What is it you want? (Matthew 20:17-34)

“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.” Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.

(Matthew 20:17-34) 

Hello everyone! I’m Pastor Ki-taek Lee of Sungrak Mission Center. The Bible verses we read today are Matthew 20:17-34. You probably saw the title just now. “What is it you want?” All of you here have likely come because you want something, and you may want something from God. So today, I’d like to take a moment to think about what it is that we want.

Jesus whom we believe in came to this land through a specific nation. So, in the eyes of people, He appears as one of the people of that nation. Which nation is it? It’s Israel. Israel is located in the Palestinian region near the Mediterranean. Someone I know once asked me this question when I first began my faith life. They asked, “Korea also has its own religion, so why do you specifically follow the religion of Israel? We have Dangun, but why do you follow Jesus?” He thought that Jesus was a man of Israel because He came to Israel. He considered Jesus to be the God worshiped by the Israelites.

However, Jesus whom we believe in is not just Jesus of the Israelites; He is the Son of God who created heaven and earth. It was God who wanted to give us something, and this act of giving is similar to planting a seed. For example, there’s an orchard filled with apple trees. A farmer who wishes to build an orchard plants apple trees. He wants to grow young apple trees from samplings and cultivate them. His goal is to grow new tree from the seed. However, he doesn’t immediately plant these seeds directly in the orchard. Instead, he begins by planting them in a small pot. Once they grow into a young seedling of a certain size, he then takes and plants it in the orchard. The initial planting takes place in a small pot, and the farmer has no other choice but to use it. However, what the farmer truly desires is not the pot itself or to profit from it; rather, it is to fill the entire orchard with those trees.

In the same way, when God intended to bestow something upon humanity, He has chosen one nation from among all the people of the earth. And what He revealed through that chosen nation, He desires for all nations to possess now. Therefore, we should seek what He has given. When we come before God, that is what we are striving to obtain – the very gift which God has bestowed upon us. However, many people seek things that God hasn’t even granted. While God does provide those things as well, they are given to assist us for a temporary period. There is something else that God intends to give us for eternity, yet people often remain indifferent to it and only seek what they personally desire.

The verses we just read is the scene where Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. It’s from Matthew 20, which is located near the end of the Book of Matthew. Why was Jesus going up to Jerusalem? It was to fulfill His purpose, which was to die. He called His twelve disciples separately and told 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.” He spoke to them about His death.

It was a solemn moment. Even if the disciples were shedding tears, their hearts remained unsettled. But did the disciples truly understand Jesus’ words? No, they didn’t. They could not grasp the meaning when He spoke of His coming death. Their hearts were only filled with the yearning for the Messiah. Who was the Messiah they were eagerly awaiting? They had their own expectations and desires. And they firmly believed that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for.

What the people of Israel commonly expected was the reappearance of a king like King David. In the history of Israel, the era of King David was the richest and most powerful. During King David’s reign, Israel’s influence extended not only to nearby regions but also as far as Egypt. From east to north, Israel was such a renowned nation that even during the reign of King Solomon in the next generation, people from Ethiopia in Africa came to witness the splendor of Israel after hearing about it.

As a result, the Israelites held a deep longing for King David in their hearts. After reign of David, the nation began to gradually decline. Following King Solomon’s era, the nation was divided into two parts – north and south, similar to the division between North and South Korea. The northern ten tribes faced destruction first, followed by the fall of Jerusalem in the South. Since then, they have been invaded by foreign countries, starting with Babylon, which is modern-day Iraq. They were ruled by Iraq for a period. Later, just when they thought it was going to get better, Greece dominated them, forming the Hellenistic Empire (present-day Greece.) During this time, there was some relief because Greek colonial policies promoted freedom and respected local cultures. However, this period was short-lived, as the Roman Empire emerged and began to dominate the region. The Romans ruled with military force, leading to a period of great humiliation and suffering for the Israelites.

Therefore, they longed and yearned for the return of the era when King David reigned. They wondered, “When will he come? When will a savior like David come? When will the king who will restore our nation appear?” It was at this moment that Jesus appeared. Some people began to insist that Jesus was the king they had been waiting for. At first, they were uncertain, but they observed the remarkable works He was performing – such as feeding ten thousand people with just five loaves of bread.

After witnessing such incredible events, people began to think. “If He remains with us, we wouldn’t need to worry about military provisions.” They had heard about Jesus walking on water to reach the boat and even commanding the waves, seas, and winds to calm down. This led them to believe, “He definitely has the power to liberate our nation from Roman oppression! If He goes to Jerusalem and raises the flag as our leader, we, who are passionate and devoted to our nation, will rise up against the Romans and regain our independence!” They were filled with such anticipation.

As the disciples followed Jesus, they often heard Him say, “The kingdom of God! The kingdom of God!” However, they didn’t understand this as the kingdom of heaven that we know today. Instead, they expected it as the restoration of David’s kingdom in Jerusalem, achieved by overthrowing the Romans.

So, when Jesus said, “Let us go. I am going to die!” the people who followed Him were not saddened; they were excited. They misunderstood Jesus’ words, thinking that He was saying, “Okay, I am prepared to fight to the death!” because He said, “I am going to die!” This is why Peter, upon hearing Him, declared, “Lord, I will go with You even unto death. I am ready to fight to the death!” While Jesus said, “I will have to go to die,” if we read the Book of Luke, we can observe how Jesus shed tears as He gazed towards Jerusalem. It was a solemn moment. Jesus was indeed prepared to die. However, the disciples interpreted Jesus’s tears as a reaffirmation of His resolve before entering the decisive battle.

It’s likely that the disciples who followed Jesus looked something like this. If Jesus led the way, the disciples probably followed closely behind with determined and proud expressions. They might have walked with a sense of importance. When Jesus mentioned that He was going to die in Jerusalem, a woman came to see Him. She was the mother of Zebedee’s sons, James and John. These two brothers were known for their fiery temper and were sometimes referred to as the “Sons of Thunder.”

Their mother approached Jesus, bowing before Him. He asked her, “What is it you want?” This question, “What do you want?” is what He asked. In response, their mother said, “Grant that these two sons of mind may sit, one on Your right hand the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” Essentially, she was requesting that one of her sons become the prime minister, and the other the deputy prime minister. To put it simply, she was saying, “When you come into power, appoint my sons as prime minister and a vice president”.

Upon hearing this, Jesus responded, “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!” Then He posed a question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” The disciples who were with Him confidently replied, “We are able.”

The “cup” mentioned here represents the suffering that God ordained for Jesus – the sacrificial act of carrying the cross and facing death.  In essence, Jesus was asking them, “Are you willing to endure death?” However, the disciples did not fully grasp His meaning and confidently replied, “We are able.” Even Jesus did not want to drink that cup, so He prayed to God to take it from Him. Yet, the disciples were saying that they can drink this cup. So, Jesus said, “Whether you drink this cup or not is up to you 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.” If you are capable of accepting this, it would be great. However, if you cannot, then sitting at His right or left hand is beyond your control.

After Jesus spoke and sent her away, how do you think the other ten disciples reacted when they later learned about this? They might have said something like, “So you two secretly wanted to be His right-hand and left-hand men? What about us?” They became resentful, and an argument arose among them. ‘Why did the Lord go to Jerusalem? The purpose of Jesus going to Jerusalem at that time was to die and make a sacrificial offering of Himself. But in that critical moment, the disciples were busy fighting amongst themselves over who would sit at His right and left of the Lord. This indicated that there was a significant gap between the disciples and the Lord. There was significant difference between what the Lord knew and what the disciples knew. Despite following Him for three years and listening to His teachings, the kingdom of God they ultimately desired was to hold power on earth. This was the level of understanding the disciples had of Jesus at that time.

Now Jesus left Jericho and was getting closer to Jerusalem. As He set off for Jerusalem, a large crowd began to follow Him. Why were they following Him? It was like a royal entrance for a king. As He would enter Jerusalem, nobody knew what might happen next. The disciples followed Him, their shoulders held high with pride. Many others also followed. They were filled with curiosity and wonder, thinking, “Hey watch out! It’s the end for you Romans! He might summon a mighty wind to overturn them. When we are hungry, He will feed us all with just one loaf of bread! The Roman Empire is at its end! He could even bring down fire from heaven like the prophets of old and burn all of you up!” This was their mindset.

As there was a large crowd around Jesus, He couldn’t be seen very well. However, at that moment, there were some blind men nearby. Suddenly, two blind men called out to Jesus. As everyone knew very well, Jesus was a descendant of David who would succeed David’s throne. So, the blind men called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David!” For these individuals, it was a decisive moment. They had never experienced Jesus passing by before. But at that very moment, Jesus was passing right in front of them. People believed that Jesus would enter to seize power and become a king. Therefore, for them, their future king, their future president, was passing by at that moment.

These two men had suffered from a lot of hardship in their lives. Being blind, what could they possibly do for a living? How can they make a living? We can feel what their situation was when they said, “Have mercy on us!” They said, “Take mercy on us!” This may sound uncommon to some of you but when I was on mission trip in China, I saw many beggars around the bus stops. They all said the same thing. What do the beggars normally say? We often think of them saying, “Please spare some change.” Some of them say, “Can you spare me some change please?” However, in China, beggars actually say, “Have pity on me! Please take pity on me!” “可怜可怜我! (kĕlián wŏ ba)”. This means “Please have compassion for me! Look upon me with pity!” So, I can assume from what these blind men said, “Have mercy on us!” that they are actually beggars. This is a phrase that beggars commonly use out of habit. They say, “Have mercy on us! Have mercy on us!”

So, when a beggar who calls out like that, there’s always something they’re requesting. When beggars in China say, “可怜可怜我! 可怜可怜我! (kĕlián wŏ ba)” what are they asking for? They’re asking for money. So, when these blind men cried out, “可怜可怜我! (kĕlián wŏ ba)” what do you think people assumed they were asking for? They most likely assumed they were asking for money. While the king was making his grand entrance, these beggars dared to request some change from Him. As a result, the people scolded the two beggars to be quiet.

However, these two beggars didn’t stop; instead, they called out even louder. “Have mercy on us! Have mercy on us!” They were desperate because if they missed this chance, they would never see Him again. So, they shouted even louder. Even if there were hundreds and thousands of people, they cried out, “Have mercy on us! Take pity on us!” Finally, their cries reached Jesus’ ears, and He instructed men to bring them to Him. Thus, the two blind men stood before Jesus.

At that time, Jesus asked again. Remember how He asked His disciples earlier what they wanted. Now, He was asking the same question to these men. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Who did they perceive Jesus to be? If they had regarded Jesus in the same way as everybody else did, that He was going to be their future king or president, what would they have answered when Jesus asked, “What do you want?” They might have said something like, “We’ve been begging on this road for ten years, but now our throats are hurting, and we can’t beg as well as before. Mr. president, please show more support for the welfare of the disabled. Please hand out free walking sticks for the blind! Please allow us to receive monthly pensions! Assist us so that we can beg closer to the city gates! Please introduce policies to support people like us or announce an executive order”. If they had the same mindset as the disciples and the many people following Jesus, they would have regarded Him as their next king and make requests to the king.

However, the response that came from the blind men was remarkable. What did they say? “Lord, that our eyes may be opened!” Despite being blind, they expressed their desire to regain their sight. Who did they perceive Jesus to be? Opening someone’s eyes, restoring sight to the blind, is certainly not something an ordinary person can do. Actually, it’s deemed impossible. These men had been blind from birth, enduring a difficult life for many years. So, could anyone truly restore their sight? It seemed impossible, and nobody believed it could happen. On a previous occasion, Jesus had opened the eyes of another blind man, but once his eyes were opened, Jesus moved on to another place. So, when people found this man, they asked, “Who made your eyes open? Who opened your eyes?” And the blind man answered, “Don’t you people know? Who is able to open the eyes of a blind? No one except God can open the eyes of a blind!” That’s exactly right. When this blind man Bartimaeus said, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened!” he had recognized Jesus as someone equal to God.

While all the other people saw Jesus as their future reigning king and were eagerly longing for the restoration of their nation, Israel. That is, they were picturing themselves taking back Jerusalem and driving out the Roman soldiers. Furthermore, John and James were thinking of becoming the president and vice president to rule the nation. While everyone else was dreaming about this, these blind men had this faith. We may not know the source of their inspiration, but he boldly requested of Jesus, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened!”

So, Jesus was overjoyed, yet at the same time, He had compassion. He was grieved. Why? Because it was challenging to encounter individuals with such strong faith! Therefore, He brought them close and said to them, “According to your faith may it be done!” And just like that, their eyes were opened! Hallelujah!

For those of us who believe in Jesus, it isn’t that surprising to see the eyes of the blind being opened. Of course, it is marvelous, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility. Such experiences are granted to all who have faith in Jesus. From the very beginning of my faith journey, I heard from Pastor Ki-dong Kim, that when believers lay their hands on the sick, they will get well; the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the sick will be healed. I believed in these words from the beginning of my faith life, and after just three months, I had many experiences where the sick were healed when I laid my hands on them. Later on, I personally witnessed two blind individuals regain their sight right before my eyes. Even someone like me was able to experience these miracles. This power comes from God, not from human capability.

The blind man Bartimaeus believed in Jesus as God and made such a request. That’s why his story is written in the Bible. There are many records of Jesus healing the sick and restoring sight to the blind. However, this story in Matthew 20 is not talking about a miracle being performed. Why would they add the story of another blind man being healed at this critical moment when Jesus is entering Jerusalem for such an important mission? It’s not included to highlight a miraculous healing; instead, it’s included because of this man’s incredible faith. He believed Jesus to be God and therefore requested something that can only be asked of God.

As you have come to here, you probably have something you desire, right? “Well, I have been struggling to find a job lately, and I hope to believe in God and find a good job!” This is something you could ask the president for. People with such hopes might end up disappointed after coming to church. Why? Because that might not be what God will give to them. Of course, He can assist in those aspects as well, but there’s a possibility that He may not.

However, we should seek that which only God can give us. Some people come to church seeking a change in their relationship with their husband. And by coming to church, they may indeed meet God. However, one cannot continue seeking God with only those goals. God has the ability to provide solutions to all of our problems. Yet, there is something specific that God desires to give us. For those who seek that, God will pay great attention.

At church, you need to seek what God wants to give, that which God can abundantly provide. What is most important above all is that your spirit is saved from sin and obtains eternal life. You obtain the power from the Son of God. This is a power we cannot find anywhere in this world. Even the president cannot give it to us. It is not of the power of this world. Only God can save you. Jesus Christ is your one and only Savior. I bless you in Jesus’ name that you seek that which only God can give you. I’ll pray.

God our Father, I pray that you will touch the hearts of the saints here and the newcomers to see Jesus who is truly God. And help them to receive and possess that which only God can give and wants to give us. In Jesus name. Amen!

Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center