This is the 1st of a pair of sermons on Mark 10:45 “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.”
Picture the scene: the road leading to Jerusalem is thronging with people, all making their way up to the holy city for Passover. Jesus is heading in that direction too, and he has a look of resolute determination as he strides towards those momentous events of Holy Week. Behind him come his disciples and other followers. Their heads are in a spin. They are astonished at the things they have seen and heard, and afraid of what might lie ahead. Three times they have heard their Master explain that he must suffer many things, and be killed, and be raised to life on the third day, and on each occasion they have failed to understand what he has been saying to them.
Up step James and John – the ‘Sons of Thunder’. They catch Jesus up and put in a request. “Teacher,” they say, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asks.
“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
How many marks out of 10 would you give them for that question? It’s selfish, insensitive, impertinent. Certainly, the other ten were indignant with James and John (v41 (although I’m not sure this was righteous indignation: probably they just wanted the best seats for themselves!)
However, in defence of James and John we must acknowledge that:-
They had stayed loyal to Jesus. Recall the occasion (Jn 6) when our Lord began to speak about ‘eating his flesh’ and ‘drinking his blood’. Many of his followers grumbled about this, saying, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” And we read that ‘from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.’ But James and John were among those who didn’t turn back: they carried on. One of the most important things in the Christian life is to remain faithful, to keep on keeping on. They had done that.
They realised that they were special to Jesus. James and John had noted that Jesus had immense love and compassion for everyone he met. They knew too that he had chosen them as members of the band of Twelve to be with him. They knew that out of that band of Twelve he was especially close to three of them – Simon Peter, and themselves. John was so close to Jesus that he became known as ‘the beloved disciple’. Did they feel special? You bet! Were they right to feel special? Yes! Their only mistake at this point was in assuming that they were more special than anyone else.
They believed that Jesus could grant great favours. Jesus had already promised to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mt 19:28). James and John were simply claiming that promise, with a little bit extra. It is honouring to God to believe that he he can do great things. ‘Thou are coming to a king; large petitions with thee bring.’
No, James and John havn’t got it completely wrong. But still, ever so gently, Jesus tells them: “You don’t know what you are asking.” You think that greatness in God’s kingdom consists in a few heroics, and then glory. But the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. Here, greatness is measured in terms of power, achievement, status, influence, reputation. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many people he serves.
Why should we adopt these values? “Because even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (v45)
As he predicted, he was betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. He was condemned to death and handed over to the Gentiles, who mocked him and spit on him, flogged him and killed him. He drank to the dregs the cup of divine wrath. He was baptised with overwhelming pain and sorrow and dereliction.
he didn’t come to get, but to give
he didn’t give as little as possible; he gave as much as was needed
he didn’t give grudgingly, but willingly
he didn’t make a hopeful start and then give up, he saw his task through to the end
he didn’t look for the approval of men, he looked for the approval of his heavenly Father
he didn’t come to be served, but to serve
Someone once asked a Christian leader how he could know when he had a servantlike attitude. Answer: “You’ll be able to tell you are a servant by how you react when you are treated like one.”
A sign once read, “There is no limit to the good that a man can do, if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.”
This is the example we are called to follow: the example of humble self-giving; the example of Servant King:-
So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone him
Each others needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving.