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THE ‘RIGHT-SIDE-UP’ PATH TO GREATNESS – Mark 10:41-45

Posted By Angella Diehl, Webmaster On July 3, 2016 @ 10:45 am In 2016 | No Comments

Message preached Sunday, July 3, 2016 from Mark 10:41-45

Theme: Whoever wants to be great in Jesus’ kingdom must, first, become the servant of everyone else.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

Listen to this sermon online! [1]

[2]Before we look at Mark 10 this morning, and at the story we find there, I ask that you let me first tell you another story from another part of the Bible. I always try to be careful about doing that. I don’t want to mix one story up too much with another. But I was reminded of this other story just the other day; and it is such a wonderful illustration of what we find in Mark 10 that I felt that I need to begin with it.

It’s a story about the apostle Paul that’s found near the end of the Book of Acts. I believe most of you would agree with me that Paul was one of the greatest men that ever lived. His life of obedience to the Lord Jesus was a series of adventure stories like no other. One of the greatest and most thrilling adventures in his life is one that’s told to us in Acts 27. If you’ve never read that chapter before, you should. It’s got an awful lot of thrills and twists and turns.

It’s the story of how Paul was being transported by the Roman government to Rome in a large ship so that he could appear before Caesar Nero and make a defense of his Christian faith. Along the way, a terrible storm had blown the ship off course. The ship and all its passengers were under great peril at sea for nearly two weeks. And throughout it all, God proved to everyone on board that Paul was His man. Even the Roman centurion who was transporting Paul ordered everyone on the ship to do whatever Paul told them to do. As the ship broke up in pieces in the dashing waves, God answered Paul’s prayers mightily; and granted him the lives of everyone on board. All 267 persons on the ship swam safely to the shores of the tiny isle of Malta. Every single person made it alive—just as Paul had promised!

Now; you’d think that after that, Paul would be held in the highest possible esteem by everyone. There was no mistake about it—God’s hand was powerfully upon him. God spoke through him; and God answered his prayers; and God performed great miracles through him. But do you know what’s truly remarkable? After everyone got on the island, and the people of Malta had welcomed them and made them safe and comfortable, the first thing we read of in Chapter 28 of Acts is that Paul—this great, outstanding hero of faith—is out along the shore gathering sticks for the fire. If you’ve ever read that passage, you know—of course—that there’s more adventures that follow. But just think of that much alone! The great apostle Paul—this man who was manifestly God’s instrument of great power and authority—wasn’t demanding VIP treatment. He wasn’t sitting by the fire—expecting everyone to come and serve him. Instead, he was out helping to gather sticks for the fire to warm others.

He remained—first and foremost—a servant. That shows that Paul was a truly great man.

I wonder if you’ve ever seen such a thing personally. Have you ever been at a Bible conference or workshop led by someone who would be considered a very important ‘Christian’?—a famous pastor or Bible teacher or popular speaker or author? Perhaps they’re considered to be someone “great” and “important” because of their notoriety or status or accomplishments. But the way you can tell that they’re truly great is by the fact that—after the meeting is over; and when they’re out of the ‘spotlight’, if you will—you’re surprised to catch a glimpse of them helping to stack up the chairs, or pouring other people’s coffee for them, or helping to carry out the trash, or sitting off to the side with their arm around someone in prayer. Their true greatness is shown, not by the outwardly impressive things that this world would think makes them great, but instead by the way they quietly, humbly, consistently offer themselves as the servant of others.

I know some Christians that are like that. From a strictly human standpoint, they are impressive people. They are considered accomplished, and talented, and maybe even a little bit ‘famous’. But they are characteristically the first one’s ‘out on the shore’ as it were—humbly gathering sticks to build up the fire to warm others.

That’s Jesus’ way of true greatness. Paul’s story illustrates the lesson we’re being taught in Mark 10. Jesus teaches us that whoever wants to be great in His kingdom must, first, become the servant of everyone else.

* * * * * * * * * *

In Mark 10, Jesus had been walking along with His disciples on the road up to Jerusalem. He had told them that they were going there so that He could be betrayed, arrested, tried, mocked and beaten, and crucified; and then—three days later—be raised from the dead. In other words, He was going to Jerusalem to serve us. He was going to give His life for us as our Redeemer.

And it was right after He told the twelve disciples all this that two of His closest disciples came walking up to Him with a very bold request. In verses 35-40, Mark tells us;

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.” 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?” 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; 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” (vv. 35-40).

You see; they were behaving as the exact opposite of a servant to others. They were asking to be elevated above everyone else. They were pursuing a concept of ‘greatness’ in which everyone else would end up serving them.

Now; the Lord Jesus was gracious to them. But as you read on, you find that everyone else wasn’t feeling so gracious. Mark tells us in verse 41;

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

Notice carefully what we’re being told. The other ten apostles were “greatly displeased” with James and John. That phrase is a translation of a single word in the original language—a word that is used to describe a powerful emotion that the Lord Jesus Himself once felt. In verse 14, when the apostles were seeking to stop the little children from coming to Jesus, we’re told that Jesus saw it and was “greatly displeased”. It’s a word that describes an emotion so powerful that it pains the one experiencing it. The ten apostles were experiencing this powerful emotion toward James and John.

Notice also that we’re told that they “began” to be greatly displeased with James and John. This powerful emotion of anger was growing in them when they saw what the two had done. I suspect that it was even done right in front of them—with James and John hoping that the Lord would say an immediate ‘yes’ to their bold request; and that the Lord would then grant that they would instantly be in a position of superiority over all the others. The Lord, of course, refused to grant this misguided request; and James and John had to make the long walk back to the others with their heads hanging low. But as they did so, and joined the rest of the group, the others “began to be greatly displeased” with them. A strong and powerful sense of resentment was taking root and growing.

Why do you suppose the others were angry? It could be that they felt a deep sense of having been betrayed by James and John. It could be that they had all gone along thinking that James and John had viewed themselves as just on the same level as everyone else. But now, it had just been revealed that those two brothers thought that they were better than everyone else—and the others had felt ‘plotted against’.

But there’s another strong possibility. It may be that the reason the others were angry was because they would have wanted to do the same thing—and these two beat them to the punch! After all, there had been times before this that they had been arguing amongst themselves over which of them was ‘the greatest’. They may have been angry that James and John took action to settle this ongoing argument once and for all—and in their own favor.

It seems to me that this was a rather dangerous situation. It certainly could have broken up the frail bond of unity that had existed between the twelve apostles. It could have even broken out into something worse. It’s the kind of thing we see happen in churches and Christian groups all too often. But Jesus graciously stepped in and defused the tension. He confronted the problem at its root. He spoke directly to the desire for ‘greatness’ that they were expressing, used the situation as a ‘teachable moment’, and explained to them how to pursue true greatness in His kingdom in the right way.

Mark tells us;

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. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (vv. 41-45).

Here, our Lord shows us that it’s not wrong to want to be great in His kingdom. But He also shows us that true ‘greatness’ in His kingdom is to be defined in a completely different way than that of this world—and that the pursuit of it is to be carried out in a completely different way than that which we typically see from the people of this world.

* * * * * * * * * *

Notice first how Jesus confronted His disciples with …

1. AN OLD CONCEPT OF GREATNESS TO REJECT.

That this old concept was something to intentionally ‘reject’ is shown by the fact that, in verse 43, He says, “Yet it shall not be so among you …” That way of putting it almost sounds like a bold command; doesn’t it? In some of the more reliable versions of the original Greek text, it has Jesus putting it in a strong ‘present tense’ of the verb—as it has it in the New American Standard translation: “But it is not this way among you …”

And what is this ‘old concept’ of greatness that is to be so strongly rejected as uncharacteristic of Jesus’ followers? He reminded His apostles of what they see going on in the world around them every day. In verse 42, He said, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”

“Gentiles”, of course, normally refers to the non-Jewish nations and people groups. It speaks of people who are outside of the covenant relationship that God made exclusively with the nation of Israel. But in the New Testament, this word sometimes has the special meaning of those who are outside of a spiritual relationship with the God of Israel—that is to say, unbelievers. Jesus used this word in this way in the Sermon on The Mount; when He told His followers;

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).

But I have even grown to wonder, when Jesus used the word ‘Gentiles’, if His disciples didn’t immediately think of the literal Gentiles that were—right then and there—occupying their homeland and holding dominance over them. Could it be that He meant for their minds to turn to the mighty Roman empire as an example of what He was saying? After all, the disciples already had the mistaken idea that Jesus was going to Jerusalem as the conquering military Messiah who would cast out the Romans and restore their land to the glorious days of King David’s reign.

How did the Romans—these occupying ‘Gentiles’—pursue ‘greatness’? They had among them those who were “considered rulers” over others in the Gentile world. They had various governors, and prefects and administrators of the imperial Roman law. If you were under the Roman empire’s jurisdiction, you did as they told you. They ‘lorded’ over you—that is to say, they exercised authority over you in a domineering way. Sometimes they abused their power—and there wasn’t much you could do about it. Remember how John the Baptist once told the Roman soldiers who came to him, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages’ (Luke 3:14)? That’s how they often ‘lorded’ it over others. That’s often how people in positions of authority out in the unbelieving world ‘lord it over’ others even today.

And then, a step higher on the pecking order—above those whom the Gentiles considered ‘rulers’—were “their great ones” who exercised authority over them. Here, we might think of Caesar; or in other contexts, a “king”, or a “prince”, or a “president”. The lower-level rulers and people in authority need to watch their step; because there’s someone over them—keeping an eye on them. I have always thought that what it says in Ecclesiastes 5:8 was interesting:

If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them (Ecclesiastes 5:8).

It just seems to go on and on; doesn’t it? And when it comes to “greatness” that’s the concept that the unbelieving people of this world pursues. Greatness is measured by how far up the ladder you can go over others. It’s measured by how high you are in the flow-chart; and by how many people you have under you—serving you; doing what you say and fulfilling your wishes. And when it comes to Jesus’ followers, He strikes a powerful blow to the whole system when He says, “Yet it shall not be so among you …”

And may I just pause here and encourage, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that we be very careful not to imitate this fallen world in its patterns and concepts when it comes to true greatness? Jesus is telling us that the world’s way of doing things is not the way it works in His kingdom—and His kingdom is the only one that endures! His kingdom is the ultimate reality—the ultimate standard. As Paul put it in Romans 12:1-2;

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

I have always liked how the J.B. Phillip’s translation puts this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within …” As it turns out, this world’s concept of “greatness” isn’t the true one. So let’s stop imitating it in the household of God!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; I appreciate how the Lord Jesus doesn’t tell us to stop doing something without also going on to tell us what to do instead. And so; after telling us to reject that old, ungodly concept of the pursuit of greatness; He then goes on to give us …

2. A NEW METHOD OF GREATNESS TO FOLLOW.

In verses 43-44, He says, “but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” And let’s take a moment to carefully consider those words.

The word “servant” in the original language is diakonos. It’s the word from which we get the English word for the officer in the church—the deacon. And it basically means a ‘minister’. It was used to describe someone who’s job it was to wait on tables; and to meet the physical needs of others. A ‘table-waiter’ isn’t concerned about his or her own needs. A food-server in a restaurant doesn’t throw down their serving tray in anger and frustration and say, “Why do I have to meet the needs of everyone else? Why doesn’t someone care about my needs for a change?” (Well; not ordinarily, anyway. I’ve been in some restaurants where … well … never mind.) Ordinarily, a table-waiter’s only focus is on the meeting of the needs of others. The apostle Paul once wrote;

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

And then, consider the word “slave”. In our culture, we don’t like that word much. We often cringe when we hear it. And that’s for good reason. When we think of a slave, we think of someone who is stripped away of all their basic human rights. That’s the main characteristic of a slave. He or she had no rights. They cannot not pursue their own agendas, or seek their own wishes, or build up their own treasures and comforts. A slave cannot advocate for “slave-rights”; because—by definition—there is no such thing. The only ‘right’ a slave can be concerned about is the right of their master to tell them what to do. For a slave, there is literally no personal concern that stands in the way of complete service to others.

And Jesus is telling us that—when it came to His kingdom—a completely new method was to be used in the pursuit of greatness. If anyone wanted to be “great” among the community of His followers, then they must give up the ‘top-down’, pecking-order method of this world and—instead—become the servant of everyone else. And if anyone wanted to stand out as “first” among the community of His followers, then they must give up their rights and lower themselves down to the level of becoming everyone else’s slave.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; how can someone do this? I feel very sure that the wrong way to do go about it is by trying to do it in our own power—that is, by trying to put on an outward, phony, super-pious pretense of being everyone’s servant and slave. Instead, I think it only comes through a depth of relationship with Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul once wrote;

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

The closer-drawn that the apostle Paul was to Jesus, and the more he was personally impacted in his spirit by the transforming love and sacrifice of Jesus for him, and the more he allowed the life of the Lord Jesus to be lived out through him, then the more he became Jesus Christ’s servant to others.

And that leads us to the last thing that Jesus gave to His disciples in this matter. He presented them with …

3. A GLORIOUS MODEL OF GREATNESS TO IMITATE.

He urged His followers to embrace this new method of greatness and said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (v. 45). As Paul himself put it in Philippians 2;

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. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Our Savior’s own example shows us the true path to greatness. It’s by giving up our rights and by becoming the servant of others.

* * * * * * * * * *

That last verse is so important that I ask that we take the whole of next Sunday morning to talk about it. There is much there to learn about our Redeemer and His act of service to us!

But until then, let’s ask God to bring the instruction of our Lord deeply into our hearts. Let’s reject this world’s concept of greatness. It’s not the correct one. Instead, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to help us follow a new method of greatness—one in which whoever wishes to be ‘great’ becomes the servant of others, and in which whoever wants to be ‘first’ becomes the slave of all. And in all of it, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus;

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

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