The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2018
Make It Your Goal to Be
The Greatest— Servant!
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What are your goals in life? Whether consciously or unconsciously, whether deliberately or by default we all have certain goals that we are striving to attain in life. For a little child their goals in life usually center on having fun, playing with their friends, having a cookie even though it is almost time for supper, and talking Mom and Dad into letting them stay up past their bedtime so they can watch a certain television show. By the time that child reaches middle school or high school their goals might include making it onto the varsity sports team and winning a state championship, getting their drivers’ license, getting the best grades they can so that they qualify for a scholarship at the college or university of their choice, or simply getting good enough grades to graduate. For young adults their goals may include finding that one special person, landing their dream job or buying their first house. Middle aged adults are often focused on getting their children through college while still preparing for retirement. And without mentioning any names I know elderly people whose goals in life include being healthy enough to go out and have fun with their friends, being quick enough to snag that dessert that their kids don’t think they need and being able to stay awake long enough to watch a certain show on television!
We all have goals in our lives, my friends. And since we are all unique individuals with various interests and abilities our goals can be quite different from the person sitting next to us here in God’s house— except when it comes to our #1 goal in our life as a saved child of God. As we turn our attention to this portion of holy Scripture this morning we see that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells us what our #1 goal in life is to be as His dearly beloved brothers and sisters. Today, let’s listen closely as our Savior puts His arm across our shoulder and says: Make It Your Goal to Be the Greatest— Servant! As we look at this text under that theme we will focus our attention on three points. When it comes to the goal of being the greatest servant we can be, let’s consider the motivation, let’s consider the malady and let’s consider the method.
What is our motivation for striving to be the greatest servant we can be? The only proper motivation, the only God-pleasing motivation is highlighted in the opening verses of our text. Mark writes, “They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise again.’”
The eternal Son of God came into this world as the true Son of Man, our flesh and blood Brother, with one overriding goal— to serve us! Even though Jesus deserves to have everyone serve Him, even though Jesus has the power to compel everyone to serve Him Jesus willingly served us in the most glorious, the most awe-inspiring and the most necessary way possible— He came to die. (Pointing to the cross) He came to die for you. He came to die for me. He came to die so that through His innocent suffering and death all of our sins would be completely forgiven. And once Jesus served us by dying on the cross in our place He then served us by physically rising from the grave on the third day. He rose for you. He rose for me. He rose to guarantee that through faith in Him one day we too shall rise from our graves to live with Him forever in the glory and the joy, the perfection and the happiness of our heavenly Father’s home. Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection now serve as our motivation for striving to be the greatest servant we can possibly be!
Unfortunately, there is a malady that we also have to contend with. Unfortunately, there are obstacles that all too often keep God’s children from striving to be the greatest servants they can possibly be. Look at verses 33-34 of our text, “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”
Even though the disciples knew that Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Promised Messiah, even though the disciples knew that Jesus is this world’s only Savior from sin, the disciples completely misunderstood Jesus’ goal for coming into this world. Like many of God’s people at this time the disciples were expecting that the Messiah would establish His Kingdom right here on this earth with Jerusalem as its capital. Like many of God’s people at this time the disciples wanted the Messiah to bring the nation of Israel back to where she was in the glory days of King David and King Solomon. In line with that misunderstanding Jesus’ disciples fully anticipated that when Jesus established His Kingdom here on this earth they would be given positions of honor, power and prestige. After all, they had been hand-picked by Jesus Himself to be “the Twelve”! At the same time, however, since there were indeed twelve of them they “argued about who was the greatest.”
Isn’t that the way it often is with God’s children right down to this very day— including us? Even though we know that Jesus is our Savior, even though we know that Jesus humbly served us by suffering and dying on the cross as our Substitute we often misunderstand what His cross now means in and for our lives today. Like the disciples here in our text we argue and we tussle. Like the disciples here in our text we compare ourselves to other servants in God’s Kingdom. Like the disciples here in our text we want others to look up to us and think of us as the “greatest” pastor or the “greatest” teacher or the “greatest” friend or the “greatest” giver or the “greatest” member of our congregation. Yes, all too often, my friends, pride, jealousy and ego are the maladies, the obstacles which keep us from striving to be the greatest servant we can possibly be!
Once the cross of Jesus Christ crushes these obstacles in our hearts then we will be able to truly understand, then we will be able to truly take to heart the method for greatness that Jesus gives to us here in our text. Mark writes, “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” In the world in which you and I live the method for achieving greatness often stresses putting yourself ahead of everyone else. In the world in which you and I live the method for greatness often stresses pulling yourself up even if that means pushing others down. Jesus turns that method for achieving greatness upside down. For a child of God true greatness is achieved by putting others ahead of yourself. For a child of God true greatness is achieved by building others up even if that needs to be done at your own personal expense. For a child of God true greatness is achieved through humble service— serving our Lord by serving others.
A beautiful example of the kind of servant we are striving to be, a beautiful example of the kind of service our Savior wants to see in our lives is found in the closing two verses of our text. Mark writes, “He took a child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”
Anyone who has children knows that— at times— children can be extremely exasperating. Children don’t always notice what you do for them. Children don’t always appreciate what you do for them. Children are rarely in a position of being able to “pay you back” when you do something for them. And yet, in spite of all this we willingly do as much as we can to help (i.e. serve) our children, don’t we. I think that is exactly why the good Lord lovingly took this little child in His arms and set him up as an example for His disciples— and us— to follow! Imagine what it would be like if each and every one of us made it our personal goal in life to humbly serve others— even when they don’t notice that service. Imagine what it would be like if each and every one of us made it our personal goal in life to humbly serve others— even if they do not appreciate our service. Imagine what it would be like if each and every one of us made it our personal goal in life to humbly serve others— without ever expecting anything in return.
How can we strive to achieve that goal in our own personal lives? Perhaps the best place to start is close to home. Take a moment to think about your family and your friends. Who could use your help and how could you help them? Is there someone who would benefit from hearing that they are loved and appreciated? Is there someone who spends a lot of time alone and would absolutely love to be invited over for dinner— or perhaps be invited out to dinner? Think of your neighbors. Is there anyone who is having a difficult time for whatever reason? Perhaps they have a difficult time taking care of their house or their yard. Perhaps they are alone now and could just use someone who is willing to sit and visit with them or help them with their shopping.
Now let’s expand that circle a little more. How could you strive to achieve that goal of serving your Lord by serving right here in His house? Could you help with supplying the treats that we enjoy on Sunday mornings? Could you help with the altar paraments with the banners or with the music? Could you help keep God’s house clean and presentable?
Expand the circle again. Is there a way that you could achieve that goal by serving in your community? Perhaps you could volunteer at the Senior Center or at a local food bank. I have known a number of people who loved volunteering at a school. They became like grandparents to the little children. When we stop to look around, my friends, there are any number of ways that we can strive to achieve the goal that our Savior sets for us here in our text!
So what are your goals in life, my friends? Whether consciously or unconsciously, whether deliberately or by default we all have certain goals that we are striving to attain in life. My prayer this morning is that with the cross of Jesus Christ (Pointing to the cross) motivating our hearts we will daily get past the malady of pride, jealousy and ego so that we can follow the method for greatness that our Savior places before us today and make it our personal goal in life to be the greatest— servant!
To God be the glory!