In our society, to be great usually means to hold a position of power and glory, and to be served by “lesser people”. The kingdom of God is entirely different. Jesus wants to teach us what true greatness really is.

BACKGROUND: Jesus had been training His disciples for three years. They lived with Him, heard, His teachings, saw what He did. Among the disciples closest to him were James and John, sons of Zebedee.


Matthew 20:17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18  “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19  and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” 20  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21  “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. 23  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- 28  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NIV)


A. Jesus Prepares The Disciples (vv. 17-19)

  1. What did Jesus tell the disciples on the way to Jerusalem? (vv. 18, 19)
  2. Why do you think Jesus told them these things? Why did He emphasize the suffering that was going to come to Him?
  3. If you were Jesus, what kind of reactions would you have hoped that the disciples show?

B. The Desire For Greatness (vv. 20-23)

  1. What was the favor the wife of Zebedee asked from Jesus? (v. 21)
  2. Was the request in v. 21 the request of the mother only, or that of James and John also? How do we know? What were they really asking for when they asked to “sit at your right and your left when you become king”?
  3. How different are we from James and John, sons of Zebedee? Give examples of how people today seek these. It is natural for non-Christians to seek these. But do Christians also seek these? Even supposedly “mature” Christians. How is it manifested?
  4. James and John had been following Jesus for three years. In vv. 17:-19 He had just confided His coming suffering and death to them. Instead of showing understanding and oneness of heart with Jesus, James and John were asking for positions of power and glory for themselves. How do you think our Lord must have felt about it? How do you think our Lord must be feeling now as we Christians look after our selfish interests?
  5. In v. 22, why did Jesus say, “You don’t know what you are asking for”? What is the “cup of suffering” that Jesus referred tot How does it apply to us? Cite examples.

C. True Greatness (vv. 24-28)

  1. How did the ten disciples react when they heard about it? (v. 24) Why were they angry?
  2. How do you think our Lord felt when aside from the two, the other ten disciples also showed insensitivity to His coming suffering and started quarreling among themselves for positions of power and glory?
  3. What did our Lord teach them? (vv. 25-27) Contrast the world’s view of what greatness means to what greatness means in God’s kingdom. Cite examples on how we can be a servant to one another in Christ.
  4. Why is it important that we understand and practice what true greatness is?
  5. Note that the tone of what our Lord said was not a stern rebuke (which they deserved), but was rather lovingly said. What does this teach us of our Lord’s character? Give examples of how this can be applied in our lives.
  6. What is the significance of v. 28 and how do we apply it to our lives.

REFLECTION: What do I really feel greatness means? How does it compare with Jesus idea of greatness? What should I do to be a servant of all?


Christians are not immune to the desire for positions of power and fame. But it runs counter to what our Lord wants us to be. Let us learn to have the heart of our Lord and be the servant of all.



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