Sermon session

Minus Points

Session #123 Minus Points

Scripture Matthew 20:17-28

Summary Strangely, amongst believers, there seems to be an aversion to the idea of greatness, as if it is wrong to desire significance in the kingdom of God. But is it? In Matthew 20:17-28, upon hearing Jesus’ prediction about His death and resurrection, James and John requested for top positions. Instead of chiding them for having lofty ambitions, Jesus clarified the way to be great and first. Note the plus points in this teaching. Even so, don’t miss the minus points.


Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.  And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 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 20:17-28

In this teaching, we’re going to talk about being great and being first. What would Jesus say about such ambition and aspiration? What would Jesus do? Let’s unpack Matthew 20:17-28 together. Get ready to take down all the plus points. But you really don’t want to miss the minus points.

 Which of the two words appeal to you?

  • WIN – LOSE
  • HIGH – LOW

Most likely, you preferred the words, “first, win, strong, high, more and plus”. Not surprising. Notice that many church camp and conference themes are crafted around these words. We all want the more, the add-ons, the plus points; not the minus points! This is very natural and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The issue is the means by which we seek to attain these.

In Matthew 18, 19 & 20, we see that the disciples struggled with this too. The conversations revolved around being great and first.

It is perfectly fine to seek kingdom significance. Jesus never told them not to aspire to greatness or that being first is bad. Instead, He showed them the right way to achieve these … not by the ways of the world; but by the kingdom way of humility.

This is not quite as easily understood or accepted. After all, humility was not exactly a plus point. It was not considered a virtue but a weakness – a minus point.

But how does one get a plus with a minus? By now, you should not be surprised to learn that our passage – Matthew 20:17-28 – will present yet another upside-down kingdom teaching.

Our passage can be divided into three sections:

  • Matthew 20:17-19 The 3rd Prediction of Jesus’ Death & Resurrection
  • Matthew 20:20-23 The Request of James & John (and Jesus’ Reply)
  • Matthew 20:24-28 The Way to Kingdom Greatness

Matthew 20:17-19 The 3rd Prediction of Jesus’ Death & Resurrection








Caesarea Philippi

Go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes

And be killed

And be raised the third day

Peter rebukes Jesus


Staying in Galilee

The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men

And they will kill Him

And on the third day He will be raised up

Disciples were exceedingly sorrowful


Perea, going up to Jerusalem

The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes;

And they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, to scourge and to crucify

And on the third day He will rise again

James & John’s Request

As Jesus moved from Caesarea Philippi, to Galilee, to Perea, towards Jerusalem, there was an intensification of confrontation with religious leaders, leading to His betrayal into their hand. The Son of Man will die and rise again on the third day. The 3rd Prediction is generally the same but with more details. Jesus was handed over to Gentiles for mocking and scourging. Death was administered by the Romans (Jews couldn’t put anyone to death). The execution would be by crucifixion, the worst way to die.

There were different responses after each prediction. Peter rebuked Jesus, ‘rejected’ the notion of his King and Master dying. Disciples were very sad at the prospect of Jesus dying. James and John requested for top positions in the kingdom!

Matthew 20:20-23 The Request of James and John and Jesus’ Reply

How insensitive of James and John! This 3rd prediction came after Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question.

“Assuredly I say to you that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28

Whilst others focused on Jesus’ death, James and John focused on Jesus’ resurrection (regeneration). They took it to mean that Jesus would be on His throne and they would be on theirs. Why just be satisfied with thrones? Why not go for the highest honour? Thrones PLUS! But it would be too proud and presumptuous for them to ask. So they sent mom – perhaps Jesus would be kinder and gentler with a mother’s request. Smart move. Peter already was called ‘satan’ for putting his mouth in his foot.

Jesus knew it was James and John who put Salome up to the task. Mark 10:35-37 records that they were the ones who asked.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” Mark 10:35–37

 In Matthew 20:22, Jesus answered, “YOU do not know what you ask …” YOU, the second person plural pronouns was directed at James and John, not their mother.

“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” The CUP is a common Old Testament metaphor for suffering, God’s wrath and fury (see Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-18; Jeremiah 25:15-28). The Baptism was to be immersed in suffering.

What did they not know? When you ask for significance, you must be prepared for suffering. Suffering and significance (glory) go hand in hand. Significance in the kingdom comes with suffering for the kingdom. You crave the significance. Can you brave the suffering? The kingdom pathway to glory is suffering.

They said to Him, “We are able.” It sounded noble but they did not understand what they were saying. What else did they not know? They thought kingdom and regeneration would happen immediately after Jesus is raised from the dead.

Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Luke 19:11

Note that Jesus said “MY cup” (vs the cup). They would be suffering for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom. James was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2). John was exiled to Patmos for preaching the gospel. Before that, tradition records he was thrown into a pot of boiling oil but miraculously survived.

Jesus Submits to the Father

Although He was the Son of God, Jesus was also a Servant of God. Jesus submits to Father. You can request all you want. But in the end, God has the final say. Just do what is right and expected. Trust God to give what is right and unexpected.

Matthew 20:24-27 The Way to Kingdom Greatness

The disciples all greatly displeased and indignant! All wanted the same thing – just that some were more vocal and thick-skinned. It’s okay to aspire to be great and to be first. Just don’t do it in the ways of the world. This is what greatness looks like amongst the Gentiles, in the world. Their leaders lord over (dominate) people, exercise authority (rule & reign) over people. They are literally gods and kings, stepping on people, using people, controlling and manipulating people just so they can remain on the top of the chain.These traits are considered plus points! Great, strong, first, having more, plus plus and plus!

Yet it shall not be so among you. It must be emphasised again: Jesus is okay with ambition; the desire to be great and first. Just don’t do it in the ways of the world, it is a misalignment. Kingdom people must do it the kingdom way – alignment check. Who is great among you? Be a SERVANT to all. Who is first among you? Be a SLAVE to all. Serving Jesus is serving people (among you). If you claim to be Jesus’ servants, serve His people.

 Ministry is simply Service: MINUS-try? It is unfortunate that the word ‘minister’ these days, whether in government or religious settings, gives a totally different impression. Ministers seem to get all the PERKS and PLUSES. Some have achieved celebrity and superstar statuses, This affects the way we serve in church and kingdom (pyramid, hierarchical structure, etc). It led to abuse, where ‘ministers’ and ‘ministry’ have become about power, control, domination, manipulation, etc. Ministry is our service to the Lord and to one another. It will involve the giving away, or a taking away, a lessening of sorts – “minus-try”. These are all MINUS POINTS!

To show the way, Jesus, the King of the kingdom, sets the example. Matthew 20:28.

The Son of Man is a Messianic title.

  • Servant (diakonos, doulos, minister) of the Lord
  • Suffering Servant: betrayed, mocked, scourged, crucified
  • Sacrifice: Giving up of His life as a sacrifice
  • Substitute: As a ransom (price paid to buy a slave’s freedom); for (instead of; in place of) many

As far as worldly thinking goes, it is MEGA MESSIANIC MINUS! In kingdom terms, the minuses all become pluses! Through these minus points come the plus of SALVATION. Jesus demonstrates that His SERVICE that brings SUFFERING leads to SIGNIFICANCE.

WHAT WE GIVE UP ADDS UP. What you give up for the kingdom adds up in the kingdom.

Minus Points

Jesus’ Minus Our Plus
Jesus died so we may live. His Sacrifice & Substitute becomes our Salvation. He was cursed that we may be blessed+. He became poor that we may be rich+.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

He became empty that we, His Church, may be full.

Our Minus comes from Our Plus
Too many are ‘serving’ out of empty. It is religiosity, a form of godliness. You give out of fullness. You cannot give out of empty. You give out of what you have, not what you don’t have. You need to know who you are, whose you are, what you have as servants and bondservant (slaves) of Jesus. Stewards, servants, slaves have resources and provision for themselves and to share with others.

Our Minus will become Someone’s Plus
Keep sowing and investing into lives for the kingdom. Steward our time, talents and treasures wisely, bringing kingdom impact and influence.

Everyone’s Minus leads to Everyone’s Plus
If only one small group “serves” and “minuses”, the result is consumer church. But if everyone serves and gives, that’s BIG HUGE PLUS! We should “outdo” one another in service and sacrifice. Every part does its share, and brings growth (maturity).

“from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:16  

Our Minus adds up to Our Plus (in our kingdom ledger)
The last shall be first. To be great and first (plus) in the kingdom, be the least and last (minus). That is what Matthew 18, 19 & 20 have been about. What we give up adds up. What we leave for Jesus, we will receive from Jesus. Do our best. Lay up heavenly treasures, leave the rewarding to God who gives best – He is good, gracious and generous. Just do what is right and expected. Trust God to give what is right and unexpected.


Colossians 4:17 is the key verse of Archippus Awakening.

And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry that you have received in the Lord that you may fulfil it.” Colossians 4:17

Dear Archippus …

 Adoption: Son & Daughters

By the Spirit of Adoption, we are sons and daughters.

Acquisition: Servants & Slaves

By the payment of ransom price, we have been acquired to be servants, slaves and ministers.

 Agenda: Serve the King & Kingdom

We are no longer our own to serve our own agendas but we serve Jesus and His kingdom.

Assignment: Serve one another & others with love

The ministries which we have all received in the Lord are essentially kingdom assignments to serve one another and others with love through faith.

Attitude: The heart of a servant; not just the acts of a servant.

How we serve matters. Not just acts of servants, but with hearts of servants. Do we have the heart of trust, humility, submission, reliance, obedience, perseverance? Are we serving with joy and gladness; and not complaining and grumbling?

Anointing: Jesus “serves” us by enabling us to serve well by His Spirit.

Our King continues to “serve” us as we serve Him. He enables us with His Spirit.

Ambition: Do your best for Jesus. Desire the best for God’s glory.

Seek to please Jesus our King and Master. Seek to be promoted, it’s okay.

Acknowledgement: Leave the approval and rewards to God. Seek to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

If you want to be great and to be first, do it the kingdom way. If you want the plus points of the kingdom, learn to embrace the minus points by being a servant, a slave and a minister (minus-ter) to all.

What we give up adds up. What we give up for the kingdom, adds up in the kingdom.