The Servant King
Note: Today’s new testament reading is Mark 10.
Have you ever asked something of a parent or teacher only to quickly find out, that was not something you should have asked for? Maybe you look back later and realize you were being a little irrational in your request. This happens in Mark 10 when two of Jesus’ disciples make a request that they just don’t understand.
37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
– Mark 10:37–38 ESV
James and John’s request isn’t terribly wicked. They want to be close to Jesus, and even like Jesus, for all of eternity. But they’re understanding is very upside down. They basically ask, “When you are on the throne, we want a top seat in the kingdom. We want to be big shots with you.” But Jesus’ moment of glory isn’t like the glory of earthly kings. Where does Jesus’ unfathomable love shine forth brightly through his right to stand as judge over all the earth? On the cross. And so he asks them, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” Meaning, “Can you suffer what I’m going to suffer?” James and John don’t give up. They go on in verse 39 and say, “Yes. We can suffer with you.”
At this point we have to admire their dedication, but they simply don’t understand. Jesus goes on to tell them that they will suffer, but “to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” In the glory of the lowly cross Jesus had two criminals being crucified next time him. In the eternal kingdom, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus says, “Guys, you have no idea what you’re asking for.”
Their error isn’t just in seating arrangement though is it? It’s in an entire misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God. It’s a paradigm shift that needs to happen. This is where Jesus opens our eyes the upside down, backwards glory of His Kingdom.
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Mark 10:42–45 ESV
What’s the big difference between the kingdom of God and earthly kingdoms? Well, in God’s kingdom, the King has served the people. Not the other way around. The confusion of these disciples was they thought, “If we work hard, and play our cards right, we can earn ourselves a top spot in the kingdom.” They were willing to suffer to earn their spot. But you don’t earn your spot in God’s kingdom. Jesus earns it for you.
Jesus says he didn’t come to be served but to serve. Gently, he says to James and John, “I don’t need to be served by you. You need to be served by me.” On the cross, Jesus did what no one could do for themselves, much less all of God’s people. He gave his perfect life as a ransom for many. What is Jesus’ path to top spot in the kingdom? Laying down his life for the sins of the world.
James and John’s request does have some good in it. In once sense they say, “Jesus, we want to follow your path to glory.” Obviously we’ll never earn that spot, but when we see the beauty of what Jesus did and who Jesus is, we do want to be like him in any way we can. We serve Jesus because he first served us. We serve those around us because we worship, obey and admire a servant King. Jesus invites us to follow in his footsteps of sacrifice for others. And then to be served by him. The creator and sustainer of all the earth.