Based on: Mark 9:30-37
Today we look at another paradox of the Christian faith. Last week we heard Jesus say that in order to keep your life you must lose it. And now we hear that in order to be great in God’s kingdom you must be least. In order to lead you must serve. These paradoxes are not simple mental exercises to be solved in the mind and then cast aside in order to solve the next. No, each one is to be a constant paradox within the whole person of the believer. All our life we struggle to let go of life so that we can have life. We struggle to be least among the people of God so that we can be great in the eyes of God . . . in a sanctified way. This struggle to follow God’s will for us even when it doesn’t make sense to us is the ongoing paradox of the Christian life.
Last week we talked about Napoleon and how his followers were fanatic. I have another example from his life this week. He once said, “I care only for people who are useful to me, and so long as they are useful.” At another time he said, “I have made courtiers. [Someone who serves at the kings court.] I never pretend to make friends.” Perhaps it is easy to understand why he died a lonely man. His attitude is the very opposite of Christ’s example and command – surrounding yourself with people who serve you instead of you serving people.
Imagine a world full of the Napoleonic attitude. Imagine everyone seeking to serve the god named “self” where each person believes they are the greatest. What would it be like?
People would choose friends who can benefit them. They would only be nice to people who were like them. A world of self-serving people would contain many people who cheat, steal, and use others for their own advantage and justify it to themselves by saying, “They owe it to me, anyway.”
In such a world husbands and wives would each act as if the other were there to serve their own needs and so neither would be served. Dissatisfaction within marriage would be commonplace in such a world and so would divorce.
The churches in such a world would also be stricken with problems. Because the overriding attitude is “everyone should serve me” very little gets done in the church as so many individuals say, “I’m too busy, let someone else do it.” Worship would cause verbal battles as one group or another would claim their own desires in worship were not being served.
A world serving itself would be a horrible place to live, wouldn’t it? One of the things that makes this sinful world more bearable is that others are kind to us, and they don’t expect anything in return. They put our needs above their own and serve us instead of expecting us to serve them. They show us the love of Christ.
There are brief glimpses of beautiful light, when by God’s grace people give service rather than expect it, but for the most part this world is steeped in the darkness of self-worship – “I am the greatest.” It is the default attitude of the world. Look inside yourself and you will see that same desire to serve yourself. That thought that I am most important or the greatest is at the heart of every sin we commit.
Even Jesus’ own disciples were not exempt. They also wanted to be served rather than to serve and they argued which one was the greatest – which was the one most worthy of being served. Can you imagine them arguing? “I am the smartest.” “But I am the best speaker.” “Well, Jesus invited me in to see him raise the daughter of Jairus back to life.”
What a contrast they and we are to Jesus who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” and that is what Jesus did. He considered himself as least important and served each one of us in our greatest need.
He served even though there was nothing in it for him. He served even though the ones he came to serve ridiculed him, spit on him, pulled out his beard, and left him to die hanging on a cross. He served even though generation after generation would continue to commit the sins that brought him to the cross. He served us even though we often don’t want to serve him. In fact, he served us because we haven’t served him.
By serving us he lived the perfect life of service that God demands of us and his service to us included even dying for us so that we could know a better place; so that we could look forward to a life of perfect, enjoyable service to him.
Now he tells us to serve others. Our Savior desires it. He asks it of us. He takes a little child into his arms and shows us the kind of people we are to serve – to welcome in his name. Become a servant even of those like little children who can do very little for you in return, who are often overlooked, who are sometimes only concerned about themselves.
How much better life would be if each of us considered ourselves the very last and the servant of all. Think of a world where that was the case.
Employees would serve their employees with honest work and the employer would benefit. The employer would serve his employee with a share of the blessings he received in his business and both would benefit far more than if each only worked to serve self. Everyone’s standard of living would be higher.
Husbands and wives would work to serve their spouse. Imagine all of the joy filled homes there would be where stress and tension was minimal and children could grow up in a secure, loving environment.
Driving in the cities during rush hour would be no big deal in a world where people had this Christ-like perspective. Imagine the insurance we wouldn’t have to buy!
It would certainly make a difference in the church. There would always be enough money and volunteers to do what needed to be done. The church would grow as people saw Christ in the words and actions of the members.
What a fantastic place this would be. Doesn’t it make sense that we would all be better off if everyone would have a servant’s heart? It does make sense, even from a purely human point of view. Imagine that. Jesus Christ knows how things should work and if everyone follows his directions, the world would be a far better place.
Why don’t we? We are afraid we will not get our share. Sure we can serve others, but what if they don’t serve us, then we’re out of luck. We get the short end of the stick. That’s what happened to Jesus. But to get served back is not the point. To be like Jesus is the point. It takes courage. Serving others as Christ did without expecting something in return – it’s not for the weak of heart. It is only possible with a heart made strong by the love of God made known through Christ.
To borrow a phrase from John F. Kennedy, ask not what others can do for you, but ask what you can do for others. You have the heart for it. By serving you on the cross Christ has given you that heart.