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TEXT: Matthew 20:20-28
SUBJECT: Women of the New Testament #9: Salome
Tonight's sermon brings us to one of the New Testament's more obscure women. So obscure, in fact, that it takes a good piece of detective work to even be sure of her name. She is Zebedee's wife and the mother of two apostles. Her name is Salome.
About this dear lady, there are many good things to say.
It seems she was an excellent mother. Young men the caliber of James and John are not produced by accident. Under the blessing of God, their character is molded by a devout family life. This means that Salome must have brought up her children well; set a good example for them, and maintained a loving discipline. And it seems not to have embittered them at all. For the now-grown James and John have not left their parents, but continue to work alongside Zebedee in the family business. Salome, then, must have made her home an enjoyable place to be.
Salome was also a strong believer in Christ. Her conversation with Jesus assumed His Lordship, doesn't it?. "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left in Your kingdom". She was mistaken as to the nature of His Kingdom, to be sure--but that His Kingdom "would come" was beyond doubt in Salome's mind. And here it is important to remember that her confession did not occur at the beginning of the Lord's ministry, when He was wildly popular; but near the end, when the adoring crowds were diminishing and being replaced by the mob who would call for His crucifixion. Even then, Salome owned the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Her interest in Christ, however, went beyond the theoretical. Salome's faith produced good works. For after Christ's death, she joined the other women to care for His holy remains. This was--at best--an unpleasant task. But more--it was dangerous. For Jesus had been killed by a conspiracy of Israel's most powerful and malignant men. Thus it was unsafe to associate yourself with Him in any way. Even His apostles fled and hid themselves. But not Salome. She fearlessly entered the garden to embalm the Man who had "loved her and given Himself for her".
Finally, a word ought to be said about Salome and the company she kept. She lived in Galilee, a place known for its superstition, vice, and hypocrisy. Many of its residents were not Jewish, and so left to their idolatry. Most who were, however, were little better than their Gentile neighbors. So ignorant were they, that Isaiah called them "the people who sat in darkness". But, of course, some were not stupid. A few read the Bible and attended synagogue regularly. They, however, were mostly hypocrites, and among the Lord's most stubborn foes. It was at Nazareth, after all, that Jesus said: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house".
Thus it was hard for Salome to find "soul mates" among the Galileans. But find them she did! She befriended Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and other godly women. Salome "would be wise"...and so she "walked with the wise".
And so there are many good things we can say about Salome. She was a woman of knowledge, faith and holiness. But this Scripture points out another quality, one rather less flattering than the others.
It is exposed by her request: "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand, the other on the left, in Your kingdom".
That doesn't sound so bad, does it? She only wanted the best for her sons; she wanted them to be in "full-time" Christian service; and she didn't intrigue to get what she wanted. Yet a very patient Savior chides her for the request. What was wrong it?
Only this: it displayed a streak of ungodly ambition.
In some places, the Bible commands ambition as the opposite of sloth. Elsewhere, though, it condemns it as a species of pride. Salome's was evidently of the latter sort.
But why? She didn't want anything herself. Nor did she seek worldly things. All she wanted was the best for her James and John. But what did she mean by "best"? Look carefully at v.21 and you'll see.
1.She didn't say, "Grant that these two sons of mine may be the most faithful servants in Your kingdom".
2.She said, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand, and the other on the left, in Your kingdom".
Salome's ambition was wicked, then, for this simple reason: for her sons, she sought recognition and not service.
We should be ambitious in God's service. Nothing but the best for our King. This requires forethought and hard work, review and correction. Fastidiousness in His service is no vice. Paul was possessed of it, "This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are past, and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus". What is this, but ambition!? And Christ, of course, perfected it: "Zeal for Your House has eaten Me up".
Let no one mistake me. If you are not ambitious for your God, you fall under the Divine sanction: "You wicked and slothful servant...you ought to have put my money to the exchangers...so that I might have received my own with interest..."
But we must not be ambitious for praise or recognition. O how the Lord castigated those men for "making long (public) prayers...for disfiguring their faces when they fast...and for blowing a trumpet when the gave alms...all "to be seen of men". About them, He remarked, "they have their reward".
This spirit, though was not confined to Pharisees, Sadducees, and the like. Christians exhibited it from time to time as well. Salome has been noted. But she's not alone. She differed from the Apostles only in saying what she thought, instead of keeping it to herself. For just two chapters earlier, the very men who were so angry with Salome and her sons, were having this debate: "Who, then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And wasn't a man, probably an officer in the church, described like this: "Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them?"
And didn't Paul warn, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit"?
Thus the early Christians sometimes thirsted for applause. And so do their modern counterparts. But if it was bad then, it is inexcusable now. Jesus said, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin: but now, they have no cloak for their sin."
Salome, then was duly reproved. But, happily, Jesus did not leave her with a rebuke, but when on to impart a lesson that would prove valuable to her...and us.
And it's this: True greatness consists of humbly serving God and one another. The "Gentiles" think otherwise. But what would you expect? Without God's Word and Spirit, they're left to grope about in pitch darkness.
But Christians know better. And where do they get this insight? From the example of Christ Himself! "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for the many".
Salome, I trust, learned this lesson. I hope we shall too.
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