Blog / Book of the Month / Sermon Pastor Terry Defoe March 22, 2015 Mark 10 True Greatness

Sermon \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ March 22, 2015 \ Mark 10 \ True Greatness

Posted in 2015 / Audio Sermons / Rev. Terry Defoe / Sermons / ^Mark

Sermon \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ March 22, 2015 \ Mark 10 \ True Greatness

42 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. 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.” (N.I.V.)

I begin this morning with a ques­tion. If I was to give you a pencil and a piece of paper and ask you to define the word "greatness" – what would you say? What is true greatness? Here’s another question. What’s it like when you know you’re doing something for the last time? How would you feel, for instance, [or, how DID you feel, if you’re retired] on the last day at your job, especially if you had been there for many years? What’s it like when you have to say goodbye to someone very special?

In our text, Jesus told his disciples that he would be condemned by the Jewish religious leaders. He said that he would be turned over to the Gentiles – to the Romans, specifically – for execution. Jesus was quite specific about what was going to happen to. And to top it all off, he also predicted that he would be raised from the dead. His disciples certainly heard these predictions. But they didn't understand what this was all about. They didn’t see the bigger picture – how God’s plan of salvation was being fulfilled right before them. They were puzzled and dis­tressed. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Word this morning. I pray that he would enable us to hear His Word, to understand it, and to put its truths into practice in our lives today.

In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 20, verse 17, Jesus took his disciples aside and told them that he was "going up to Jerusalem." That would be his last trip to Jerusalem. He told His disciples that he would die there. And then, immediately after Jesus had said this, in verse 20 we’re told that "the mother of Zebedee's sons" had an unusual request for Jesus. "Zebedee's sons," by the way, were James and John. Along with Peter, they were close to Jesus. Peter, James, and John were often asked to do special things for the Lord or to go to special places with Him. It could be that since James and John were close to Jesus, they expected spe­cial recognition. That may be why they had their mother ask Jesus for something unusual on their behalf. But it’s the mother's request – and Jesus' reply – that gives us an insight into what constitutes true "greatness" is in the Kingdom of God.

In Matthew’s recounting of this request, the mother of James and John knelt before Jesus with a request – a prayer, actually. She asked Jesus if He would

"Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom"

She wanted special status for her two sons in Jesus' kingdom. She just wanted the best for her two boys. In a sense, she wanted them to be able to jump to the front of the line. Here’s Jesus' reply:

"You don't know what you're asking for," he said.

It was as if he was saying

"You're confused about what my kingdom is all about. You're expecting a worldly king­dom, a political kingdom. You want a place for your two sons in my inner cabinet, so to speak. But my kingdom is not like that – it’s not like that at all.”

What we have here is an example of one way that God answers prayer. Sometimes God answers our prayers by saying "No!" Sometimes what we are asking for isn't in line with his will. That mother's request wasn't ­approp­riate. And she heard – from none other than Jesus himself! – why her request was out of line. Jesus continued with a question. And note carefully – His question takes us to the heart of true "greatness."

"Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink­?" He asked.

In other words,

"Are you willing to suffer as I will soon suffer?"

Their answer was,

"We can."

Jesus replied,

"You will indeed drink from my cup..."

History teaches us that, in years to come, James, one of the woman’s two sons, died as a martyr for the Christian faith. And her other son, John, would live in exile on the island of Patmos where, incidentally, he would write the last book of the Bible – the book of Revelation. So, Jesus was correct. Both James and John did, in one way or another, drink from Jesus' cup of suffering.

Jesus went on to say that the decision as to who would sit at his right and who would sit at his left, in his kingdom, was reserved for his Father alone. It's interesting that we’re told that Jesus’ other disciple­s, when they heard the mother's request, "were indig­nant." They were probably thinking

"How dare she ask such a thing! It's not fair at all!"

The truth is that the other disciples didn't want to miss out either. They, too, were confused about Jesus' kingdom and the predictions of His death. And, truth be told, they were no better than James and John. You know, it never ceases to amaze me how typically human Jesus' disciples were. These were certainly not plaster saints, different from the rest of us ordinary mortals. Jesus’ disciples were real people, with real warts and wrinkles – like us, they were sinners in need of forgiveness. It’s interesting that, in Mark's gospel, we find another account where Jesus’ disciples squabbled over status and importance. It’s found in Mark, chapter 9, verse 33:

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. (N.I.V.)

There's real irony here, irony that the disciples didn't pick up on until after Jesus went to the cross. Here, in the last few days of Jesus' life on this earth, as they journeyed the last time with Jesus to Jerusalem, as they journeyed to the place where a cross was being prepared for their Master, His disciples were totally oblivious to the true nature of his ministry among them – they had no idea that God’s plan of salvation was coming to its conclusion. Here, while Jesus was on his way to the cross – to save them from their sins – they squabbled like spoiled children over a preferred place in the Kingdom.

And it's right here, at this very point, that Jesus explains the meaning of true "greatness." He first tells us how it is often defined in the unbelieving world. There, Jesus says, "grea­tness" has to do with "lording it over people." In other words, in the world’s understanding of the term, those who pos­sess "greatness" exercise authority over others. An example of that worldly "greatness" would be the Romans who, at that time, occupied the nation of Israel. The Romans loved to "lord it over people,” specifically over the people of Israel, at that time living under brutal Roman occupation.

According to Jesus, worldly "greatness" is often measured in terms of the ability to control others. Worldly “greatness” is too often measured by the authority an individual possesses. Worldly “greatness” causes others to bow down in obedience. Worldly "greatness" has its own "Golden Rule." I’ve mentioned this before. The one who has the "gold" makes the "rules!" So worldly "greatness" is often connected with power. The more power a person has, the more important the world thinks they are. The problem is – as one wise soul has said – “Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely." Worldly "greatness" is fueled by an explosive mixture of pride and privilege. It hates to be held accountable. It hates to admit its mistakes. Extremely proud, self-centered people really don’t admitting that they're wrong. Years back, Pastor Charles Swindoll told a humorous story about pride. He said:

I remember reading the story of a guy by the name of "Uncle Zeke", who lived in a place called "Muleshoe, Texas." Uncle Zeke had one major problem and that was pride. He couldn't admit when he was wrong. No matter what.

One day, Uncle Zeke was walking down the street and he happened to shuffle into the blacksmith's shop – there was sawdust all over the floor. What he didn't know was just before he got there, the blacksmith had been working with an uncooperative horseshoe and beat on it until it was black -- but still very hot.

It still wouldn't cooperate, so he tossed it over into the corner. And Zeke walked in and looked over there and saw that horseshoe. It was black, and he didn't know it was hot, and he picked it up -- and he dropped it -- real fast!

And the old blacksmith looks over his glasses and says, "Kinda hot, ain't it Zeke?"

And you know what Zeke said?


So, according to Jesus in our text this morning, this world’s definition of "greatness" is very different from the way it’s defined in God’s Kingdom. The unbelieving world considers Christian virtues like pa­tience, and kindness, and goodness, and self-control to be signs of weak­ness, not strength. Worldly "greatness" loves to throw its weight around, and often stoops to violence and oppression to get its way.

In the Kingdom of God, things are very different. In God’s Kingdom, worldly "greatness" is turned upside down. Jesus measures "greatness" by service, not by power. "Greatness" in His kingdom is expressed through humil­ity. It's measured by sacrificial love – love that cares more for others than it cares for itself. True "greatness," according to Jesus, doesn't belong to the Caesar in Rome. It belongs to a parent nursing a sick child. It belongs to one who serves others quietly in the background. It belongs to the one who visits the sick in the hospital – to the one who offers a helping hand to those in need. According to Jesus, true "greatness" never enslaves. It always works to set people free. It assists people in achieving their true God-given potential.

God is not impressed by worldly "greatness" and success. But he is very impressed by sincere faith and trust. Whenever Jesus encountered strong faith, He pointed it out. Jesus was impressed by service for others. He was impressed with unconditional love. We hear these thoughts in Mary’s words in the Magnificat, in Luke, chapter 1, where she said that in God’s Kingdom, He exalts the humble. And he puts down the proud. He sends the rich, empty, away. The Old Testament book of Daniel gives us a description of a Babylonian King by the name of "Nebuchadnezzar." A typical totalitarian leader, Nebuchadnezzar spent a lot of time exalting himself. In Daniel, chapter 4, verse 39, we read: the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, "Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?

So there you have it. Worldly greatness. King Nebuchadnezzar was a proud man. A selfish man. Someone once said that people like this have "I trouble." All they ever talk about is themselves – “I. Me. My.” Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that God is not impressed with this kind of greatness. As far as Jesus was concerned, the one who is greatest is the one who serves. Jesus' life and ministry was a living example of this kind of greatness. Jesus didn't come to be served, but to serve, and to offer His life as a ransom for others. Jesus, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, didn't come to be waited on hand and foot. He came, instead, to serve us and to give us his life on the cross as a ransom for our sins and the sins of the whole world. For three years, Jesus served others with love and grace and compassion.

The people noticed that Jesus was very different from the Jewish religious leaders. Those religious leaders had, unfortunately, too often adopted this world's standards of "greatness." Jesus had absolute power. But he always used it with justice and fairness. Here he was, on his way to Jerusalem, intending to give his life as payment for sin. So the prediction of his death precedes His words about "greatness."

Jesus' sacrifice sets us free from our bondage to sin and death. The price he paid for our salvation was his own life-blood. Jesus took our place and paid the debt we owed to God. Martin Luther puts it this way:

Christ purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.

So, lets go back to where we began this morning. Take out, if you will, that imaginary paper and pencil, and see if your definition of "greatness" needs to be updated. Take a look at the cross. That’s what true greatness looks like! Amen.

Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Grant us a servant's heart. Enable us to be faithful servants of the ultimate Servant, Jesus Christ. In His most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.