GALATIANS 5:13; MARK 10:35-45

MARCH 14, 2009


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            Who do Americans say was the greatest boxer of all time?

            Who do Americans say is the greatest golfer of all time?  It’s divided.  Some say Jack Nicklaus who won a record 18 majors and some say Tiger Woods who may surpass those 18 majors?

            Who do Americans say was the greatest scientist of the twentieth century? Albert Einstein.

            What singing group sold the greatest number platinum albums?  The Beatles.

            Who do Americans say was the greatest American president?  Abraham Lincoln in today’s polls.

            The list of “greats” and “greatests”  could go on and on.  Of course, it is one thing to be the greatest boxer, or to be the greatest golfer, or to be the greatest scientist, or to be the greatest president, however, it is quite another thing to have a need to be great, to have a need to be number one, to have a need to be a big shot, to have a need to be better than others.

            That is what the gospel lesson is about today ... the need to be the greatest.  A couple of the disciples needed to be number one, the best of the best, better than all the rest.  A couple of the disciples had a need be religious big shots, top dogs, the leaders of the pack.  It amazes me that these two followers of Jesus who had spent so much time with him, saw his miracles, walked with him, talked with Jesus, were in his inner circle, but still they did not “get it.”   These two guys who had walked closely with Jesus still didn’t “get it” that the greatest person in the kingdom of God needed a heart of a servant, not a heart of selfish ambition.

            We continue our exploration of the one another passages in the bible today, and we turn our attention to our tenth one another passage in our series, serving one another.  The apostle Paul wrote these words in his Letter to the Galatians:


            You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves (or servants) of one another.


            It’s exactly what Jesus tells James and John, and the rest of the disciples, in our passage from Mark. 

            Let me tell you two stories about James and John, two of the very first disciples, two brothers, two fishermen, who didn’t “get it” for quite a while.  The stories go like this.  First story: Jesus invited Peter, James and John to go up on a mountain.  While on that mountain, the three disciples experienced the transfiguration where Jesus was transformed into the Christ of glory.  Jesus’ face shined like the sun.  His clothes gleamed whiter than a Clorox commercial.  Moses and Elijah even dropped in from the dead to give Jesus their seal of approval.  At that moment Peter and JJ were on top of the world.  They had the greatest religious experience anyone could have.   Meanwhile, the other nine disciples remained down in the valley where they encountered a mentally sick boy who kept thrashing about and foaming at the mouth.  The nine disciples tried to heal the sick kid, but couldn’t.  Jesus then came down, healed the boy and upbraided the valley disciples for their lack of faith and healing power. 

            Shortly thereafter, the disciples were walking home to Capernaum.  It was a long walk and there was plenty of time to talk.  While they walked along, the twelve disciples got into an argument about which disciples were the greatest.  The Bible doesn’t say it, but I think it was JJ, James and John, who were causing the conflict.  JJ, with their mountain top experience, felt that they were superior to the other nine disciples who couldn’t heal a kid in the village below. 

            Jesus heard the disciples arguing with one another.  Jesus asked them, “What are you guys talking about?”  Initially, everyone was a little embarrassed and didn’t say anything.  I suspect that they were ashamed of their “who’s the greatest disciple” conversation.  Then Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, if anyone would be great, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

            Then Jesus took a child up into his arms and said, “Unless you turn around from  your self centered and glory seeking ways and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

            Did the disciples “get it?”  Did JJ get it?  That brings us to story 2: our passage for today.

            It is JJ again.  James and John approach Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”   What an arrogant request.  Sort of like kids who say, “I’m going to ask you something, and just say ‘yes.’”  Or like someone who says, “Will you do me a favor?”   Well, it depends on the favor, and note JJ’s request.  “Grant us to sit at your right hand and at your left when you come again in glory.”   What!!!  These two disciples want to be the number one and two guys on judgment day when Jesus Christ came again in glory.  The truth was there for all to see.  JJ, James and John, wanted glory.  They wanted to be the two greatest disciples of all time.   James and John had visions of themselves in the future: one at the right hand of Jesus in glory; one at the left hand of Jesus in glory.

            Which only goes to show that we can be a follower of Jesus Christ and still not “get it.” Eventually, JJ did “get it.  Just not here. 

            The same is true of us. We, too, can be followers of Jesus.  Walk with Jesus.  Talk with Jesus.  Hang out with Jesus’ friends, be in his inner circle, and still not “get it.”   We can use the right religious buzz words and go to church, but still not get that basic lesson of life that Jesus was trying to teach JJ and all of us.  The greatest person in God’s sight is a person who has a heart of humble service towards God and others.

            And let me point out the most important word Jesus uses here.  He uses it twice, once in verse 43 and and once in verse 44.  Do you have those verses in front of you?  If you have your own bible with you, I want you to circle this word, because it’s key to what he says.   Don’t circle the word in the pew bible, but if you have your own bible with you circle this word.  It’s the word “must.”  Verse 43:


            Whoever wishes to be first among you “must “be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you “must” be the slave of all.


            In other words, we cannot be top-notch disciples of Jesus without being servants.  Being a servant is a MUST, a demand, like water being wet and fire being hot and ice being cold.  Likewise, a follower of Christ MUST be a servant.  If fire is not hot, it is not fire.  If ice is not cold, it is not ice.  If a follower of Christ is not a servant, he or she is not a disciple who puts a smile on Jesus’ face.  Such a person would be on the JV squad of disciples, not the varsity.

            Let me close with a couple general comments about serving one another.

            First, beware of the peril of servanthood. Have you ever been “splashed?”  I’m not talking about having water splashed on us, I am talking about what occurred in the Chicago Bears locker room in the early nineties.

            The smaller defensive backs and the larger defensive lineman played a little game, and if you lost, you got splashed.  Here is how it worked.  Defensive backs and defensive lineman would verbally assault one another.  It’s not one of the one another passages, but it was part of their game, “verbally assaulting” one another.  Usually a defensive back, being smaller and quicker, would strike with a verbal assault and escape, but if captured, he would pay a great price.

            Defensive back David Tate, who weighed 180 pounds, was caught by the linemen, and dropped to the ground where the 325 pound Willam “The Refrigerator” Perry collapsed on him, followed by the 270 pound Richard Dent, followed by the 275 pound Dan Hampton, and the 270 pound Steve McMichael.  In other words, 1,140 pounds of pain came down on top of him.

            David Tate said of his “splashing” experience, “It hurts.  I don’t think they know how heavy they are.  Once you’ve gotten splashed you avoid it at all costs, even if it means backing down.”

            People with servant hearts and hands often get splashed.  Not by defensive lineman, but by schedule overload and commitment overload and expectation overload, and emotional overload, and people overload.  There is a peril that comes with serving one another, and that leads me to the second comment I want to make.

            We not only need to beware of the peril of serving one another, but also we need to concentrate on God if we are going to serve without becoming grumpy and exhausted.  We need to regularly seek God’s counsel in order to sort out all the demands.  As someone wisely said, “If you burn the candle at both ends you are not as bright as you think!” 

            I love the story of the man who came across three boys playing in the snow.  He came up to them and asked, “Would you like to try a race and win a prize?”

            The boys said, “Sure,” and the man told them the prize would go to the boy who could run the straightest, not necessarily the fastest.  He said, “I will go to the other side of the field, and when I give you he signal, run to me.  The one whose footsteps in the snow is the straightest will be the winner.”

            So the race started, and the first boy watched his feet to make sure he was running as straight as possible.  The second boy did the same.   The third boy, however, did something different.  He ran with his eyes steadfastly fixed on the man at the other side of the field, and he won!  Because he had kept his eyes on the goal ahead of him, his footsteps were straight in the snow.

            Do you know why animal trainers carry a stool or a chair when they get into a cage of lions?  They have a whip, of course, and a pistol at their sides, but have you ever wondered about the stool?  Well, to the lion tamer the stool is the most important piece of equipment.  When the lion tamer holds the back of the stool and thrusts the stool’s legs at the lion, the lion focuses on all four legs at once, and, in the attempt to focus on all four, a kind of paralysis overwhelms the animal; it becomes disabled because it’s attention is fragmented. 

            To be good servants, in it for the long haul, we need to focus on Christ, and Christ alone, and not all the demands clamoring for our time and attention, and ask him to clarify what we can undertake, and what we need to let go of.

            Let me close with one of my favorite all-time stories.  A missionary couple came back to the States after years of service overseas.  As fortune would have it, they were sailing on the same ship on which President Teddy Roosevelt was returning.  The President had just completed another of his big-game expeditions.

            The missionary couple watched as people clamored to see the President and to welcome him home, but there was no such welcome for them.  The husband said to his wife, “This is wrong.  Why should we have given our lives in faithful service to God all these many years, and have no one care a thing about us?  Here this man comes back from a hunting trip, and everybody makes much to do over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us.”

            That night the man grew angrier, and said to his wife, “I can’t take this.  God is not treating us fairly.”

            She said “Tell God about it in prayer,” and he did.  He went into the bedroom to pray, and a short time later he came out of the bedroom with a smile on his face.

            “What happened, dear?” she inquired.

            He replied, “The Lord settled it with me.  I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming when no one met us as we returned home.  And when I finished complaining the Lord said to me, ‘But you are not home yet.’”

            When the missionary did eventually get “home,” he heard God’s welcoming words, “Well, done good and faithful servant.”  May we hear those same words.