Sunday, August 27, 2023

How can I be the greatest in God's Kingdom?

We’re coming into the primary season that will lead up to a presidential election in about a year, and there was a debate recently, and many interviews on television, and Trump and tucker talking on Twitter, and Biden and RFK Jr. and various others on both sides of the political debate getting ready for runs to gain the office of the white house the most powerful seat of authority on planet Earth. You have Trump being indicted by various prosecutors in the country, and you have investigations into Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, and it’s all a big battle for power and authority, and control over the country and the direction of the country.

This is how our world battles for power and influence, through television, news, social media, debates, money, influence, and events. And many are ambitious to have great authority, to be great, and to be thought of by others as wise and impressive and strong and great.

That is how the world deals with “trying to be great.” And whether it’s a presidential run, or a basketball game, or teenager girls vying for power in the hallways at high school, or people trying to gain a promotion at work, so much of our lives have to do with power games, authority, and a desire to show the world: I’m special, I’m great, look at me! Look at how great I am!

It was great for me, a breath of fresh air in fact, to escape that rat race, and find myself in an entirely different system, a system called the kingdom of God.

Once you become a Christian, you receive new birth, and you start to understand how God’s economy works, you start to wonder: How can I be one of the greatest in God’s kingdom?

That human ambition takes over. We start to wonder: Alright, I see that it’s not about money, it’s about service, it’s about love, it’s about spreading the word. Now how can I be great in this new system?

We see the greatest according to the world system, Nobel prize winners, billionaires, government leaders, celebrities and musicians, but what about God’s kingdom?

How does it work?

We naturally want to give our all for God. We want to go all in.

We want to be great. We want to sit with Jesus on his throne.

The Lord Jesus is with his disciples, on the way to Jerusalem. They are on the way to the capital city. This will be the greatest moments of Jesus ministry. He will take on the pharisees and religious leaders in the great city.

I’m sure all his disciples are excited and amazed and are wondering what will happen next.

James and John, brothers, are very sure they want to be great. So they bring a special request to their master.

Mark 10:35-36, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

In Matthew chapter 20 we know that their mother was also involved with this request they’re about to bring before Jesus.

They request that Jesus do for them whatever they ask, but instead when we make requests of the Lord in prayer, we should often also say, “but Lord your will be done, not mine.”

The Lord responds by asking them, what do you want me to do for you?

Here is their request from verse 37:

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

James and John want to be great. They want to sit on thrones to the left and right of Jesus Christ the King in the after-life, after Christ has entered glory.

Quite an outrageous request, don’t you think? Has anyone else anywhere in the gospels asked the Lord such an outrageous question? Usually the request is to learn to pray, or to be healed, or to learn more about the kingdom of God. But James and John want power, authority, and influence. They want to be great in God’s kingdom.

The Lord Jesus points them immediately toward the great cost of it means for Jesus to be enthroned as king of the universe. In verses 38-39:

38 “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?”

39 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus tells them you don’t really understand what it means for me to be enthroned as king. You don’t understand the cost. So he asks them two questions: Can you drink my cup? Can you be baptized with my baptism?

And they answer confidently, “yes.”

They are quite sure they can follow Jesus in every way, they can go all the way with him, and they want to be great as they do it!

To desire to be great in God’s kingdom is not a bad thing, I don’t think. We should want to be so totally committed to Christ that we are considered great in His kingdom.

But to desire authority to lord it over other people, this is selfish ambition. And we want to avoid selfish ambition. It’s a very real danger. It’s a very American impulse, I’m going to show the world that I’m important. Many Christians, church members, volunteers, leaders, can get caught up in selfish ambition, wanting to show how important they are. And that is sin. Repent of that sin! It can destroy your soul.

Let’s see how Jesus responds to James and John: (verse 39-40)

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 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.”

The Lord Jesus acknowledges the limits of his own authority. He’s not just going to change a place that’s been assigned to someone else for the sake of James and John. He says it’s not for me to give you those seats.

Secondly, Jesus tells them that they will indeed drink from his cup and be baptized with his baptism. What does Jesus mean by that?

I’ve always believed that Jesus was saying, I’m going to be crucified, I’m going to give my life for you. And I think he was saying to James and John, you will also be martyred for the gospel message as well. Tradition tells us that all the disciples, aside from John, died for their proclamation of Christ.

So when Jesus tells them, you will drink from my cup, I believe he’s saying that you’ll drink from that bitter cup of death that I drank from. The concept in the scripture of “drinking from a cup” is often associated with death and suffering, even wrath. In Revelation the cup that Babylon drinks from is the cup of God’s wrath. Very interesting!

Christ’s baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. So I can only assume that the baptism Christ references is Pentecost, when the disciples would receive the holy spirit 40 days after the resurrection.

We all in some way drink from the cup Christ drank from. We all go through trials and tribulations in Christ, for the sake of the gospel. When we are persecuted for our faith, we join with Christ in his sufferings for the gospel.

We all in some way also are baptized with the baptism of Christ. We all can walk in the Holy Spirit, being led by the spirit and empowered by the spirit as God ministers through us to people in need.

The other disciples were not happy.

Verse 41 says, “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.”

I’m sure James and John weren’t too popular on that day. I’m sure several of them rebuked them both saying what are you doing? You’re going to exclude us? You two want to be the greatest? How dare you?

But Jesus uses this as a teaching moment for all twelve of his disciples, and for us today:

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.”

Jesus said the gentile leaders lord it over their people, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

That is very true. It was true in Jesus day, the roman empire exercised total authority over Israel and taxed them brutally and held them under total control. The same was true throughout so much of history, kings and queens and dictators have exercised power and authority over countries across Europe the middle east, the far east and everywhere in between.

Today, particularly in the United States we see a new sort of authority being exercised over people, the powerful elites of our society, billionaires, corporations, celebrities, universities, experts, and bureaucrats now exercise near total authority over our country. We have this illusion of voting, and democratic republican government, yet it seems like the ones who have the real power in our society are the wealthy, the connected, and the experts. How little has changed in 2,000 years, still the gentile leaders exercise authority and lord it over the gentile nations.

Some churches, and megachurches, will tend to lord it over their people as well.

But Jesus says not so with you. That is not the way you will do things as Christians.

But Jesus says, Ok, you want to be a great among the disciples, among the church, here’s what you do, that’s a good thing to want, here’s how, here’s how the rules work in the kingdom of God system: If you want to be a great, then do this: Be a servant to everyone around you.

That’s one level. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom be a servant to all.

But there is a second level. Jesus says if you want to be first, not just great, but first, then be a slave to all.

The Greek word there for servant, is diakonos, which is the Greek word that means servant, and is also the Greek were that we take for title of deacon. It means servant.

Here is the definition:

-one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master, a servant, attendant, minister

-the servant of a king

-a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use

-a waiter, one who serves food and drink

And we see a even lower definition for the Greek word for slave, which is:

doulos (Key)
Pronunciation: doo'-los

-a slave, bondman, man of servile condition

-metaph., one who gives himself up to another's will those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men

-devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests

-a servant, attendant

The Lord Jesus knows this would be hard for his disciples to accept. They had expected that Jesus would take the throne in Jerusalem and become king and they would sit on thrones just beneath him and they would defeat the romans in great battles.

Instead Jesus says no, in this world, that is not your purpose, in this world, your purpose is to serve, and to be slave to all who need your help.

So Jesus says, if you have a hard time with this, look at my example, if you follow me, you’ll do what I do, and of course, we know, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples later. And the ultimate image of service and sacrifice, is that Jesus died, nailed to the cross, for our sins.

Next, in verses 46 through 52, we see an example, at the end of chapter 10, where Jesus shows his disciples what humble service looks like.

It says in verses 46-47: Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

We see a great contrast between the request of James and John, “make us the greatest” to the request of Bartimaeus which is simply, “have mercy on me!”

And we see that our job as Christians is to show mercy to people in various ways. Even when we may think they don’t deserve it.

The people with Jesus and the crowds apparently didn’t think this man was worthy of help, because they rebuked him.

In verses 48-49:

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

But Jesus stops right there and says bring him over. They might think that it’s too lowly to serve this poor beggar, but Jesus stops and brings him right there.

In verse 49-50: So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.”

He was probably wailing loudly desperate to get Jesus attention and I’m sure he was upset and had thought he missed Jesus. But they say cheer up, he’s calling you over. What a great exciting moment, to be called before Jesus!

Notice then in verse 51 Jesus asks the same question of Bartimaeus that he asked of James and John: 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Bartimaeus doesn’t want to be made the greatest, he wants to see, and Jesus answers his request. And in so doing he shows his disciples what it means to be a servant and slave to all.

Bartimaeus has faith in Christ, that Christ can heal him, so he is healed by Jesus. Immediately, he receives his sight, and he begins following Jesus. And that my friends, is how you do that. Be a servant to the lowliest people, even the homeless, even the poor, even the beggar, even the drug addicted, even the sexually confused, even the person with mental health issues, and even the people who lord it over us. Show mercy. And you’ll be great in God’s kingdom.

So in review, let’s take a look at our applications today:

1. Make your requests to Jesus (In His Will, not yours)

2. Resist Selfish Ambition (It’s a plague even in the church)

3. Drink from the Cup of Christ (suffering, struggle for gospel)

4. Walk in the Baptism of Christ (baptism of the Holy Spirit)

5. Gentiles lord it over their people (Like our country, but don't give up hope either)

6. Be a servant of all (then you’ll be great in God’s kingdom)

7. Be a slave of all (then you’ll be first in God’s kingdom)

8. Serve those in need in practical ways (like Jesus with blind man)

Lastly, it’s important to remember that our humble service to others in this life, is temporary. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s temporary. The goal is then, that after we die, and we meet Jesus face to face, and we receive our inheritance in the New Jerusalem, that we will be rewarded for our humble service to others, with authority, glory, and influence in God’s kingdom.

As Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 19:28:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

And it says in Revelation that Jesus sits on a throne in the throne room of God, surrounded by elders sitting on 24 thrones, which many have suggested is probably the 12 disciples along with the patriarchs from across the old testament.

That is your future destiny my friends, if you stay true to God, and follow His ways, and really serve others, then you’ll also be seated as a ruler in heaven, given authority over the nations, and rewarded with everlasting glory and honor. You’ll be great in heaven, if that is your goal, then you how to achieve it: Serve others here, everyday. That’s it. And you can. In Christ you can. So go do it. God bless you today!