Summary: Want to Be Forever Great? 1) Be eager to serve; 2) Be ready to suffer.
A twelve-year-old won a backstage pass to meet her favorite vocalist. As she was shaking hands with the pop star the fan blurted: “I would give anything to sing like you!” “Anything?” the star answered while wiping the sweat of her performance from her eyes. “Would you give eight hours a day to practice?”
It takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of practice to become a great musician, athlete, or artist. Yet even if you achieve greatness in one of those areas, your accolades won’t follow you into the next life. Your Olympic medal will melt in the fires of Judgment Day and so will your Grammy award. Do you want to be forever great? Then be eager to serve, and be ready to suffer. That’s the way to forever-greatness says Jesus. Let’s find out more as we turn to our sermon text.
The brothers James and John, two disciples of Jesus, thought that becoming great depended not so much on what you know but on who you know. And so together with their mother (who is mentioned in the Matthew 20 account but not in Mark 10) they came to Jesus and said: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35). Have you tried walking into corporate headquarters with your mom to say to the CEO: “I want you to do me a big favor. Will you say yes?” Most CEOs would toss you out of the office if not fire you on the spot for such presumptuousness. Jesus could have done the same thing – especially because he knew what James and John had in mind. But he patiently let them make their request: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). James and John wanted to be forever great and they thought Jesus could make that happen. They must have been surprised then when Jesus said that it wasn’t up to him to assign those places of honor.
Jesus never did say who would be sitting at his left and at his right in eternal glory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Moses there. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would be a good candidate too, but so would you! Really? Could it be that one of you will be sitting right next to Jesus on Judgment Day? Sure. The way to forever-greatness is simple: be eager to serve. Jesus put it like this: “…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” (Mark 10:42-44).
With a couple of verses Jesus destroys the world’s paradigm for greatness. The world says that you are great if you’re at the top and have a lot of people under you doing your bidding. Not so, explains Jesus. Those who are great are at the bottom serving and supporting everyone else. Students, do you want to be the greatest in your class? Volunteer to re-shelve the books in the reading corner even though you didn’t make the mess. Be eager to clean up the kitchen after supper even though it’s not your turn to do so. Husbands, do you want to be the greatest marriage partner? Get in the habit of asking your spouse: “What can I do for you?” You’ll really prove your greatness when you ask that question right after coming off of a twelve-hour shift at work.
We’re usually open to serving those who are appreciative of our efforts but Jesus wants us to know that those who are really great serve even when there is no good reason to do so. Jesus himself sets the example. Our Savior said: “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” (Mark 10:45). Although the title “Son of Man” emphasizes that Jesus is true man and therefore humble, the title was first used in the Old Testament book of Daniel. There the Son of Man appears in God’s glorious presence and is given all authority and power. That awesome Son of Man was now making it clear to his disciples and to us that he did not think it was beneath him to give his life to save sinners. What Jesus did is not the same as a father giving up his life to save his children from a burning car. It’s like a father giving up his life to save the drunk driver who recklessly killed the father’s children in a horrific crash. Would you save and serve a scoundrel like that?