27 “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:27–28, NKJV).”
The ambitious quest for superiority over others is conquered by the truth Jesus uttered and lived. Dominance over fellow disciples in the body of Christ is defeated by complete servitude. Only when we yield ourselves as slaves to serve others are we like our Master. The Lord humbled Himself to become human, and further still, to die on the cross for the sins of the world (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus is not great because people served Him. He is great because He served others, including us. He gave His life as the ransom (redemption price) for our sins (1 Tim. 2:6). His disciples forego the prideful pursuit of glory from others. God honors those who give themselves in service to Christ and others. Christ has shown us the way. (1) Like Jesus, we must desire to do God’s will instead of our own. “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God” (Heb. 10:9; Matt. 26:39, 42). (2) Like Jesus, we must humble ourselves (Phil. 2:5). A slave (bondservant) is lowly in spirit. Pride never elevates us in the Master’s sight, while humility delivers grace from His hand (James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5-6). (3) Like Jesus, it takes personal sacrifice to serve God and others. Jesus gave His life. We are to deny ourselves and bear our cross, giving our lives in His service (Luke 9:23; Gal. 2:20). Do you want to be great in the kingdom? Enslave yourself to the service of others, and your reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 25:34-40).
22 So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22–23, NKJV).
The Lord of hosts had commanded king Saul to execute His judgment against the Amalekites by utterly destroying them (1 Sam. 15:2-3). Instead, Saul and the people spared their king and the choice animals, being “unwilling to utterly destroy them” (1 Sam. 15:9). When confronted by Samuel about this clear violation of God’s word, Saul was confident he had “performed the commandment of the Lord,” making an excuse the people spared the animals for a sacrifice to the Lord (1 Sam. 15:13-15). But Saul was wrong. God’s prophet spoke of God’s displeasure and condemnation of this disobedience. Saul had led the people in stubborn rebellion. Because he had rejected the word of the Lord, God rejected him as king of Israel (1 Sam. 15:22-23). There is an obvious lesson for us; The end does not justify the means. Like Saul, we have no right to change the command of God and rationalize our alteration with a “good deed” we put in its place. Living by faith is about trusting God’s commands are correct and following them with devoted allegiance. “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19:8). To obey God is better than offering sacrifices He has not commanded.
8 “You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:8–9, NKJV).
Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23). Although “we do not yet see (horao, discern clearly, JRP) all things put under” the authority of Jesus, we see (blepo, behold, sight) many things about Him. The writer of Hebrews draws our attention to the humanity of Jesus in chapter two, having already defined and described His deity in chapter one. When we pause to look at Jesus, we see the magnificence of the Savior. (1) We see His humility to be made lower than the angels for a little while. Leaving the glory of heaven, He submitted to becoming human to be an offering for sin (Phil. 2:7-8; Heb. 10:5, 10). In Him alone was “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). (2) We see Jesus becoming human to suffer and die. The painful humiliation and injustice of the cross was an act of willful obedience on His part (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8). (3) We see God’s grace in His death for everyone. We see the paradox of the cruel cross as God’s blessed favor is revealed in the sacrifice of His Son for us. “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). (4) We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor. Resurrected and exalted in the heavens as God’s right hand, Jesus is king on His throne and High Priest over God’s house (Heb. 1:13, 8-9; 2:17; 8:1-2). Praise God that the Son became flesh and dwelt among us, to die for us, and to blaze the trail to glory for us (Heb. 2:10).
22 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it (Acts 2:22–24, NKJV).
Nothing takes God by surprise, especially not the death of Jesus. God is eternal and declares “the end from the beginning…saying, ‘My counsel shall stand’” (Isa. 46:10). His foreknowledge compels trustful obedience to Him and not carved images. God’s prophet recorded God’s purposeful foreknowledge, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isa. 42:9). Jesus was delivered to death “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (v. 23). From eternity past, God planned to save sinners by sacrificing His Son (Eph. 1:4-7). His prophets foretold a suffering Servant whom God would crown with glory and honor (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The sacrifice of Jesus fully expressed God’s love and grace toward us sinners (1 John 4:10; Rom. 5:6-11). Following His resurrection, Jesus said everything in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Him was fulfilled (Luke 24:44-45; Acts 13:32-33). The apostles witnessed these things and preached the good news of salvation to the world (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8). God planned to save us from sin. Now, He calls on us to believe and obey His Son to receive the gift He planned and fulfilled (Acts 2:36-41; 4:12; Heb. 5:8-9).
14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, NKJV).
The love of Christ compels us, driving us forward to do the will of God. His love compels us to live no longer for ourselves but Christ. When confronted with whether or not to obey the will of the Lord, Christians should not say, “Well, I have to do it” (as though it is a burden to follow Jesus, 1 John 5:3). We ought to say, “I will” because of Christ’s love for us. Paul beautifully described the conversion of thought and life from sinful self-interest to selflessly serving Christ. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus “died for all” when we were dead in sin (v. 14; Rom. 5:8). The selfless sacrifice of Jesus Christ compels us to live for Him and love as He loves us. That means we will “walk in love” and sacrifice ourselves for others as He did (Eph. 5:2). It means husbands will sacrificially love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). It means Christians will love one another with sacrificial, humble service (John 13:1-17, 34-35). Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:12-14). We know how Jesus loved us. It compels us to lay down our lives for Him and do whatever He commands.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him (1 John 3:1, NKJV).
Through the apostle John, the Holy Spirit draws our attention to the kind of love God has for us. He says to “behold,” to see, be aware of and understand the nature of God’s love that blesses us to be called God’s children. John will go on to proclaim, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Today, let us behold and understand the depth and breadth of God’s love from three vantage points. (1) God’s love is sacrificial. He “so loved the world” that He gave His Son to be lifted up on a cross to deliver sinners from death (John 3:14-17). Love gives of itself to serve others (see the example of Jesus, Eph. 5:25-27). (2) God’s love is merciful. God’s “great love” is adorned by His “rich mercy” (Eph. 2:4). Love acts out of mercy to relieve others. With tender compassion, God saw our sin dilemma (death, Rom. 6:23) and graciously saved us through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:5-8). (3) God’s love is purposeful. “In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Love takes the initiative; it is neither negligent nor apathetic. As we behold God’s love for us, may we follow John’s appeal, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27, NKJV)
Paul uses marriage to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:32). We gain essential insight into the love a husband is to have for his wife from it. 1) Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial (v. 25). He gave Himself, His life, for her. There is no greater love (Jno. 15:13; Rom. 5:8). Husbands live (and are willing to die) for their wives. 2) Christ’s love for the church was purposeful (v. 26). His every act was unselfish. The salvation and spiritual safety of the church was foremost to Him. Every husband can improve his marriage by keeping his wife’s welfare as a fundamental priority. 3) Christ’s love for the church is constant (v. 27). Christ did not love for a day, a season, a moment in time. His love endures with the hopeful expectation of the church’s eternal glory (Rev. 21:1-4). Likewise, a husband vows “for better or worse” with a commitment to be constant and faithful to his wife. He is helpful as she tackles life, rejoicing in her triumphs and enduring in his affection. Her holiness drives his decisions. She is his life and love, and he cherishes her (Eph. 5:28-29). A God-fearing husband learns the love of Christ for the church and gives that love to his wife.
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, NKJV)
God deplored the insincere faith seen in Ephraim and Judah: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). He still does. In defense of His interaction “with tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus explained that He came to call sinners to repentance – those who need spiritual healing (Matt. 9:11, 13). He applied Hosea to His critics, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:12). Accurate knowledge of God compels mercy toward sinners without forgetting one’s dutiful offerings to God (Matt. 23:23; Ps. 85:10-13). Christians have received God’s mercy, and we are to be merciful to others as we serve Him (Matt. 18:33). Yet, being a Christian is often reduced to rituals and formalities in not a few churches. Sinful conduct of members is winked at and ignored because they are large donors, prominent in the community, in regular attendance at worship services, or otherwise highly regarded (1 Cor. 5:1-2; Gal. 2:6). They may “fast twice a week” and “give tithes of all” they possess, but such things are meaningless to the Lord when hearts are far from Him (Luke 18:10-14). God foretold and executed judgment upon Ephraim and Judah for their insincere, disobedient faith (Hosea 6:5). Let us learn from their failures and not repeat their sins (1 Cor. 10:5-13). Genuine and enduring faith must be driven by mercy toward others as we keep the commands of God.
18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18–22, NKJV)
What price do you pay for following Jesus? When Jesus gave a command to His followers that He would leave Capernaum to cross the sea of Galilee, the scribe said he would follow Jesus “wherever You go.” We hope that he did. Jesus told him clearly that following Him would require sacrifice. It is easy to follow Jesus when no sacrifice is needed. But, when push comes to shove, and sacrifice becomes necessary, do you follow Him then? What about when there is a pressing need in your life? What priority informs and persuades your decision then? Jesus emphasized the proper priority when He said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Jesus must have first place in our decision-making process. We cannot say we will follow Jesus but then refuse to sacrifice to do so. We cannot say we will follow Jesus but then refuse to make following Him our top priority. Our everyday choices reveal both our sacrifice and our priority when it comes to following Jesus.