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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Jesus Calls his Disciples to the Humility of Service
Text:Mark 10:35-45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 149:1,2                                                                              

Ps 101:2,3,4,5                                                                        

Reading – Mark 10:32 - 11:11

Ps 131:1,2,3

Sermon – Mark 10:35-45 

Hy 23:1,2,3,4

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, this church has office bearers, men who have been given charge of the congregation, to lead it and care for it. It’s a noble task, but I’m sure that every elder and deacon does his work with a little uncertainty. Here’s this task and position. There are meetings, and homevisits, and phone calls. There are some challenges, and many blessings. But what’s really involved in being an office-bearer? How to do the actual work? What’s the skill-set that you need? There’s no boot camp for office bearers, no preparatory school. There are books and articles you can study, but today we go back to the original and best training resource for office bearers—for all Christians!

That resource is the Word of God. Now, in Scripture you won’t find detailed instructions on how to conduct a homevisit. Nor does the Bible include a policy for distributing money to those who are needy. What you find is something more basic. For the Bible describes the attitude that an elder or deacon must have. We know that what lives in our heart determines so much about how we speak, and how we act. If we have a negative attitude towards people, or a critical attitude, or a proud attitude, then this is going to come out in how we treat others. But if our attitude is right, so much else will be right also.

So how should an office bearer approach his task in the church? What’s the right way to think about his duties, and to think about the members in his care? Today we focus on Jesus’ lesson to his disciples about the attitude of service. He says something surprising, yet something that’ll bring much blessing to those who put it into practice. I preach God’s Word to you from Mark 10:35-45,

Jesus calls all of his disciples to the humility of service:

  1. the ignorant request for glory
  2. the true way to greatness
  3. the perfect example of love


1. the ignorant request for glory: Have you ever been asked a loaded question? One of those questions that sounds innocent enough, but one that is heavy with hidden meaning? That’s what two of Jesus’ disciples bring to their Master. James and John come to Jesus, and they say: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (v 35). These two disciples want the proverbial “blank check,” the freedom to have whatever their hearts desire.

Before we condemn them for their selfishness, we should see why they’re asking this. What has moved these disciples to approach Jesus so boldly? Verse 32 tells us. It says that they “were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them.” And what is Jerusalem, but the very heart of the land! Jerusalem is where the important things happen.

Jesus has had his eyes fixed on the holy city for some months now. He wants to go there, because that’s where He will reach the highpoint of his ministry. They weren’t very far away anymore, and Jesus is leading the final charge; He is “going on before them.” The disciples can just sense it; they know something exciting and wonderful is about to happen in Jerusalem. And it probably has to do with glory! Honour! Power!

Yet have they completely ignored what Jesus said? Just before, He had taken the Twelve aside and He said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentles; and they will mock him, and scourge, and spit on him, and kill him” (vv 33-34). This was bad news for the disciples—a bit of rain on their triumphant parade. And this was even the third time that He has predicted his death!

But we don’t easily give up our views, do we? Right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there were wrong ideas about his purpose on earth. Popular opinion was that the Messiah will restore Israel’s earthly kingdom. Chase those Romans into the Sea, rebuild Solomon’s palace, and resurrect the throne of David!

Going to Jerusalem, you say? These two disciples want a piece of the action. They’re ready for the coming glory. Jesus knows this, but He is ever the patient master. For He replies to James and John in an open-ended way: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v 36). Jesus lets them make their request—this was another “teachable moment.”

Jesus probably expects that something bold will come from these two men. After all, James and John were nicknamed “the Sons of Thunder.” It was these same brothers who once wanted to call fire down on a village when it didn’t welcome Jesus and the disciples.

Here the “Sons of Thunder” live up to their name. They say to Jesus, “Grant us that we may sit, one on your right and the other on your left, in your glory” (v 37). Already they’re picturing Jesus on the throne in Jerusalem—and there’s the two of them on either side, in positions of importance and power. They’re ready to rule with their King. And rightly so! For they’d already done hard yards; they’ve been following Jesus for three years now. When prizes and awards are handed out, these disciples should be at the head of the line.

Isn’t that how it often goes in the church? We work hard. We make contributions. Maybe we serve in office, or maybe in less public ways, like cutting the grass or counting money. Year after year, we show ourselves to be faithful. We even do so gladly. Yet don’t we still hope for a little recognition, some praise? We don’t dare to be like James and John, coming right out and asking for a reward. But everyone wants it: recognition. We hope that someone notices the good we do, and praises us for our efforts. Sure would be nice!

And it is good to appreciate one another. It’s good that we notice and we thank those who serve the church in different ways. But true service has a motive that’s different entirely. That’s why Jesus rebukes his disciples: “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (v 38). Jesus is getting right to the heart of the matter. He wants to tell them about the nature of life in Christ’s kingdom. What’s the character of our service? He’s saying that it’s not about gaining power, or building reputation, or any earthly incentive!

But James and John hardly pause at Jesus’ words. They insist: “We are able” (v 39). “Sure, we can handle those things—no problem!” They’re so engrossed with earthly honour that they rush straight ahead. Maybe they reckon “the cup” that Jesus mentions has to do with some lavish royal feast: that’s the golden cup full of wine that they’ll drink! Maybe they figure “the baptism” Jesus mentions has to do with some luxurious spa-treatment at the palace!

No, they don’t get it. Maybe they don’t want to get it. Sometimes we’re guilty of paying attention only to the things in God’s Word that sound good. We like the promises of God’s gifts and blessings and rewards. So we might not even hear what Jesus says about our need to sacrifice and to deny ourselves, or what He says about the coming hardship. But here is the truth: Christ builds his kingdom with suffering and through service!

That’s what He’s talking about when Jesus speaks of “the cup” He’ll drink, and “the baptism” that He’ll undergo. This is his own torture and death. In the Old Testament, the cup is an image for God’s wrath: the cup is powerful and poisonous, deadly for those who had to drink it down. Jesus knows this is the bitter cup He’ll soon have to drain, to the last drop—as He is punished by God for mankind’s sin. 

Likewise, Jesus says He’s going to be “baptized” at Jerusalem. This won’t be a baptism like the first one at the Jordan, which was a happy occasion of enjoying God’s favour. No, this will be terrible anguish. Jesus calls it a “baptism,” because a whole flood of misery will sweep over his head. Instead of being showered with praise, Jesus is going to be immersed in pain. This is what He keeps trying to tell his disciples!

And now to the point: the disciples must realize that if they’ll really be servants of Christ, then they will share in the sufferings of Christ. Instead of a blank check, Jesus gives a reality check: “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink” (v 39). There’s no Easy Street that leads into the kingdom. Following Christ means a difficult cup, and a painful baptism. “You want a meaningful place?” Christ says. “You want a position of real value beside me? Then you have to get ready for hard times!”

Now, I suspect that no leader in the church—and no one among us—wants to hear that: “Get ready for the hard times!” We know it already, that it’s tough. We know that the devil is opposing us, that the world is hating us, and that we might not get our reward until the very last day. Yet it’s the truth! It’s hard, but it’s right.

For the marvelous thing is how God makes his kingdom come through sweat and struggle. It doesn’t come easy, but it progresses through our struggling efforts, through our work done quietly, through our work done at a high cost to ourselves. Things we don’t want to give up for the church, but we do—that’s valuable to Christ. Time we don’t want to spend on other people, but we do—that’s precious in the eyes of the Lord. Words that we don’t want to speak to our brother or our neighbour, but we do—it’s through it that the body of Christ can be built. Through these sacrifices the church of Christ is built!

And there will be blessing for Christ’s servants—there will be recognition. There is a crown of glory in store for those who are faithful. But Jesus tells James and John: “To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give” (v 40). He doesn’t concern himself with the assigned seating in the kingdom; it’s up to his Father to decide.

There’s a lot of freedom in that. As we serve Christ, in whatever capacity He has given us, we don’t need to think about rewards. Even if only one other person knows how we helped—even if no one finds out what our sacrifice really was—it doesn’t matter. That’s not why we did it. We don’t need to yearn for praise, and we shouldn’t worry about getting the approval of other people. Simply: we work for Christ. We aim for his glory. So make sure you’re faithful to the calling He’s given you!


2. the true way to greatness: James and John don’t seem too concerned about how the other disciples will react to their request. Selfishness has this terribly blinding effect, when all that I see is me. But “when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased” (v 41). Very quickly a schism opens up. When we put ourselves first, it doesn’t take long for others to resent us. Conflict results—within a family, or a church, or among office-bearers—conflict results when we become so attached to our own opinions, or so focused on what we stand to gain. The ten are upset at this display of arrogance.

Jesus has to deal with a sudden division in his inner circle. He calls them to himself and says, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (v 42). Here he points them to the Romans, the occupying power in Israel. The Romans were known for their elaborate authority structure of governors, prefects, senators, and ultimately, Caesar himself. This system of governing, while it worked in a way, was also known for its many abuses. It was all about asserting yourself, pushing yourself to the front of the line.

Not much has changed. In our society, people still say that a good leader is someone who is strong. We admire someone who projects confidence and knows how to win. It’s the Donald Trumps of this world who get elected, who rise to the top.

But Christ says that his church is fundamentally different. Being a good leader isn’t about insisting on your way. It’s not about dominating others or manipulating them. Instead, Jesus lays out this key principle of life and leadership: “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first must be slave of all” (vv 43-44).

The way of the kingdom—the way of elders and deacons, the way of every Christian at home, in the church, at school—is about service. It’s about being selfless. It’s denying your own will for the benefit of others. Every believer is called to have this attitude. Like Paul says in Philippians 2, “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.”

Think about how that attitude can transform our relationships. For example, think about life at home. Husbands and wives might love each other very much, and be committed to each other, but we’re still predisposed to be selfish. I still want to get my own way, and my things are more important than anyone else’s. But this spirit of service is so different—when the husband, because he is the leader, puts his focus on making sure his wife is well-cared for, and that his children are nurtured and loved. That’s the way of leadership that Christ will bless.

This servant-attitude makes all the difference in the church too. Because with a servant-attitude, we’ll be willing to put in that extra time for the church. With this attitude, we’ll be ready to chase after that member who is unfaithful. With this attitude, we’ll be willing to patiently give guidance to someone who is confused. With this attitude, we’ll take the time to listen to someone’s concerns. We’ll walk with someone through a time of crisis. It’s the way of Christ.

Having this attitude of service, one question should often be on the lips of elders and deacons: “What can I do to help?” It’s a good question for all of us, as we live together as church: “What can I do to help?” For we don’t always know what to do. We don’t know what someone needs. We don’t know the hurt that someone feels, and can’t understand the trouble that someone is in. And so, wanting to be a servant for Christ, we ask how we can help.

That’s a difficult thing to practice. By nature, we’re hard on everyone but ourselves. So we avoid those who have needs, unless they can be dealt with quickly. You might say that inside all of us there’s a little “Son of Thunder,” a “Daughter of Thunder!” Office bearers have to beware of this tendency too. It’s easy to come down hard on people. It’s easy to lose patience with the difficult ones, to forget to love the wayward. It’s tempting to want to call down heavenly fire on those who don’t repent.

But we take a different attitude: “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (v 43). In Christ’s kingdom, things are upside-down. If you’re willing to put yourself last, then you’ll end up being first. It’s when you give, that you’ll have more. Those who labour humbly, will gain true rest. Those who make themselves of little account are the ones who will find greatness in God’s way.

So I say to the deacons and the elders, and I say to all of you, brothers and sisters: Seek greatness! And seek glory! Seek it this way—in Christ’s way—by becoming less than the people around you. If you desire to be great in God’s eyes, then put the needs of other people ahead of your own. Set an example of love, an example of gentleness and grace. Seek true glory, by looking to…


3. the perfect example of love: Like everything Jesus said, He practiced what He preached here in Mark 10. He won’t command his disciples to do something, and not apply it himself. He shows the way by his life. He explains this to his disciples, and it’s the very pinnacle of his lesson, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v 45).

He did not come to be served… Sure, Jesus received lots of praise. Even at his birth, He had angels singing, and shepherds bowing. During his ministry He was hailed as Lord and King. In just a couple days, Jesus will enter Jerusalem hearing these happy cries, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (11:9)

But this isn’t why He came, to be served. At least, not yet. In due time, He’ll sit on a throne. In due time, He’ll restore the kingdom. But his first purpose is not to be great, but to be lowly. Jesus came to help. He came to help those who cannot help themselves. Like He keeps telling his disciples, He came to suffer and die. And He’ll do it, not because we’re so worthy of affection. But He will do it out of the abundance of his love!

He came to serve, and “to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus pays the price that unlocks the doors of our prison, and sets us free. The disciples need to remember what kind of freedom Christ was giving. It wasn’t freedom from the Romans or from any other political power. Just like we have to remember that our freedom in Christ doesn’t mean release from poverty or illness or death or trouble—at least, not yet. The Son of Man paid the ransom so that we could go free from sin, so we could escape the eternal punishment that we all deserved!

And that saving work of Christ is the vital pattern for our life. It’s the essential paradigm for Christian service. “For even the Son of Man—the King, the Messiah, the LORD—even He came to serve!” That puts the question to us: Will we be less willing to serve than Jesus? Will the students be greater than our Teacher? Let every office bearer know this, and let every disciple of Jesus remember: Our model is the Son of Man! Imitate his mercy. Imitate his faithfulness. Imitate his compassion for a broken people. Imitate the One who came to serve others.

If you’re working hard in the church, if you’re sacrificing for the kingdom, if you feel like you’re pouring yourself out for other people, then you’re in good company. This is what Jesus did. That was his life: service, for the good of sinners, and for the honour of God. And, as Paul says in Philippians 2, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

I understand that as office bearers, it’s easy to lose a sense of why we’re doing what we’re doing. In the busyness of it—or in the stress of it—we can forget the majesty of the God whom we’re so privileged to serve. So after a while, we can become very business-like about it all. “These are visits we’ve got to make. These are sermons I’ve got to write. Have to get through this. One more year, and then I’m out…”

But then we have to remember that the heart of ministry is Jesus Christ. This is the constant source of strength, this is our purpose. This is true for preachers, who bring the message of the gospel. It’s also true for the elders and deacons. Let the attention be put on the crucified Christ! Whatever a person’s circumstances, whether in joy or in tears, let Christ be lifted up.

The office bearers must tell everyone that the ransom has been paid—always go back to that truth. For that’s the only message that will bring strength to the weak. That’s the only gospel that will give an answer to the confused, or relief to the guilty. That’s what will give true joy to all: the finished work of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

It’s because of Christ that we make our visits, and we open the good news of Scripture together with families and young people and older folks. It’s because of Christ that we show mercy to those in need, wanting to show his love to the suffering. It’s even because of Christ that we place members under the discipline of the church, wanting them restored to God through his Son. We tell them that there’s no need to live in sin, because their ransom has been paid by Christ, and they’ve been set free.

We can’t save anyone. We can’t redeem even one sinner by our own efforts. By ourselves we cannot build the church. But what we can do is depend constantly on Christ Jesus, on his Word, and on his Spirit. So for office bearers who might feel a little uncertain, for office bearers who might feel a lot inadequate, this text points us in the right direction. As believers, it points us all in the right direction.

The Son of Man gave his life as our ransom. He came not to be served, but to serve. His example is our guide. And his ransom is our life!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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