Luke 22:24-26 “Also, a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles Lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.’”
This was not the first time the disciples had this little fight. James and John had tried to become Jesus’ right and left hand men in the past. It earned them the resentment of the other ten.
Maybe the events of Palm Sunday, the cheers of the crowd and Hosannas to the King, stirred the whole thing up again. Like most of the Jews, Jesus’ disciples had trouble understanding just what kind of a Kingdom Jesus runs. When they heard “Kingdom” they thought of armies, palaces, land, and power. They wanted wealth. They wanted authority. They wanted power.
They needed a good spanking. Their understanding of God’s kingdom was childish. Their thirst for worldly greatness was sinful. Jesus provided the necessary chastisement verbally. “The kings of the Gentiles Lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that.” That might sound rather mild and gentle to us today. But don’t forget that these men were Jews. For them the Gentiles had always been “unclean.” To be compared to them was a shame. Jesus made it clear that controlling other people’s lives to serve yourself was not the way for his followers. Complimenting yourself with fancy, boastful titles like “Benefactor” was NOT a sign that you were one of God’s children. As the cross drew near, the disciples had better things to be concerned about.
Ungodly ambition has not disappeared from the church. Anytime someone wants to build a huge church or ministry, there is a danger of wanting to use it to display how wonderful, successful, or influential WE are instead of using it to display the self-sacrificing love and forgiveness of our Savior. Though God expects us to be responsible, concerned, active citizens of our country, sometimes Christian fascination with political power is born of this same sort of spirit. Concern for personal or worldly greatness does not serve our Savior.
The disciples’ concern even plays into the account of Jesus’ suffering for sin. While Jesus is preparing to face beatings, crucifixion, and the horrible wrath of God at sin, does he have the sympathy and support of his closest friends? No, they are too busy arguing about who’s the best. Later, when Jesus asks for their prayers in the garden, they take care of their own comfort by falling asleep. Together with these men, didn’t our own selfish concerns make the cross necessary in the first place?
Jesus was with them as one who served. He healed people, touched people, forgave people. He touched the leper before healing him. He forgave the adulteress. He fed the unappreciative crowds and would not let them make him king. He stayed up all night for these people. He skipped meals all day for these people. In just a few hours, he was going to give his life for these people. He didn’t do it because he had so much to gain. Love led him to serve. That is how Jesus exercised his Lordship, and power, and authority. For us, he lived the life we could not live. For us he died the death we could not die.
In such service, we know how truly great he is. Jesus offers his disciples such service despite their ambitions for glory and power, despite how little they value service and love to others. His service made our discipleship possible. His service shows the disciple what true greatness is like.