A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Mark 10:32-45
A man sits down in a restaurant. While he waits, he looks at the menu. A waitress comes over and takes his order, writing down his fussy little needs and requests. As the different courses are made ready, she brings them to his table and takes his plates as he finishes them. The main course is not to his liking, so she takes it back to the kitchen, and brings a replacement. After he settles the bill and leaves, she clears his table and gets it ready for the next guest.
In the great pecking order of life, it is clear which of these two people is the more important. It is the one who sits, not the one who stands. It is the one who eats, not the one who must wait till later. It is the one who is served, not the one who serves.
But it is this pecking order that Jesus deliberately turned on its head by his own example. As he 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.”
The great one in the kingdom of God is the servant, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.
This morning we are looking at two important passages. One in Daniel chapter 7 and the other in Mark chapter 10. Together they work like an engine and its fuel tank. Mark chapter 10 is the engine. It is Jesus’ teaching and his example that do the work, changing our minds, changing our behaviour. Jesus is the Son of Man. But it is Daniel chapter 7 that provides the fuel of the promise of the Son of Man. Without which the engine doesn’t work. So it’s there that we are going to start first.
Daniel chapter 7 describes a vision. A dream that came to Daniel while he was asleep in his bed. In his vision, Daniel saw four beasts coming out of the storm tossed sea, one after the other. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear with three ribs between its teeth. A leopard with four wings and four heads. And a terrifying beast with iron teeth and ten horns. These four beasts represent four kingdoms which kill and crush and destroy their way across the lands of the earth.
But in Daniel’s vision their reign of terror came to an end when in the midst of the coming and going of these kingdoms, the creator God took his seat on the throne. Millions upon millions of people stood before him. For the great court of judgment was in session and the records of every life were opened and read. The beasts and their kingdoms were destroyed, but a fifth kingdom was brought near. The interpreter says that it represents the holy ones of the Most High. And this kingdom is represented, not by a lion or a bear or a leopard or a beast, but by a single human being, a son of man. While all other kingdoms act like beasts and operate by the law of the jungle, in this fifth kingdom humanity finds its true purpose, the purpose for which God made it, to fill the earth and to rule it and to care for it. And this fifth and last kingdom is given power and authority forever and ever.
This is the great hope that sustained God’s holy people. Although they worshiped the one true God, the beasts ruled the earth. And God’s holy ones were mocked and persecuted and put to death. But they knew that if they trusted God, if they didn’t forsake him, if they remained true to him, he would work in history to vindicate them and to right all wrongs. They would live to see God’s purpose fulfilled. This is the fuel that powered the hope for the coming of the kingdom of God.
For six hundred years God’s chosen people had suffered under four great kingdoms. The Babylonians. The Persians. The Greeks. And the Romans who were as brutal as monsters. Beasts, all of them. Living like parasites on the work of others. Prowling like predators among God’s little flock. And people asked, “When would the Ancient of Days sit in judgment? When would the wicked be brought to justice? When would the beasts be brought to an end? When would the time of the son of man arrive?”
And along came Jesus. Healing the sick. Casting out demons. Stilling the storm. Could this be the one who would wave his hands and cast the Roman beasts out of their country? But Jesus didn’t come as a conqueror. He was no general. He didn’t sit down in a royal robe while others served him. He served others. And welcomed the children and the poor and the weak and the sick and sent the rich and powerful away sad. And he said to his disciples,
“We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Jesus drew on Daniel chapter 7 to fuel his own work. The kingdom of God was at hand. And he, the promised Son of Man, would be exalted to the throne of the ancient of days. But it would not come at the head of an army. But by Jesus surrendering to the power of the beasts and suffering along with God’s holy ones. In fact, as God’s one, perfect, faithful holy one. The true human being, the Son of Man. Who suffers before he rises to universal power.
James and John liked that last bit about rising. They were men who wanted to be there at the coming of the Son of Man. And they wanted a piece of the action. So at the most inappropriate time, while Jesus’ words of shame and suffering were supposed to be ringing in their ears, they said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want?” asked Jesus.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”
They didn’t want much did they? During their time with Jesus, they had come to believe that the kingdom was so close they could almost touch it, and that in the kingdom, Jesus was the king. All they wanted was to sit at that great feast as his right and left hand men. Members number 2 and 3 in the kingdom club. They didn’t want much, did they?
But they hadn’t been listening. They hadn’t heard about Jesus being condemned. They hadn’t listened to how he would be handed over and mocked and flogged and killed. They only had ears for his rising. Jesus said,
“Can you drink the cup I drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
They only had eyes for the glory. They couldn’t see the suffering he had to endure to achieve it. “We can,” they answered foolishly and ignorantly. Whatever it takes, was what they planned. Anything that ended with glory had to be good.
“You will drink my cup,” said Jesus. “You will undergo my baptism. But to sit at my right or my left is not mine to give.” I mean, if Jesus was going to sit at his Father’s right hand, then the seat at his left hand was already taken.
When the other ten disciples heard what James and John had asked for, they were indignant. They were upset. They must have thought to themselves, Who do these two think they are to dare to make such a request? And why hadn’t I thought of it first?
Jesus called a timeout. He formed the disciples into a huddle. He gave them the game plan.
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them.” The law of the jungle applies in the kingdoms of beasts. Rule or be ruled. Oppress or be oppressed. Kill or be killed. Do unto others before they do unto you.
“Not so with you,” said Jesus. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.”
Ultimately, the truth of Jesus’ teaching about greatness in the kingdom comes from the example of the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man.” He’s not talking about what the nobodies in the kingdom do. The maids and the garbage collectors and the other underlings. Even the Son of Man. Even the one who rides on the clouds to receive the kingdom from the creator God, him right there at the top, even he did not come to be served. He did not come to sit down and to be waited on. He came to stand and serve.
And the ultimate expression of his service was when he gave himself. He didn’t give a part of his belongings. He didn’t give a tenth or a half. He didn’t give all of his belongings. He didn’t give a part of himself. In giving his life he gave all of himself and held back nothing. He gave himself, all he was, all he had from first cry to last breath, he gave as a ransom. A price paid to purchase freedom.
Freedom for the slaves. Freedom for those in prison. Freedom for those enslaved not just by the beast kingdoms of earth but by their own beastly nature. Freedom for those who act like animals. Freedom to find their own true humanity, their true purpose and destiny. Freedom for us from ourselves. The Son of Man, Jesus, paid the price. He gave himself to the beasts and they did their worst to him on the cross. Flogged him half to death and mocked him as he died. He drank that cup of wrath from his Father. He was baptized in that suffering like being dragged into bottomless depths. He paid the ransom price to set the beasts free from themselves. So that trusting in him, they might die to the law of the jungle and rise again and live a new life. A life based not on violence and oppression but on love and service. For the great ones in the kingdom of the Son of Man serve, because the greatest in the kingdom became the servant of us all.
In conclusion, Jesus, the Son of God, the true Son of Man, calls us firstly to be served by him. He calls us to faith in him. He calls us by faith to let his ransom set us free. In the jungle, it is the fittest and the strongest who survive. But in the kingdom of the Son of Man it is the meek who will inherit the earth. Because the world teaches us that we must strive, that we must achieve, that we must work to justify ourselves. That we must win at all costs and at the expense of others or we will lose.
But Christ teaches us to rest and to find ourselves as he justifies us. The victory over the beasts belongs to him and he invites us to share it. By his death and resurrection, he breaks the power of the beasts to rule over us and to define us. Instead we find a new life in him. We must first let him serve us and to set us free.
Only then, secondly, must we serve. For the cross is not just the instrument of our salvation. The cross is also the path we take to reach the goal of our salvation. The cross is the shape of our life. The great ones in the kingdom serve, because the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all. And he calls us to love as we’ve been loved. To forgive as we’ve been forgiven. To serve as we’ve been served. This is the true freedom, because to rule over others is just a different kind of slavery that not only robs others but ourselves of our humanity.
But the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, is the one true perfect human being. And in him and in his example, we discover what we were made for and who we were meant to be. In the great pecking order of life, it is not the one who sits, the one who is waited on, the one who is served, who is more important. It is the one who stands, the one who waits for others, the one who serves. The one like Jesus, the Son of Man.