Walking Like The Servant King (Part 1) – Mark 9:33-37
My family immigrated to the US in the early ‘80s. Since then, we have always tried going back every few years. I remember on one particular trip, we decided to do some shopping in one of the bigger cities around. However, we were warned by our relatives not to get ripped off by merchants who prey on foreign visitors. So to arm ourselves, we decided on two things. First, we were going to take our uncle, who lived there, along on our trip. He would be able to tell us if we were getting a good deal or not. Secondly, my dad thought we should not try to give ourselves away that we were American. So my dad decided to dress like a South Indian (as opposed to?). He put on some sandals, carefully rolled up the sleeves of his favorite polyester shirt, untucked it and wore his pants kind of baggy (apparently that was the style). My mom and sister wore traditional dresses. I tried my best to dress like my dad, even though I felt really uncomfortable.
So off we went to the city. But guess what? Every single person (almost) stared at us everywhere we went! And when you’re in India, they don’t stare discreetly. They gaze for miles and miles it seems like following you all the way down the street with their eyes. And the guy at one of the stores did try to rip us off. We were amazed. When we were coming home, we asked our uncle how they knew we were from America. With a smirk on his face, he replied, “Well, first of all, you kept saying “yeah” for everything. We don’t use that word around here. Second of all, everyone could tell you all were American by the way you walked. You walk with your head held high. We don’t walk like that.”
Did you hear that? From the way we talked and the way we walked, people could tell we were different. Our identity as Americans naturally affected everything we did and even said, no matter how hard we tried to hide it.
How should a disciple of the Servant King walk? What does it mean to walk like He walked? Bijoy was sharing with me the other day that when he started his new job he decorated his cubicle with old church conference theme stickers and bible verses, but his co-worker came by and said, “Oh, are you Buddhist?” Man!Bijoylooked at me and basically asked, “How do I love Him boldly?” How can I walk in a way that people know without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt that I am the Servant King’s disciple?
I was reading this week that Christ’s followers on mission are people who “…intentionally look out their window and see a neighbor and decide to act like they’re going to check the mail, just so they might strike up a conversation.” I read that to Jenny and said, “I do the complete opposite.” I look out the window and if I see my neighbors out, I wait until they are inside so I can check the mail and not strike up a conversation (especially if they have their dog with them). I am not walking like Him or after Him with that posture of fear and self-preservation.
Our series in the Gospel of Mark has been called “the Servant King.” The first half of Mark (chs. 1-8) has been hinting at the identity of the Servant King. He has come with authority over death, disease, demons, traditions and even nature. However, this authority was never in the form to impress or simply dominate but to serve. Then in Mark 8:31 and many times since, the Servant King reveals His mission clearly. In the ultimate act of giving up power to serve others, He reveals to His disciples that He has come to die and that anyone who wants to followHim, must also walk a similar path.
The disciples never seem to get it. They wanted a King to rule and overrule and they wanted to be right there by His side as warriors are behind their General. Today we are going to see what it means walk like the Servant King. We will look at one mark of the walk today:
- Walk as a Humble Servant (vv.33-37)
Peter, James and John just got to see a preview of Jesus in glory on a mountain (Mark 9:1-8), the other disciples were down in the valley trying to help a demon-possessed boy, but failed to do so until Jesus showed up (Mark 9:14-29).
Now as they are walking home to Capernaum, Peter, Andrew, James and John’s hometown, where most of the ministry in Galilee took place, Jesus says yet again in Mark 9:31 that He will die and then rise again. Again, Mark tells us that the disciples don’t understand. Jesus has come to serve others in humility, even to the point of death. The truly Great One urges them to go on mission via the road of self-sacrifice, but instead the disciples go full speed in the opposite direction. Take note:
- a) Self-serving kills mission
After this somber statement in vv.30-32, we have a comical yet tragic scene. One can picture Christ walking in silence on His way to His sacrificial death, His heart almost coming out of His chest into His hands, while his straggling disciples push and shove, trying to establish the order of the procession behind him.They were arguing, meaning vigorously discussing for some timeabout which disciple was greater than the other.
Perhaps the fact that Peter, James, and John had gone on the mount with Jesus had added some fuel to the fires of competition.They have imbibed the wine of rank, placement, and self-importance, and they import it into their fellowship with Jesus. See the irony? On the way to Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, they talk of personal advancement.Are we more interested in advancing ourselves personally or the Kingdom? His Kingdom comes means my kingdom go. It is hard to walk in the Servant King’s sandals to serve others, when my life is about keeping up with the Joneses with the size of my house, number of children, salary, positions, etc.
Pride is competitive, as C.S. Lewis would say. Pride gets its pleasure not from having something but from having more of it than the next guy. We cannot advance His Kingdom when we are consumed with advancing our own personal kingdom of self and competing with others kingdoms. I see it in myself when I am consumed with the latest gadgets and phones to increase my comfort.
Let me say that one of the reasons this church is where it is today is because the Lord has continually brought people who want to serve and contribute, not make demands and consume. We have people willing to serve without demands. I think I took you all for granted and was naïve in thinking everyone is like that. When people are too big to serve in the small things, then they are too small to serve in the big things.
This spirit of competition, wanting positions, status, self-importance can be inside the church as well. Commentator David Garland says, “A church filled with prima donnas who want to control everything rarely ministers effectively to those inside or outside the fellowship. Everyone is too busy trying to direct others rather than trying to get the job done.”Mission then dies because mission is about others and being sent for others.
- b) Self-serving kills unity
Once the disciples are about who’s #1, unity is automatically destroyed. There is no mission without unity. John Macarthur says, “Pride destroys unity and they were at each other’s necks, climbing on each other to elevate themselves.”
- c) Servanthood is an identity
Jesus wants to expose this heart like a good surgeon who opens a wound not to hurt it, but to heal it. So at probably Peter’s house, He asks them what they were talking about on the way there. They were silent. The picture is here is of grown men acting like guilty schoolboys before the teacher, an impression which is only heightened when Jesus goes on to use a child as an example to them. Jesus knows exactly the content of their squabble, either from overhearing them or because He’s God! He sits down, which means it is time for a talk with His boys.
“If anyone,” meaning that whatever He is about to say applies to all in the kingdom, not just to the Twelve, “would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Notice that as Commentator James Edwards says,“Jesus does not exactly repudiate prominence and greatness, but he redefines them. The challenge is to be great in things that matter to God. Nothing is greater in God’s eyes than giving, and no vocation affords the opportunity to give more than that of a servant (10:43).”
Greatness in His kingdom was not determined by status but by service (cf. 10:43–45).Scotty Smith notes, “Being first is no longer calculated by how many [people under us], rather, by how many people we serve. [He has] changed the value and price tags for everything.”Notice the small word “be.” Servingothers is not a strategy or a position or even an activity. The point I had originally was “Walk in Humble Service.” But that’s wrong. That’s an activity. Jesus is calling us to an identity. Listen to Richard Foster: “…We must see the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When we choose to serve, we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve…But when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. There is great freedom in this…When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable.” Is servanthood our identity or an activity?
I know servanthood is an activity and not an identity when I can leave church serving people but going home and neglecting my family; not caring, nourishing, cherishing, listening (without multi-tasking with a device) and loving my wife or turning from into Drill Sargent Robin/Incredible Hulk barking orders at my kids instead of nurturing, listening, having heart conversations and so on. I want to be served more than to serve when at home. This is because servanthood is just an activity not an identity. What about at work?
Nearly 70 of Americans cite work as a major source of stress in their lives; over half of Americans report being unsatisfied and unhappy with their jobs. Adam Grant, a researcher at the Wharton School of Business, offers some simple advice to find more satisfaction: become a giver at work.
Based on his research, Grant has identified three basic kinds of workers: takers, matchers, and givers. Takers see the workplace as a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. “If I don’t look out for myself first,” takers think, “no one will.” Matchers believe that work relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors. In contrast, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them. Their hallmark is generosity at work.Givers, he says, are focused on others, takers are focused on themselves, and matchers care above all about fairness.
Most people are givers in their personal relationships. They act selflessly and try to contribute more than they take with those they love. But when these people enter the workforce, their style of interacting with others changes dramatically. Surprisingly, Grant has found that only 8 percent of people describe themselves as givers at work. That’s because most people assume that in the workplace givers will never get ahead in their career. Also, when people are stressed out at work, their first instinct is to retreat into a taker mentality. But Grant’s research consistently shows that givers are among the most successful people in business. They may also be the happiest.
Grant asks a question that’s relevant to every follower of Christ: “Would you rather achieve success [at work] that comes at the expense of others or in ways that lift other people up?”Jesus says the posture of a servant for others everywhere as one’s identity is what it means to walk like the Servant King.
- d) Serve without strings
To illustrate His point, Jesus takes a child into His arms. In order to understand this, you have to remember that Judaism at this time was not a child-loving society. If someone took a picture of this scene in our day, with Jesus and the child on His lap, it would have a million likes and lots of comments saying, “Adorbs!” or “OMG so cute!” etc. In that day, if there wasfacebook, He would have gotten no likes or comments. People would hide that status and scroll right by it as you would do an ad. It was insignificant. Children and women were ranked pretty low on the “privileged status and important” pole.The rabbis classified children with the deaf, the dumb, the weak-minded, and slaves.In other words, they were considered those were “last.”
Don’t get this scene confused with other scenes where Jesus tells us to be like children (like in Mark 10:13-16). The point here is not to be like children, “but to be like Jesus who embraces them. It is Jesus, not the child, who here demonstrates what it means to be ‘the servant of all.’ It is in the small and powerless that God appears to the world.” These are the people who have no accomplishments, influence, fame, or gifts…[these are the] simple, the humble, the ordinary. Receive them, meaning to be concerned about, care for and to show kindness to them.
If one wants to be great, one should shower attention on those who are regarded as insignificant, as Jesus himself has done…when his followers serve those without any status, they receive Jesus and the One who sent him. The greatest thing they can do is serve those who are forgotten and regarded as insignificant. The humblest act of kindness sets off a chain reaction that shakes heaven itself, for whatever is done to the little and least is done to Jesus, and whatever is done to Jesus is done to God! Serve without strings attached.
In other words, serve people and places where no one is watching. Our flesh hates that. Serve people who can’t give you anything back. A lot of our service is utilitarian, meaning we serve or give in order to get something. So we pick and choose who we want to serve because we get something from them. I served you so now you have to pay your dues!Here Jesus is calling for hidden service, where you don’t necessarily get anything out of for yourselves. Foster again: “The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honour and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify our pride and arrogance.”
So talk to the awkward co-worker or neighbor or classmate everyone else ignores. Listen to their story. They might not want you to serve them. The point is to take an identity and posture of servanthod everywhere. Have someone over without overcomplicating hospitality and posting about it on social media. Serve in nursery or children’s ministry. Especially in nursery, those babies will take, take and take everything from you and you don’t get anything back except spit-ups and dirty diapers. They won’t even remember you did this for them. But it is in serving them that Heaven takes notice and you experience the Gospel because all we have ever done is take, take, take from our Servant King, but for the joy set before Him, He served us all the way, giving it all away for us, even though it meant His death.
If you leave here today thinking, “Alright! I’m going to be like Jesus and be a servant!” Good luck because if Jesus is simply your model, you are in trouble trying to live up that standard.If that’s how we leave here, then as soon as the serving gets too hard, like when someone’s need starts swallowing up your time and limiting your freedom, you’re out. As soon as somebody doesn’t appreciate you or give you thanks and your need for approval starts to show, you’re out.
Even last night as I was going to check the mail, God checked my heart. My neighbor was outside with her dog and told me how lonely she was without her husband, who was in Spain for a few weeks. The Spirit of God immediately asked me to ask her to come over for dinner. I was reluctant and hesitant, worried about my time and convenience. Finally I blurted out, “You want dinner come to house with?” or something like that. I can’t even articulate care for someone. I felt so upset at my selfishness and lack of heart for others. I need something more than a self-motivated inspiration to just be like Jesus.
We need something else to keep us going.
In order for us to be humble servants of Christ, we need to see that more than a model,we need a Savior to save us from this problem of being self-promoting servants of self. Before Jesus can say, “Let me show you how to live like me,” we have to hear Him saying, “Let me show you why I died for you.”
I was picturing this little child here in the crook of Jesus’ arms welcomed by Him. I wonder as He looks at the disciples and says, “Be last. Greatness is being a servant of all,” that He realizes that in order to bring us to true greatness, He Himself had to become the servant of all. He is God’s beloved Son. He is called the “firstborn” (Col. 1:15). Not that He was created, as that is a title symbolizing His position, His status and privilege. He is first. He had His Father’s delight. His Father called him “beloved.” He was robed in His father’s righteousness, love, affection, significance and delight. He had His Father’s smile. He had it all. All of the blessing of the firstborn given to Him.
But what happens at the cross? On the cross, He cries out, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” He doesn’t even call Him Father. Hewho knew no sin, selflessly gave up (Ultimate Giver) all of the privileges of the firstborn and is treated as a slave of sin so we who are self-seeking, entitlement driven slaves of sin (ultimate takers) can be treated like a firstborn son. He becomes the servant of all when He dies the death we should have died. He who was first became last. The Son of God became an outcast, to bring us into God’s arms as a child. When we believe in Jesus, we receive what is too hard to believe and too good to be true: we get the firstborn blessing. In Hebrews 12:23 it says we are part of “the church of the firstborn.”The church of the firstborn? What kind of family has nothing in it but firstborn? How can you have 10 kids and every one of them is the firstborn? It’s impossible, absolutely impossible. Even if you have quintuplets, one of them is going to be firstborn. Not in the family of God.
What this teaches us is that the love, blessing, affirmation we experience from the Father when we stand on the basis of Jesus’ work and righteousness, and what He did for us on the cross, makes us feel like we are the only one in the world, and the most loved person who ever lived. We experience exactly what it feels like to be the firstborn. God makes us feel like “there is no one like you.” God forever treats us like a firstborn! Self-seeking sinners of this great a magnitude is loved with this kind of great a magnitude?!
When the truth of the Gospel keeps on hitting your heart like that, how can we not offer everything to Him for His service? Love so amazing and so divine, demands my life, my soul and my all. When the Gospel hits us like that, He won’t have to demand everything from us, but we will freely give it away. May the Spirit of God help us to be servants, for His name’s sake.
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