Ambition to Serve
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Ambition to Serve
Text: Mark 10:35-45
What a journey! The disciples had been on quite the road trip with Jesus. They were meandering their way south through Judea down toward Jerusalem for the final time. Jesus was making his last trip there to accomplish his mission and our salvation.
But even more extraordinary was the spiritual journey the disciples were taking along the way. Parents had been bringing little children to Jesus and the disciples rebuked them and tried to send them away. Jesus was indignant with them. Then a rich man runs up to Jesus and the disciples let him right through. But they were amazed when Jesus told them how hard it is for the rich to inherit the kingdom of God. Then Jesus began to teach them more specifically about what was coming, that he was going to suffer and die and rise again in Jerusalem. The disciples were astonished.
And now this. James and John approached Jesus and tried to secure seats of honor on Jesus’ right and left in the glory of heaven. That made the others indignant with James and John.
What is going on here? Up and down the disciples go in their journey of faith. Mistake after mistake. Wrong motives. Weak faith. Hidden agendas. What kind of faith did they have here anyways? Well they had a faith much like mine. That’s certainly true of the story today.
It’s hard to know what exactly to make of it. James and John, the Sons of Thunder as they are called, approach Jesus with a bold request. The other gospels tell us their mother was with them too. First they say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” That’s like my kids coming up to me and saying, “Dad, we’re going to ask you something. Just say yes now. It will be great, so just say yes now.” Did James and John start this way because they knew this request was so bold?
Bold it certainly was! “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” I suppose we could understand that the other disciples were indignant. Wouldn’t you be? I mean, really James and John? Really? Who do you think you are? You’re better than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Better than Moses or David or Elijah? Of all people, you think you should sit at Jesus’ right and left? It’s hard to know if they were innocently asking for something they thought would be cool or if they were so brazenly arrogant that they thought they actually deserved it.
Rather than coldly shooting them down, Jesus was very patient with them: “You don’t now what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” They didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Did they really think they could drink of the same sorrow and trouble Jesus was about to take on? Did they really think they could be inundated with—baptized with—the same suffering and death Jesus had coming? Again, it’s hard to know if they were completely naive or pompously proud. But they replied, “We can.”
Isn’t it extraordinary what sinful humans might do or say when they have hearts driven by selfish ambition for gain and for glory! Like James and John, ambitious, proud hearts drive us to all kinds of crazy and cockamamy words and actions.
Only a proud heart would see the success or blessings of others and then complain, “That’s not fair, I deserve that too, if not something better!” Only a proud heart would see someone else getting help in need and then think, “They’re getting help? How come I’m not getting help? I should get something before they do!” Only a proud heart would think that somehow I’m more deserving or better than others.
And it’s only a proud heart that would ruin relationships or marriages. A proud heart and selfish ambition lead me to put myself first all the time and show kindness to friends only when it’s convenient. A proud heart leads me to be angry with my spouse, to think I need to get the last word in, to make sure my spouse knows, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” A proud heart wants me to demand respect from my spouse and abuse the trust of my spouse and ignore the needs of myself. A proud heart and selfish ambition leads me to say to friends and family, “Why don’t you show me the love I deserve,” rather than, “How can I love and help you?”
Being angry when I don’t get my way; being jealous over what others have; putting down others with gossip and slander; looking down on those less fortunate, different, or strange—there are so many ways that the selfish pride of my heart puffs up to put “me” first.
You can even see it in the other 10 disciples. Their first reaction was not to shake it off, not to say “Silly James and John, they have growing to do,” not to be forgiving. They were indignant. They were mad at those two and probably jealous of their request too.
Like James and John, like the other disciples, we all have a sinful ambition inside of us. It’s that sinful voice down deep in our hearts that says, “I’m better than you. I’m right. I deserve. I’m the best.”
Like James and John and the others, we need to hear Jesus’ words today to learn what true love is really like. Here’s what Jesus has to say: “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. 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 way they were acting was like complete unbelievers. Gentiles rulers lorded their power over others. It was the Roman governor and senators and the generals and the Caesars who exercised their authority and abused their power and demanded recognition and glory. But what does that have to do with God’s people and Christian living? “Not so with you,” Jesus said. In God’s kingdom, the opposite is actually true. Those who are great are those who serve and those who are first are servants and slaves to others.
This examination of attitudes quickly exposes a jarring juxtaposition in the story. Here you have the disciples—complete nobodies, sinners like the rest of us, and they are grasping for glory. And yet the one they are talking to in selfish ambition is Jesus, the God of the universe who was living in humility and on his way to the cross and the tomb. The disciples wanted greatness. Jesus was already the greatest. The disciples wanted to be served. Jesus was there to serve. What a stark contrast!
Thus, the greatest example of true, selfless, and humble love can be found in Jesus himself. As Jesus said, “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.”
Have you ever thought how things might be different if Jesus did the opposite? What if Jesus did come to be served and not to serve? Do you think you would still come to worship and praise him? If Jesus came and demanded glory and honor, if he forced people to bow down, if he took his divine power and rubbed it in our puny faces, if he proudly proclaimed his perfection and how much greater he is than we miserable sinners, would you still be here to worship and praise him? Or, if Jesus did that would you even have any hope of heaven at all? Not a chance.
But that’s not what Jesus did. He didn’t come to be served but rather to serve. Jesus came to serve us with his love, love that is perfectly patient, selfless, and humble. He came to serve us with compassionate and merciful love that would cover over our selfishly ambitious hearts.
Jesus later would say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” He showed that to be true. Not only did Jesus serve us with a life of love, but he served us with his very life itself. He gave his life as a ransom for many. A ransom is a price paid for freedom. A hostage is freed when a ransom is paid. A slave is freed when a ransom is paid. Jesus paid for our selfish sin with his own selfless life and death. That was the ransom price to free us from the shackles of sin and the doom of death.
Jesus teaches us what real love is like. But not just with his words. With his very life Jesus showed us what selfless, humble love is really like. He the deserving gave up glory and life so that we the undeserving could receive glory and life. That is real love.
Jesus told James and John that one day the would learn this. In verse 39 Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” That time finally did come. After James and John witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection, their attitudes were certainly changed. They quickly learned to humbly love and serve others, even with their own lives. James was actually the first disciple to be martyred when he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa. John was the last disciple alive in the 90’s A.D. when he was exiled to the island of Patmos under the severe persecution of emperor Domitian. They did learn from Jesus love that was sacrificing for others and for the Lord.
And so can we. There is absolutely no way that your attitude towards others, the treatment of your spouse or family, the ambitions of your heart—there is absolutely no way those can ever change or improve unless you first have a heart that is changed by Jesus. But when you look at who Jesus is—our Lord and our God—and what he did—serve us in love with his life and death—how can that love not change our hearts? Greater love has no one than the love Jesus showed in laying down his life for sinners.
If that love fills your heart, that love then spills from your heart. It changes a heart with ambition for glory into a heart with Ambition to Serve. What a difference an Ambition to Serve could make in your life and the lives of others.
Do you really need to be right all the time? Do you always need to get your way? How good might someone else feel if you let them be right and get their way? How good might someone else feel if they know that you are taking time to see things from their perspective and viewpoint?
Do you really need to win that argument with your spouse? Do you really need prove your spouse wrong and make absolutely clear that your current situation is because your spouse was obviously the one who messed up? How much stronger would your marriage be if your knee-jerk reaction was patience and a deep breath? How much stronger would your marriage be if you were kind and forgiving, even to a fault?
How much better would your friendships be if you were always there for others, even when it is inconvenient to you? How much more might your friends love you if they see you always putting them before yourself?
How strong would our church be if all we cared about was the good of others and serving others and strengthening others? How much difference would we make in the lives of others or in this community if our lives were driven by selfless desire to serve and to share the good news of Jesus?
Wouldn’t that all be great? Well, yes, it would be. And that’s precisely what Jesus is talking about. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” True greatness is seen in humility. True greatness is seen in serving. True greatness is seen in love. True greatness is seen in Jesus, and true greatness is seen in you when you love like Jesus.
God grant that the selfless love of Jesus fills your heart and spills from your heart.
Posted on October 25, 2015, in Church, Sermons and tagged Ambition, Church, Disciples, Humility, James, James and John, John, Love, Mark, Mark 10, Marriage, Patience, Pride, Sermons, Serve, Service, Serving, Sons of Thunder, Sons of Zebedee. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.