This is the one-hundred-forty-sixth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
In the days leading to Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem and the events that would result in his death and resurrection, his disciples were asking all the wrong questions. Jesus tells them about his impending death, and a couple of them, James and John, were concerned about where they would end up. As Mark tells the story…
He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
(Mark 10:32-37, 41-44)
In what was the worst moment for brothers James and John, they chose the occasion of Jesus’ ominous prediction of his suffering to see if there was something in it for them. “Do for us whatever we ask,” they said. (A remarkable request!) Can we have the elite spots beside you?
Some questions are innocent and open-minded; others reveal that we are completely confused. “You don’t know that you are asking,” Jesus said (v. 38). By this he meant: “Are you really that anxious to be by my side when I am slaughtered? Would you like your own crosses? Do you really want to focus on your own status and power? Have you missed everything I’ve been trying to teach you?”
“No,” Jesus told them, “if you want to be great—really great—then you must become slaves and servants of all.”
And then Jesus made this most amazing statement: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). He was the fulfillment of the “suffering servant” whom the prophet Isaiah had spoken of seven centuries earlier. (Isaiah 52:13–53:12) And he was the “ransom” (Isaiah 53:10-11), the one who would liberate us from the taskmasters of sin, death, and the Evil One.
What are the biggest barriers we face in giving up our status and security, and instead living lives of servanthood?
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.