Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
If we cannot make sense of these words, then neither will we make sense of anything our Lord Jesus tells us.
This message is counter-intuitive. It’s illogical, unnatural, unbelievable.
Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit was sent to us, because apart from receiving the Holy Spirit, we can NOT take these words to heart on our own. Even listening to the greatest teacher, our Lord Jesus himself, was not enough to make people believe if the Spirit wasn’t also at work.
Jesus often told parables, which would confus most people, but he also would speak plainly. This morning Jesus laid it all out on the table. He said: we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
Notice the specific details. Jesus left hardly anything to the imagination. He described it all! But mankind cannot place our faith in this on our own. Our sinful flesh rebels any chance we get.
Many were following Jesus at this point. The Jews had waited long enough for the Messiah, and here he was! It’s not hard to get behind a guy who can make the lame to run, and give sight to the blind. But those were just shadows of what was to come.
If Jesus could do those miracles, surely he could march right into Jerusalem, reclaim the throne of David, and begin his eternal reign as king right then and there! That sounds intuitive to us, it’s natural, it’s logical, it’s believable.
It’s what James and John had on their mind at least. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
They might very well have thought that Jesus was marching into Jerusalem to take that throne any moment, and they wanted to be right there with him, at his right and at his left.
Little did they know what his moment of glory would be; not seated upon a throne, but splayed out in his crucifixion. There would be one on his right and one on his left, not in seats of worldly honor, but likewise giving up their last breaths in this world.
Jesus replied to James and John You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
James and John would receive the baptism Jesus gives, as well as the cup. All of his followers even today do. We know them as the sacraments: Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We receive them, and they connect us to Jesus’ death. Our sinful flesh is drowned in baptism, and in receiving our Lord’s body and blood, we participate in the very sacrifice that has accomplished our salvation. Partaking of Lord’s baptism and cup is about connecting ourselves to his death. If we connect ourselves to his death, then we also connect ourselves to his life in the resurrection.
But in all this, even our Lord Jesus did not go about following his own will, but he did the will of his Father in heaven. Jesus comes to save us in his death, but he does not command respect ultimately for himself, but points us likewise to his Father, and he teaches us to pray to him as Our Father.
It’s easy to criticize James and John for their question. The other 10 disciples showed their selfish hearts too, with anger and annoyance towards the brothers. They may not have been so presumptions or bold to ask, but they sure didn’t want anyone else rising above them.
So Jesus preaches them the hard truth: Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
This message doesn’t sit well with us at all. But it’s the message Jesus gives us. It’s the example and path our Lord paved for us. It’s a part of receiving his baptism and receiving his cup. Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If the king of kings is a servant, how much more as his people should we be servants? But first, let us be served by our Lord. That’s what we’re here now doing, sitting at our Lord’s feet to hear his teaching from Holy Scripture. We’ve received his baptism, we’re preparing to receive his cup. We ought to be servants, but we need to be served first.
Having received from our Lord Jesus, who would deign even to wash his disciples feet, then take this humility and service with you. We are all given different vocations, different stations in this life. Some are called to be leaders, others are followers. Some are parents, grandparents, all are children. No matter where God has placed us, we can be servants.
Those under authority should serve their leaders, not in rebellion, but in recognizing that God grants authority to give peaceful order. Those who have been called to authority might have a greater responsibility, a greater challenge of service. They must resist the temptation to rise to arrogance, but with a humble confidence they are to put the needs of others first. Leaders must provide the service of confidently leading, even while taking criticism and pushback, for the sake of serving others, even as others may not recognize it.
In all callings, let our Lord Jesus be our example. He obeyed and served the will of his Father. He led and served his people even as they doubted, disbelieved, or mocked him. In all things he was a servant.
Leave your arrogance and selfish ambition at the door. Come, be served by our Lord Jesus, and then carry his example wherever you go, serving wherever God has placed you.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.