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Monday, April 12, 2010

"Servanthood Explained & Demonstrated" - (04/11/10)

I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be a prisoner sitting in a jail cell waiting to be executed. Your mind would surely be racing full speed and your emotions would be stretched as tight as a piano wire. Every sound would be torture, causing you to think, “Are they coming for me? Am I next?” It would be terrible, knowing that death could come at any moment.

Yet this was the experience of Christian martyrs like Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, William Tyndale, Jan Hus, Thomas Cranmer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They all had the experience of knowing that their days were numbered and that within hours or minutes they would give their lives in a great cause.

Jesus too knew what that felt like. In fact, from the moment He came to earth He knew that it was just a matter of time until He would end up nailed to a cross, because that is why He came. Toward the end of His 3½ years of public ministry He spoke often of what awaited Him. In a sense He was on death row awaiting the day when they would come for Him. Oh yes, He was free and walking about, but He still knew what was coming and yet He went about His daily business of preaching and teaching and healing and representing His Father.

In our text for today though, we see Jesus within just a few days of His execution. Yet rather than flee from the danger, He resolutely set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem where He knew it was all going to take place. We have just finished the remembrance of Passion Week with its Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. The events of those last days of Jesus’ life are still fresh in our minds. But now we are going to look at them again through the lens of Saint Mark and his Gospel. Turn with me to Mark 10. We’ll begin at verse 32.

Verse 32: They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him.
  • “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way…” This was true on more than one level. Jesus was always leading the way for the disciples. It was always Jesus who determined what they would do and where they would go next. Now He was taking them to Jerusalem. However, that in itself was not unusual because it was the time of the Passover Feast. The roads were jammed with people traveling to Jerusalem for the Feast. The disciples probably thought that this was just going to be another nice religious experience like they had known many times before. However, Jesus had something very different in mind.
  • The NIV is a little confusing here. “…with Jesus leading the way…” is better rendered as you have it in the NASV, “…and Jesus was walking on ahead of them.” This in itself was unusual and was a surprising change from His usual practice of walking along with His disciples.
  • “…and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” His aloofness bothered them and they could sense that something was wrong. We see two emotions displayed here among Jesus’ retinue. The disciples were astonished. Why? Because they knew that Jesus knew that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus and they were astonished that He would go to Jerusalem anyway and run the risk of getting caught. The other followers were afraid for Him, and perhaps a little bit afraid for themselves as well. They were afraid of what might happen, and as it turned out, with good cause.
Verses 33-34: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.”
  • Jesus’ words here make it clear that He knew exactly what would happen. None of it came as a surprise to Him. In these two verses He gave to His disciples the Cliff Notes version of the whole death, burial, and resurrection story. Look at the elements:
    • He will be betrayed—He already knew what was in Judas’ mind.
    • He will be betrayed to the priests and teachers—He already knew who would pay Judas to betray Jesus.
    • He will be condemned to die—Jesus already knew how the vote would turn out.
    • He will be turned over to the Gentiles—Jesus knew that the Jews would turn Him over to the Romans for sentencing and execution.
    • He will be mocked, spat upon, beaten, and killed—Jesus gave a blow by blow description of what He would suffer at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
    • He will rise from the dead on the third day—Not the second or fourth day, but the third, in fulfillment of prophecy.
  • Jesus made it clear that He knew exactly what was up. In fact, He was not a victim of the circumstances; He was instead orchestrating the circumstances. He was in charge.
Verse 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.”
  • Here we have a rather sudden change of subject. There may have been a space of time between the last conversation and this one as the group walked along the road together.
  • James and John had obviously been thinking about this for a while. They had probably discussed how they might broach the subject with the Master. Maybe they had flipped a coin to see who would ask Him the question. They might have even talked about the fact that it would be better to get Him alone before they dropped their request on Him.
  • These guys were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Anybody with half a brain can see through this approach. “We want You to do for us whatever we ask.” If your kid said that to you what would be your response? Would you fall for that one? I don’t think so. How naïve did they think Jesus was?
Verse 36: “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.
  • The natural response to their question—a noncommittal answer.
Verse 37: They replied, “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory.”
  • Here it comes. “Lord, when You set up You Kingdom and have Your golden throne moved in, can we have our thrones there with Yours, one of us on each side of You?” At a king’s right hand was the place of special honor and at his left hand was second in importance. James and John wanted to be Jesus’ #1 and #2 men.
  • Matthew records this same conversation in Matt. 20:20-24. However, he adds an interesting bit of information: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.” How interesting! That verse creates more questions for us. Was this whole thing their mother’s idea? Was she the one pressuring them to ask this favor from Jesus? Or did they put her up to it, thinking that Jesus couldn’t say no to a sweet little old lady? Either way, in both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels the blame fell squarely on the two brothers. They should have known better than to even ask such a thing.
  • What does this question reveal about James and John?
    • They themselves are naïve.
    • They have an overinflated view of their own importance in relation to the other disciples.
    • They are selfish and me-oriented, looking out for #1.
    • They have no concept of what it means to be a servant of God.
  • Jesus could have hammered these guys but instead He used this as a teachable moment to help mold them into something usable. I’m glad that God doesn’t hammer us every time we say or do something stupid. Jesus showed great patience with these guys and He continues to show great patience with us as well, though that does not give us an excuse to continue being stupid. James and John eventually began to show some character and maturity, but it took a while.
Verse 38: “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
  • Weren’t they paying attention to what He just said up in verses 33-34 about being tortured and executed? What were they thinking? Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking.” By that He meant that they didn’t understand the ramifications of their request. Their concept of the Messiah led them to think only in terms of His kingship, power, and glory. They missed out on the “Suffering Servant” part altogether. But to get to go with Him where He was going they would have to suffer what He was going to suffer. That’s what He meant by “drinking the cup with Me” and “being baptized with Me.” He’s talking about the cup of suffering and death.
Verses 39-40: “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
  • Their response shows an obvious naïveté. This is the same attitude Peter showed later on in Mark 14:29-31 after Jesus told them once again what was going to happen to Him. In doing so He quoted from Zechariah 13:7 which says, “I will strike down the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Peter took offense at that statement and piped up: “Lord, even if all fall away, I will not.” 30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown Me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You.”
  • There is an old adage that goes, “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” In this case, James and John, along with all the other disciples, would end up drinking from the cup of suffering and most of them would end up being baptized with the baptism of a martyr’s death. The Bible only mentions the deaths of two apostles, James (the brother of John, of the sons of Zebedee), who was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD (cf. Acts 12:2), and Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide by hanging himself. The details of the deaths of several of the apostles are pretty well documented while others are very sketchy, either by Church tradition or early Christian historians. However, we believe that all of the Apostles died as martyrs, with the exception of John who apparently lived to old age. At least two of them, the brothers Peter and Andrew, were crucified.
  • In verse 40 Jesus once again demonstrated that He was not like the secular rulers. “To sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Earthly rulers give out political plum jobs to their buddies and cronies as rewards for toeing the political line and playing nice. Jesus made it clear that it doesn’t work that way in the Kingdom of God. According to the Bible God is “the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” but He does not base His rewards or decisions on political favor or friendship.
Verse 41: When the ten heard [about] this, they became indignant with James and John.
  • The NIV does not give us a good translation here. In the original text the word “about” is not there. Apparently the other disciples had been listening in on this conversation between Jesus and the BarZebedee boys and their momma. What is interesting is that the other disciples blamed James and John, not their mother. This leads me to believe that the idea may have originated with the two men, and their mother just got dragged in as an accomplice.
Verse 42: Jesus called them together and said, “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 called them together…” This whole thing probably ended up with yelling and name-calling and lots of anger on both sides. But Jesus, the Prince of Peace, restored the calm. “He called them together.” And then He used the failure of James and John to teach a life-lesson about what it means to be a servant.
  • Jesus points to the way the Romans rule their citizens, and especially their conquered subjects. The Romans ruled with an iron fist. They believed in the adage, “Might makes right.” These guys had all witnessed the brute power of the Romans and understood their concept of authority to rule. It was the authority of the conqueror to rule over the conquered by means of fear, intimidation, and the sword.
Verses 43-44: 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.
  • “Not so with you.” What Jesus means here is, “It shouldn’t be so with you.” We know that sometimes the disciples didn’t live up to the highest ideals, and sometimes neither do we. Jesus was showing them the more excellent way.
  • Notice that He recognizes that some people are driven by the desire to be “great” or to be “first.” That is natural. It is the desire that drives competition in all spheres of life. Every athlete wants to win the gold medal. Every CEO wants his company to succeed and pull out in front of the competition. Within bounds this desire is healthy and normal. However, when it comes to interpersonal relationships within the family of God Jesus introduced a new set of rules to live by.
  • To paraphrase He said, “If you want to become great make yourself small. If you want to be first, make yourself last. If you want to stand tall, kneel. If you want to be served, become a humble servant.” These are the topsy-turvy rules of the Kingdom. The rules of God always set the rules of men upside-down.
Verse 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.”
  • He illustrates His lesson by using Himself as an example. “For even the Son of Man…” Jesus was God in human flesh—the God-Man. He has existed eternally with the Father, and the Bible says that “the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily.” Angels bow before Him. Demons flee from His holy presence. He created the world and all that it contains. He is the Owner and Master of everything. Yet, when He came to earth He took on the form of a humble servant. He limited Himself. He set aside His rights and His radiant glory. Here He tells His disciples, “I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many.” This is the key verse of the Book of Mark.
  • Notice again the first few words of the verse: “For even the Son of Man…” If anyone ever deserved to be served and waited on it was Jesus. He had every right to exercise His authority and to demand His privileges. However, He set those rights aside to model what servanthood looks like. He became a servant so that He might serve us by dying in our place at Calvary.
Human beings are not humble by nature, and that includes Christians. Servanthood does not come naturally. We are a selfish, clawing, back-stabbing, me-first race. We like being served. We aren’t so crazy about serving others. We like being first. We hate being last. We like to be honored but we don’t like to be humbled. It’s just how we are. By our physical birth we inherit these sinful, selfish traits. However, when Christ comes into our life He begins a process of change and renewal that counteracts what we inherited from our earthly parents. First of all He regenerates us, making us into a new creation, a child of God. Then by the work of God’s Spirit and through the instrumentality of His Word the Lord begins shaping us and molding us with the purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ. The Bible calls this lifelong process, “sanctification.”

Part of that sanctification process involves a complete change in our values. Always being first ceases to be of first importance. Sitting on the top of the heap is not as vital as it used to be. Instead, we learn to dive to the bottom of the pile because that is where the real work takes place. Getting the credit for success is no longer as important as passing on the praise to others. Serving others, the way Jesus served, becomes the new norm, the lifestyle to be appreciated, valued, and admired.

So why does our flesh balk at the idea of being a servant to others? What can we do to learn this spiritual virtue? What would the world be like if Christians practiced more humble servanthood?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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