Summary: Striving for first place in God’s kingdom may mean coming in last in this kingdom.
When the United States of America began the Apollo project to put a man on the moon, our motivations were not entirely scientific… In fact, the so-called space race was driven largely by the ego of the American public. The Soviet Union was the first to launch a satellite into space. They were the first to put a living creature, a monkey, into space. And Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, is listed in the history books as the first man in space. So our bid to put a man on the moon was nothing more than a response to a string of humiliating second place finishes to the Soviet space program!
So it was with great pride that the American people watched and listened on July 20, 1969 as Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar module with Buzz Aldrin and spoke those famous words, “That’s one small step for man… One giant leap for mankind.” We were first!
I believe there is something bred into human nature that we crave being first. There is no glory in being 2nd or 3rd. Following Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic Apollo 11 mission, ten other astronauts walked the surface of the moon. Do you know any of their names? Thousands of people break the sound barrier each year while flying military jets or riding as passengers on the Concorde. Do we care? No, but we’ve all heard about Chuck Yeager, because he was the first person to go faster than the speed of sound.
Even in Christianity, we see this craving for first place… for victory. Paul writes in 1 Cor 9:24 “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
I am not content to just finish the Christian walk… I want to be a winner in the KoG. I want to come in first! The Bible tells us that we are “more than conquerors in Christ Jesus”. Why is that there? Because I believe many Christians sell themselves short. They’re perfectly content with being conquerors, but Jesus says, “I want you to be much more than that!” Sure, I want to see you all make heaven your home, but if you’re perfectly content to just slip into paradise by the skin of your teeth, shame on you. I don’t just want to finish the race… I want to win the race! I want to preach this morning on Finishing First.
Mark 9:33-35 (text)
33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."
Here’s an embarrassing moment for the disciples. They’re walking down the road to Capernaum acting like kids arguing about Who’s the Man? Jesus brings some much needed direction because, unfortunately, the disciples have no clue what it takes to be first in heaven. We see this lack of understanding demonstrated many times by these men, but perhaps none so clearly as an incident that took place on the road to Jerusalem shortly before Christ’s arrest and crucifixion…
Matt 20:20-28 (text)
20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom." 22But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." 23So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father." 24And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-- 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."