October 23, 2022 The Desire for Recognition

The Desire for Recognition

October 23, 2022



Read Matthew 20:20-28.


The mother of James and John comes to the Lord Jesus and kneels before him. Kneeling and bowing are signs of humility and of showing honor. This is why it is good to kneel before the Lord in our times of prayer and worship. We see this often in Scripture. I think we see it more often in Scripture than we do among evangelicals.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! [1]


When Paul was in Tyre, we read this as the church was sending him on his way:


5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed[2]


David prayed:

7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,

will enter your house.

       I will bow down toward your holy temple

in the fear of you. [3]


Bowing and kneeling appears over a hundred times in the Bible. If you are not bowing and kneeling at all in your times with the Lord then this indicates a lack of humility on your part.[4] Let us get our lives in line with biblical revelation, not evangelical tradition. (This doesn’t mean we must bow or kneel every single time we pray, for the Bible reveals other body positions in times of prayer also.[5])


Verse 20 says that the mother asks him for “something.” She first asks him to answer her request without identifying what the request is. So, our Lord asks her, “What do you want?”


She wants James and John to sit next to Jesus on his throne in the kingdom. We can note that she recognized that the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ has not been set up yet. There is a sense in which the kingdom is already here. It is here in a hidden way because wherever the Lordship of Christ is embraced and followed, there is the reality of the kingdom. Thus, when the church is functioning and living in obedience, it is so pleasant and peaceful. We have a foretaste of the kingdom! But there is coming a day when the whole world will come under the Lordship of Christ. He will set up his kingdom on this earth, not in heaven. Heaven is already part of the kingdom. The earth is still in rebellion. When our Lord sets up his kingdom, this loving mother wants her children to rule and reign with Christ in the highest positions possible!


Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”[6]


Both James and John heard their mother’s request because they are the ones who answer Jesus. Jesus tells them that they do not understand what they are really asking. He asks them if they are able to drink the cup that he will drink, meaning the cup of suffering. He asks them if they are able (willing) to suffer for his sake. They reply in the affirmative. Surely, they did not understand the suffering that they would have to experience. Yet, they were right and Jesus affirms this in verse 23. Historically, both brothers suffered. James was put to death by the sword by order of wicked Herod (Acts 12:2) and, according to Tertullian, the apostle John was also sentenced to execution by the Roman government by being dunked into a vat of boiling oil. Do you know hot oil has to be before it boils?  (Answer: 572 degrees F!) Tertullian also tells us that John came out of the oil unharmed! So, he was exiled to the lonely isle of Patmos, where he penned the book of Revelation. Although the Lord miraculously protected him, knowing that he would be dipped in boiling oil was unquestionably a suffering, as was his being a lonely prisoner on Patmos, away from all his companions.


Then our Lord tells them that it is not his decision who will sit at his right and left, but it is up to the Father. See, then, the sovereignty of the Father over that of the Son. They are the same in nature and equal in divinity, yet the Father exercises his discretion in who will have what place in the kingdom. The Father is sovereign!


This is revelatory. In our way of thinking, we may understand that God does elect some to salvation and passes over others, so that our salvation is not up to us in the least (This is the revelation of the Bible!). But, we may assume that our place in the kingdom is up to us. Here, our Lord is saying that our place in the kingdom is not up to us. It’s not even up to Jesus! It’s up to the Father! At least, the highest positions are, so one would assume that all positions are.


This is mysterious. It is mysterious because many, many times both Jesus and the apostle Paul teach that our entrance into the kingdom depends upon our faithfulness. It even depends upon our good deeds! (Our salvation does not depend on anything we have done, but our place in the kingdom does!) Therefore, how can it be determined by our Father? We cannot comprehend it. There is a role that we play in our own destiny with respect to the coming kingdom. We must be working for the Lord, not just sitting around in our chair. If we are just sitting around we will be cast away. That is a fact! Is your chair worth being excluded from the kingdom? Some Christians are so foolish as to think it. Some are even more foolish to ignore it all together. Did you know that some Christians are foolish? Jesus said so! (25:2-3; Luke 24:25) The apostle Paul said that some Christians are foolish (Gal. 3:1-3; Eph. 5:17) If you have been foolish, be foolish no longer! Your life in the next age depends upon it!


So, here is the mystery: our place in the kingdom depends on our personal faithfulness but, at the same time, it is determined by the Father. The closest we can come to understanding it is that God, in his oversight of all things, still uses means. Sometimes, these means are the decisions of people. How can he determine things while, at the same time, there is a contingency upon the decisions of creatures? We cannot answer that at the present time and will have to wait until heaven to know how this can be.


But, we do know that our place in the kingdom, to a great extent, depends on our love and obedience to the Lord. Therefore, focus upon your own integrity in following the Lord rather than wondering how the mysteries of God play out. Remember the lesson from the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard: As long as we do labor for the Lord, we will be pleasantly surprised when rewards are given!


When the other ten heard about the desire of James and John, they were not happy. Ambition, or the desire for recognition, is not looked upon favorably by most people. For example, when it is known that a person in a workplace is very ambitious, that person is usually not thought of very well by the other employees. They feel threatened by that person. Maybe they will get a promotion that should have gone to someone else.


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.[7]


This is the way of the world the way of all societies. Governments work this way. But so do corporations. So do schools. Authority is everywhere. Because man is fallen, those who have authority often abuse it. They either exercise their authority in an overbearing way or they are too lenient. But, for most people (introverts might be an exception), they love to be in authority because it gives them both recognition and power over others.


26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave[8]


In the church, it should not be like this. There is such a thing as authority in the church, but it is unlike the authority structures of the world. As our Lord here teaches, the greatest among the children of God are not those with a title or a degree by their name, but the great  ones are those who serve others.


The word for “servant” here is diakonos. It denotes a hired servant. Then Jesus says, “whoever would be first must be your slave.” The highest position, in the eyes of God, is for those who live as slaves to others. The word for “slave” here is doulos. It means someone who is owned by another and has no freedom. It also happens to be the word used by the NT authors to designate our relationship to Christ. We are owned by Christ and we do not have the freedom to leave! Of course, no true follower of Christ ever wants to leave. Only false believers want to leave.


Both of these terms reveal a heart that is humble towards others. If we would be great in the eyes of the Lord then we must cultivate humility and servanthood, even slavery. Many translations of the Bible do not translate the word, doulos, as slave. This is because slavery has so many negative connotations because of the abuse of slavery in the modern era. But that is the only meaning of the word in Greek.


Humility is a virtue that is highly cherished in the New Testament:


5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” [9]


In order to have more grace in the present, as well as to give us an abundant entrance into the kingdom that is coming, we need more humility.


Do nothing from aselfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;

    4      do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

    5      Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

    6      who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

    7      but aemptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of men.

    8      Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[10]


Christ came as a slave and so must his followers come!


This portion ends with Jesus saying:


28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [11]

Christ came to serve. Even serve by becoming a ransom! A ransom is what you pay to another to buy something back that belonged to you. We belonged to God via creation but we have all left him by our sin. Christ came to buy you back! The price he paid was his very life on the cross.


If you have not yet been brought back to God then now is the time. Today is the day. Admit that you are a sinner who has rebelled against your good and loving Creator. Trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. Repent of your sins – that means turn away from your life of sin and submit to God. Begin to follow Christ with the new life that he will give you! It is that simple!


  • Acknowledge your sinfulness.
  • Trust in Christ’s sacrifice to take away your sins and in his resurrection, which is the proof of Who He is.
  • Repent.
  • Follow Him.


For those who are followers already, cultivate humility in your life. Begin by serving others, even being a slave! Then you will be prepared for the kingdom. The proud will not enter. This means that some Christians will not enter!


Christ’s kingdom is coming! Let us prepare ourselves!








[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 95:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 21:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 5:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Those with knee problems can still bow down.

[5] Standing (I Sam 1:26), sitting (2 Sam 7:18), prone (I Sam 28:14; Matthew 26:38), lying down (Psalm 4:4; 63:5-6).

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 20:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 20:25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 20:26–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 5:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Legacy Standard Bible. (2021). Php 2:3–8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 20:28). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.