Mark 10:42-45 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.”
When Jesus says, “their high officials exercise authority over them,” literally, “high officials” is “their great ones.” Think about the names of world leaders who have had “the great” added to their names: Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, Charlemagne (which is Charles the Great), Peter the Great. Generally, these were men of blood and war. They expanded their influence by forcing their will on others. Their greatness came by way of power.
“Not so with you.” Greatness with God’s people is not about having the power to force your will and get your way. The Church throughout the ages has suffered far too much from such a caricature of godly leadership. Those of us who lead should repent for the times that we have tried to use our positions that way. But if not by one’s own force or power, then by what?
“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Do you want to be great in God’s eyes, playing a key role in God’s plan to save people, being an important part of the work of his kingdom? Then be a servant to others. A servant is focused on what he or she can do that will benefit everyone else, no matter what the sacrifice, the difficulty, or the unpleasantness for oneself will be.
Then be a slave to all, someone who has completely given up one’s own will, who has stopped thinking about what is best for me and makes me happy, to take care of the needs of others. This does not remove all authority or a godly chain of command from the church. But it does remove the self-seeking spirit of the sinful nature. It follows the path to truly godly greatness, one that comes not by power, but by service.
In doing so it is following Jesus himself. “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 is the very Son of God. Yet when he came into our world he did not throw his weight around. He didn’t use his divine power to control what everyone else was doing. He didn’t force people to agree with him and become his disciples. He didn’t expect people to wait on him hand and foot and make his life easy.
He served. He healed. He taught. He pleaded. He loved. He went without sleep. He went without food. He gave away much of the money he received. He won our trust. He proved his love.
He gave his life as a ransom for many. Because God’s view of greatness is such a foreign concept to us, because I want to look out for me and bend everyone’s else’s life to serve me, because I am so obsessed with the respect and honor I believe are due me, because the one feature of my life that truly deserves the adjective “great” has to do with my sin, Jesus traded places with you and me, and everyone else. His life given at the cross became the ransom, the price that pays for our sins and sets us free from them.
You see, if we follow Jesus, we will follow him through serving other people. We can follow him in suffering for what we believe. But when we come to his cross, he stops us. “This is as far as you go,” he says. “In order for you to get up there, I will have to trade places with you. Give me your sins and your guilt, and I will carry them up on the cross with me. That is the last you or anyone else will ever see of them again.” And they are gone, forgiven, completely taken away.
Then, when God looks down on us from heaven, it looks like we have finally achieved godly greatness, because Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.