“Service is Sacrifice”
A Sermon on Mark 10:35-45
Mark 10:35-10:45: 35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus 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. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Did you notice how our text begins and ends? It begins with, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” and it ends with, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The one statement introduces our story, and the other concludes it. The sons of Zebedee say, “Do for us whatever we ask,” and Jesus says, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” Here, the sons of Zebedee and the Son of Man are in total disagreement. They speak a different language, breathe a different spirit, and express a different ambition. James and John want to sit on royal thrones in glory and power; Jesus knows that he must hang the cross in weakness and shame. The contrast is stark and total.
Today, we have before us two different ways. We have the way of the world and the way of the cross. We have the choice of following selfish ambition or following Jesus.
As Christians, we seek to be the people of the cross. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus gave himself for us; therefore, in response to what Christ did for us, we now seek to serve others.
We put our Lord first by thinking of others. We are called to serve and sacrifice, to love and share, to reach out to others with mercy and compassion. It is to this that the cross consistently calls us.
The contrast between the way of the cross and the way of the world is nowhere set forth more dramatically than in the request of James and John, and in the response of Jesus to them. There is, first of all, the choice between selfish ambition and sacrifice. The brothers’ statement, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask,” is surely the worst, most blatantly self-centered request ever made by a disciple of Jesus.
It seems like James and John have anticipated that there will be an unholy scramble for the best seats in the kingdom of God. So they judge it prudent to make an advance reservation. They say, “Hey Lord, are you doing advance ticket sales here? How about some nice box seats in heaven for us?”
It seems like James and John want to be first in line; they want to be on top. They say, “Grant to us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.” And the other disciples pick up on this. They get mad when they learn about the brothers’ request. And so they say, “Hey! No cutting in line!”
But that’s the way of the world. The world is full of go-getters and status seekers. Lots of people are hungry for honor and prestige and greatness. They measure life by achievements and possessions and wealth.
But Jesus says, “What good is it, if you gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul?” We can try to have it all and always be on top, but that whole mentality is incompatible with the way of the cross. Our Lord shows us a different way to live. Jesus says, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would first among you must be slave of all.”
Our Lord speaks of humility and service and sacrifice. That is the way of the cross. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Even though Jesus is the Son of God, he was willing to humble himself. He laid aside his divine honor and glory; he became our servant; he became a slave. He humbled himself even to the point of suffering death on cross.
Jesus dies in weakness and shame and disgrace. That is the way of the cross. Our Lord was willing to put others first by sacrificing himself. Service is sacrifice.
Jesus enters his glory only by suffering. He gives his life as a ransom for many. He pays the price for our sins. He takes upon himself the punishment we deserve. That is our Lord’s true glory - he hangs upon the cross and he suffers the passion.
When James and John ask Jesus, “Grant to us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory,” they do not realize what they are really asking for. In fact Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will be baptized with?”
It’s almost as if Christ is saying, “Do you really want to be on my right and left when I am crucified? Do you want to drink the cup of God’s punishment against sin that I will drink? Can you undergo the baptism of fire and hell that I will endure on the cross?”
The answer is those question is surprisingly both yes and no. No, in the sense that Jesus does what no one else could ever do. Only the Son of God could take upon himself the sin and guilt of the entire world. Only he could drink that cup and endure that baptism. Only the Son of Man could give his perfect life as ransom for many.
But the answer is also yes. Yes, by faith, we die with Jesus on the cross. We enter his passion and death. We drink that cup and are baptized into his cross. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. But the life I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and who gave himself for me.”
Paul speaks repeatedly of how we died with Jesus on the cross because our sins were put to death with him. We are connected to his death and resurrection by faith. That is what lies behind the Sacrament of Holy Baptism – the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The power of baptism is the power of the passion. We are connected to our Lord’s suffering; our sins are drowned in the baptism Jesus undergoes. Then, we are raised to the new life to be found in our Lord’s resurrection.
That is where we find true life and true glory – in the cross and resurrection of the Christ. True happiness can be found in following the way of the cross. When you follow Jesus, you find true meaning and purpose in life. You find forgiveness and renewal; you find satisfaction in serving others. You now begin to put others first. You become a servant.
I remember an old TV commercial for long ago. I only saw it a few times, but it really grabbed my attention. The commercial featured Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, the hamburger restaurant chain.
Dave Thomas is working at the front counter in one of his restaurants. It’s very busy. He finally stops to take his lunch break. In his office, he down at his desk and unwraps his deluxe hamburger. You can see the hunger and anticipation on his face. Just as he is about to take a bite, a worker pops his head in the door and says, “We need you at the front, Dave.”
Dave Thomas looks at his hamburger, and then he looks at sign on the wall that says, “Service is Sacrifice.” He puts down his hamburger and goes back to work. “Service is sacrifice...”
The first time I saw that commercial, I thought, “That’s the gospel; that’s the message of the cross, that’s what Christ did for us!” “For even the Son of Man came not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The choice that Dave Thomas faced is one that we will all face. At some point in our life, God will say, “I need your at the front.” God will say, “I need you to serve someone. I need you to share my love. I need you to follow the way of the cross and to humble yourself and let go of the way of the world.”
James and John at this point in their life were still following the way of the world. We know that these brothers came from a well-to-do family. Their father Zebedee had many employees in his fishing business on the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps James and John missed the luxury of their old lifestyle. Perhaps they missed having servants wait on them. Maybe they missed toe affluence and prestige and status.
In any case, they would learn. The life of James and John would dramatically change as they followed Jesus to Jerusalem. They would follow Jesus all the way to the cross and then see him after his resurrection. In fact, John would be at the crucifixion with Mary, the mother of Jesus. He would watch all the events of the passion unfold. John would later write the Fourth Gospel, and then, near the end of his life, while in exile on the island of Patmos, write the book of Revelation.
James would be a leader in the early church. He would lose his life at the hand of Herod Antipas. Herod would have James beheaded when the first Christians suffered persecution in Jerusalem.
Both James and John would drink the cup of suffering. That would undergo that baptism of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. They would learn that service is sacrifice.
And the same is true for us as well. We also need to let go of our worldly ambitions and embrace the way of the cross. We forgo the way of the world and follow God’s way. True life is to found in following Christ and putting others first. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you, must be slave of all.”
Comedian Dick Van Dyke used to have a sign in his office that said, “I Am Third.” People who visited his office would see that sign and ask, “What does that mean, ‘I Am Third.” Dick Van Dyke would then explain, “My Lord Jesus Christ is first. Others are second. I am third.”
That’s how it is in the kingdom of God. We are third. Christ is first. Others are second. And we are servants. We are the people of the cross, and we follow him who gave his life a ransom for many. We follow God’s way as we seek to love and serve, to give and share, and to reach out to others in mercy and compassion. Amen!