Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday after Shunoyo - the Festival of the Assumption

Greatness and the Servant’s Heart

by Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY

Gospel: St. Mark 10: 35-45

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”
38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized;
40 “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.”
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.
42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
43 “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.
44 “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Introduction:

Do you know what an oxymoron is? It sounds like a bad name you call someone: “You oxymoron!” But an oxymoron is a combination of two words that—individually—have opposite meanings; a combination of two words that really don’t seem to go together. For example: “accurate estimate, advanced beginner, authentic replica, genuine imitation, new antiques, old news, open secret, original copies, random order, working vacation.” Sometimes oxymorons can take the form of a phrase like, “Now, then.” Or, “I was clearly misunderstood.” Or, “That was seriously funny!” Then there’s “business ethics” and “good grief,” or one of my favorites: “jumbo shrimp.” Speaking of food, how about these oxymorons: “airline food” or, “decaffeinated coffee,” or, “nondairy creamer,” and, “diet ice cream”

So an oxymoron is the combination of two words that just don’t seem to go together. Now, while you won’t find an oxymoron in the passage we just read a moment ago, you’ll find something pretty close. As I studied these eleven verses I was struck by two very important words in this passage that really don’t seem to go together. Do you know what they are? They are the words “great” and “serve.” And Jesus puts these two words together so that he says if you really want to be great, then you will need to be the very opposite of what most people characterize as greatness—you will need to be a servant.

History demonstrates that man has an inherent desire to be considered great among his peers. Just think of the self-proclaimed “great people” over the years. There’s Herod the Great, Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great. There’s the famous boxer Mohammed Ali who said of himself, “I’m the (what?) greatest!”

Contrary to what many people think, desiring to be great is not a bad thing. Everybody wants to be somebody. It’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, in this passage Jesus tells us specifically how to act upon the desire to be great. And this is where biblical greatness is defined. Jesus says that if you and I desire to be great according to God’s standard, then we will become a servant of others. So we’re going to talk to you this morning about “Greatness and the Servant’s Heart” and we’re going to answer the question: “What does true greatness look like?” First:

I. Greatness is found in Selflessness (35-40)

Note that word carefully: selflessness, not selfishness! James and John demonstrate selfishness, but Jesus calls us to selflessness. They approach Jesus with a very selfish, self-centered request. You see it there in verse 35:

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

What kind of a question is that! Matthew’s Gospel gives the added detail that the request was made through James and John’s mother, but Mark tells us here in verse 35 that James and John are behind the whole thing. It is they who are making a very selfish request.

The context highlights the disconnected way James and John make their request. Back up in the verses preceding verse 35, we read Jesus telling His disciples for the third time about His future death and resurrection. His death was no accident. It was part of His plan. So He tells them plainly in the verses preceding, “Guys, this is the third time now I’m telling you what’s going to happen: the Son of Man will be betrayed, will suffer, will die, and will rise again.”

And in the very next verse what do we read? “Then James and John . . . came to Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’” Now what does that have to do with anything Jesus just said?! Nothing! And that’s the point: these guys were focused upon themselves rather than being focused upon others. You see it even in the way they set up the question. They’re trying to get Jesus to commit to their request before revealing it: “Teacher, we want for You to do for us whatever we ask.”

If you have children or grandchildren running around your house, you’ve probably heard them say something like my boys used to say to me: “Daddy, I want you to do something and you can’t say, ‘No,’ okay?” Jesus doesn’t fall for their ploy. Rather than answering their question, He poses another:

36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

So James and John just waltz right up to Jesus and say, “Give us the two most prominent seats in the kingdom when we reign with You!” The seats at the immediate right and left of the king were the seats of power, prominence, and greatness. They want to be Jesus’ CEOs on either side of Him.

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. [the Greek word “ask” there is in the middle voice. Literally, “You don’t know what you are asking for yourselves”] Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
39 They said to Him, “We are able.”

And here again we see that they did not know what they were asking for themselves. Jesus speaks here in metaphors. The “cup” and the “baptism” He’s talking about here are metaphors for His coming death. To drink the “cup” and be “baptized” is to fully experience something, in this case, fully experiencing suffering. He’s talking about literally suffering for the benefit of others. Are you able to do that? Verse 39, they say, “We are able.”

So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized;

This is Jesus’ way of saying, “You guys just don’t realize the truth you have just spoken because right now you’re so focused upon yourselves. You are blinded by your own ambition. Truth is, you will suffer much.” And they will. James will become the first martyr of the twelve (Acts 12:2) and John will be exiled to the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). And then Jesus adds that their request isn’t His to grant, anyway:

40 “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.”

Matthew’s Gospel adds the words, “by My Father.” Jesus was always submissive to His heavenly Father. He did not focus upon Himself, but He focused upon others. He lives a selfless life even in the Garden of Gethsemane where He prays, “Not my will, Lord, but Thy will be done” (Mark 14:36).

Greatness is found in selflessness. James and John and you and I fail to understand true greatness when our focus is inward rather than outward. We miss true greatness when we’re looking at ourselves instead of looking at others; when we’re looking in the mirror instead of looking out the window. Greatness is found in selflessness.

II. Greatness is found in Service (41-44)

That is our second point today, Greatness is found in service. In his play Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote, “Some men are born great, some men achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” And while that may be true concerning greatness as defined by the world it is not true concerning greatness as defined by Christ. In verses 41-44 of our text today Jesus teaches his disciples the difficult truth about greatness. The reason I say difficult truth is because Jesus has taught this lesson before and they still don’t get it. Look again at verse 41.

41And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.

James and John did not get it, they desired to have greatness given to them, “Can we have the greatest positions of honor?” As Bro. Todd said they were thinking about themselves rather than others. So the other ten disciples were right to be angry, they were right to be upset with James and John, after all the other ten got it didn’t they? They were much more servant minded weren’t they? NO! If we look at the beginning of verse 42 we see that when Jesus began to admonish them it wasn’t only James and John but all the disciples he was talking to. That means that the ten were not angry with James and John nearly as much as they were angry with themselves for not thinking to ask first. James and John had beaten them to the punch and they were now experiencing that same feeling that kids do when their brother or sister asks to sit in the front seat of the car before there is even the chance to fight at the car door. They were angry because they wanted exactly what James and John had asked for.

So in verse 42 Jesus takes them aside and explains to them what true greatness is all about.

First, He reminds them of what worldly success looks like.

42But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”

In other words Jesus is saying take a look around guys. Look at the way the so called great men of the world treat those around them. Look at how they think only of themselves, look at how they ignore the needs of those around them, look at how they reach greatness, how they reach the top by standing on the backs of others. Take a look at the images that this brought to the mind of a Jew in the first century.

Jesus was telling them that worldly greatness is not really all that great. And that is still true today. Those who are considered great in the world today are usually those with power, money and fame, but when we really look at so many of these people they aren’t so great. There are a lot of unknown folk who are much closer to greatness than are Donald Trump, Brittney Spears, Rosie O’Donnell, and any number of other so called “great” household names. Is that the kind of greatness that we really want and desire?

After He paints a vivid picture of the less than great worldly greatness, Jesus then tells his disciples and us in verses 43 and 44 where greatness is really found.

43 ”Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

Jesus dropped a bomb on his disciples here that continues to cause his followers difficulty to this very day. If you want to be great, if you want to your life to have meaning, if you want to be near to the throne of God then be a servant, even a slave. Now I don’t know about you but that is one of the few things I never dreamed of being when I grew up. President, an astronaut, a fireman, a doctor, an actor but not once did I ever say I would like to be a servant or slave and I bet you didn’t either. Yet Jesus says that is where greatness is found. Obviously He doesn’t mean that everyone has to run around dressed in funny English tuxedos or maids uniforms but He does mean that in whatever we do, wherever we are, and whoever we are with we are to put their needs above our own desires.

When we are at home we should care for our spouse. Husbands, help out around the house, serve your wife show her that you love her in practical ways. Do some dishes, wash some clothes, clean the bathroom. Show her that you thank God for blessing you with her. Wives, serve your husband by taking interest in him, affirm him, thank him for his effort to care for you, affirmation is what men need. Parents, serve your kids. And I don’t just mean as a bank and taxi service, serve them by taking interest in their lives, spending time with them, and teaching them the ways of God. Serve the people you work with, the people you live next to, the people you see struggling to open their car door while keeping up with three toddlers and a grocery cart.

And most importantly serve those who do not know Jesus Christ. The ultimate form of service is evangelism there is no greater act of service than telling someone about Jesus. Because when you share the love of Christ you are serving that person by introducing them to the one who offers hope and salvation, and you are serving the Lord by doing His will. That’s what we do every Monday night when we share through the FAITH ministry and that is what we have been doing for the last two weeks in the schools, at the pumps, at the ball field, and on the streets at Tri-fest. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to serve others in a truly great and practical way then let me encourage you to do so next week. Sign-up to serve at the Henderson housing authority where you can help clean an apartment for someone who is unable to do so themselves, or you can serve others and the Lord by showing our community that we love them and Jesus loves them by bagging their groceries or washing their car for free. If you have never done anything like this before let me assure you that you will come away feeling blessed like you never have before. You will feel the greatness of service, you will feel heavenly greatness as God is pleased with your service to Him.

Greatness like beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. And who is it that we want to see our greatness? Do you want to be great in the eyes of man or do you want to be seen as great in the eyes of God?

Greatness is found in selflessness and greatness is found in service. The focus is upon others. Jesus concludes his teaching by reminding the disciples that He himself had come for the purpose of others. His selflessness and His service join together to form the final aspect of true greatness in our study. Greatness is found in selflessness, greatness is found in service, and:

III. Greatness is found in Sacrifice (45)

45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

That last phrase means that Jesus sacrificed His life so that others would live. In Jesus’ day the word “ransom” was a word that referred to the purchase price of a slave. It was the price paid for a slave who was then set free by the one who bought him. The reason Jesus puts it this way is because the Bible teaches that all of mankind is in bondage to sin. John 8:34 says, “If any commits sin he is a slave to sin.” Who commits sin? Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We’re all slaves to sin. And our sin has a penalty, and the penalty is death. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” That’s what our sin deserves, to be punished by death. So Jesus comes to take the punishment for us. He lays down His life for us, dying on the cross, taking the full weight of our sin upon Himself, thereby purchasing freedom for those who follow Him. John 8:36 says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus gives His life as a ransom for many. He dies so that those who follow Him may go free. Dying for others is the supreme aspect of greatness.

No one can satisfactorily explain why tragic events like the Virginia Tech shootings occur. The Bible teaches that we live in a fallen world and that sinful men are capable of horrendous acts of evil. God promises to one day completely stamp out all evil and, until that time, has entrusted the church with the task of sharing salvation in Jesus Christ with as many as possible. But even as we grappled with the senseless nature of these shootings last week, we were encouraged to hear stories of heroism, stories of those who put themselves last and put others first, modeling the greatness that is found in selflessness, service, and sacrifice.

We heard about Liviu Librescu, the 76-year-old professor and holocaust survivor who was shot to death while saving the lives of his students. As the shooter approached his classroom, Professor Librescu placed his body in the frame of the doorway, placing his body in harm’s way, shielding his students from the gunman’s bullets. He then told his students to escape out the window. As those students escaped through the window, some looked back and the last sight they had of their professor was the sight of his standing there in the frame of the doorway, sacrificially taking the bullets into his own body, giving his life that others would go free. And we’re encouraged to know that in the face of moral evil and senseless tragedy that there are still those who rise to the top and show the world what true greatness looks like. Greatness is found in sacrifice.

Jesus says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came for others. He came for you. He came to take care of your sin, your shame and your guilt. He placed His body in harm’s way, taking upon Himself the punishment meant for us. He takes it upon Himself and encourages us to—if you will—“escape out the window.” And our lasting image as we flee is the image of Christ at Calvary’s cross taking our punishment upon Himself that we could go free. Greatness is found in sacrifice.
Stand for prayer.

Parting Remarks

Christian, the words “servant” and “greatness” do go together. They belong together and are to never be separated. Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Copyright © Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentary/Analysis for the 1st sunday after Shunoyo

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