When the ten heard about [what James and John had requested], they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is one of the stories in the Bible that I tell a lot because it illustrates the radical difference between how the world works and how the kingdom of heaven works. And if we want to do a quick test to find out whether we work by the rules of the world or the rules of heaven, we don’t need to look beyond this story. Let me tell it to you quickly in my own words.
Jesus had just told his apostles he was going to die, but they didn’t seem too concerned about that. They were more concerned about what would happen to them after he died. Two of them, James and John, went to Jesus, asking to be seated on either side of him in heaven.
The other apostles got angry with the two men because those were positions that they sought for themselves, and Jesus had to call them to him and chew them out. Listen to what he says (I paraphrase for better understanding): In the world, people who want to become great, lord it over each other. In my kingdom, in heaven, if you want to become great, you have to become a servant. Talk about a paradigm shift! I become great by serving others?! Tell this to any “great” person and see how he laughs in your face.
And then Jesus says, “Look at me guys. I am the Son of God, but I did not come to be served but to serve, and offer my life as a ransom for many, and truly there is no greater way of service than this.” The apostles eventually understood what he was saying, and all gave their lives in service to others. This was literally so for all of them, except John, who died a natural death. This earned them the greatness that they sought. Their names are written in heaven.
Which brings us to us. How do we seek greatness? Jesus doesn’t have a problem with us wanting to become great; he questions the methodology. So, what do we do? Run after the acclaim of other mortals? Seek earthly rewards, be they money or prizes? Want our names to go down in human history books? Or would we rather have our names written in the books of heaven, praised by God almighty? This requires us to follow the rules of heaven.
We found one rule here. Let us discover the others. And ask the question: Whose rule do we follow: heaven’s or the world’s? The answer has eternal consequences.
May the Spirit be with you.