We can seek greatness in serving others, because Jesus has already served us.
I don’t know how many of you saw the movie Hacksaw Ridge. I think it came out like 2 years ago and tells the story of Private Doss. A medic that served in the US Army during the second world war. And what made him so special was that he was the first of only three soldiers in ever in US-Army who refused to pick up a gun and still got awarded the Medal of Honor. And he was awarded this medal, because on April 1st 1945 he saved at least 75 wounded soldiers in Okinawa. All while not defending himself at all. Risking his own life, to save that of others.
And if you watch the trailer of the movie, you will read in the end: one of America’s greatest heroes.
And this is where I got stuck. Because while I think we would all agree that what Doss did was great. If I am really honest to myself and maybe you are the same way, this is not what I think of first, when I hear the term great or greatness. My mind usually rather jumps to the leaders of countries and companies. Pop stars, smart scientists and professional athletes. Those are the people whose pictures hang on our walls at home or at the office, because we want to be just like them. Want to be just as successful in what we do and receive the same recognition, the same fame and fortune as they did because of it.
And although we know that Doss is a hero too, so far, I have not seen a room with a poster of him in it. We seem to instinctively opt for the greatness of a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, rather than a private Doss.
And in our passage in Mark 10 today, we encounter the disciples who are thinking along the same lines as we do when it comes to greatness. Who want to make it big with Jesus. Who want to get high positions in his kingdom. But we will also encounter a Jesus who challenges their and our understanding of greatness. Who will go against our instinct and call us to a greatness that serves others instead of us.
And before we start to look into how Jesus can make such a claim, why this means true greatness for him, I would like to pray.
1. Greatness serves us
Read with me verses 35-37:
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Just to understand what James and John are asking Jesus for. At this point the disciples were still convinced, that Jesus was about to overthrow the Romans in Israel and build his new kingdom here on earth. That he would rise as the new leader in Jerusalem, where they were about to enter in to start his earthly rule. And in this kingdom, James and John want to secure themselves high positions. Sitting on the left and right of Jesus meant that they wanted to be his second and third in command. They basically ask Jesus to be his vice president and first minister in his new kingdom. And they hope, that their friendship to Jesus will secure all these things for them.
But their demand doesn’t go by unnoticed. In verse 41 we read:
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
In their chase for greatness, the brothers had encountered a problem, that I think we all know just too well here in Frankfurt. Because there were 12 disciples, but only 2 seats next to Jesus. And if they wanted these spots, they had to get rid of the other 10 contenders. Tried to cut their closest friends who went through thick and thin with them over the last months out of the competition. And when these men catch wind of what James and John are trying to do, they get angry. Not only because James and John tried to go behind their backs.
But because they secretly wanted these spots as well. They were envious. They wanted to be the ones next to Jesus. They wanted to have the fame, power and privileges themselves that James and John were asking Jesus for. And they now fear, that they are going to fall behind. Being pushed to the cheap seats.
And this envy, this fear of missing out, destroys the relationship between these close friends. Turns this team into individuals, thinking only about themselves.
And Jesus sees the problems arising between the disciples. So he calls them together to show them the root of their issue. Pinpoint the problem of chasing after this kind of greatness. And that’s why we read in verse 42:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.”
Jesus doesn’t have a problem with the disciple’s wish to be great itself. He doesn’t have a problem with us holding a high position in a company. Our wish to have influence in our society. To take responsibility in our relationships. That is not what he is criticizing here.
He had a problem with how the disciples wanted to use their power. With the motive behind their wish for greatness. Because the words lording over and exercise authority both mean to subdue others. To make others our servants. So what Jesus is pointing at is that the disciples wanted to be great, so that other would serve them. Their motive in chasing greatness was to make others cater to their needs. To make sure they could get their way in life at the expense of others.
Motives that I think we can still see everywhere around us today.
We hear leaders like Trump almost weekly telling people to focus only on themselves to become great again. Only doing what will benefit their cause while ignoring others in the world. See companies using their resources to influence political decisions in their favor, no matter what it does to people or the environment. Witnessed a little while ago how countries shut themselves off from the refugee crisis because they wanted to use their money for themselves rather than to help people in need.
And we can point so easily to these people and judge them for their selfish ways of using their power and influence. But I don’t know about you: If I am honest, I am often not that much better with the power that I have. Just like the disciples, I want to be in the driver seat. How quickly can I be tempted to take credit at work for something others have done so I get the promotion or at least the respect from my superiors. How often do we want to gain the upper hand in our relationship, so that my partner supports my goals. That she makes me feel loved in the way that I need it. Showing off even to good friends, just to get their praise and feel good about myself.
We want the front seat, because that is where others will serve us. Cater to our needs. The place where we think we will be the happiest. Where our lives will be most fulfilling.
Even if that means pushing down people around us or jeopardizing relationships in the process. Just the other day I talked to a woman who said she broke off her marriage, because her partner didn’t fit her new life style anymore. Wouldn’t let her unfold her full potential and was holding her back in life.
The sad reality is, that like the disciples: If we chase greatness for what it can do for us, it will turn us into individuals, thinking only about ourselves. One not trusting the other, because we know everyone is fighting for their own greatness. Not thinking or sometimes even caring about the others.
And this is where Jesus wants to offer us a different way to understand greatness. A different motive behind our chase for greatness. A way where we are not using our power, our influence, our time, energy and money to serve us. Where we don’t have to push others down in order to get ahead. But a way to serve others instead.
2. Greatness serves others
Read with me verses 43 and 44:
43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Jesus flips our whole understanding of power and greatness upside down. Because in his kingdom, greatness doesn’t mean besting others. Being ahead of the rest. But exactly the opposite. He says whoever wants to become great must be a servant.
And in verse 44 Jesus goes even a step further. Because not only does he call us to be a servant, but to be a slave to others. And I know how easily this statement can be misunderstood today because of all the bad things that happened with slavery. So I just want to make sure we understand Jesus here correctly. He does not want to approve of others treating us abusively in any way because of our service. If you are experiencing abuse in any way, please talk to us. Please don’t keep that hidden.
But when Jesus says be like slaves, he wants us to understand just how low this service for others can go. That we could even go to the lowest rank of society in order to serve others. I know a pastor here in Frankfurt who left his well running church to become a garbage man, because he wanted to reach people in low income areas. Being a slave for other means giving up our needs and rights to benefit someone else’s. Thinking of others higher than ourselves.
And that can look very different: Maybe you take a little bit of your busy day to offer help to the coworker that struggling at the cubical next to you. Maybe you can help a friend through a difficult time with the money you have saved up, instead of spending it on a new car that makes you look great. For me it often means doing something for Lily, that takes me patience or energy to do, but that I know will make her happy. Taking a walk with her although I would rather sit on the couch after a long day. Planning a date although I am swamped at work.
And as if this wasn’t enough: Jesus says do this not only for the people you love and who love us back. Not only for the people who return the favor. Jesus says be a slave to all. And yes, that means that coworker who drives you insane by chewing his food so loudly in the cubical next to yours or who dumps all his work on you to take extended breaks all the time. The friend who borrows your things, but never returns any of it. Your partner, even if he is in a terrible mood and you don’t really feel like he or she deserves you serving them. Jesus says true greatness serves even these people as well.
Why? Because that is exactly how Jesus, the king in this new kingdom, is like. In verse 45 we read:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
Jesus came to earth to show us that God is not a God who wants to lord his power over us. That he doesn’t need people to work for him. But that he loves us and wants to serve us first. And Jesus says, if this perfect and great God is a servant, then he sets the bar for everyone else who wants to be great as well.
And yes, for us that might sound paradoxical. Because we only measure greatness by looking at the people sitting in the honor seats on this earth. The presidents, influencers and CEOs. But Jesus makes very clear here. The truly greatest has a servant heart. Serving is in God’s DNA. So if you and I want to follow God and become truly great. Then serving as he does, is the only way.
And I can’t blame you if you think at this point: Jesus that all sounds good and well in theory. I would even agree that it is generally more moral to give than to take. But nobody can really live like that. Because if I serve like this, where will that leave me? People will just take advantage of me, leaving me with nothing in the end.
Just the other day I talked to a friend here at the office and he told me: I made two of my friends very rich and successful. But once that happened, they diched me and left me behind. I didn’t get anything out of helping them.
Experiences like this often convince us, that we need to take care of ourselves first. Because if we don’t, no one will. So we are easily drawn back to just making life about us again. Focusing on making us great. Thinking that once we have made it, we can then start to take care of others as well.
But this is where the rest of verse 45 comes into play. Because with Jesus, we can already start serving, no matter how much we have. No matter how much we get in return or whether people promote us with them. We can still serve others around us because greatness, God himself, has already served us.
Read with me the full verse 45:
3. Greatness has served us
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus didn’t only come to earth to show us who God is and what greatness really looks like. He also came to open up the way to true greatness, to God himself, for us again.
Because a little while after this incident, Jesus died on the cross. He gave his life, everything he had, as what he calls a ransom for us. This ransom describes the price that had to be paid to get someone out of slavery. It was paying the debt that you owed someone, so that you didn’t have to work it off yourself anymore but could be free.
And Jesus says, this is exactly what he did for each and everyone of us by dying on the cross. Because the Bible says, that when we turned our backs on God and looked for our success, our happiness, our identity on our own rather than in God. We didn’t become freer like we hoped for. It rather brought us into captivity to other things. Things like our work, our success, our power or our relationships. We now are dependent on these things to fulfill us in the way God used to do.
But when we believe in Jesus, accept his offer to pay our debt, we can now live with God again and be free from our slavery to all these other things. Live in a relationship where God wants to give us the love we are looking for when we try to impress others. Provide for us so we don’t have to look to our paycheck as the only security in life. Give us worth, because we are God’s children now. We are unspeakably valuable, not because of what we can achieve or how others see us. But because God loves us no matter how well or poorly we perform.
And because Jesus served us in this amazing way. Because God wants to take care of all our needs himself, we are now free to follow Jesus’ example and serve others. With God as our never-ending fountain of love, worth, security and joy we can use whatever power, time, energy, or money we have for others instead of investing it into us.
What made Private Doss and the other two people who refused to take guns into war so special? They all believed in this Jesus. They all knew that they could even give their lives for others, because they had already found everything they ever needed in God.
Maybe this idea of Jesus’ death and the ransom is totally new to you tonight. And there might be questions you still have about it. Then I would love to talk to you about it after the service. I will be staying up here and I would love to answer the things that are still unclear for you as well as I can.
But maybe you think: I want to give this God a try. I want to experience for myself what it means to be really set free. Free from the thought that only I need to take care of myself. Free to serve others in the way Jesus talks about. Then I would invite you to come up here after the service so we can pray together and start your journey with God. I can only say from my experience that it is the best decision you could ever make. And I would encourage you not to let this opportunity just pass tonight. There is too much freedom, too much goodness and peace not only for you but for others around you as well in Jesus offer, to not try it out and see for yourself.
But maybe you have already started your journey with God. And you take steps of becoming great through serving as Jesus did. And then I would encourage you to ask yourself: Where and who can I serve next week. Maybe even serve someone in secret where you don’t get any praise or recognition for it. Where can we extend all the good things God has given us to others as well?
Because with Jesus in our lives, we don’t have to play the game that everyone around us is playing. We don’t need to put out our elbows and push people down to get ahead. With God we can serve the people. In a high or low position. With a lot or only a little power. With or without a lot of recognition. Knowing, that in God’s eyes we are great already when we serve and follow him. And that we can do so freely, because God has already served us in every way imaginable.