The Last Shall be First
Matthew 20:17–19, 27–28
Matthew Lesson #114
March 20, 2016
“Father, we are so thankful for Your Word. The more we read it, the more we study it, the more we realize how little we know and how much more there is to learn, and how much more there is to study. There just seems to be a never-ending resource for us, always providing us with refreshment, encouragement, new insights into our thinking, and each time we come to Your Word, there’s more for us to learn.
Father, I think this is one evidence that this is Your Word, not the word of man. It is a strong reminder that we dare not neglect that which You have given to us, but that we should read it and read it and study it and learn it, and it’ll never grow tiresome. To learn anything about Your Word is always something that will in turn excite us and stimulate us because whether it’s in the Old Testament or New Testament, no matter where it is, we’re learning about You and we’re learning of Your grace and Your love for us.
Now Father, as we come to Your Word today, we pray you will help us to see the important truths that are revealed to us, that God the Holy Spirit can use it to strengthen us, edify us, and to motivate us to greater heights in our spiritual growth.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 20. Now this is a tremendously interesting and exciting section of Scripture, as we’ve been studying it. We’ve put things together in a couple of different ways.
Last week we looked at a passage in Matthew 20:17–19, and we focused on the fact that Jesus was, for the third time, giving the disciples a clear prediction that He’s going to be going to Jerusalem where He’s going to suffer, where He’s is going to be opposed by the chief priests and the scribes and the religious leaders. And that while He is there, He is going to suffer many things; He is going to be crucified, and He is going to be raised from the dead.
In this particular passage, He says that He’s going to be mocked, going to be scourged, and going to be crucified. Then, as He has each time, He’s referenced His resurrection—that this isn’t the end.
Now as we looked at this last time, I focused on a couple of different things. I focused primarily on the significance of His reference to Himself as the Son of Man, that this is a title that is a Messianic title, and is a title that is ultimately related to His future rule.
But that future rule that we often summarize as just the crown must come after the Cross. Jesus has to suffer. And there are a couple of different ways in which we talk about the suffering of Jesus.
There’s suffering in His life—adversity that He faced due to the fact that He’s in the devil’s world and the opposition that He faced: from the time that He was an infant with the opposition from Herod sending his troops to kill and to slaughter all of the infants in Bethlehem under the age of two—to the time that He is nailed to the cross.
In fact, we can go beyond that a little bit to the time when God darkened the earth at noon, because it’s not until that period from 12 noon until 3 pm, when darkness is on the face of the earth, and the suffering at that time is shielded from the view of man, that God imputed to the righteous Lamb of God your sins and my sins, the sins of the world, Adam’s original sin. This is when that happens.
So only during that period from 12 noon to 3 pm do we have the redemptive sufferings of Jesus because that’s when He’s paying the price. That’s what redemption means.
I’ve pointed out that what we see here in Matthew 21, as we look at this last section, is the fact that we have an inclusio—that’s the technical word, if you have a military background in artillery. It’s bracketed.
You have a reference to the Son of Man and the suffering, general suffering, of Christ, along with His redemptive suffering in verses 17–19.
Then you have another reference to Him as the Son of Man in verse 28. And again it is a reference to His redemptive work on the Cross so He will give His life a ransom for many.
What this section does is bracket what is being taught here and shows us that this section from verse 17 to verse 28 is meant to be understood as a whole section, that these themes work together.
In fact what we’ll see in just a minute is that it is part of what Jesus has been teaching His disciples, at least from the end of Matthew 19 where He talks about “but many who are first will be last and the last first,” in Matthew 19:30—that it’s part of what He is teaching about that important principle.
That in turn is brought out as part of a larger section that began back at the beginning of Chapter 18 when the disciples started to argue and bicker with each other about who was going to be first in the kingdom of God, who’s going to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So all of this fits together.
Now what we see in terms of the progression of the life of Christ is that He’s been ministering up in the north and around the Sea of Galilee.
Then starting at the beginning of Matthew 19 we’re told that He moved south to the area across the Jordan.
So He would be where the arrow is here on the east side of the Jordan, and He is going to move across it.
There are a couple of movements that take place at this time:
One is to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. I think He goes there, and then comes back—although a majority of commentators have Him doing this loop thing, where He goes to raise Lazarus, then He heads back up to Galilee and comes back down again. I haven’t quite figured out what their rationale for that is.
Maybe in a few weeks we’ll get to that, and I’ll figure it out—but that’s where He is at this point—He’s over here in the area called Perea, across the Jordan where He’s having this teaching time with His disciples.
We see in verse 29 that He’ll move from here to Jericho, which is located right here, so that is what’s about to come.
Then immediately following that, at the beginning of Matthew 21, we have the description of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is remembered by the church as Palm Sunday, and today is Palm Sunday.
That’s all you’re going to hear about it today. We’ll get there in about a month. We’re a little off schedule in terms of landing right on the right places on the right day, but that shows you where we are.
Jesus is very close to His entry to Jerusalem, which is one reason I don’t think He’s going to go in and heal Lazarus and walk all the way back up to Galilee just to come back down again, but that’s another issue.
So what we saw last time is this reminder to the disciples that He’s going to be going to Jerusalem, where He’s going to suffer.
Now the idea in the doctrine of suffering is foundational to understanding what He’s teaching His disciples in this particular section. But as I’ve already pointed out, this is the introduction to this section in Matthew 20:17–19, and the end of the section brackets it with the same theme of His work of redemption, the idea of ransom for many. It’s the same Greek word used for redemption, and it always focuses on the payment of a price. A price is paid for our sins, and that is the life of Christ.
But the other thing that we see as we come to those last two verses is where Jesus says in verse 27, “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.”
Now it’s really interesting to trace the use of the word “first” in this section.
Going back to Matthew 19:30, that’s the first time it’s used; and it grows out of the context of what Jesus has said to the rich young ruler. That fits within the context of the argument between the disciples as to who’s going to be the greatest, or who’s going to be first in the kingdom of Heaven.
What Jesus is teaching them is it’s not about status. It’s not about your status now, and it’s not about your status when the kingdom comes.
The priority is to serve the Lord and let the Lord take care of the issues as to what our position is going to be in the future kingdom.
That is an important aspect of the doctrine of rewards, and before we wrap up this section, I’m going to have to give a nice little summary on the doctrine of rewards so that we can come to understand that.
But what Jesus is teaching here fits this whole context. So whatever is said, whatever is going on in the intervening section from verse 20 to verse 26 has to be understood within the framework of Jesus teaching what it means to be first—that you have to be last to be first.
Then we have a second episode related to the disciples arguing about what position they’ll have in the kingdom. In this case it’s James and John who put their mother up to going to Jesus and asking in their place for them to be given a place at His right and left hand when He comes in His kingdom.
So we have to set this up again. It’s very important to understand in Scripture that you don’t just go in and take these little stories and cut them out of Scripture and isolate them and study them as if they hang by themselves.
We’ve seen that, and you understand that pretty well, probably better than most, that every one of these sections are academically referred to as periscopes.
Every one of these section fits within a larger section, and then that fits within an even larger section. So to truly understand any section, you have to really understand the general overall context and put it together.
But once you come to an understanding of that, there’s another principal of interpretation that comes into play. And that’s a principal called “The analogy of Scripture.”
When I was growing up and for many years, I never heard that term. That is a long-time term for this, but most of us know it by the term “comparing Scripture with Scripture,” that the Word of God is an integrated whole, that doctrines are originally developed in the Old Testament. Then there’s progressive revelation, and more is added and more is added as you move through the Scripture.
Then when you get in the New Testament, you see things come together so that there’s an integrated whole in terms of the Scripture.
Scripture must be understood in terms of how it compliments each other and that all of the Bible hangs together. When people start chopping it up and trying to treat certain things separately, they often come up with what they think are contradictions in the Scripture. And this is when they begin to lose confidence in the Scripture.
But rightly interpreted, where you see things together, it reinforces our faith.
Now this doctrine related to “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” is an important leadership principle and an important attitude principle that Jesus is trying to drill into His disciples in this whole section in preparation for their future role in ministry as disciples.
Now it’s interesting that we don’t find the term “disciple” again in terms of a verb until after we get into Acts. We have The Twelve referred to as disciples, but we don’t really see the verb used, even though we see the concept implemented throughout the rest of the New Testament.
Matthew has the greatest emphasis on the concept in the Gospel of Matthew ending with a repetition of Jesus’ command that we are to go and make disciples. In other words, the mission for the church is to make students of the Word of God. It is focused around this idea of learning and studying and having our minds completely renovated by the Word of God.
Romans 12:2 says, “We are not to be conformed to this world, but let our thinking be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
So ultimately, the pursuit of spiritual maturity is a mental activity related to a mental attitude of humility and submission to the Lord.
As we look at this principle, what we see in Matthew 20:17–28 is the ultimate model of this principle—that the one that would be last shall be first.
And that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is, as Isaiah 53 states, “He came and we esteemed Him not. He was despised and rejected among men.”
He is looked down upon as a failure because He was not able to bring to completion His mission of establishing the kingdom, at least in the eyes of the world—because they didn’t understand the principle that the cross had to come before the crown—that He had to pay the price for sin before He could establish a kingdom because if you establish a kingdom without sin being dealt with, then you’ll have the same problem you’ve had with every preceding kingdom: it is run by sinners, and it is governed by the corrupt ideas of man. And it is ultimately doomed to failure.
So as we look at this and at the model of Christ in what He says in verse 28, that He, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for man,” I thought to flush this out a little bit, we should look at Philippians 2.
So turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 2, and we’re going to see how the Apostle Paul puts this together to show and to illuminate this same principle in Philippians 2:1–11.
The epistle to the Philippians was primarily written as a letter of gratitude by Paul to the church in Philippi, which was located in Macedonia, pronounced Ma-cuh-du-NEE-uh in the Greek. It’s located there.
They weren’t an especially wealthy congregation. In fact, in 2 Corinthians when Paul praises them, he says not that they gave out of their wealth, but that they gave out of their poverty.
Now think about that a little bit. They didn’t give from the excess that they have. They gave from the little that they had, which seemed to be barely enough to sustain them, and in terms of the necessities of life, they gave from their poverty. They gave because it glorified God.
So Paul is writing a thank-you letter to them. In this letter, he is dealing with some issues that they face, as most congregations face: the issue of just plain ole’ narcissism.
That’s the orientation of the sin nature. Every one of us has a sin nature that basically interprets everything in life as being “all about me.” And it’s always all about me, and it’s never about you, but you’re sitting there thinking, no, no, no, it’s not about you, it’s about me. That’s our sin nature.
Whenever we’re focused on me, me, me, we’re just letting our sin nature run out of control. You see it best illustrated in a young child, because it’s always about children. We live in cultures that often dote on children, and we let them be the center of the world.
In the ancient world, they didn’t. The child had no status whatsoever in a culture, and that formed the background, as we saw the illustration in this section that disciples are to be like the little children in that culture, where they had no status.
They had no position, they had no power. They were basically just on the fringe. They were completely marginalized in that culture.
That is a picture of the Christian disciple who is following Jesus, that he’s not emphasizing who he is and what he’s going to be. That is what Jesus is trying to get across to the disciples.
Now Paul builds on that idea in Philippians 2, and the first four verses of Philippians 2 are emphasizing that principle.
In the first verse, he lays out four statements of truth in relation to our position in Jesus Christ and what we have in Him. These are all expressed in “if clauses,” which are called grammatically “conditional clauses,” and the way they are set up in the Greek is there is what is called the “first class condition.”
In Greek there are different ways that you can state a condition:
- You can state a condition as a debater would and say, “If something is true, and we’re going to assume that it’s true, then this would be the result.”
- You can also state it in a first-class condition where you’re stating something that is fact. And because it’s fact, certain things are going to flow from it. That’s how Paul is talking here.
- A second-class condition is the opposite. It’s “if … and we’re assuming the condition is false.”
- Then a third-class condition is what we usually think of as a condition, “If it rains this afternoon, then I won’t be able to cut the grass.” Some of us are saying we hope it will rain this afternoon. I won’t have to cut the grass. But we don’t know whether it will rain or not. Maybe there’s a forecast of rain, so we don’t know. That’s the third-class condition.
But this is a first-class condition, and it comes close to having the sense of “since”—think that through a minute. It comes close to having the sense of since, “Since these things are true, do this.”
So he’s emphasizing four things that are true in the body of Christ.
- Because we are in Christ, there is consolation in Christ
- We have comfort of love from Christ.
- We have the fellowship of the Spirit, which is our unity in Christ.
- And we have affection; and we receive mercy.
All of this is in Christ. My focus isn’t on these first four verses, but it’s the setup for what I do want to focus on.
So then his command to the Philippians (and to each one of us), is he says, in verse 2, “fulfill my joy”—because these things are true, this is what you need to do. You need to—“be like-minded.”
Being like-minded goes back to that whole principle of self-absorption. We have our ideas and our ways, and when we start emphasizing our ideas and our ways, then the result of that is fragmentation.
For example: the Republican Party today, and what happened in Israel in the 60s in the 20th century. The Jews were so fragmented that the culture was coming apart at the hinges.
In fact, when the Romans were breeching the walls of Jerusalem in AD 70, there were Jewish groups that were fighting and killing each other because they were so angry with one another. The culture had just completely fragmented.
Now that’s not what’s supposed to be true of the body of Christ, but often it is. There are right things to back away from in terms of other believers, and there are some things that we fight over that are not essential.
- We are to be like-minded.
- We’re to have the same love.
- We’re to be of one accord.
- And of one mind.
I just want to focus on the 4th one. There is a certain mind-set. That is what Paul is saying here when he uses that term “one mind.” There is to be a common mental attitude. And what do you think that common mental attitude is grounded on?
It’s going to be humility. It’s the same thing that Jesus is trying to teach the disciples—this idea of humility.
So in verse 3, Paul then comes back and makes the statement from the negative in terms of prohibition. He says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.”
In other words, quit focusing on what you want and your agenda and your narcissistic little pleasures, and focus upon what you’re here for, which is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but”—now he’s going to talk about the positive—“in lowliness of mind”—which is humility.
It’s not self-abasement. It’s not the world’s concept of just beating up on yourself or making yourself falsely humble in some sort of a backdoor arrogance. It is recognizing it’s not all about us. It’s not about our status now or in the future. It’s not about our position. That should not enter into it at all. We are only to focus upon on our service to Christ.
So he says, “… in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
Now in the context of Matthew 20, James and John are clearly not esteeming the other ten as better than themselves. They want their mother to try to get them a special place of honor in the kingdom. That’s just the opposite of everything that Jesus has been teaching.
The same thing with the rich young ruler: He is looking to his wealth, his power, and his position to also give him some sort of status in the future kingdom.
We see this as the same problem with the disciples at the beginning of Chapter 19 in Matthew. They are arguing amongst themselves as to who’s is going to be great. And that is the opposite.
Paul says, “in lowliness of mind.” The term there translated “lowliness” is another synonym for humility. “… esteem”—or honor—“others more than yourself.”
Then in verse 4 he says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests”—so there he’s not saying don’t ever get your way. He’s not saying don’t ever think that the way you think you should do something is necessarily wrong, but look out not only for your own interests.
Now we all need to look out for our interests to a certain degree, but also for the interests of others. Elevate your focus on the needs of others to the same level as yours, loving your neighbor as yourself, Leviticus 18.
So that’s the command. And now he’s going to give an example. The same example that Paul gives is the example that Jesus is giving in Matthew 20.
It is that He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came not to be served but to serve.
So in verse 5, he says, “have this mind in you.” Now the NASB translates this correctly as an attitude. It’s the Greek word PHRONEO, which has to do with a way of thinking, not a way of feeling.
The Christian life is not about how you feel—it’s about how you think and what you do with what you understand to be true. It is about thinking. Again and again and again what we see in the Christian life is this emphasis in Scripture about thinking, renewing the mind, have this mind in you.
It’s not about how we feel.
Now that doesn’t mean that how we feel is irrelevant, but it’s not the determining factor. We all have emotions, and emotions play a role sometimes, but sometimes the role they play is a negative role, and we have to do what’s right despite how we feel about things.
How you feel about things is not a synonym for how you think.
How many times do people say, “Well, here’s how I feel about that”? Well, I don’t care how you feel about it, I want to know what you think about it.
Feeling is not a synonym for thinking, and yet in modern American idiom, it’s often misused that way.
So Paul says we’re to have a certain attitude. It’s a present active imperative, which means this is to be the standard operating procedure or a basic command, a basic reality in every Christian’s life.
The attitude we’re to have in ourselves is the one that was in Christ Jesus. So what is that?
He develops that in verse 6. Now this whole section is one of the most significant verses for understanding the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ in all of Scripture.
In verse 6, Paul says, “Who”—referring back to Jesus—“who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”
Now the NASB translates it, “… did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” It is a difficult construction to translate into English.
So we need to take a little bit of time to understand what these words meant and how we’re to understand it.
He starts off with a present participle that’s translated “He existed,” which sounds like it’s a finite verb, but it’s really the whole phrase “although He existed,” and it is stating something.
It’s going to appear to be a contrast to what we might expect. That’s the idea in a concessive participle when we use the preposition “though” or “although.”
Paul is saying on the one hand He existed. Now you ought to notice that grammatically this is a present tense, which means it’s something that goes on and on and on. He’s treating it as an ongoing situation, ongoing action. He existed in the form of God.
In English we often take the word “form” as a physical form, like a physical mold. But that’s not how it was used in Greek thought and among Greek philosophers. Often it was used to refer to the essence of something, that in platonic thought, the form of a chair isn’t its external shape but is that which makes it a chair as opposed to a table. What we would call “chairness.”
If you see a dog, a dog has a form of a dog and not the form of a cat. It’s not talking about its shape, it’s talking about it has that which characterizes and makes it a dog as opposed to a cat or some other four-legged creature.
So when we look at this, what Paul is saying is, “Although He existed eternally in the essence of God and being in the essence of God, being God He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.”
Or as the KJV translates it, “He didn’t consider it robbery to be equal with God.” That really obscures it in terms of modern language, so I like to use the NASB here. He’s not grasping after His status as God.
To put it in the language we’ve been using in Matthew 20, the disciples all want to be somebody. Jesus is somebody, but doesn’t want to make a big deal about it. Jesus is not going to emphasize His divine prerogatives when He enters into human history. He is willing to let His divine prerogatives and privilege be overlooked so that He is not going to demand, as He walks through the streets of Jerusalem, that everybody bow down and worship Him as God. He is giving up the emphasis on how people should treat Him for the sake of the goal of redemption.
So this is your main verb here, and we’re told again it’s emphasizing Jesus’ mentality. Remember, the command is to have this mind in you, and what He says about the mind is that Jesus did not regard (or He did not think, or He did not consider) equality with God—that is, who He is in His essence—something to be grasped.
Now think about what happened in the Garden of Eden. God had created Adam and Eve. He placed them in this beautiful, perfect environment, and He provided everything they would need in terms of their food, in terms of their nourishment, in terms of their relationship with Him.
Every day He came and spent time with them. There was only one negative, and that was the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And God said, “Don’t eat from it. And in the day that you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Now one day the serpent came along who was indwelt by Satan and is tempting Eve and said, “Did God really say that?”
Immediately, by the way he asked the question, he’s introducing doubt into her mind. And Eve says that “God told us not to eat it or touch it.”
Sometimes we talk about how she’s adding to it, but she may just be saying that the prohibition was so strong in her mind that she added something else to make sure she wouldn’t even break the first rule. She’s not even going to touch it. She’s not going to come close to it.
Then Satan said, “Well, God’s just really holding things away from you. He just doesn’t want you to be like Him. He doesn’t want you to be like God.”
So the temptation in the Garden isn’t the fruit itself, but this idea that by eating it they can take on deity, they can become like God.
The contrast here in Paul is that Jesus’ thinking is, He IS God. Yet He doesn’t consider it something to be grasped after, not like Adam who wasn’t God and wanted to get it.
So this is that kind of thinking—not asserting His privilege, His position, or His power.
But that’s what the disciples want to do. They want to assert their position, privilege, and power.
As we paraphrase this, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ, although He eternally existed with identical essence to God, did NOT think it was something to be held on to.
One thing you might want to think through is this: is this thinking, this mental attitude part of His deity or part of His humanity?
Remember, it’s saying, “Although He eternally existed He did not”—past tense. So it’s part of His deity. As God the Son before the hypostatic union, He wasn’t going to hold on to His deity. He wasn’t going to have to grasp it.
Now that’s the word HARPAGMOS, which is related to the word HARPAZO translated “the Rapture,” “the great snatch.” Same idea. He didn’t think it was something to be grasped or snatched or held on to. Jesus is going to grasp us in the Rapture. That’s the relationship there.
So as a paraphrase, the Lord Jesus Christ, although He eternally existed with identical essence to God, did NOT think equality with God a claim to be selfishly grasped after.
Slides 15, 16
But instead, this is what He did. He “emptied Himself.”
There’s a contrast there. The word “emptied Himself” is one that has been debated a lot by theologians. It’s the verb KENOO. This is referred to as the “kenosis problem.” What does it mean that Jesus emptied Himself? Well, “He emptied Himself” is described more fully by the participles that come after it.
He doesn’t empty Himself by giving up deity. He empties Himself by taking on humanity. He adds something to Himself. He takes on the form of a bond servant. He receives the form of a bond servant.
We read here He emptied Himself by receiving the form of a servant, or the essence of a servant or slave.
The word DOULOS there is the word that is usually translated slave or bond slave, not an honorary position.
Now remember what Jesus teaches at the end of this section in Matthew 20. In verse 27, He said, “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your DOULOS.” Let him be your slave. That’s the same word that’s used here.
Jesus is talking out of His own experience in Matthew 20. He took on the form of a slave. He became last with the result that He would be first.
In these verses we read, “Although He existed in the essence of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by receiving the essence of a bond-servant”—a slave—“and being made in the likeness of men.”
That introduces the humanity, the human body. He becomes something He was not. It’s the use of the word GINOMAI there. Something new came into existence, and He is in the likeness or the essence of humanity.
Slides 23, 24
So He empties Himself in two ways:
- By taking on the form, or the essence or nature of a servant; and
- By coming into existence in the essence of man, having a physical body.
So in verse 8, He’s found, “in appearance as a man,” and then the key idea here is “He humbled Himself.” How?
Not just through some technique or self-abasement or some psychological manipulation, but He is obedient to the point of death. That’s what humility is.
Humility isn’t walking around with a certain look on your face or a certain body language. It’s not making a doormat out of yourself. A humble person is somebody who is obedient to the plan and the purpose and the will of God. It is somebody who understands who the authorities are over him and is submissive to them.
In the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the most humble man in the Old Testament. But Moses ruled an unruly people; a stubborn, stiff-necked people, as God called them—about 2 ½ million Jews in the wilderness, which was a tough job.
He asserted his authority over them numerous times, but he was submissive to the authority of God. So he is called the most humble man in the Old Testament by God.
Slides 26, 27
So this is how Jesus humbles Himself. He humbles Himself by being obedient. He puts Himself and maintains Himself in right relationship to the authority of God the Father.
He becomes “obedient to the point of death, even the death on a cross.”
That involves the suffering. This relates back, as I’ve pointed out, going back to Matthew 16 when Jesus first announced that He was going to the Cross. How did He follow that up? He said, “I want you to take up your cross daily and follow Me.” That’s the essence of a disciple. It’s not how you get saved, but you’re not going to grow without submission to authority.
That’s the imagery of taking up your cross, because in the Roman Empire, when a criminal revolted, rebelled against the authority of Rome, and Rome finally brought them to submit, they were forced to carry their cross to the execution point, as a statement that they were now in submission to the authority of Rome.
As disciples, the point of taking up your cross daily is submitting to the authority of God’s will.
“He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” That involves suffering.
The point that we’re seeing emphasized at the end of this section is that if we want to be true disciples of Jesus, then there will be suffering. There will be adversity. There will be conflict. It will be different for different people.
Sometimes there’s adversity because we’re just living in the devil’s world, and things are going to go wrong. If the devil knows that we are trying to submit to the Lord and follow Him, things are going to come up day in and day out that prevent us from doing what we want to do.
We have a tendency to get impatient, to get aggravated, to get upset, and all kinds of other things, and the next thing you know, we’re operating on the sin nature.
But we are to be obedient. We’re to submit to the Lord, and we don’t learn how to do that outside of being in an adversity type of situation.
The result of Jesus submitting to the authority of God isn’t that He is just abased. It isn’t that He is just put down and becomes a nobody. But because He is willing to do the will of God and submit to Him, recognizing that it’s not about His position or power, but about God’s will, then God elevates Him.
The same can be true of disciples. That’s why Jesus says when Salome comes to Jesus to get James and John a position, He says it’s not His responsibility. It’s not up to Him. It’s up to the Father. The Father’s the one who exalts.
We look at Philippians 2:9 and following, and we read, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him.”
The exaltation came not through Himself—it wasn’t self-exaltation. It was through God the Father who exalted Him because of His humility and obedience to the Father. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.
He was treated as a reproach. He was treated as a common criminal. He was treated as the lowest of the low, the last of the last, and yet He is going to be the first of the first. Why? Because He submitted Himself to the will of God.
“For this reason, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”
It goes on to say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those is heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”—not to the glory of Himself.
The principal that we see developed all through the Scripture is that the path to exaltation and glory is through complete submission to the authority of God.
But we aren’t to be concerned about what that glory is going to look like, what it’s going to be about.
The idea of suffering and adversity is brought out a lot in 1 Peter. We’ve been studying this as a major theme in 1 Peter, but I just want to bring out a couple of points.
In 1 Peter 2:21 Peter says, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us.”
As I pointed out last time, this usually isn’t emphasized in too many Gospel presentations. I remember in Dallas Seminary I used to have a little tract called “How to Have a Happy and Wonderful Life.” There were a lot of people who criticized that because you look at passages like 1 Peter 2:21 and some other passages, like 1 Timothy 4 where Paul says those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted. How’s that for a great promise? That makes you just feel warm and fuzzy all over.
Here he’s saying that you were called to this purpose, that you will suffer—that is, in terms of the gospel—not just suffering in its own sake, but that as you’re living in the devil’s world to be a representative of God’s grace and God’s authority and the message of salvation, you are going to face opposition.
So Jesus is the pattern. He’s the model because “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow His steps.”
Jesus committed nothing wrong, and yet He was treated unjustly, unfairly, the whole trial was illegal. Oftentimes we say, “Well, they can’t do that to me. That’s not fair!” Guess what? That’s what’s expected. Just remember that.
“Who committed no sin, nor deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree”—He did not deserve it one iota—“that we, having died to sins might live for righteousness”—that’s what’s before us. We are to live for righteousness.
Then in Chapter 4 Peter says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind”—uses the same language that Paul used in Philippians 2.
“Arm yourselves”—that’s a protection device—“with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”
Then as a closing reminder of another passage of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12.
After Paul has been taken to Heaven, and he’s been given all this revelation, and he’s back restored on earth, God also gave him (or allowed in His permissive will) an angel of Satan that would be a demon providing a level of persecution or opposition to Paul. It’s called the “thorn in the flesh,” and Paul had to deal with this. There was a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure.
This wasn’t direct and personal, it was indirect through all of the opposition and persecution and suffering that Paul went through. There was a demon behind it.
But unlike the charismatics who say you’ve got to get rid of that demon, Paul said no, that was the permissive will of God, and he pleaded with God three times that it might depart from him, and God said, “No, no. Just remember I said no. I’m not taking it away.”
“Because you have to learn something—“that my grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
That’s the focal point. We don’t learn that though unless we are willing to submit to the authority of God.
Next time we’ll probably talk about Easter and Resurrection, but the next time we’re in Matthew, we’ll come back and see how this works in terms of what Jesus is teaching the disciples about “the first will be last, but last will be first.”
“Father, thank You for this time that we’ve had to reflect upon this important principal in Your Word because this is at the very core, the very foundation of our spiritual life, to learn true humility, which is a part of grace orientation, to be submissive to Your authority, to be submissive to Your will, which means that to submit to Your will, we have to know Your will.
The only way we can know Your will is to know Your Word. And the only way we can know Your Word is to take the time to read it, to study it, to come to church, to Bible class—to study Your Word, that it may shape and reshape our thinking, so that as Jesus demonstrated, we humble ourselves by becoming obedient to Your Word.
Father, we recognize this isn’t the way to get saved, but it’s the way that a saved person should live.
For those who are listening who have never trusted in Christ as Savior and are not sure of their salvation, this is an opportunity for you to trust in Christ as Savior to have eternal salvation, to be sure of your eternal destiny.
Jesus died on the Cross for your sins. The offer of salvation is a free gift. All we have to do is trust in Him, and at that instant, we’re given Christ’s righteousness and declared justified. We are regenerated as well, and we become a new creature in Christ. And we have eternal life, a life that can never be taken from us. So if you’ve never trusted in Christ as Savior, this is the offer of salvation, to believe on Him, to accept Him, to receive Him, and what He has done on the Cross is yours, and then you will have everlasting life.
Now Father, we pray that you will challenge us with what we’ve learned from Your Word today. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”