Mission: Serve Mark 10:35-45
2/10/2019 3:28:04 AM
February 3, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Mark 10:35-45
Why do you do what you do? Do you do it out of fear of punishment if you don’t do it? Do you do it out of hope to gain something for yourself, even to gain a “good feeling”? Why do you do what you do?
It’s not often I can give a show a “pastor seal of approval” but Father Brown is one such show. The show is based on a character created by Christian author G K Chesterton and centres around a Catholic priest who, using logic and deduction, solves complicated crimes. Father Brown has a complicated relationship with Inspector Mallory of the local police department. The police don’t like Brown interfering in crimes, but he brings results!
Inspector Mallory is a dedicated policeman, but he’s angry and bitter and usually antagonistic. In one episode Amy and I watched recently, Inspector Mallory’s job is up for review and, in order to pad his resume, he has to show some involvement in the local community. He chooses to join the lawn bowling club and we can see him here sleeping as the game goes on.
Mallory is not actually interested in being involved in the life of the community where he serves. So he chooses a way to be involved that doesn’t involve “bell ringing” in the church bell choir or anything strenuous. He admits that he’s only doing this for the sake of padding his resume. He is afraid of losing his job if he isn’t involved in the community. He hopes to gain job security by “joining” the lawn bowling club. He quits as soon as his job is secure!
Martin Luther, the great Reformer, develops this in the introduction to his commentary on Romans. “Outwardly you keep the law with works out of fear of punishment or love of gain…. You’d rather act otherwise if the law didn’t exist.” [Martin Luther, “Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.”] We so often do things, especially “religious works,” out of fear of punishment or love of gain. We don’t do it because our heart delights in the law of God. We do it because of the results of following or not following the law of God.
Luther is talking about how our relationship with God is restored- the technical term is “justification.” He’s talking about how works of religious obedience don’t actually fulfill the law because, without faith, they are just done out of fear of punishment or love of gain. When the Holy Spirit brings new life, when the Spirit brings us to faith and creates a new heart in us and writes God’s law on our hearts, we start to fulfill God’s law out of actual love for God and what he says!
The principle applies more broadly, though, as to why we do what we do even after we come to faith. Why do we obey God’s law? Why do we do “Christian” things? Why do we read our Bibles, go to church, tithe on our income or serve at church? Do we do it out of fear of punishment if we don’t? Do we do it out of love of gain? Maybe we like getting a pat on the back from the pastor or other people at church? Maybe we like the good feeling inside when we do something “charitable”? Maybe we like the tax deduction for our donations? Or maybe we actually love doing these things because we love God and what he says! Maybe we love people create in God’s image?
We’re going to look at a passage in Mark 10. At first, it may not be obvious that this passage connects to serving, but it’s about what motives us, what drives us.
Jesus is heading for Jerusalem. His disciples are eager that he is going to “finally” fulfill his mission to be the Messiah and get rid of the Romans. The crowds following Jesus were afraid, perhaps because they also thought Jesus was going to kick out the Romans and it would mean war!
What It Says
James and John were brothers. John was known as “the beloved disciple” and went on to write the Gospel of John and the 3 Epistles of John. James and John were important disciples. They were part of the “inner circle” of 3 disciples in whom Jesus really invested time and energy. They come to Jesus and ask for a special
favor because of this status. “Do for us whatever we ask.” They then ask for positions of power and honour when Jesus comes into his glory.
To sit at the right and left hand of a king was to hold positions of high honour and power. What James and John didn’t realize, though, was how, exactly, Jesus was going to come into his glory! Even though he had just told them at the beginning of their journey that he was going to be betrayed and killed but later rise in 3 days.
Jesus challenges them if they’re really prepared to join him in glory if it means first joining him in suffering! He asks if they are prepared to drink the cup and be baptised with the same baptism Jesus was going to experience.
In the Old Testament, “cup” was an image used for God’s wrath and punishment and was associated with suffering. In Greek culture, baptism had become an image of being overwhelmed by calamity, like we would say “we are swamped.” [David Garland, p. 412] James and John naively answer “yes” that they will go through suffering with Jesus to get to the other side!
Jesus agrees that they will experience suffering like him, but that it’s not within his authority to grant who will sit on his left and right. The places on Jesus’ left and right would be occupied by two thieves when Jesus came into his glory. The crucifixion is the only other place where Mark uses the vocabulary of “sit at your left and right” [David Garland, p. 411] This is not exactly what James and John had in mind!
When the other 10 disciples heard about the conversation James and John had with Jesus, they were indignant- because they were upset James and John had beat them to the punch! The other disciples also wanted positions of power alongside Jesus.
Jesus rebukes them all! He uses the illustration of the Gentile rulers who lord their power over others. This would immediately bring to mind the local Roman authorities! Jesus is actually comparing the disciples to the hated Romans! He’s saying, “You hate the Romans for their abuse of power and authority. But your attitude is just like theirs! You’re seeking positions of power so that you can enforce your will on others!”
This should not be so with Jesus’ followers! The path to greatness in God’s kingdom is the path of servanthood because that is the path Jesus walked. That’s what Jesus is saying- he came to serve others, not to be served himself. Then, Jesus touches on the core of this whole topic- the core of the gospel itself! “The Son of Man came… to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ransom means deliverance by purchase either of a slave or a prisoner of war.
Jesus gave his life to redeem, ransom or rescue sinners from slavery to sin. The Greek politician Demosthenes cites the law that one who was ransomed becomes the property of the one who freed him. We’ve talked about this before about how a slave would use a temple priest as a mediator to buy his or her freedom and the slave then became the property of that god. So when Jesus speaks of giving his life as a ransom for many, those many people then become the “property” of Jesus! They become his!
What It Means
What does this all mean? This passage sheds light on the selfishness of our hearts. James and John were disciples of Jesus. They knew Jesus. They followed him. They’d been his students, day and night, every day of the week for 3 years! Jesus had just finished telling them in Mark 9 that the greatest in the kingdom must be like a child! But they didn’t get it. They were still self-centred, along with the rest of the disciples!
Knowing Jesus and following his teaching does not mean your heart has been changed! We see this in the disciples! They were still motivated by selfish gain. “While Jesus is talking about all that he is about to give, the disciples come with a shopping list of all they want to get.” [David Garland, p. 414] Many of us today still come to Jesus with a shopping list of what we want to get from being his follower. We are slow to get the message that greatness in the kingdom comes from childlike obedience and service to others.
The core of the issue is Jesus giving his life as a ransom for many. Jesus uses the imagery of drinking from a cup and being baptised. Remember, the cup is a symbol of God’s wrath and punishment. Drinking from a cup is a sign of suffering for sin. Isaiah has many of these images in the passage about the Suffering Servant.
Jesus sets the stage by introducing the cup and baptism imagery. He then completes the lesson with “ransom” language is giving his life for others. We are all slaves to sin and owe a debt we cannot pay. Jesus’ last words almost seem like a “throw away line” but they are, in fact, the centre of the issue This is why we must be ransomed by Jesus! We cannot earn our way out. We cannot be justified with God on our own work or merit.
We must, instead, put our faith in Jesus to do this work of reconciliation for us!
That’s what Luther was talking about in terms of good or religious works. It is then that the Spirit starts the work of transforming our hearts to love God and love God’s law so that we do it regardless of the consequences.
Our Lord Jesus lived a life of self-giving service and sacrifice. That is the only greatness recognized by God. [Garland, p. 416] So when Jesus says the path to greatness is to be the servant of all, he’s not restricting his followers to living in last place and slavery, but rather redefines the PATH to greatness! Jesus is the model of greatness in the Kingdom of God and his followers are to follow his example and life of service to greatness. But not out of a sense or desire for reward. That’s no longer self-giving! Rather, based on Jesus’ ransom for us, we are to cooperate with the Spirit to have our character transformed to be like Jesus, giving of ourselves in service because we love God and love people.
Through Jesus’ ransom for us, the Spirit can enter our hearts to transform our motives for action and our attitude towards God’s law. As Luther said, without faith and the justifying work of Jesus on our behalf, our motives for good works, for obeying God’s law, are always self-centred. We serve out of fear of punishment or love of gain. But, when we put our faith in Jesus and cooperate with the Spirit’s transforming work on our character, we come to love God’s law for its own sake and follow it even if it wasn’t law! We hearts start to become self-giving instead of self-seeking and out of our hearts our mouths speak and our will moves our actions.
So how do we apply this? What difference does this make? One good thing is that we see in the New Testament that John eventually gets it! After the indwelling of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, John is late able to write in his letter, 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
This passage also indicates the degree to which selfish ambition and rivalry were the raw materials from which Jesus had to form the leadership for the early church! [William Lane, p. 382] And let me be clear- we are no better than the disciples! At least when James and John came to Jesus the resurrection hadn’t happened yet!
But there is hope! As we see, John eventually got it. So did the other disciples. How? Through the work of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus. So there is hope for us too!
Our actions are less important than our motives. This was Luther’s point. From the outside, two people may perform the same action, the same good work, for example giving money to the poor. We judge the outside. We see the action and think they are equal. But God examines the heart! God knows if the first person gave in order to be congratulated or thanked for his donation, but the second person gave because God has given first to him. God sees the difference. The first is not fulfilling God’s law, but the second is!
In the Old Testament this was a constant problem for Israel’s worship. God, through his prophets, repeatedly rebukes Israel for going through the right motions, but with the wrong attitude of heart and no follow through the rest of the time! They bring the right sacrifices, but do nothing for the poor or to uphold justice when they’re not at the temple! Their outward actions are right, but their motives are wrong because their hearts have not been changed.
Why do you serve? Why don’t you serve? At Priory, we want to see broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ. We’ve talked about our mission of being a community in which to belong, grow and serve. Belonging is that relationship word koinonia – it’s about our relationships reflecting the fact that our relationship with God is fixed.
To grow means to grow to be like Jesus, to grow in agape love, which then shapes all our interactions with people. To serve means to give of yourself like Jesus did, not for gain but for love of God. The path to greatness is to be the servant of all! That means serving others out of self-giving love. It means having your heart transformed by the Spirit so that you’re genuinely concerned with the well-being of others and that your concern turns into action to serve others.
Step 1- repent of serving out of selfish motives, or not serving because of selfishness. Examine why you serve or why you don’t serve. Ask God to shed light on your motives. Do you think you’re too busy to serve at church? Do you think the tasks needing to be done are beneath you? Do you want to serve in areas that are prestigious or will get you thanks and congratulations? Do you serve in order to have a sense of purpose and
usefulness? If so, repent! Turn back to God.
Or do you serve out of fear? Do you serve because you’re afraid that if you don’t serve God will punish you? Or do you serve out of fear for the church, that if you don’t serve the church will collapse, or decline or a particular ministry won’t get done? Or do you serve out of fear that people will think less of you if you don’t? If so, repent! Turn back to God. Turn your trajectory so you’re heading straight to God in your serving.
Do you not serve? Why not? Do you think your time is too valuable to serve? Do you think your job, your family, or your friends or personal life are too high a priority to serve at church? Does that sound self-giving to you? Does it seem like that reflects an attitude like Jesus? If you’re not serving in any capacity, repent! Turn back to God. Consider what God has done for you and how you can respond by doing for others.
If that’s what we are to repent of, what are we to turn to? What are we to do? What does it mean to serve at Priory? At Priory, we want to be a community in which to serve out of a sincere love of Jesus. We want you to serve not because stuff needs to get done (it does), not because ministry will grind to a halt without you (it will), but because you are so thankful to Jesus for giving his life as a ransom for yours that you give back in response. We want people to serve because it is an opportunity to practice being like Jesus. We want you to serve because it’s a way to put your agape love for Jesus into practice. It’s a way to practice and grow in loving other people.
This is the path to greatness in the Kingdom of God! Martin Luther King Jr. said it well, “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
We want to be a community in which to serve because that is the path to greatness in the Kingdom of God. It is the greatness God recognizes. It is agape love put into practice. It is a way to grow in your love of God by loving other people. It is a testimony to what Jesus has done for you. It is a way of showing gratitude to Jesus for ransoming you and making you his own. This is why we want you to serve. This is how we want you to serve. This is part of finding your own healing through the love of Christ as well as helping others find healing to.
So don’t serve just to pad your spiritual resume. Don’t serve out of fear of punishment. Don’t serve out of love of gain, whether it be a gain in appreciation and thanks or even the gain of doing something good. These things may be part of your experience of serving, but they should not be your motive for serving. So serve, serve like Jesus, serve others for Jesus. In doing so, you will find a new sense of belonging, you will find yourself growing and you will find yourself being made whole through the love of Christ. Amen.
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