Devotionals Archive

Daybreak: Matthew 20:17-34

Mar 22, 2021

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28)

Jesus said the “chief among you” should be a servant. What does it mean to be a servant? We may have met many “servants” who are obeying that command without even realizing they are doing so! 

Teacher Vi was a servant, although she didn’t view herself that way. She taught Sunday school to preschoolers for thirty-nine years. In each class, she made every child feel loved and important. She went beyond the call of duty and bought socks, made dresses, and delivered bags of groceries when she saw her students had a need. 

Pastor George is a servant. If you could observe him fulltime, you would probably find that he performs a number of duties. He gets up in the middle of the night to pray for the sick, helps clean the church, counsels a couple with a troubled marriage, makes visitations to encourage the elderly, mows the church lawn, and numerous other activities.

No doubt you can think of other people among your acquaintances that are servants. It seems they are always available to help when there is a need. Often they seem to notice and do what is necessary without even being asked. 

Jesus clearly instructs His followers that if we want to be great, we need to serve others. It is not the exalted positions that make people great, but the “lower” tasks of servanthood. He indicates that sufferings, not worldly honors, are to be the lot of the Lord’s most faithful followers.

Sometimes we sing, “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.” Those are easy words to sing, but they might not be such easy words to live when we are called upon to do a task that is unappealing to the natural man. 

Every day we find opportunities to serve. Are we taking advantage of them? Are we willing to put ourselves out for others? Do we have a servant’s heart? 


The opening verses of this passage are the third time that Jesus had spoken openly of His death and resurrection. However, this was the first time He had said He would die by crucifixion. Clearly, the disciples did not understand what He was telling them.

James and John and their mother came and worshiped Jesus. Apparently, the mother’s worship was not entirely of praise, but was also a request, and the request was a very ambitious one: that her sons would sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in His Kingdom. Some Bible scholars believe that this woman was a sister to Jesus’ mother. If so, that may have given her more boldness to make such a request.

Shortly before this, Jesus had taken James, John, and Peter to the Mount of transfiguration. Perhaps they thought Jesus had exalted them above the other nine disciples. Maybe James and John thought if they asked in time, they would be granted those positions ahead of Peter. 

Jesus told James and John and their mother that they did not know what they asked. He implied there would be much suffering connected with their discipleship. They told Him that they were able to drink of the same cup as His, and their future lives proved that to be true, but their steadfastness was only by the grace of God. Eventually, James was beheaded by Herod, and John was banished to the Isle of Patmos for the Gospel. Tradition tells us that John was also cast alive into a pot of boiling oil, but God intervened and spared his life.

Jesus took the opportunity to teach a lesson in leadership to His disciples. In the kingdoms of this world, those who are great exercise dominion and authority over those under them, but Jesus instructed His followers that it was not to be that way in the spiritual Kingdom that He was establishing. In verse 26, minister means “a servant.” In verse 27, servant means “a slave.” Ransom, in verse 28, refers to the cost of freeing a slave. Jesus gave His life to redeem mankind.

The final portion of this text shows that Jesus practiced what He had just told His disciples. He helped (or served) two blind beggars. These men acknowledged Him as the Messiah when they called Him “son of David.” This incident took place as Jesus traveled on His last journey from the Jericho area to Jerusalem, prior to His triumphal entry into the city (Palm Sunday) and His betrayal, suffering, and death. 

Amplified Outline

(Hannah’s Bible Outlines – Used by permission per WORDsearch)
V.   Instructions of the King in light of His opposition
      B.   Instructions in light of His opposition
            11.   Instruction concerning His death and resurrection (20:17-19)
            12.   Instruction concerning position (20:20-34)

A Closer Look

  1. What specific disclosures did Jesus make related to His last days prior to His death?
  2. James and John indicated that they were ready to drink of the same cup that Jesus would drink from. What might they have thought that meant? What did Jesus mean?
  3. In what specific ways can you apply the principles of ministering to others and of servanthood in your life?


Jesus tells us that our service and servanthood as Christians may not be easy, but it is essential if we are to follow Him.

Reference Materials