We’ve all heard descriptive expressions like these: She was born to win! He was born to sing! She was born to change the world! He was a born athlete! In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus, once again revealed His purpose for coming to earth as He helped His disciples see that He was born to serve and save us through His sacrificial death.
Mark 10:35-45 35 Then 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. 37 They 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, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 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. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Allow me two preliminary observations: James and John didn’t know the absurdity of their request, and they had missed the memo altogether on the essence of the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ mission. It’s not that Jesus hadn’t talked about both before; it’s just that, well, they heard what they wanted to hear rather than what He really said. Are we ever guilty of the same? They were down with the idea of following a Conquering King, but walking in the footsteps of a Suffering Servant? I’m not sure they ever really got it until they saw Jesus post-Resurrection.
It’s clear that with their question they were declaring that they understood the Kingdom of God to be about power and control. I love the phrase, “Jesus called them together,” in verse 42. On the heels of James and John’s ask to sit on His right and His left in the coming Kingdom and their naïve assertion that they could drink the cup Jesus had been called to drink, instead of shaking His head, wringing His hands, dusting off His sandals and walking away from them, it was as if Jesus simply said, “Ok, time for a team huddle.” Jesus, the Master Teacher and Coach, called the team together to discuss the playbook yet again.
And in this group huddle, they heard the essence of Jesus’ mission recounted yet again. Jesus, God incarnate, had come to serve others with His life, leaving us a template for how to live, and He had come to sacrificially give His life in order to pay the ransom sin demanded so that we could go free. Jesus had been born to die.
The Word became flesh in order to serve us and to die in our place. That’s why we can celebrate Christmas. We celebrate not only the arrival of the Infant-King, but the One who came to serve us and to suffer on our behalf. For His entrance into the world would have been to no avail if He hadn’t done what He came to do. But Jesus did accomplish the entirety of His mission. Hallelujah!
Jesus touched blind eyes. He blessed children. He stilled storms. He cast out demons. He walked many miles, put in many hours each day to add value and quality of life to people society had already discarded. He took time to have healing conversations with people. He fed the hungry. He lived in friendship with His disciples. There were endless lessons to teach. His work was not done until He cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” All of this, because Jesus came to serve and to die. Service and sacrifice were the path to greatness, and Jesus called His disciples yet again to follow Him down that road.
When I consider the ways Jesus served, I see three immediate characteristics of the way He gave His life even before He laid it down on the cross. I would say that Jesus served:
Let’s examine the first of these three. Jesus willingly, voluntarily came to serve and save. While it’s true that the Father sent Jesus on this serving, search and rescue mission, Jesus also willingly laid down His life. In John 10, Jesus repeatedly spoke of laying down His life. All He did, all He accomplished, all He gave, all He sacrificed…it was all an act of His will that was in accordance with the will of the Father. The two were on the same page, but Jesus wasn’t coerced to cooperate; He volunteered for the job. Hebrews 7:27 says He offered Himself up. There was never a moment when Jesus looked to the Father in prayer and said, “Do I have to continue to teach these thick-headed disciples?” “Do I have to make a trip to that guy’s house to heal his child?” “Do I have to figure out a dinner plan for this crowd?” “Do I have to work from daylight to dark and beyond to keep meeting these endless needs?” There was no arm-twisting. Jesus was a willing servant.
Philippians 2 says much of the humility of Jesus, the way He condescended to be with us. He willingly left Heaven, willingly laid aside His glory, and came to experience life as we do. Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, took on the nature of a servant. From the moment the Savior donned swaddling clothes to the moment people gambled for His clothes as He hung on the cross, every moment in between was spent modeling servanthood. With every loving act, every extra moment of time, every intentional move to elevate someone or to alleviate their suffering, Jesus revealed that the ladder of spiritual success is not one characterized by some sort of climb or ascension, but it is rather about descending to a place of humble service.
When we consider the characters of the Christmas story, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, stands front and center. What impresses me most is not that she was chosen for the task of mothering the Messiah, but that she was willing to do it. Luke chapter 1 tells the story of the angel’s visit to the young virgin girl. After getting over the shock of the sight before her, Mary was fixated on the angel’s words. There was never a “No, not me,” “You’ve got the wrong girl; Try the girl next door,” response. Oh, there was a quick question about how things could unfold, but never a “No way,” or “I’m gonna have to get back with you on that one” reply. No, she said in Luke 1:38, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Two quick observations about willing servants: The favor of God accompanies a willing heart to serve and willing servants become conduits through which the supernatural plan of God unfolds.
Christmas only became possible because Jesus and Mary willingly accepted their roles as servants of the Heavenly Father. That willing heart, the heart of a servant, was imbedded in both Jesus and Mary. We know from Luke 2:52 that Jesus had favor with God, and Luke 1:30 says the same of Mary. Here’s what I know: Willingness is born from surrender. Both were willing because both were living in full surrender to God, and because of that surrender, nothing was impossible for God (Luke 1:37) to accomplish through their lives. Surrender, willingness, sets us up to receive supernatural power for supernatural assignments. And in Jesus’ and Mary’s cases, they were empowered to be the conduits through which the grace of God was able to flow into the lives of all people.
What is your level of willingness when it comes to serving others? It’s tied to your level of surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Not only was Jesus’ service done willingly, but it was also done intentionally.
Look at Mark 10:45 again: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus was on a mission to serve. He possessed a resolve to be engaged in people’s lives in a way that placed Him in the position of a servant. He didn’t sit around waiting for service calls. He went out looking for jobs to do, for needs to meet. His service was intentional. When Jesus read His job description, His life’s mission, out loud in Luke 4:18-19, He was sharing how He intended to live. He said, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He planned to minister to, to connect with, to reach and to love and serve all people. People who lived in poverty lived without access to many facets of life that others enjoyed. Jesus said, “I have Good News for the poor. You will have access to Me, and access to God through Me. You won’t be on the outside looking in anymore. I am here for YOU!” To those enslaved by the religious system or the ways of the world or the slave master of sin, Jesus said, “I am going to bring freedom like you have never known. I am here for YOU!” To those whose hearts were broken, Jesus said, “I will bring a kind of healing that creates something beautiful from the broken pieces. I will walk you through the Valley of grief. I will be present with you in transforming ways so that even your time of mourning turns into praise and will not lead to despair. I am here for YOU.”
That is what Jesus’ kind of intentional service said. “I am here for YOU.” And in practical ways, Jesus went about meeting needs which eased the burdens people were facing. Whether He fed them or took time to teach them a better way, through selfless service, He lifted their load. He didn’t wait for people to say, “Hey Jesus, I have a burden, can you help me?” He invited people to bring their burdens to Him. He said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” What an incredible, open invitation! We may sometimes look for a way to excuse ourselves from having to serve needy people, but Jesus invited them to come. He asked for more people with more burdens to come to Him in order that He could do something about the stress and heaviness that plagued their lives.
“Jesus went about doing good,” Acts 10:38. He walked from place to place like, “Hey, can I help you carry that?” “Excuse me, can I provide some healing for you?” “Hi there. Can I spend a few minutes blessing your kids?” “Pardon Me, Do you need someone to talk to?” “Hello, would you like something to eat?” He patiently talked with and taught people to see things from a different perspective which freed them to become the people God had intended. He spent time one-on-one and on purpose with people others had already written off as a lost cause. Do you remember the Woman at the Well? He didn’t stumble across her on some other trip. No, He meant to meet up with her which meant extra steps and extra time just to be where she was. Do you know it just took one encounter with Jesus to change everything? One burden lifted, one insight gained, changed the whole trajectory of people’s lives.
Jesus didn’t isolate Himself from opportunities to serve people. Jesus didn’t insulate Himself from other people’s problems. He inserted Himself into them because He came for the purpose of serving all people. It didn’t matter if it was a despised tax collector, thief, prostitute or shady religious leader; His heart was open to them. He went to their homes. He walked miles and miles out of His way to teach and encourage people. He didn’t care about their reputation or limitation, their past or their present. If there was a burden to ease, He moved in.
Have you ever thought about what could have been His motivation? I mean, He could have come, lived a sinless life and still died the death on the cross that would pay the price for the sins of the world without serving. It was His sinlessness that qualified Him to be the ransom for all, right? Why all of the extra work? Why all of the tireless, on-purpose serving? Here’s the answer: Love serves. The intentional service, paired with the intentional sacrifice of laying His life down, was meant to convey the personal, individual, unconditional, sacrificial love of God to every person Jesus would encounter.
Those who have truly experienced the love of God for themselves will become intentional about loving others through the same kind of service. And Jesus’ kind of service was truly extended to all people, even to His enemies. This next-level service is clearly seen when He washed His disciples’ feet.
In John 13:1 we read, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
We often think of the cross as being the place where Jesus showed the full extent of His love. Oh, it was displayed there for sure, but perhaps this moment was a foreshadowing of the purpose of the cross when Jesus willingly placed Himself beneath the disciples and washed their feet. Those feet included the feet of an enemy, a betrayer. For as Jesus stooped to wash Judas’ feet, He was demonstrating the intention of His mission which was to serve and save all, even those who conspired against Him. It wasn’t just that Judas was one of the twelve, so while Jesus was washing the feet of the 11, He just kind of lumped Judas in with the rest. No. Jesus meant to serve His betrayer. What an intentional act of humility and love!
How intentional are you in the way you serve others? How do you build serving others into the routine of a day, a week? When have you made plans to serve an enemy?
- Third and finally as Jesus served, He did so sacrificially. It cost Jesus personally, every day to serve others. Word got out about the many ways Jesus served others, and He quickly became in high demand, and His life was consumed by selfless acts of mercy and grace to others. Serving others is rarely convenient. It requires a rearranging of our priorities, a restructuring of our resources, and requires physical and mental energy. It is the epitome of discipleship as it places us in the footsteps of Jesus who “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7) repeatedly as a servant of those He encountered. The outpouring of the love of God was demonstrated through the pouring out of the life of Jesus over and over and over again. And God the Father never failed to give Him the strength that was needed to start again with each sunrise.
When Jesus asked His followers to take up their cross and follow Him daily, He wasn’t simply inviting them to die to self and sin, but He was also asking them to live for Him, to serve the way He served which meant sacrifice.
Go with me to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus agonized in prayer over what was about to become the most difficult experience of His life. As He thought about what it was going to cost Him to be the “ransom for many,” as He considered the beatings, the torture, the humiliation and shame, the excruciating agony of being nailed to a cross, He embraced even the giving of His very life for us and said, “Not my will, but Yours be done” as He sacrificed His will to the will of the Father. He would never have been able to serve as the sacrifice for the sins of the world if He had not first sacrificed His will to the Father.
What has it cost you to be a disciple, a servant who follows after Christ?
Let’s go back to where we began today, back to Mark 10:35-45, when Jesus took His disciples aside, into the team huddle to go over the discipleship drills yet again. He explained to them that following Jesus wouldn’t be about power and control in some future Kingdom, but it would be about service in the here and now that would be proof that we belonged to Him, and through His life He demonstrated that service in His footsteps would happen willingly, intentionally and sacrificially if it would carry the favor and power of God to change the world.
It’s marvelous to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s incredible to honor His death, burial and resurrection from the dead. But Jesus isn’t calling us to simply commemorate His entrance and His exit. He is calling us to live His life. And His life was a life of willing, intentional and sacrificial service that all the world may see and know Him.