Christmas: Jesus came to serve
Last week we talked about Christmas as found in Hebrews 2:14-18 and Philippians 2 - Jesus did not find equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he humbled himself and became like us (Christmas) so he could face the wrath of God in our place. In his death for us our sin is forgiven and Satan is stripped of his power. Through the forgiveness of our sin we are friends of God and can now move into the life we were created for.
I want to talk about Christmas again today (and set the stage for communion) through another magnificent passage, this time in Mark. In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus speaks specifically about a very difficult concept that is vital to understanding why he came and how we should live. The more I look at myself and this world around me, in the light of Scripture, the more I see the distance between God’s ways and my ways, between God’s ways and the construct of the world we live in. Seeing and understanding these differences is very important if the Holy Spirit is to move us toward the image of Jesus - both individually and as a fellowship.
Today we’re going to look at one of these difficult, fundamental differences that confused the disciples and can easily confuse us. Two thousand years ago, the concept that the Messiah, the One we should follow, the One who would defeat wrong would not present himself as a military or political leader was beyond reason. Even though he could heal the sick and crippled, and feed thousands from almost nothing, and raise the dead to life, he did not and would not destroy the gentile “dogs” that ruled over them - he couldn’t be the One. Jesus, however, would not fit into the earthly power-based thinking of the time - he came as a servant.
Mark 10:35-45 (NIV)
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.” 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?” 39 “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.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them (leverage), and their high officials exercise authority over them (press their position of leverage to the utmost - slavery). 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. 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.”
James and John were convinced that Jesus was who he said he was - that‘s good. So, being the opportunistic boys they were, they decided to take a bold step and ask for the places of highest honor - sitting to the right and to the left of Jesus. We could talk about this at length, but for today I want us to note Jesus’ immediate reply. He asked, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” In other words, “Can you follow my example?” James and John, at that point, had no idea what this really meant. Jesus would explain what he meant, and then he would live it out in front of them.
Matthew 16:25 (NIV)
25 …whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Luke 14:27, 33 (NIV)
27 …anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
33 …any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
First - verse 42 - The earthly model of “ruler” is deeply corrupt. It is sin-riddled and designed to satisfy self. It revolves around power and influence and money. It strokes the ego. Here Jesus is holding out this earthly example of Roman society so he can draw the proper contrast. We know how the earthly model looks - it’s not the right model for those who would follow Jesus.
This is difficult, we’re pressed on every side to understand the construct of the God-rejecting world to be life-giving. But it actually leads to death and not life. And people are greedy and dysfunctional - they understand a “servant” perspective as weakness and they look to take all they can - it doesn’t really work - it’s not pragmatic. In the end power is the only thing that works.
Second - verses 43-44 - The one who is truly great in God’s kingdom is the one who serves others.
Third - verse 45 - Our example of service is found in Jesus and his service. Here, however, I want to be clear and I want to be careful. So I want to be clear - all those who find salvation in Jesus must change their reality from power to service:
Mark 9:35 (NIV)
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Luke 9:48b (NIV)
48b …For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”
Matthew 23:8-12 (NIV) - Jesus speaking to his disciples
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. - Titles tend to play into the earthly construct of power.
John 13:14-15 (NIV)
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
In this passage however, and here‘s where we must be careful, if we read it carefully, we find two things. First, Jesus was NOT asking his disciples to serve him - he was asking them to serve each other - that‘s messy. Second, and this may be the primary message; Jesus here is making a very important “bottom line“ kind of statement - he was disclosing a profound truth - JESUS CAME TO SERVE and not be served. In this passage Jesus is not looking for servants - he is looking for friends who think like he thinks.
Jesus, in humility, came to serve
2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Philippians 2:7 (NIV) - last week
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
John 10:15b (NIV)
15b …I lay down my life for the sheep.
If you are trusting Jesus as your savior this morning I want to talk with you. It is good, and proper, and appropriate to be a willing servant of King Jesus. We must be careful in this however. Because we are flawed and influenced by the culture around us, we may be defining “servant” badly - we may link servant and slave. We may see ourselves as slaves that are being coerced into service. Or we may see ourselves as servants in a legalistic way - the more I sacrifice for the cause the more God will like me. These are wrong ways of looking at service.
In the relationship that only Jesus can offer, he is looking for lives that see life the way he sees it. Not service through obligation but service through like-mindedness. The Holy Spirit produces born-again people who share Jesus’ vision and serve him from that perspective ONLY, because Jesus serves us.
John 15:14-16 (NIV)
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you (as a friend) to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
I take this to mean that our service to Christ should be a result of an intimate friendship with Jesus, an alignment with his vision and mission (knowing the master‘s business) - not a slave-based arrangement or employer/employee relationship.
Christmas is the time of year where we celebrate Jesus, the King of Glory, coming in humility to serve - that he might Glorify God and that we might have might forgiveness and life.
It is not easy to serve each other.
Jesus served those who deserve nothing - that’s real service.
Today we are going to celebrate Jesus’ service (his death for us) together. We’re going to claim, in symbolic form, Jesus’ death for us as our hope for life. We have done to NOTHING to deserve Jesus’ sacrifice, we can do NOTHING to earn it, we can do NOTHING to pay him back - that’s horrible thinking. We cling to Jesus because we have nothing to offer and we need help. He is always the giver, I am always the receiver.