Summary: There are two types of power in the world - secular power wielded to serve the individual and God’s kingdom power - given to serve others.
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem and when the moment is right, James & John take Jesus aside and ask him to grant them a favour. It’s a simple enough request. They want to sit on his right and left hand sides in glory. They’ve understood what he’s just told them about his impending death and resurrection. They know that he’ll be raised to glory, and they want to be there sharing in that glory. Well, Jesus says, they will share in his glory, but not the way they’re thinking of. In any case the place of honour will go to those that God will determine. Well you’re probably not surprised that when the other disciples hear about this they’re indignant with James and John. It’s fairly clear why they’re indignant isn’t it? It isn’t because they think that disciples should hang back and act like servants. It’s because James and John have tried to beat them to the punch. They’re cross because James & John seem to think they might be more important than the rest. So Jesus stops and talks to them about greatness; about the true path to power and authority.
Jesus talks to them about the two types of leadership in the world, the two types of power that people wield. He says you know well enough how secular authorities love to wield their power; how they love to lord it over their subjects. But it’s not to be like that with you. That isn’t how it works in the Kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom greatness comes from servanthood. "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." (Mark 10:43-44 NRSV) He goes on to point to his own example. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."" (Mark 10:45 NRSV) Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and became obedient even to death. But of what did he empty himself? Of his glory and power.
Our topic today is the temptation to wield power. Nietsche the German philosopher once said "Basic to the human personality is the will to power." That means that every part of our human society is affected: whether it’s politics, or business, or education, or marriage, or family, or even religion, even the Church. In every part of human life the will to power has its impact.
But having said that, there are two types of power. There are negative, destructive powers and there are positive, creative powers. There are powers that seek to control others for their own purposes, and there are powers that are motivated by love and the needs of others. Our task as Christians is to identify which is which and choose the latter.
You see, when you look at the life of Jesus, it was a life characterised by power. Let me just give you a few examples from the gospels. (Luke 4:36 NRSV) "They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, "What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!"" (Luke 5:17 NRSV) "One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal." (John 10:18 NRSV) [Jesus said:] "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.""
By contrast Pilate at Jesus’ trial claimed to have power that Jesus said wasn’t really his: (John 19:10-11 NRSV) "Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" 11Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.""
Jesus had real power. Power to heal, power to cast out evil spirits, but he never used his power against others or to promote himself. His power was controlled by his love to the end that others might be set free and grow into what God wanted them to be. When he did use power, as he did when he cleared the Temple, it was for the sake of others, so the Temple would be a place of prayer. Jesus often used powerful words against the Pharisees, but it wasn’t to exploit them or manipulate them. It was aimed at bringing them to repentance.