The DEEP

Winning by Losing

It's complicated.

Matthew 20:23–28

So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”

And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 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. 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—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Scripture doesn’t say exactly why the ten are upset with the two brothers. They’re probably upset at their wanting to be at the top of the kingdom hierarchy. They should be upset at them for not having a clue.

Jesus responds by teaching everyone that they’ve got the concept of hierarchy all wrong. First, he explains how the secular world works and points out that they won’t be using that system.

“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, Jesus continues, the kingdom of heaven is just the opposite. It doesn’t do the hierarchy thing. Rather, “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—"

And if that isn’t clear enough, He points out that this non-hierarchy is, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

This brings the conversation full circle, back to what He said at the beginning of this incident.

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and 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. And the third day He will rise again.” — Matthew 20:17–19

Maybe they’ll listen this time.


Actually, they are listening. The problem isn’t with their listening; it’s with their understanding. The plan for Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb is too much for them to process.

Three huge plot twists scramble what the Jews expect. First, they expect the Messiah to deliver them from Rome, not from sin. Second, the whole incarnation thing is just too wild to comprehend quickly. Last, the Messiah is supposed to win. Winning by losing and then being resurrected is just too bizarre.

They won’t buy that until it’s all over.


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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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