my eyes be opened. Amen.
There is a verse in a song by Switchfoot (“Meant To Live”) that goes like this:
We want more than this world’s got to offer
We want more than the wars of our fathers
And everything inside screams for second life.
We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?
I think they’ve hit the nail on the head with these thoughts. We do want more than this world’s got to offer. We were meant for more. Everything inside us screams out for an option. And that’s why enough is frustrating. It is frustrating precisely because hard-wired into us is a desire for more, for a second life. And in pursuit of that something more, we go after the things we know how to do. We try earning more, working harder. We watch more Oprah, read more self-help books. We become fighters. We fight for what we think we deserve. We invent our idea of perfect and then go after it with a vengeance. We become very preoccupied with making sure we get ours. After all, if we don’t protect our own interests, who will?
But nothing we try quite scratches the itch. And that’s what frustrates us.
None of this is new. Jesus met a guy once who was in the middle of this frustrating personal crisis, and he used the guy to show his disciples just how hard it is to make your own stairway to heaven. And the disciples see this and are sort of stunned by the revelation of it. And they ask, “Who then can be saved? If we can’t earn it or work for it or somehow deserve it, how do we find the peace and joy and fulfillment we so desperately hunger after?”
Let’s look at this section of Matthew 19 and 20, that help us think through these questions.
Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man asked.
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
Do you know the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the Newark, New Jersey school system? The guy who owns Facebook decided he would give $100 million dollars to one of the countries worst school systems, so they could develop something state of the art that would totally transform the way public schools work.
$100 million dollars to save Newark’s educational system. Three years ago, the graduation rate in the Newark school system was 54%. In three years, they’ve hired fifty new principals, built four new schools, replaced the school superintendent. They’ve done a ton of other things, too, trying to save New Jersey’s educational system with $100 million dollars. And so far, what they’ve mostly gotten is parental outrage and very little real progress. A New Yorker article (“Schooled”) detailing how the organizers of this massive reform movement have gotten a huge education themselves. Turns out, all the money in the world isn’t always the answer.
Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey made $25 million for his part in Bruce Almighty and was rated in 2003 as Hollywood’s top-paid actor. And he says, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
We can’t earn enough to make life meaningful.
For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.
I go to the gym early in the day. Most days, I am struck by all the body types around me, quietly doing their thing on machines and with weights. These are not young, buff types, not at that time of day. These are normal-looking, working folk, like you see in WalMart or at Kroger. There are as many shapes as there are people — all interesting, none air-brushed.
On our respective machines, we move at different paces. Some are obviously just beginning this fitness journey, probably because a doc told them they should invest either in a gym membership or a cemetery plot. Those folks are lucky to make it a few minutes on a machine before they quietly head over to the coffee pot. Others have been at it a while and seem hardly to break a sweat after an hour of flailing around on whatever their contraption of choice is.
If you were looking critically at the collective group of us, you’d wonder why we bother. Most of us are normal, middle-aged people; we don’t look “fit,” not on the face of it. But we’re there. And more and more, I believe that’s what counts. Being there.
I’ve decided this much — if you’re inside the gym walls you deserve not to be judged, no matter what your shape or pace. I want this mind to be in me, that I am able to look at anyone in that room and default to this: “At least you’re here. And because you’re here, you’ll get only mental high-fives from me. No judgment, just grace and prayer.”
What I’m learning at the gym informs my view of those inside my church. They also are normal people who come in every spiritual shape, who go at every spiritual pace. They move at different speeds and make progress in varying degrees. Some are more comfortable near the coffee machine; others have more spiritual stamina. On the face of it they may not look like much, but those who make it in, whether they come sprinting or fall across the threshold, deserve not to be judged. At least they are there.
This was the gospel preached to me from the vantage point of my elliptical this morning so today – on the strength of that good word – I make this fresh promise to the people who will show up in my church on Sunday: “No matter what shape you’re in or what pace you’ve set for yourself, because you’re here, you’ll get only mental high-fives from me. No judgment. Just grace and prayer.”
Warren Berkley says, “God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, pp. 61-62). And then Berkley says this: “It is not merely the time that we put in. It is the heart that we put into the time we have.”
This whole question of what “enough”means comes down to motive. Where is my heart? What am I really after? Because enough —when it is all about me —can be so frustrating.
Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.
She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
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?”
“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”
Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”
When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 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. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 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.”
The problem with what this mama is asking for her boys is that she somehow thinks there is only so much grace, only so much authority, only so much power, and she wants to make sure her sons get it. Only so many people are deserving, and what if her sons somehow miss out? After all, they’ve done the work. They’ve followed. Don’t they deserve?
Like Jesus says to her, “You have no idea what you’re asking for.”
Step back a few chapters to Matthew 15 and you’ll run across another mom who came to Jesus on behalf of her child. This one was looking for healing for her daughter, and Jesus’ response seemed cold. “I’m not here for the Gentiles. I’m here for the lost sheep of Israel.” He even calls her a dog. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.” I don’t know about you but that would have devastated me. All my rejection demons and inadequacy demons and pride demons would have rallied and I would have walked away from that moment feeling angry and wrong. I would never have let that guy touch my kid.
But this wise mama understood that what Jesus was saying had nothing to do with whether or not she deserved his time and mercy and grace. In fact, he was saying quite the opposite. Beneath his words was something profound about God’s love for people who didn’t deserve more of his time. In that exchange, Jesus revealed how devoted he was even to those who reject him. And this mama heard the underlying message and agreed with it. “Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Jesus was so impressed with her discernment that he healed her daughter on the spot. When this same healing story is told in Mark, it is sandwiched between two miracle feeding stories. Just before it is the story of the feeding of 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves. And just after it is the story of when Jesus feeds 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few small fish. In both cases, the disciples (who must’ve fallen out of their cribs at birth) ask, “Where are we going to get enough to feed all these people?” Both times! They don’t just ask Jesus the first time they see thousands of people get fed. They ask again a few days later when Jesus does it a second time! Because they are still bound by this theology of scarcity that says that if we feed all these people, we won’t be able to feed our own. Meanwhile, Jesus is operating out of an abundance we cannot even begin to fathom.
And between those two feeding stories is this woman and her daughter and her insistence on the crumbs. No wonder Jesus is so moved by her. In her, he sees the same love as his Father has for the whole world. He sees a kind of faith that isn’t about to walk away empty-handed when she knows there’s more. He sees a spirit of abundance in a woman who knows there is always enough grace, always enough power, always enough food to feed whoever shows up at the table. So your sin and my sin and your feeling like an outsider and your guilt and your shame is never enough to keep you from being at the table if you want to be at the table.
The moral of this story is that Jesus doesn’t intend to invite you into the Kingdom without changing your life. That was never part of the deal. It doesn’t matter which side of the equation you’re on. Whether you are part of the family being called out into the world or a strange, pushy Gentile woman begging for healing, Jesus plans to wreck your life.
What is enough?
So how do we get enough? The answer is in the approach of these two moms toward the circumstances of their lives. One mom has the sense that her sons have served Jesus enough to deserve a place at the table. The other gets it that there is no such thing as “enough” in the Kingdom. What we get is only because of the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. John Piper says, “The radical call to Christian discipleship is NOT a call to serve Jesus, but to be served by Jesus as we serve others, and to be ransomed by him from death.”
So when Jesus says he came to serve, not to be served, that’s not a formula for how to live this so we can feel good about ourselves. That’s a Kingdom reality. This isn’t Jesus saying, “You need to serve in the same selfless way I serve.” He’s saying, “The only way you can do this life, the only way you’ll be at peace, the only way you’ll find joy in this world is if you let me serve you. “Enough” happens when we let Jesus serve us.
Piper says we can’t be rich enough, work hard enough, deserve enough UNLESS we are served by Jesus.
(This is) what turns Christianity into gospel. If Christianity were only a great and radical teacher calling for the sacrificial obedience of radical disciples, it would not be good news. It would be just another ideology. Another philosophy. Another moral improvement program. If Christmas only meant that a man appeared on the scene of history to call others to be servants, it would not be good news…We don’t need a Messiah to tell us that. What we need is salvation from guilt and death and hell. And we need power to drink the cup of suffering in the path of service. We don’t need another religious leader to say, “Follow me.” We don’t need another prophet, like Mohammed. We don’t need another philosophical Buddha or Confucius, or another political organizer like Karl Marx or Mao Zedong. We don’t need any more New Age mysticisms or psychological self-help strategies. What we need is Someone who can forgive our sins and ransom us from guilt and death and the wrath of God, and who can give us a new life with the power to die for each other in the service of love” (from a sermon entitled “The Son of Man Came to Serve”at www.desiringgod.org. December 17, 1995)
This is what Jesus means when he says —-
Matthew 19:30 – Many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Matthew 20:16 – So the last will be first, and the first last.
Matthew 20:26-28 – 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.
He is saying that those who get it will be the ones who realize we’re nothing by ourselves…that what we want most from life won’t happen if we think we have to do it ourselves. It will happen when we let the One Who Is Enough serve us as Lord, and Messiah, and Friend.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Father is enough. All by himself, he is enough.