“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.” (Mark 10:45, CSB)
A paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but expresses truth. It can be an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion. In addition to the paradox of serving in the kingdom of God, there are many other examples such as to live, we must die (Luke 9:23-24) and to be strong we must become weak. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
In conventional thinking, those born into privilege or in some other way attain rank and status, believe that other people exist to serve them. Someone serves only until they can reach the point where they become “the served.” This is contrary to the teaching and practice of Jesus.
In fact, the principles that govern the kingdom of God stand in contrast to the way things are done in this world. When James and John came to Jesus, asking him to grant them a prominent position in his kingdom, He reminded them that those who are regarded as rulers in this world exercise authority over people, but that is not the way of the kingdom of God. This illustrates the conflict that exists between the way the world operates and the way the kingdom of God operates. If we have been educated and indoctrinated by the world, we may have a difficult time understanding that the pathway to success is to become a servant to all.
What does it take to get ahead and be successful in life? Once again, conventional wisdom is that we need to be aggressive and grab for what we can because most likely no one is going to hand it to you on a silver platter. Consider James and John, also known as the “Sons of Thunder.” In Mark 10:35-45, James and John ask to be seated in places of honor with Jesus when he sits on his glorious throne. How audacious and presumptuous of them. There is every indication that their parents instilled in them the belief that if you were to get ahead in life, you must seize the moment of opportunity.
You must be aggressive and let others know exactly what you want and do not be afraid to show your determination. And in one sense, you must hand it to James and John. They set their sights high. They did not want to take second place to anyone. Matthew’s Gospel suggests that their mother had a hand in all this. She was looking out for her boys and making sure that they were not shortchanged in any regard, especially pertaining to their advancement.
The other disciples were indignant with James and John. I think that the real reason they were upset was that they had not thought of it first. There is sufficient reason to believe that these were heady times for the disciples. Just think about what they were seeing; healings and miracles, along with the overwhelming sense of awe that the people had for Jesus. They just knew that this was going to be something big and each one of them wanted to have an important part in it.
What James and John, their mother, and the rest of the disciples failed to realize was that the kingdom of God operates on different principles than are found in the world. In fact, many things that are conventional wisdom by the world’s standards are turned completely on their heads by the principles that govern the kingdom of God.
I wonder sometimes if we are not guilty of false advertising in our efforts to persuade people to come to Christ. We tell people that if they come to Jesus that he will change their lives, give them peace and that they will have the promise of heaven. All of that is true, of course, but there is more to following Jesus. You know, those parts about denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily, serving others, becoming disciples, and understanding that we should not expect to be treated any better than Jesus was treated by this world. (John 15:20)
Ernest Shackleton was an explorer in the early 1900s. He ran this advertisement in the newspaper to recruit a crew.
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.”
It is said that based on this advertisement, he received over 5000 replies. Maybe it is about time that we as Christians recognize the call of servanthood to the cause of Christ. In our churches today we do not often hear something like these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Are we willing to labor in anonymity, are we willing to sacrifice our agenda or even lay down our lives for the cause of the gospel? To serve rather than be served is one of the paradoxes that we find in the kingdom of God that goes contrary to conventional understanding. Will we answer the call?