Do you long for greatness? Do you look at your life and hope for extraordinary things? In Mark 10:35-45, James and John do, and Jesus' response to their dreams might be surprising to some of us. Find out what God has to say about man's longing for greatness.
Habits and Huge Gifts: Two Things That Don't Always Please God
The Main Man, You, and the Main Thing
The Root of All Error and the Truth About Death
The Separation of Church and State
The 'Blessed Idiocy of Grace' and How We Must Respond
A Game God Won't Play
A Tree, A Temple, and A Timeless Truth: The Danger of Leaves Without Fruit
Not Your Typical Spring Cleaning - Jesus in The Temple
The Day the King Came and the Question His Followers Should Ask and be Able to Answer
Busting Out From the Crowd of Darkness: What You Want and What to Do When You Get It
What We All Want and How to Get It
Let me pray. If you have a Bible with you, great. Turn to Mark 10. If not, we have what you need right here before you. Let's ask the Lord to encourage us.
Lord, I'm so grateful for the fact that we have a chance to get together and talk about you. It says a lot about who you are that as we do what you've commanded us to do we're encouraged. As we focus on you and talk about how great you are, we are reminded about how amazing your love for us is.
Even in our world, we think about those whom beautiful people choose to love, whom the world chooses to admire, so we ascribe greatness to them because of the value of that which values them. Then we think about the fact that you are this encompassing, glorious person who always was. Every good attribute I could list, everything we think is good or great, is contained and fully defined only in you, and then that you would pour out your love for us is amazing.
As we worship you, we ourselves receive the value you've always wanted us to receive. In fact, nothing can replace that. So we just talk about how good you are right now even in our prayer, and we'd ask that this time in your Word, this very applicable section of Scripture, would draw all of us one step nearer to the enlightened understanding you desire for us to have that makes us whole and that allows us to bear your image and be restored rightly to you in the way you intended. In Christ's name, amen.
This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture because it's both surprising and incredibly relevant and applicable. We're working our way through this little section of the Bible that tells us a lot about this Jesus. We started our whole time together today saying, "He alone is worthy," and before that we talked about how we want to be like him. Well, why would you want to be like him? I'm going to end this message by telling you the reason you want to be like him is because he, Jesus, is exalted above every name, and when you think of what you will worship for eternity, it will be Christ.
God the Father has made it clear to us that it's at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, that he is Lord and he will be highly exalted and there will be none above him, not because he was a good man who won the prize but because he is God who has always been glorious but who was mistaken because he humbled himself to walk as a man, and many people scorned and hated and said awful things about him.
Basically, what this whole book of Mark is about is that God is going to make it very clear that Jesus was who he said he was, even though he came in a very surprising form. What's that form? The form was the form of a servant. Now, I have a friend who has told me that by asking a series of a few questions he can help anybody move forward in life. He asks these questions whenever he's with somebody in any kind of counseling situation.
Here are the questions he asks them: "How do you feel? What do you want? What do you need to do?" Then, typically, if he's not satisfied with that third question, he asks, "How will you feel if you do that?" Then he'll take them back to the first question and ask again, "How will you feel if you get that? What do you really want?" Then he asks them one last time, "What do you need to do?" Then, when they get to the place where they're really boiling down to what is ultimately significant and important, he asks, "Will you do it?"
I was speaking to a bunch of medical students at UT Southwestern a while back, and I did this with them, just starting my time. I asked them, "What do you all want?" There was a series of different questions. I started with, "How do you feel?" That's the first one. It was interesting to look at these guys and gals who were training to be greatly useful to our society. Their responses were pretty honest. They were like, "Desperate. Anxious. I feel tired. I feel stressed."
There wasn't anybody in that room who was at one of the finest medical schools in the country who said, "I feel full of abiding peace. I feel like I'm living in a place of security and hope and significance." They described what most of us would think you'd feel in the middle of a high-pressure environment like med school: anxiousness, desperation, stress. I said, "What do you all want?"
It was interesting, because the reason they felt the stress, the anxiety, and the desperation was what they wanted. Almost to a man or woman, they said, "What I want is to get into a good residency." I said, "Well, no, you really don't. That's not what you want. Why do you want to get into a good residency?" They go, "Well, I want to get into a good residency so I can be highly trained in my specialty."
"That's not what you really want. You don't want to be highly trained in your specialty. What do you really want?" Finally, after I did this with them several times, somebody in the back said, "Money." I said to them, "No. That's not really what you want. Why do you want money?" In fact, I said, "If you go back a little farther, think about where you are. If I'd have asked you how you felt six years ago, you would have said 'Stressed and desperate' one more time. Why? The answer is because you wanted to get into a good med school.
You guys are here. You did well on your MCATs, well on your preparation. Now that you're here, you're stressed because you have to get into the right residency. Well, that's not what you want either, because when you get to your right residency, then you have to get the right job. You have to get placed in the right place in the right hospital so you can make the right money, but that's not what you want either.
You want to live in the right neighborhood with the right money so you can marry the right person and run in the right circles, but that's not what you want. Why do you want to be there? What you're looking for cannot be found in what medical school you attend, what place you're put in in the world's eyes, or what you establish in terms of financial independence and security."
I was doing some reading this week about some different males. I was reading about Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great is a guy we know as a world conqueror. The world he was born into he was leader of, and then he conquered the East. The greatest thing I ever heard about Alexander the Great was not his ability to inspire individuals, his ability to motivate people, to be a vision-caster, and to be a person to accomplish amazing objectives, like nobody before him, with incredible speed.
What I was most impressed with was Alexander's soberness in terms of what was ultimately significant. I never knew this before, but when Alexander the Great died, he gave orders that during his funeral procession his hands would be distinct from the rest of his body in the way they were displayed in his funeral attire. He made a point to make sure the graveclothes did not in any way block people from seeing that as he laid there his hands were exposed and open as he was paraded past all his admiring legions.
What Alexander was trying to communicate to people was, "Look. I am Alexander the Great, conqueror like the world has never known, emperor and ruler over more than any man in generations has been, and this is how I leave: with nothing, just like the pauper." There are stories all throughout history of individuals who were pursuing life and looking for things that could give them ultimate greatness, satisfaction, meaning, and purpose.
I have a slew of quotes I've collected along this idea. Clarence Darrow, the great attorney, was asked one time by a reporter if he had any word of advice for law school graduates who were just finishing. He said, "Yes. I advise them to blow their brains out because life is not worth living." That's a man who made it to the top of his profession and just said, "You know what? There isn't a whole lot here."
John Gardner, another philosopher and writer, said, "Man is a stubborn seeker of meaning." Viktor Frankl, a philosopher, said, "Striving to find meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man." Henry David Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." In other words, they're looking for greatness and can't find it.
George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, when he retired as the CEO and president and founder of that company… Does anybody know what he did? He committed suicide, because he felt like what he was here to do was to start this great enterprise, which he did. But then he said, "That's, I guess, why I'm here. My work is done. Why wait?" Because he couldn't find greatness in his existence and greatness in life, he just said, "Why wait to die a slow death? Let me accelerate where I'm headed and just get it on."
Hemingway was full of comments like this. He said, "Life is a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness. There is no remedy for anything in life. Man's destiny in the universe is like a colony of ants on a burning log." You have Hemingway ending his life in much the same way. A man of great success, excess, and adventure took his own life with a shotgun. The stories go on and on.
My favorite is more of a contemporary. It's Michael Jordan. A number of years ago, GQ did a survey with their readers, and it asked, "If you could be any man for a week, who would you want to be?" Jordan came out number one. Men said, "I'd like to be Michael Jordan for a week." They went to Jordan to talk to him and ask him about this, and they asked, "How does that make you feel that more than any other male on the planet, if folks could, they would want to be like you for a week?"
Jordan said, "That doesn't surprise me. If I could be like me for a week, I'd want to be like me for a week too." He said, "But make them be me for a year, and then ask them to vote again." That's a great quote. What does that tell you? It tells you that here is a man who is, with most sane people, the greatest at his sport who has ever lived, who has been the first multi-multi-multi-million-dollar athlete, who's more successful outside of his sport than he was in it, and he said, "Despite all my fame and excess, I've become a prisoner, basically, of who I am, and beyond that life still churns on. Ultimately, when I go to my grave, you ought to bury me like this."
One of the things I love about the passage we're about to come across today is that Jesus answers the question that Viktor Frankl, Henry David Thoreau, John Gardner, George Eastman, Michael Jordan, and Todd Wagner are all asking. One of the beautiful things and surprises about this passage is that he doesn't mock us in our pursuit. Are you curious yet? Let's read it. Here's what it says.
"James and John, the two sons of Zebedee…" Just to tell you who they are so you won't confuse them with other Jameses and Johns. "…came up to Jesus, saying, 'Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.'" Okay. I love the response. "What do you want Me to do…?" It's a lot like my friend's second question: "What do you want?" "They said to Him, 'Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.'"
It's an amazing request, and there is some faith in it. They had already decided Jesus was God, even though he had told them now for the third time in a very short period of time that he was going to go and somehow was going to involve himself with this thing called the cross, which involved suffering and death. They still had the faith to believe he was… They couldn't get past the evidence that this guy was unique among men in history and that, in fact, he was who he claimed to be.
So they thought, "All right. Even though you keep talking about death and we cannot fit that neatly into what we think is going to happen with you, we'll figure that you're going to work that out, just like you have every other trouble and every other tough spot and tight spot we've been in. What we're going to ask is if we can be with you and if you will name us to positions of incredible honor and greatness."
Now, had I been asked that question and I was in Jesus' role, I would have thought, "That is the most arrogant, downright backbiting, politicking, self-serving request anybody has made in the 33 years I've walked this earth. In fact, if I go back to all the ages of prayers I heard when I was in my glorified state, that one is unmatched by you two knuckleheads here." I'd take Larry and Curly and knock their heads together.
But I love what Christ does. He doesn't do that. He said, "You don't know what you're asking. The reason you don't know what you're asking is because you don't know what it takes to get what you're asking for." He says, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Which is a reference to what ultimately would secure those positions for you.
"They said to him, 'We're able.' And Jesus said to them, 'The cup that I drink you're going to drink, and that which I'm going to be baptized with you're going to be baptized with,'" in reference to the cup of obedience and what that obedience is going to look like for, first, Jesus and now these two in their willingness to do what God asked them to do.
Then he says, "'But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give [right now] ; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared [throughout the ages] .' Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said…""All right. We have a teachable moment here. These two are knuckleheads because they spoke what you all have been thinking, and you're angry because you think because they asked first they're going to get it. So let's talk." So he takes these guys and says…
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the [world] lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
This is what Christ does. I'm going to tell you why I love this passage. In no way does he damn them for their longing. He says, "You know what? I'm not surprised, James and John, that you want that. I'm not surprised that you other ten are mad that they might have just done something that's going to give them what you yourselves want. I made you to want that.
What I'm a little disappointed in is despite the three, maybe four, years we've spent together, you all still don't know how to get there. If you thought being great was going to come by just getting people and putting death grip on them and saying, 'Now get in line behind me,' then how come I haven't been doing that? You've acknowledged that I am God, and look at the way I've lived and served among you. That is why I will be exalted and sit at the right hand of God the Father as a symbol to what a great man is."
Now let me walk you through some applications, and we're going to drill that point I was just alluding to home. To start, one of the reasons this is one of my favorite passages is it reminds me of a truth I need to be reminded of constantly. Here comes the first one. I like to break down Scripture like this in a way that makes it applicable to my life and meaningful to you. Here it is: even the best of us are capable of the worst that man can accomplish and pursue.
I made a short list of what I might call what they did. Even the best of us are capable of the worst of what man can do. Backbiting, backdooring friends, shortcutting hard work, politicking, insensitivity… I say that because here their friend just said, "I'm going to go to Jerusalem and die," and they're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough about your problems. Listen. Have you got a second?" I'd say it was a rather insensitive moment to approach Christ with this. A worldly-minded view of greatness, a self-absorbed mentality…
I mean, these are two of the finest of the Twelve. In fact, John is called "the disciple Jesus loved." I started to think about how here is the cream of the crop, and they're struggling a little bit. As I thought about what that tells me… First of all, it ought to keep me in a humble place, because no matter how long I do things well and do things right, and sometimes I have bursts of greatness and sinlessness and holiness that last upward of 60, even 90 seconds at a time…
I'm reminded that if I'm going to be an individual who tracks long in light of the holiness of God, there are going to be times that I'm going to do stupid stuff like this. I'm reminded, because of passages like this, of the fact that when I'm in a role of mentoring and encouraging and discipling, as a dad, as a pastor, and as a friend, I need to model Christ in this.
I just made the note to myself that great teachers are patient, they're full of grace, and they seize teachable moments. He didn't get disgusted here. He goes, "You're two of my best." Christ was a great teacher because he was so full of grace. He said, "What do you want? Let's talk about what you want. You're going to tell me you want position, but that's not really what you want."
I made a note to myself that great students, which is what I want to be, are always teachable themselves when the master says, "Let's talk about what you just asked for." They are humble. Great students are also willing to take chances, and that's what these two guys did. They said, "Let's go, man. We think we're right in asking. Let's just go ask."
I made a note here that even the best of us are capable of the worst of humankind. That's why we're not to worship men or women but to worship the one who deals with our shortcomings. Don't be discouraged the next time I or somebody else lets you down. In fact, be full of grace. Be patient with me and take advantage of the teachable moment I just introduced through my fallenness.
I have a friend who poured a lot into my life over a period of years, and I had a dream. This was really the only time in my life God has ever spoken to me through a dream or I've had some lesson through a dream. I mean, we've all had the dream where we've learned you don't go to school in your underwear. That's one dream we've learned, but I genuinely think I had this dream and God used it to teach me something. I'll tell you what it was.
This is a guy who was extremely godly and well known, and he was a faithful man and had lived faithfully for decades. I thought to myself, "If you want a picture of an icon of a man who's faithful in ministry, who is disciplined, who is kind and a shepherd, this is the guy." I had the good fortune to spend some time with him. I would get with him and just ask him questions and learn from him and listen. We'd read books together and talk about it.
About a year or two into this, I had a dream one night. The dream was I was driving on my way back home to visit family up in the Midwest, and I stopped to get gas someplace. Next to where I was pumping gas was a little white building with a door that I saw kind of open and close. I went into this building, thinking, "I'm away from anybody I know. I wonder what's going on in there. It might be kind of fun."
I can remember it was a really bright, beautiful, sunny day, and when I went over and cracked that door, darkness kind of flooded out not as much as light flooded in. I went inside that building, and when I shut the door it was very, very dark. My eyes had to dilate. I walked up to the bar, and I kind of was looking around, like, "What's going on in here?" I looked over in the corner, and there was this guy.
He was sitting on a stool in an outfit that was not flattering. It was a sexual paraphernalia kind of deal. There were a bunch of young men in there, and he had a whip, and clearly there was some inappropriate stuff that was going on. He was just cracking this whip. I thought to myself, "Oh my goodness! Is that…?" As quickly as I could, I kind of hit the door, and I got back out into the light and was like, "Oh no!" And I woke up.
Now, you're thinking, "Okay. Tell me what you learned." Well, here's what I learned. As I woke up, I thought to myself, "Oh man!" You know how you wake up sometimes and you have a test you missed and your heart is racing? That's the way I felt. As clearly as I've ever had an inner prompting… It wasn't an audible deal for me, but it was just this.
It was like, "Hey, Todd, you don't put anybody on a pedestal but me, because men will disappoint you. You want to put somebody on a pedestal? You want to emulate somebody's life? Put me on a pedestal. I'll never be in a dark room doing things I want to hide from the light. I'll never disappoint you. You'll never stumble out of a relationship with me going, 'Oh my gosh! He has been exposed. I found Jesus in a dark corner doing what we thought he'd never do.'"
What I learned in that moment is what I see right here in Mark, chapter 10: that even the best of men are capable of the worst things man can do. I told my friend this story, and he didn't like it. I told him I wasn't trying to pursue to see if there was an area of his life I didn't know about. I was telling him how God was growing me and how I could learn from him now in ways I couldn't before, because I wasn't there to worship him or to emulate him; I was there to emulate the one he was emulating.
I looked him in the eye and said, "I want to tell you something. I don't expect this will ever happen to you, but you know what? I want you to have some security. If you make some bad decisions, it's not going to affect my good decision to follow after the one you're encouraging me to pursue. So, what can I learn from you today?" These are great guys, and they blew it.
Now let me give you another lesson: a desire for greatness is not the worst of man; it is part of who God made us to be. This is why I get excited about this passage. If you're here today, I want you to know something, man or woman. A desire to be great, a desire to have a life that counts and matters, a desire to have a life that is the fulfillment of meaning, significance, and purpose is what you and I were made for.
What Jesus did not do here is say, "What is wrong with you? What do you mean you want to be great? What do you mean you want those kinds of positions?" In fact, what he implied is simply, "That is exactly what I designed you to be like." The Scriptures tell us in Genesis, chapter 1, that God created humankind in his image. Male and female he created humankind, and he said to humankind, "I want you to fill the earth. I want you to subdue the earth. I want you to rule over the earth. I want you to look down there, like I look over all of creation, and I want you to reveal my glory, and I want you to be great."
Our problem has become our strategy to achieve that, when we took a God-given desire and started to have it satisfied in God-forbidden ways or we took a legitimate longing and tried to meet that need in an illegitimate way. Let me tell you something, men. I speak to the male when I say "men" this time. One of the great problems of Christendom in the West over the last number of centuries is that we have emasculated what God wants the life of a follower of Christ to look like.
As we talked two years ago, a number of weeks after we started, I did a little series called Gifts I'd Give My Children. The ninth gift was "An expectation to be something great." I made reference to the little passage in 2 Timothy where Paul says, "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." Paul talks about how a godly man is a soldier.
A godly man is like a farmer who works his tail off from sunbreak to sunset and is a producer and has something to show for his hands and contributes to his world. He uses the analogy of an athlete, that you're a competitor, in 2 Timothy 2. A soldier, a competitor, a farmer, and then a leader, a great man like King David, a ruler. These are things we respond to as men. God made us, as men, to engage and not just to grow up to be polite.
There have been two books that have come out that have made quite an impact on our society lately. One is a book by a guy named Robert Lewis called Raising a Modern-Day Knight. I was talking with a friend about it this week. In fact, I called him this morning again to say, "Tell me the points this guy ticks off about how you raise a young man to be a modern-day knight." This is what he reminded me the book said.
A modern-day knight can be raised if you give this guy three things. You give him a vision of biblical manhood. Lewis articulates that with a person who rejects passivity, who accepts responsibility, who leads courageously, and who expects a greater reward. That's a biblical view of manhood.
He says the second thing you need is a code of conduct, and the third thing you need is a transcendent cause. If you want to raise a knight… When we think about the golden age of humanity and nobility, we go back. Where are the knights? I think Jesus wants us to be more than knights. He wants us to be noblemen. He wants us to be men who bear the image of God himself.
That means we have to have a right view of what a man looks like, and that means we have to have a code of conduct, which speaks of the character of the God we serve, of kindness, of courage, of a commitment to truth, full of grace. You can just go right through the list of the fruit of the Spirit if you want. But then somebody who lives for a transcendent cause, something bigger than yourself.
There's a new book that is out that a lot of folks are reading right now called Wild at Heart, talking about the way God made man. In that book he talks about how men are built for adventure. He says if you don't give a young boy the chance to play with a gun, then he'll find some toy he can make into a gun, and if you take that away, he'll chew his sandwich into the shape of a gun, because that's just the way God designed men: to take on and be like an athlete, a farmer, a soldier, a competitor, a leader, a king.
I love the fact that in this little section right here we see that in Christ. He does not rebuke these men for a zest for glory. What I want to tell you this morning, male or female, is that God wants you to pursue glory. Do you know that? God wants you to pursue a life that would be best described as a glorious life. Now here's where we can be taught, just like James and John. Here's the point: Jesus doesn't condemn their longings; he corrects their strategies (and, therefore, our strategies) to have those longings satisfied.
You see the passage right there in verse 37. They say, "Grant that we'll sit, one on your right and one on your left. If you are God and we are left hand and right hand and no one comes to you except through us, that is a glorious position." Jesus doesn't say, "What are you doing? Why are you pursuing that? That's nuts!" He says, "That is the greatest thing you could pursue, but your strategy to get there is all whacked. I want to ask you, if you want to get there, are you willing to do what you want to do?"
Let me take you back to those four questions my friend asks you. How do you feel? Most people would say, "Hopeless. Full of despair. My life is meaningless." So what do you want? We'll throw out a lot of different things: fame, fortune, money, wine, women, song. But what we're really looking for is a life that's full of substance that matters, where there's satisfaction and a sense of peace. What do you want? Then they get to the third question: What do you need to do to get it? Then the fourth question: Will you do it? Do you see where Jesus took these guys? "How do you feel?"
"Well, we feel a little bit insecure, that our life isn't going to matter."
"So what do you want?"
"We want to be great."
"What do you need to do?"
"Well, we need to ask you right now, Jesus, when the other ten aren't around, because we figured there's only one seat on the right and one seat on the left, so, you know…" He goes, "No, no, no. You got it all wrong." He takes them back through, but he gets them to the place where he's now about to ask them the fourth question, and that's the question he's going to ask you and me this morning: Will you do it?
I have great news for you this morning. Are you looking for a life that matters? Are you looking for a transcendent cause? Are you looking for something that will not perish or fade away? Gang, this is going to take some faith, because it's going to change everything about the way you live if you've not been sold out toward glory and greatness. The problem with most of us is we settle for a form of glory or a form of greatness that is so fleeting and so short we'll end up like this: empty-handed with nothing to show for it.
Jesus is saying, "Let me show you a glory that doesn't end when your heart quits beating and the brain waves quit sending and blood quits circulating. It's true glory. It is eternal glory, and this is how you get it. Watch me. Notice that I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life for others."
That, folks, is essential greatness. Essential greatness comes in responding rightly to our Lord, acknowledging the distance between his goodness and our sin, seeing that in his greatness God made provision for our sin, and then called us to model a life in response to that life given for us that speaks to what the greatest life possible could do, which is to give yourself for others.
Now I just need to apologize to you that I am not a better example as a pastor of Jesus Christ. I say that not thinking I'm disqualified. Paul wrote most of the New Testament. He said as much at the end of his life. "I consider myself the chief of sinners." The closer you get to passages like this, and the fear that I had in thinking about this message this week… It humbled me. I'm not at the end of my ministry, but I'll tell you what.
I'm at the end of this week of ministry after decades of ministry, and I can tell you I feel like I am the worst pastor I've ever been, because I got a glimpse again of true greatness. Sometimes I can look at what other men are doing and feel pretty doggone successful at following after Christ, but when I start to look again at him and what he did and who he was and what he sacrificed and what he left and what he did, I go, "Oh man! Oh man. I have to get it together. I have to get it going on, and I have to decide this day who I'm going to serve."
Let me tick off some things that are so obvious. They're right there before us. Jesus doesn't condemn our longings; he just corrects our strategies to get them. So, what's the strategy we've been pursuing? We pursue all kinds of little politicking. We settle for a glory that isn't God's glory; it's a fleeting glory. So he tells you simply this: "Here it comes, Wagner. Great men, great humans, are great servants."
There are a couple little lines I've used to motivate me and remind me of this one simple statement, "Great men are great servants." Here's what one guy said: "True greatness is not acquired by reducing men to one service but reducing one's self in service to men." Great men are great servants. I love the statement one guy said. "Most people are poor spellers. When we hear service, we spell it S-E-R-V-E U-S," as opposed to saying, "You know what? I'm here to serve others."
Greatness doesn't come in reducing men to one service but reducing one to the service of others, according to Jesus Christ. I want to make it very clear before I lose anybody that you can be Mother Teresa and pick up dying heads on the streets of Calcutta, and if you present your service to this Holy God, he will reject it and find it wanting in terms of acceptability in his sight. How do I know that? Because Jesus has already made it very clear in his ministry that nothing but the blood of the greatest servant can deal with the greatest sin of offending a holy and eternally perfect God.
When I call you to be a great servant, I don't call you to put together a résumé of philanthropy. I call you to respond to an offer of life for you that can only be described as the fullest response your love can muster. I'm calling you to worship. Great men are worshipers. Worshipers emulate. Worshipers pay homage and honor to, and the greatest flattery is imitation. Jesus says, "Imitate me and give yourself for other people, knowing that I've given myself for you."
Great men are great servants, and great servants are obedient to their masters, it says. So, this is the very first question you have to figure out…Who is your master? The reason there are a bunch of men in this room who have ultimately decided they're going to pursue greatness and they are very disciplined in the way they go to work and very disciplined, possibly, in the way they care for their body (and likewise with women in this room) is because their master is something other than Christ. You're extremely disciplined in the things that serve your god.
Jesus said this. He says, "You can't serve two gods. Where your heart is, that's where your treasure, or your commitment, will be also." Guys, that's why our wives sit there and look at us sometimes and say, "You can tell me all day long that you love me, but I don't see you making sacrifices to honor me. I don't see a paring back of your business to give yourself to the kids and me. We don't want your money. We don't want the house; we want you, here."
That's why you see a lot of guys who will be very disciplined in their hobby but not disciplined in their Bible, because, frankly, what they love is that which gives them glory and ease and comfort. Going back to our little fun video… "I'm too busy. I just can't get there." Do you know why you're too busy? We said last week. When people say they don't have time, what they mean is they don't have time for that.
We have time, but what most of us have is a wrong idea of how we're going to get glory or greatness or satisfaction or meaning or purpose. What this little passage does is it snaps the plumb line and says, "Get back on course. This is what greatness looks like." You have to determine who your master is, because once you determine who your master is and you're going to be a great servant, you're going to serve that master and be obedient to what it takes to be that master.
For instance, if you say your master is going to be to be Mr. Olympia or Mr. Universe, then you have to do the things that serve that goal. You have to be disciplined in the gym. You have to eat right. You have to make sure you don't get caught taking steroids, and all the other list of things that are required to win that title. You can't sit on the couch, eat M&Ms and Cheetos, and say your god is to be Mr. Olympia. People would tell you you're nuts.
Many of us have said we're worshipers, and we come in here and say, "I'm all about serving Jesus Christ," yet metaphorically, we sit on the couch and eat Cheetos and M&Ms, and the world goes, "You know, that guy isn't really about that" or "That gal isn't really about that. They say that, but it's at best hypocritical, at worst delusional." You have to figure out who your master is, and then once you get your master, your mission is taken care of.
Great men are great servants, great servants are obedient to their masters, and let me close with this: great servants suffer. This is hard for us to get excited about. Rightly so. I think about how we say the greatest suffering you can do is to give your life for a cause. A statement one man made is that when a man forgets himself, he usually does something everybody remembers. That is very true, even in causes that aren't good.
There were how many men who forgot themselves on September 11 and in a misguided way flew planes into buildings around our country? What they thought they were doing was being great servants, and they were willing to suffer even to the point of death as servants. Those guys did something we will never forget as a country. They couldn't have been more misguided, but they knew who their master was. I think they're just going to find out their master was disguised as an angel of light.
That is why you must decide who your master is, and you'd better do the work to determine if your master is one worth trusting in. What Christ is calling you to do right here is absolute foolishness unless he's who he claimed to be, just like those men who flew those planes were absolute fools unless Osama bin Laden knows who Allah is and was right about his opinion of who Muhammad is, because, frankly, they applied the Qur'an as accurately as you could.
If they make the decision that this country is evil and against Allah, then they did what they ought to do: give their life in the fight against it. Now, I think the world has spoken rather unanimously about that diagnosis of where evil really lies, but I'll just tell you that these men forgot themselves and did something everybody remembers, and they were willing to suffer to do it.
There are only two places in the Scripture where it specifically says Jesus did this as an example. The very first one is in John 13. Jesus had just gotten through washing his disciples' feet, and he said, "I do this as an example for you." What he's showing the example of there is the example of a servant. There's another place in 1 Peter 2 that says, "For you have been called for this purpose, for Christ died for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps."
Then it goes on. "This man who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he reviled not in return; while suffering, he didn't utter threats, but he kept entrusting himself to him who judges rightly." We can talk all day long here about who we worship, but real worship is going to happen when we walk out those doors, and who our master is, and if we serve that master.
I want to celebrate the fact that we have a God who is patient with us, who doesn't mock us in our longings for greatness. He says, "That's how I made you. Pursue greatness. Just make sure you know what greatness is, and make sure you know the right strategies to get it, and then follow me, for I didn't come to be served but to give myself for others." Here's the passage that captures this whole thing:
"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider one another as more important than yourself. Don't merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. Have in yourself the same attitude which is in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a bondservant.
And being found in appearance as a man, and being made in the likeness as a man, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore, God gave him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, 'You're the greatest. You are God. Only God could have lived a life like that. Only God would have done what you did.'"
Then Paul says at the very end of that little section, "Therefore, work out your salvation with fear and trembling." It doesn't say, "Work for your salvation." Here's the cincher: If you're made for ultimate glory and essential greatness, be careful how you live your life. Be careful how you do as a worshiper, because every day is an opportunity to move toward the fulfillment of that greatness. Be careful that you redeem the time, for the days are evil.
Give yourself for something bigger than you, for the glory of God and the good of your fellow man, just like God does, and work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because if you, James and John, want to be right here and right here, those seats are for somebody. Who are they for? They're for people who do what he did. They give their lives for others. Folks, you have to be whacked to do that unless Jesus is Lord, and then you're crazy not to. So I ask you…Who's your master, and what are you doing about it? Let's pray.
Lord, I thank you for this great little section of Scripture that lets two guys go forward and ask for what we really all want. We want you, God, to do for us whatever we ask. We want you to make us great, and you don't call us names, because you say we were made for that purpose, to share in your glory, to be glorious, but all of us, Lord, have sinned and fall short of your glory because we have raised for ourselves other masters, other idols, other means through which we will attain that which you called us to.
So we thank you that today we ran into you and you said, "Hey, Todd, let me tell you something. I don't have a problem with what you're longing for, but I want to help speak again into your strategies for it. You have to quit living for power now so you can have ease now, because it ain't about now.
I take you back to the funeral of my creation, Alexander the Great, who had more than you'll ever have and who ended with nothing. In the eternal scope of things, great is not assigned to that name. Great is assigned to the name of one who conquers by love and who conquered through a cross, where he took away the sting of death, the consequence of sin, and the eternal separation between a holy God and the people he loved to give glory to."
Father, I thank you for that bridge of the cross which has brought me back into your glory. I offer to you nothing, ever, except the essential greatness of the one who was sacrificed for me, and by faith I'll stand boldly before you, covered in his blood. Father, for those of us who have made a decision to follow after that great man, would you, in your grace, give us the ability to be worshipers who live our lives following in his steps, entrusting ourselves to the one who will judge rightly, when we're wrapped in graveclothes and living for something that is other than the now?
Lord, that takes tremendous faith. It takes the conviction of things hoped for and the assurance of things not seen, and in that it takes what you've called us to do: to be men and women of faith who follow hard after you. We thank you for the man in the middle who keeps giving his life away and that he is the greatest of all leaders because he asked for us nothing less than he was willing to do himself. We're reminded again of Christ's incredible love and why we worship him forever. In his name, amen.
The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. <strong></strong> This volume covers Mark 10:35 through Mark 12:44.