Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you will be your servant.”
Today’s verse is found in the midst of Jesus’ harshest rebukes to the Jewish teachers and Pharisees of his day (Matthew 23:1-39). He repeatedly rebuked them for their hypocrisy and selfish ambitions. They had placed their man-made traditions as a burden upon people’s souls, but yet they wouldn’t even lift a finger to help carry them. Plus, most of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day no longer cared for the poor or practiced mercy as prescribed in Isaiah 58:10, where God had said, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Sadly, they did just the opposite.
They only looked out for themselves and used God’s sheep for their own personal gain. They were just like the wicked shepherds in Ezekiel’s time when God said, “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” (Ezekiel 34:2). And whenever these Jewish leaders did charity, it was just to make themselves look good in the eyes of people because they’d announce their giving with trumpets on the streets for all to see (Matthew 6:2-3).
Jesus said they did these kinds of things to impress people because they traded the praise of God, for the praise of men (John 12:43). Everything they did was tainted with selfish, man-made tradition. They pretended to be holy, but were white washed tombs. They looked clean on the outside but were full of dead men’s bones on the inside (Matthew 23:27). Jesus even went as far as to call these hypocritical leaders “children of hell,” “blind guides,” “fools” and “snakes & vipers.”
Despite all the name-calling, Jesus ended His rebuke with a metaphor about the nation of Israel being like small chicks and that Jesus, as the mother hen, wanted to still gather them to Himself (Matthew 23:37). Tragically, despite God’s great love and mercy, the Jewish leadership kept rejecting Him and eventually handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified (Acts 2:23).
Jesus’ words to His disciples and future leaders of the Church were clear, He didn’t want them to be like the Jewish leaders who were hypocrites and loved to be in authority over people. Jesus wanted His disciples to be servants like Him. Jesus said He didn’t come to “be served,” but rather to “serve” (Matthew 20:28). Andrew Murray wrote, “Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and serve and save us.”
As Christ’s disciples we should have the same heart Jesus had to serve. Let us not desire a title, but rather a towel. For it was when Jesus took off His cloak and grabbed a towel to wash His disciples feet, that He exemplified a servant’s heart (John 13:5).
- Repent if you have fallen into the trap of loving authority or being a religious hypocrite.
- Ask Jesus to make you a servant like Him.
- Pray that the Holy Spirit empowers you to be the kind of leader that always loves and serves God’s people.