St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

How to Truly be Great

Sermon on Mark 10:35-45
 
Text: Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
     “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
     They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
     “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?”
     “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, 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.”
     When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  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.  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.”
 
     A number of years ago, Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight champion in boxing.  He held the title for a number of years.  When he was interviewed by the various sports reports, he would brag about his accomplishments.  He said of himself, “I am the greatest.”  He felt that he was the greatest boxer of all time.  Over and over again, he would say, “I am the greatest.”  Whether he was the best boxer of all times is open to debate.  However, his words show a basic yearning that many people feel.  We often wish that we could be great at one thing or another.  We wish we could win first place.  James and John wanted to be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom, but Jesus showed them, and us as well, HOW TO BE TRULY GREAT.  1. It Comes Through Suffering.  2. It Comes Through Service.
 
     James and John came to Jesus with a request.  They, obviously, were afraid that Jesus would not approve, because they begin by saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  Just by the way that they asked the question, they showed that they knew better, but were hoping to get this anyway.  Jesus, out of great love for these two men, allows them to ask their question.  They said, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  They were asking that, when Jesus established his kingdom, they would be sitting in the number 1 and number 2 positions.  They wanted to receive these special positions of prestige and honor.  They wanted to be the greatest.
 
     Jesus’ answer to their request was, “You don’t know what you are asking.”  He did not condemn them for their ambition, but he did want to correct them where they were at fault and to purify their motives.  Jesus continues, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”  He wanted them to realize that they were not aware of the consequences of their question.  Could they follow Jesus’ example?  Could they drink of his cup of suffering?  Could they be baptized with his blood as Jesus suffered and died on the cross?
 
     James and John confidently answered that they could.  They believed that they were able to undergo all that it would take to get to the kingdom of glory.  Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.”  Because Jesus is the Son of God, he knew what the future held for these two men.  Indeed, James and John would suffer for Jesus.  James was put to death by King Herod for preaching to others about Jesus.  John was eventually put in exile on the island of Patmos.  They drank deeply of the cup of suffering that was offered to them.  They were willing to suffer for Jesus.  Yet, Jesus also reminds them that, just because they suffered, it did not mean that they would be given places of honor.  Those places were to be given to those for whom they had been prepared.  God gives heaven as a gift to those who are faithful.  Greatness would come through suffering.
 
     We, too, would like to enter the glory of heaven.  We want to enjoy all of the bliss that can only be found in heaven.  However, the way will not always be easy for the Christian.  It says in Acts 14:22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  We, too, will enter the greatness of heaven, but there will be hardships that we will go through first.
 
     We undergo suffering in a different way than James and John did.  In our country, we are free to worship our God as we see fit.  There is no threat of prison or death for those who believe in Jesus as their Savior.  We can meet together openly, rather than meeting secretly out of fear from the authorities.  Yet, we do undergo suffering as we live our lives as Christians in this sinful world.  Rather than coarse persecution, the devil employs a far more subtle form of persecution called peer pressure.
 
     No one likes to stand out in the crowd.  Everyone wants to fit in.  Yet, what happens when those around us are doing something that is sinful?  Do we stand up and call a sin a sin?  Are we more likely to keep quiet, lest we be ridiculed for saying or believing that?  This fear of being ridiculed is a form of persecution.  This fear may lead us to go along with the crowd.
 
     We are to live a life that is pleasing to God in thankful response for all that he has done for us.  Let us, therefore, stand up when something that is being done is wrong.  Let us not fear this type of persecution.  People need to be told when they are doing something wrong.  Sin must be exposed, so that there can be repentance and forgiveness.  It may be uncomfortable to speak up, but God may use your words to bring them to him.
 
     Furthermore, let us not feel as though suffering is a strange concept for Christians.  After all, look at the suffering that Jesus went through.  He was lied about.  He was hurt.  He was even put to death and this, in spite of the fact that he did nothing wrong.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that the servant is not above his master.  Since Jesus suffered, can we expect anything less?  However, while we suffer on this earth, we know that it is only temporary.  Soon, we will exchange this life of suffering for the glory that will be ours in heaven.  Greatness comes through suffering.
 
     When the other ten disciples heard about the request of James and John, they became indignant.  They were upset that James and John had asked for such positions of honor.  Perhaps, they were even upset that they had not thought of the idea first.  Whatever the case, Jesus realized that he had to squelch the discord among the disciples.  He needed to teach them about being truly great.  They needed a lesson in humility.  Jesus called the disciples 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 points to the rulers of the day, people who were associated with greatness.  These people exercised authority over others.  What they said was the way it was.  With the rise to power came the temptation to lord it over others; to make people obey or else.  This is the way that the world perceives greatness.
 
     However, Jesus told them, “Not so with you.”  This is not the way they should act, yearning for greatness by having power.  “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”  This is the way to true greatness – by putting yourself in service to others.  This is the exact opposite of the way that the world thinks.  If you want to be great in the eyes of the world, you will have people doing things for you.  You will be waited on hand and foot.  Jesus said to be truly great, you are to serve others.  Again, this is a foreign concept for the world, but it is how God wants us to act.
 
     We are to place others ahead of ourselves.  This is the exact opposite of what we are used to.  We often think of ourselves first.  How often don’t we find ourselves pushing in front of others, insisting that things be done in our time and in our way?  Our sinful nature automatically thinks of self first.  This can be seen at a very young age.  If you put two young children in a room full of toys, you can be sure that it won’t be long before both children are grabbing at the same toy and yelling at the top of their lungs, “MINE!”  We are naturally selfish and self-centered.
 
     Yet, Jesus tells us that we are to think of others first.  We are to put ourselves in the service of others.  He gives us the most striking example of service to others when he 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.”  Jesus, as the Son of God, is worthy of all glory and honor.  All creation was made by him.  All mankind owes obedience to him.  Yet, Jesus humbled himself to the point that he was willing to suffer for the sins of all.  He was willing to suffer and die for all people.  He even did this for those who abused him.  Jesus died to pay the debt of sin that all people owed.  The Son of God humbled himself and became the servant of all so that our sins would be forgiven and eternal life would be ours.
 
     Let us follow Jesus’ example of service to others.  It has been expressed this way that Joy is Jesus, Others and You.  This shows us the order of importance.  First of all, we serve Jesus out of thankfulness for all that he has done for us.  Secondly, we think of others.  We do what we can to help others.  We put other people’s interests ahead of our own.  There are so many ways that this can be done.  It can be helping another person do work around the house.  It can be giving a ride to someone who needs to go somewhere.  The list could go on and on.  Look for ways to serve others and when those ways present themselves, may God give us the willingness to do them.
 
     However, won’t we come out on the short end of the stick if we take care of everyone else before ourselves?  First of all, if we are all doing this, our needs will be taken care of.  When we serve each other, we grow together as members of the family of Christ.  Even if you serve and are not served in return, you are not losing out.  Our reward doesn’t come from recognition while on this earth.  That sort of recognition is here and gone.  Rather, our reward waits for us in heaven.  Because Jesus died for my sins and I have been brought to believe in him, I know that I will be in heaven.  In the meantime, God notices the things I do for him.  This is our great reward that we are able to serve God during this lifetime.  How wonderful it will be to hear these words from his lips, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  When we serve others, we are in reality serving God.  In this way, we become truly great.
 
     The world has its ideas of what greatness is like.  They are those who never seem to have a worry in this life.  They are those who have the power.  Yet, God gives us a different picture of true greatness and how to achieve it.  Greatness comes through suffering for the sake of Jesus.  Greatness comes from serving others.  Rather than being great in the eyes of the world, let us strive to be great in the eyes of God.  Let us bear the suffering that comes our way.  Let us serve one another with the type of love that Jesus showed to us as he served us.  Then we will be truly great.  Amen.