Matthew 20:17-28

…  25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  26 "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  27 "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – 28 "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

“One of these days I’m going to be living the good life.”  Such a statement has implications:  1) that there is such a thing as “the good life,” and 2) that I’m not living it yet.  But is that really the case?  In the future is your life going to be vastly different from what it is right now?  Or is your life now better than you think? 

Jesus’ words for today challenge our notion of what Living the Good Life means—both for Jesus and for us.      

  1. Jesus’ good life.

From the disciples’ point of view, life couldn’t get any better!  They were headed up to Jerusalem, making their way there for the Passover.  Huge crowds were meeting them everywhere they went.  And they believed that when they got there, Jesus would finally establish the kingdom and take the throne of glory.  Good times! 

So it was in the midst of all this sunshine and happiness, while they were on the way, that Jesus took the disciples aside, to “burst their bubble” when it came to the “good life” they were going to find in Jerusalem.  He told them:  “the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify” (vv. 18-19a).  The only throne Jesus would be taking in Jerusalem would be the throne of the cross.  Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom.  He also told His disciples about the glory of His coming resurrection:  “And the third day He will rise again” (v. 19b).  Sin would be conquered!  Death would be defeated!  Victory for all!  But the road to get there was not going to be sunshine and lollipops.   

This was the third time that Jesus had told the disciples what was coming.  Just as the other two times before, the disciples couldn’t grasp how being betrayed, slandered, beaten, mocked, and then handed over for execution could be seen as a good thing.  And so when Jesus talked about it, it went right “over their heads.”  Some things just don’t sink in. 

Yet for Jesus, from His point of view, His self-sacrifice for mankind was the ultimate good that His life could carry out.  For Jesus the cross was “the good life.”  It’s why He came to this earth in the first place:  “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (v. 28). 

The fact of the matter was that the world needed Jesus to live the life that He lived.  The world is full of mockers and scoffers, people who don’t take God seriously—or His Word.  How many in the world today laugh at the notion of sin and disobeying God?  How many look at God’s revealed will—His Word—as just an attempt for God to “run their lives”?    

There are plenty who call themselves religious, but whose shows of repentance are just that:  a show, a put on to try to get God to do what they want Him to do.  Oh, how the churches were full after 9/11/2001.  But not even three months later, things were back the way they were.  “These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isaiah 29:13).  We’ll show up; we’ll pray; we’ll put on the sackcloth and ashes—and then God will come and rescue us again, right?

Yet looking at the world means looking at ourselves too.  We have that same mocking spirit in each of our own hearts too, the same innate hatred for God and for His Word.  That betrays God’s Truth for the world’s lies when it suits our purposes.  That mocks God’s judgment over sin by continuing to sin anyway.  That instead of conforming our lives to what He wants, tries to stuff God into the box of our own desires—to make God do what we want. 

As the Son of Man Jesus perfectly conformed His will to the will of His Father; and He did it in our place.  He paid the ransom price of His own flesh and blood to satisfy the punishment the world owed for its hatred and disobedience.   And the price having been paid, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, the living proof that His ransom has set us free!  Free from the guilt of sin!  Free from death and sorrow!  Free to live with Him for all eternity!      

To this day there are those who do not get the cross of Christ, who fail to grasp just how good it is that Jesus Christ “came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”  The suffering of Christ just sails right over their heads.  But that’s because they don’t get the depth of their own sin.  But you and I know it.  Grasp the “good life” of Jesus!  Take hold by faith to the perfect life of selfless obedience to God that Jesus lived in your place.  Embrace His cross and receive your salvation!     

For Jesus “the good life” was the cross; it was suffering; it was selfless, never-ending service.  And therein lies the challenge for us when we think about our own lives.  What is “the good life”?  Jesus also challenges us to think about: 

  1. Our good life.

Among those who didn’t grasp what Jesus’ coming passion was all about were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, along with their mother.  She came with her boys to see Jesus, requesting that her sons be placed at Jesus’ right and Jesus left when He came into His kingdom (vv. 20-21).  James’ and John’s mother only wanted “the good life” for her sons; she only wanted to be able to point with pride at the people standing next to Jesus in glory and say, “That’s my boys up there.”  She wanted everybody to know that it was her boys standing next to Jesus in glory and triumph. 

James and John wanted the “good life” too.  They wanted the glory that came from the recognition that they were Jesus’ best disciples—that they were the greatest!  They wanted that glory without understanding what it was going to take Jesus to win that glory.

And the disciples—when they found out what James and John were up to along with their mother—they were pretty mad.  James and John were horning in on their share of “the good life,” the glory that they all would receive as Jesus’ disciples. 

Now just remember, Jesus had just finished talking about all of the suffering He was about to go through when He came to Jerusalem.  They really didn’t understand what they were asking.  The fact that they were asking for a share of Jesus’ cross had gone right over their heads.   All everybody cared about was the “party” afterwards.   

It gets to what we think of when we think of “the good life” for ourselves.  It seems in our day that the “good life” is all about fame and fortune, about getting rich and being able to do whatever you want without having to be accountable.  Yet how different are our own wishes and goals in life?  “To work my way up the ladder high enough so that I can be the boss.”  “To scrimp and save and make enough money so that I can quit my job and retire someplace warm and not have to answer to anybody ever again.”  Even as kids, we want “to be able to do what I want for a change instead of what everybody else wants.”  Do we really know what it is we’re asking for?    

Jesus defines the true nature of “the good life”:  “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave” (vv. 25-27).  People in the world gain glory by forcing their will on others.  But in God’s kingdom, the good life is found, not in telling others to do for you, but in being willing to do for others.  Jesus gives Himself as the ultimate example of this, doesn’t He?  “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve…” (v. 28). 

This is the good life that we’ve been given as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The good life that is a life of doing good—a life of service to God and to others.  We’re already beginning to enjoy the “good life” even now as we live each day trusting in Jesus as our Savior.  Through faith Jesus enables us to sip a couple drops of His cup of suffering in this life, as we take up our crosses and follow Him.  To embrace the suffering that goes with service in this life. 

And this is the good life we will enjoy for all eternity in heaven.   What will heaven be like? It won’t be all about sitting back on the Barco-lounger, sipping your mojito without a single care in the world!  It will be a life of service!  A life of always, perfectly doing what God wants.  A life of always submitting to the needs of others.  That’s because in heaven, with our sinful nature gone forever, finally what God wants will always be what we want.  Finally, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. 

One of these days you’re going to be “living the good life”?  Try today!  You already are living the good life!  Through faith in the good life that Jesus lived in your place, you are now living the best life possible!  The life of true, selfless love and devotion!  It’s a “work in progress” now.  But thanks to that good life—and death and resurrection—of Jesus, it’s a good life that will find its ultimate fulfillment one day—in the life that lasts forever.  Amen.