"I want to be first!" As a kid, it always felt important to be first. First, in line to go to recess. Finishing first in a foot race at school. First place in the math competitions. It seemed that first place was the safest place. The place where things went well and where you could have control over your surroundings. As we get older, we learn to conceal our true feelings, but in reality the desire to strive for the top place never really goes away. It is not wrong to enjoy honest competition or to strive for excellence, but we see in the twentieth chapter of Matthew that the kingdom of God operates on different principles. The safest place is not first place and the place of control. Instead, the last will be first.
As Jesus nears Jerusalem, he demonstrates in several ways that the gospel of the kingdom of God turns the practices of our normal world on their head. First, Jesus tells a parable about a boss who pays some of his workers more than they deserve. Second, Jesus speaks directly about his rejection and crucifixion in Jerusalem. Third, Jesus challenges the worldly model of leadership ("gentiles lord it over them") and instead shows that leaders in the kingdom must be servants. Finally, as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the first people to recognize him as the Son of David are two blind men - the people we would least expect to "spot" Jesus.
Jesus wasn't the king that people expected. He did not rely on a vast network of public relations gurus to shape his image. He didn't use power to coerce, fear to control, or selfish concern to manipulate. Instead, he humbled himself to the point of death. He poured himself out. He made himself lowest. He made himself last.
But in doing this, he gave life to his people. His death was followed by his resurrection. His sacrifice opened the gates of heaven for all who believe. After he humbled himself to the point of death, he was raised up and highly exalted (Philippians 2).
This is the way of the king, it is the way of the kingdom and it is the path of discipleship for followers of Jesus. The way forward is to be low in humility and to embrace suffering when necessary. The kingdom will advance when God's people lower themselves in prayer and seek to be humble ambassadors of truth and peace. The kingdom will advance when we are last and lowest in the world's eyes. And, at precisely that moment we enter into the fellowship of the suffering of Christ and become first in the kingdom of heaven.
In what ways is God calling you to embrace humility or brokenness for the sake of the kingdom? -MK