“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them, and those in high position exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wants to become prominent among you shall be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Thoughts from Jodi Venhaus
Behind the Scenes
This passage follows an encounter with the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. In true motherly fashion, she comes before the Lord and pleads on behalf of her sons that they would have a place of honor in heaven. Jesus, understanding her heart, responds gently that she doesn’t know what she is asking and puts John, James, and their mother back in their place.
Upon hearing this request, however, the other disciples become indignant. Assuming that John and James think they are better than the others, they are frustrated and begin arguing. But Jesus interrupts their arguing with the passage above. He puts an end to the self-promoting mentality that had started to take hold and instead brings a heavenly perspective.
First, Jesus draws their attention to how others (the rulers of the Gentiles) have used their position to oppress others. He is drawing to their minds something that they surely saw on a daily basis as they lived in an area that was occupied and oppressed by Roman rule. Not only did they see it, but they hated it. They would have understood the parallel and it most likely would have humbled them all. This reference would have been Jesus’ way of essentially saying, “Every day you’re faced with what this attitude looks like in a practical way and you see that it hurts people. Don’t be like that.”
And then Jesus flips the norm on its head. He calls them to a standard of living that flew in the face of how most of humanity thinks and lives. See, Jesus has this backwards way of thinking about success that had to have stumped the disciples. I know it stumps a lot of us still today. Jesus says to be prominent, become a servant; to be first, become a slave. Essentially, to be on top, put yourself below others. To be the best, let others win. To be the leader, learn to serve.
But he doesn’t just leave them or us with a confusing riddle. Instead, He wraps up this section by giving us an example to follow… Himself. The Son of God, a piece of the Holy Trinity, came to this world not as a ruler or a king. He was born in a stable and came with the intended purpose to give His life for us all. It was always the plan. Not only did He come to die for us, but He also came to live for us! He came to serve us.
Make it Real
I’m always astonished how we can live separated from the disciples by 2000 years thousands of miles, and huge cultural differences, and yet the inner workings of their heart and ours are still the same. The struggles they faced are so incredibly similar to our own. I can identify with both James and John as well as the disciples in this story. I’ve seen and been guilty of this comparison and wrestling for power.
In the same way that the disciples would have felt the chastening of this passage, we too, when we hear Jesus’ heart behind these words should feel ourselves humbled. In the world around us, we are told over and over that to be on top we must “step on the little guy.” But that isn’t God’s way… in fact, it’s just the opposite. Christ calls us to serve even when we don’t want to. He calls us to be willing to humble ourselves and to lift others above ourselves; to sacrifice our position to raise another up. He calls us to embrace the idea of being the lowest, the last, and the least. This is what will make us prominent in Christ’s economy. This is what it means to be great in the kingdom of Heaven.
So, we’ve got a choice to make- be prominent in the world’s eyes or in Christ’s eyes. We can’t have both. We’ve got to choose whose advice and example we’re going to follow: Either that of the world or that of Christ. And if we choose to follow Christ, we have to be ready to die to pride every day. We have to be ready to sacrifice for others. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to live like Christ. Because no other man in history ever gave so much for people who were so undeserving. If we are going to live in the light of who He is, we have to be willing to do the same.
End in Prayer
Teach me what it looks like to live like a servant. Help me to see the ways where I am struggling for prominence and success by the world’s definition and not Your definition. Help me to embrace the idea of being lowest, last, and least in order to love and serve others like You did. Help me to let go of my pride to be what You have called me to be.
In Jesus’ name,