22 Sep 2019
The priority for parents is not to get their children into Harvard, but into Heaven. Mrs Zebedee understood that. She loved Jesus and also her sons - and desired that they will be great when Jesus establishes His Kingdom. When told that the cost will be high - that they will suffer, and that they must be willing to serve - she did not waver. May this simple and short sermon encourage you to be the right kind of mother or father for your children, just like Mrs Zebedee.
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Today, if you have your Bibles, great if you could turn with me to Matthew, chapter 20, and it's a long passage. You have just read it, verses 17 to 28, and so you might be expecting a long sermon today. But I want to tell you, though the passage is long, the sermon is short. It’s very short, one of the shortest I will have here. I hope you don't think that I'm “jia juaing” [Hokkien] or being lazy, but that's just the way it is. We are just focusing on one particular aspect from these verses.
Before I start, I'd like you to guess a job, would be immediately obvious to some of you, but don't say the answer, right … but reveal it right only at the end, alright? So guess the job today, that's the task for introduction.
What's the responsibility? What's the description like? Well, it begins right here.
• Long term team player needed for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment.
• Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work various hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.
• must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily.
• Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.
• Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.
Advancement and Promotion:
• Virtually none.
• Your job is to remain in the same position for years without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.
• None required.
• On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.
Wages and Compensation:
• You pay them, offering frequent raises and bonuses.
• When you die, you give them whatever is left.
• While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered. This job offers limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life, if you play your cards right.
So guess the job! Parents or mothers, alright, in particular, at least that's more true in my family. Mums or Dads, alright! So today, I'm going to do a little makeup. You know, during this year's Mother's Day and Father's Day, I did not have a special message for fathers or mothers, so this is like payback time. And it's because we are going through the Bible in Matthew, chapter 20, about a particular mother today.
Her name, we don't know a lot more, but she's probably most well-known for Mrs. Zebedee. So she's said to be the mother of the sons of Zebedee. So, let's call her Mrs. Zebedee. Her story is given in Matthew, chapter 20 and in a few other parts of the Bible.
Now, not a lot is told about Mrs. Zebedee, that's for sure. You might even struggle to find where else in the Bible is this lady mentioned. But whatever is given to us, I think it’s helpful for our consideration as parents. This is not just for Mums, I hope parents you will think about this principle as well. And for those who are not parents, I think there are still spiritual lessons to be gleaned.
So let's look at this lady, this mother, this Mrs. Zebedee. What can we learn about her life? As mentioned, not a lot is written, but we can piece them all together to have a better composite picture of this mother.
1] Her Devotion
The first thing I want to mention to you about Mrs. Zebedee is that she's a lady who knows the Lord Jesus Christ, understands who He is and loves Jesus Christ. So number one, let's look at her devotion, her devotion to Jesus, her love for Jesus.
Nothing is more important than a person's relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “This is life eternal…” You say what is eternal life? Is it that I'll live on forever and ever? Perhaps. But Jesus defines it this way in John 17, “This is life eternal, that you know God and His Son, Jesus Christ.”
There's nothing more important in life than to know God and His Son, Jesus Christ. There is nothing more important for a mother than that she would know God and His Son, Jesus Christ. That's the most important relationship for parents! And I think Mrs. Zebedee knows Jesus Christ, she's devoted to Jesus Christ.
In the text before us, we are told that, “She came up to Jesus with her sons, that is James, and John, and she knelt before Him.” [Matthew 20:20] The word, ‘knelt’ here is the word ‘proskuneo’ in the Greek.
It's a word that is sometimes mentioned here in our pulpit ministry. But it's a word that occurs a lot in the Bible, in the New Testament. The word literally means someone who kneels and bows and lies prostrate before another one. It's a position of deep reverence and humility, just lie down flat and you're saying, “I'm so low before someone who is so great.”
So this lady ‘proskuneo’ herself before Jesus, she humbled herself before Jesus. Now the word ‘proskuneo’ can just mean the physical act of lying prostrate. But, often times in the Bible, it means also more than that, because it also implies a spirit and attitude of worship.
In this context, I think it would not be inappropriate for us to suggest that Mrs. Zebedee came to Jesus, not just lying prostrate before a great person like Jesus, but recognizing also that He is the very Messiah, the very Son of God, God Himself. In other words, she comes in a posture and attitude of worship.
Now, I think that is so because she did say to Jesus, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit one at Your right hand and one at Your left in Your Kingdom.” [Matthew 20:21] She understands that Jesus is not merely a carpenter's son. She understands that Jesus is not just some person who said, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
She understands that this Jesus is the King in the coming Kingdom. “In Your Kingdom, Jesus”. Now, that's actually quite remarkable, she's quite insightful, she's quite discerning because Jesus in verses 17 to 19, just the first three verses in our text today, had revealed to His disciples for the third time that He is going to die.
Over the course of these few months in chapter 16, chapter 17, Jesus has been slowly but surely preparing His disciples that He is going to die. And so for the third and last time in chapter 20, He said to them, “I am going to Jerusalem and the religious leaders are going to hand Me over to the Gentiles to be flogged, to be mocked, and they will crucify Me. I'm going to die.” But it does not deter Mrs. Zebedee.
I'm sure James and John went back to tell Mum, “Mum, Jesus just told us the third time He's going to die. He's going to be crucified, He's going to be taken over by the Gentiles.” But Mum says, “Regardless, He is still King. I'm not sure how that's going to take place, but He is King. And I want to come, bring you along to Jesus and to kneel and to worship Him.” So Mrs. Zebedee was a lady I think, who was insightful, who had faith in Jesus Christ.
Now there's another mention of Jesus, oh not Jesus, another mention of Mrs. Zebedee. This time, you fast forward a few days, to the time Jesus is going to the cross to die. Matthew tells us there were a group of ladies, “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee ministering to Him.” [Matthew 27:55-56] They have been taking care of I think, the physical needs of Jesus.
And who is this group that was devoted to Jesus, following Him all the way? Well, you have some names here, “… Among whom were Mary Magdalene. And then you have Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. And then you have mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Mrs. Zebedee, she's there!
Now before I go to show us the next slide, does anyone know the … the other name of Mrs. Zebedee? Ha, I guess so! So, let's look at the other name revealed in a parallel passage, so this is Matthew speaking. Mark also writes about the same thing but gives the name of Mrs. Zebedee.
Mark says, “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James the younger and of Joseph and Salome.” [Mark 15:40] That's her other name! Salome is taken from the word, ‘Shalom’, which is peace. So you know her as Salome or Zebedee or whatever you want, but we will call her Mrs. Zebedee today.
Now she was one of a few women who were with Jesus right up to the end - devoted to him. And then I want you to know, Salome, because two days later or three days later, she was not just a lady who was with Jesus, when He was crucified, but she was one of the first women or people to look for Jesus after He died.
The Bible says, “When the Sabbath was past …” This is Sunday morning, right early in the morning, this group of ladies, same group, “…. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, bought spices so that they might go and anoint Him.” [Mark 16:1]
So like I said, the Bible doesn't give us a lot of details about this woman, but it will be safe to say I would suppose, she was a lady who knew Jesus, who understood who He is and loved Him. And was intent while she was able to, to do all her best to provide for the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to remind all of you that as parents, the most important thing for you is that you will love Jesus. You will know His love and you will love Jesus. That's the number one relationship.
2] Her Desire
Now with this, we then enter a second understanding of Mrs. Zebedee. She was not only a lady devoted to Jesus, she had a desire of Jesus. She had something she wanted to ask Jesus. So Jesus said to her, “What do you want? You came to Me, you bow before Me, you worship Me now. What do you want?” What is your desire? That's the word there.
And she said to Jesus, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit one at Your right hand and one at Your left in Your Kingdom.” [Matthew 20:21] So she's asking something about the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ. I think she probably knew about this when Jesus told the apostles, including James and John, “That in the new world …” in the palingenesia, as we looked at the last time, “… when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28]
So she must have heard James and John say, “Wow, Mum! Do you know what will happen to us when Jesus brings about His Kingdom? We will rule on thrones.” “That's great!” Mum says. “Let's go and ask Jesus, that you will sit on the left hand and on the right hand. I want you two boys to be at the highest places of prominence. I want to ask Jesus for positions of greatness for you.”
Some of you will scratch your heads and say, “Wah, she's very carnal ah! she's very selfish. She's very ambitious” in a negative way. And I think probably that will be our first immediate reaction. “Wow, why would she ask something so selfish, for her own sons?” Now, I want to say that, that's probably our immediate instinct. However, I want you to also notice that actually, Jesus never rebuked Mrs. Zebedee for this desire. He didn't!
In fact, He told her what it takes to be greatest, later on. And I also want to remind you that this is not the first time anyone asks about greatness in God's kingdom. Just two chapters earlier, the disciples themselves were asking, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” [Matthew 18:1]
Now Jesus didn't say, “Don't you ever talk about greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. No such thing!” Jesus didn't say that! Jesus actually told them how to be greatest in the kingdom. He went on to say, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:4] “Now, I want you to be great. I want you to aim for greatness. I just want you to be sure that you know the way to real greatness.”
Mark tells us, “If anyone would be first …” nothing wrong if you want be first, now but if you want to be first, “… he must be last of all, and servant of all.” [Mark 9:35] So Jesus didn't rebuke the disciples for wanting greatness. It's not wrong! And when Mrs. Zebedee also comes asking for greatness for her sons, He also didn't rebuke her. There's nothing wrong!
We all say in Chinese, it's quite understandable, isn't it! 望子成龙, [wàng zǐ chéng long] which means, you hope that your son will be a dragon. You don't want your son to be a 虫 [chóng]. You don't want your son to be a worm. Right? So every parent instinctively desires greatness for their children. But of course, there's a caveat to it, there's a, there's a qualifier to that.
Now, I think 望子成龙, [wàng zǐ chéng long] is something many Asian parents would be resonating with. We all understand that, we want the best for our kids. Maybe this concept is quite popular or infamous, whichever way you want to look at it from this book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. Actually, I think there are many Tiger mothers in Gospel Light too! Many Tiger Mums in Singapore society.
What are Tiger Mums? Tiger Mums are, are, are mothers, women, who are strict and demanding of their children, who expect and exact high standards from their kids, and chiefly in the realm of academic achievements. So Tiger Mothers really know how to drill their kids, work their kids so that they excel.
And this book is written by Amy Chua, someone who lives in US. She has daughters who excel in their academic achievements. They studied in Harvard and Yale and so she wrote this book and it caused quite a stir. But this is not just something in the US, this resonates with Singaporeans too. Some four years ago there was this TV serial in Channel 8, top serial in Channel 8 in 2015. It's called? You see, you all know what. It's called, “Tiger Mum”. How original! Use the same title.
Anyway, it's 老虎 … [lǎo hǔ], eh, 虎妈来了, alright, not 老虎 … [lǎo hǔ]. “Tiger Mum” and struck a chord with Singaporeans. So Amy Chua, she wrote this book, became a kind of a best seller. Many people talked about it and her philosophy might be captured in this quote she gave to Wall Street Journal.
“If a Chinese child gets a B, which should never happen in the first place - there would first be a screaming hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with their, with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.”
Nothing less than an A is acceptable to Tiger Mum, and she “grrrr …” at her child until he or she gets an A. So I'm not speaking something that you are not familiar with. You all understand the drive to make your kids excel. Whether this is a good philosophy or not, I leave it up to you. But I'm suggesting to you that Mrs. Zebedee is not Tiger Mum, because she's not asking for greatness for her two boys or two grown up sons, for greatness in the things of this world.
She's not asking that they will be famous or rich or comfortable. She's asking for greatness, not in this kingdom, but in Christ's Kingdom, in His coming Kingdom. [Matthew 20:21] In other words, she is a lady of faith who is contented to say, “Lord, it doesn't matter what they are in this life. I'm not asking that they will be great in this world. But I'm asking that they will be great in your world, in a spiritual world, in a world that must be entered in by faith.”
I remember telling you about this most famous quote, right? Best quote I heard today, "As a parent, it's my priority to get, to help you get into heaven, not Harvard.” Now, am I saying, “That there's something wrong with Harvard?” No! Am I saying, “You can't go RJC.” No! If you are going to Harvard on your way to heaven, that's okay. But if you are going to Harvard at the expense of heaven, that's not okay.
So it is not wrong that you would want your kids to do well in their academic pursuits. But surely, your goal and your aim is not that they get into top jobs, top careers, and forget about the Kingdom of heaven. I mean, so what if they can get to Harvard? So what if they get good jobs? So what if they can get as much as they can in this world? Jesus said, “What profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
Mrs. Zebedee is not asking that James and John would be great in this world. She's asking for greatness, in what really matters. “The world passes away, and the lust thereof but he that doeth the will of God, abides forever.” And she deeply understands that! What a mother! What a mother! Who would set her sights on that which is right.
And she came to Jesus therefore with this desire, “Lord, grant my sons, greatness in Your Kingdom, not this world, but in Your Kingdom.” Hey, how that would make a difference for each and every home! You know, this passage made a difference to how I pray for my two boys. I prayed for them this week in maybe along these lines.
I, I prayed, “Lord, first, help Shawn and Matthias to be part of Your Kingdom. Help them to see their sin, help them to be struck with the horror of their sin. Help them to realize that they are helpless and hopeless in their sins. Help them to despair of trying to earn their right before you. And then help them please, to see the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ, Your Son. Help them to see Jesus is the promised Saviour, that He went to the cross to die and to rise again to save them from their sins. Help them to believe in Jesus. Please God, grant to Shawn and Matthias repentance and faith. May they be born again. May they be part of Your Kingdom. “
“And then Lord, I pray that if and when they should be part of the kingdom, I pray for greatness in Your Kingdom. I pray they will not be great in what is useless. I pray they will not be aiming for greatness in this world which passes away but help them to be great in Your Kingdom, serving You and making the Gospel known.” I pray that that for my sons. Would you pray that for your kids?
It's okay not to get into Harvard. It's okay not to score 292 for PSLE. It's quite alright 291 is good …. uh, no, no, hah, hah, hah. It's quite all right not to aim for such things, not that you can't have pursuits of academic achievement, but you know what I mean, that's not the ultimate game of life.
3] Her Discovery
So this is what she brought to Jesus her desire, I love her desire. And then Jesus, finally, as I've mentioned, did not rebuke her, but taught her things and gave her a discovery. He said to her, “Well, nothing wrong with your request. But Mrs. Zebedee, do you realize what it takes? Good that you want greatness in the kingdom and not in the Roman kingdom, not in the Israeli kingdom. But do you know what it takes?”
He said, “You do not know what you're asking …” Good that you are asking for greatness. But you may not know what you're asking, “…are you able to drink the cup that I am able to drink, or I am to drink?” [Matthew 20:22]
Now, the cup here is a symbol of suffering. It's an imagery that comes from Isaiah. And then Jesus you will recall in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “If it be possible in His prayer…” He prayed to the Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” He is thinking about the cup of sorrow, of pain and suffering He will drink. And so Jesus is saying to Mrs. Zebedee, and to James and John, “I know you want greatness. Nothing wrong with that but do you know that it comes with suffering?”
Greatness in this world is about luxury, comfort, fame, prosperity, but greatness in the Kingdom means that you will have to suffer pain and agony. That is the way of the Kingdom! So Mothers, Fathers, if you should pray, “Lord, let my sons be great.” This is what it might mean, if they give themselves for the sake of the Gospel.
And then Jesus also said, “Greatness does not only come with suffering, greatness also comes with service.” He says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them, it shall not be so among you.” [Matthew 20:25-27]
He says, “You know, the unsaved people, greatness is seen in how they throw their weight around. Greatness is seen in how they dominate and they rule and they control. But no, greatness in the kingdom is the opposite, is the upside-down kingdom. It shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” [Matthew 20:25-27]
I've explained these verses before in an earlier sermon, so I'll not rehash that. But greatness is seen in service - in humble service. And Martin Luther King said it right when he said that, “Anyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” “You want to be great in my Kingdom? Good! It's found in service.” It's not found in being the CEO or be the lord of this mansion. Oh, no, it's found in humble service.
And He ends off by saying, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:28] It all makes sense now! Who is the greatest? Jesus Christ. Why is He the greatest? Oh because He's the Son of God! True. But according to this text, Jesus is greatest because He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.
If we say, “We want to follow Jesus and we want to be great in the Kingdom, doesn't it make sense then that we should also suffer and serve as Jesus did?” Jesus Himself looked at the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despise the shame and now, no wonder is set at the right hand of God. That's the eternal principle of the Kingdom of heaven! It's the opposite of this world, it's an upside-down Kingdom.
Now, we're not told what Mrs. Zebedee said after this. She sort of like stunned into silence. She didn't argue. She didn't debate, as far as we know. I think from what we read of in the Bible, she probably agreed and let her children follow Jesus. And you know what happened to James; James became the first apostle to be martyred for the faith, he died, in Acts, chapter 12. And then you know what happened to John, he was the very last apostle to die in the isle of Patmos.
It's almost as if as if as if God deliberately allowed these two sons of thunder - John and James to be like the book ends to the story of the apostles. It is said that all the apostles died tragically. They died for the faith but these two would be kind of a collective gathering of all the apostles. It must have hurt Mrs. Zebedee, it must have pained her heart, but I'm very sure today, Mrs. Zebedee, James and John are rejoicing that they had the privilege to suffer for Jesus. I think that is great parenting!
Mums, it's hard for you to let your sons go, right? “Wah, go OBS, aiyoh! What if he falls!” And “Uh, ah, ah, my son go to army, aiyoh!” And, and it’s like 1000 arrows piercing your heart. I know it's hard. I mean, as fathers it hurts, I'm, I'm sure for mothers it's even more difficult. But godly parenting involves believing that it is best for my kids to follow Jesus in their lives.
So what is godly parenting? It begins with the right devotion to Jesus. Now all this doesn't make sense to you, and you would not want to do anything about it, until you know God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Until you know that God so loved the world, He gave His Son to die for your sins, you would not want your kids to live for the Kingdom, until you are part of the Kingdom in knowing Jesus.
But I believe that if you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, your desire, if you really think about it, must be that my kids should live for that which lasts. My kids should live for the eternal kingdom, and not the world that we live in today.
So let's, let's all recalibrate! How we structure our kids’ lives, how we prioritize their activities, their schedules, their routines, because it should reflect that we are parenting them and raising them not for the things of this world that does not last, but for that which does.
And then when it comes to time, I hope parents, we would be willing to let our children go. Maybe your son, your daughter may say, “Mum, Dad, I, I know I've gotten a good degree, I could earn millions, but I want to go Africa and serve.” “Hah Africa!” Perhaps you may come to that day, and what a day, I hope we can all rejoice in.
Mrs. Zebedee, what a lady! Not a lot but that's a portrait that scripture paints for you.
Some of you are here and you, you're not mothers, you're not parents, neither do you ever think you will be. You say, “What has this whole message got to do with me?” Well, I hope there's something relevant for you. Some of you asked, “What's Christianity all about?” Actually, you're starring right at the heart of Christianity. What is Christianity? Is it about you being good, that you will be faithful in church, that you would sin less and help people more so that you can get to the Kingdom of heaven?
No! The Gospel is the very opposite. The Gospel is not saying what you need to do to earn favour with God, the Gospel is what God has done to bestow His grace upon you. The Bible centres around the promise of a Messiah, Saviour, King. And He is none other than God's own Son, Jesus Christ. He was born into this world some 2000 years ago. Why? Not to be served. The Son of Man, Jesus came into this world to serve. In what way? He gave His life as a ransom for many.
You see the deep problem of humanity is not that you're depressed, you're sick, you have no money, you have no job, I'm single. The deep problem of humanity is that we are sinners before a Holy God. The deep problem of humanity is that we are unclean before a Holy God and we are enemies to God.
We have to be set free from sin and we can't set ourselves free from sin, until Jesus came to give His life a payment, a ransom for many. He had to die on the cross, not because He was helpless and hopeless, but it was an intentional act of sacrifice and love, that He could pay for what you could never pay for. And the Gospel is right here! Jesus paid it all!
And so if you are new with us or if you have been in church but you're not in Christ yet. I say to you, “Please understand that God is calling you to repent and to believe in Jesus, that you might be saved.”
I was saved some 20 over years ago, my life changed. Not because I wanted to change so that God will save me. But this is the reality, I believed in Jesus and He changed me. It's all grace! This is love. And I pray today you will come to know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Let's bow for a word of prayer together.
May God bless our homes, not financially, not always in terms of healing in physical sicknesses. But if you really understand the Bible, if you really understand God's Word, you would see that the greatest blessing we need is that of salvation and forgiveness, and that's why Jesus had to come. If it was money, if it was food, Jesus need not die but the Son of God had to die, to solve a problem that we could never solve, to make a payment that no human could make a payment for, except Jesus Christ.
My dear friends, I pray today that you will not just come to church, but you'll come to Christ. May God have mercy to show you your sin, your helplessness and then may God show you His amazing love for you. That while we are yet sinners, Christ died for you. This is the Gospel. This is love.
Dear Mums, dear Dads, Singapore is not an easy country to live in, isn't it? Everybody living so close to one another, everybody aiming for some kind of a number one and excellence. So easy to be swept along by - what's your score? What's his school? What's his grade? What's his job? How much is he earning?
So easy to forget what's real and what's not. This world will pass away and the lust thereof, but he that does the will of God abides forever. You make a choice today, what kind of a parent do you want to be - a parent about the kingdom of this world or a parent about the Kingdom of God?
May God help all of us, myself included, to have a paradigm shift in the way we look at our kids, our family, to have a paradigm shift in a way we parent. May we by the grace of God, have children who know God's love and love God. May we pray every time, “Lord, let them be part of Your Kingdom and then let them be great in Your Kingdom.”
So Father, thank You for this morning, I pray that You bless each heart as they respond to Your Word. May You be gracious today to grant to many repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. May You give us many godly homes that are clear about their mission for the Kingdom. Thank You and we pray all this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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