“Jesus Wants Us to be Great”



Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. Have you ever played the game called GOAT? I'm not referring to a game that requires people to name certain animals. I am referring to those four letters as an acronym for ‘Greatest Of All Time.’ Oh, we ask the question, “Who is the greatest basketball or football player; who is the greatest leader or president; who is the greatest scientist doctor or theologian of all time?” It is interesting to get a variety of opinions from different people. There is really no way to determine the winner. And, we sometimes play that game among ourselves, as well. We try to be just a little bit better than our friends or neighbors, in different ways. Measuring up to or even surpassing others is important because we want to be thought of as somebody special; and, that is a great temptation that challenges many people. In our lesson today, on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will study what Jesus had to say about being great. Oh, He was not referring to someone's athletic, ruling or intellectual ability. He was referring to how great someone is in the eyes of God. For Him, it came down to a matter of service and sacrifice. Greatness is not about being served by others but about us serving other people. It is also about living a sacrificial life, as Jesus' disciples. For the next few minutes, we will consider the importance of living such a life. We will think about what it means to be great, not in the eyes of others but in the eyes of God. I hope you will join us for this message, as we now open our Bibles and study together.



In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus predicted, on three separate occasions, His suffering, death, and then resurrection. And on each one of those occasions, His 12 apostles and other followers were with him. All three accounts, found in chapters 8, 9, and 10, record basically the same prediction. In His final approach to Jerusalem, in the 10th chapter, Jesus makes this third prediction. We pick up with the story in chapter 10 of Mark, beginning with verse 32. <They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.”> Even after Jesus told His apostles, three times, He was about to suffer and die, they were still a bit confused. They were amazed by His words and simply did not understand. Mark does not record the details of Jesus' death on this occasion, but crucifixion was the common means of death the Romans used in that time; and, Matthew mentions that in his version, in chapter 20, verse 19. Well, obviously Jesus was not looking forward to any of that; and yet, He kept moving forward to Jerusalem. He was not afraid, nor was He uncertain about His mission. He trusted His Heavenly Father, and He knew that His Father's will would always be done. Well, as this group was traveling along, there were two of the apostles, or disciples, who asked Jesus to do something for them. Let's notice verse 35 and following. <Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.> To further point out the disciples confusion, two of them thought they could make a special request of Jesus, regarding their role in His kingdom. They thought perhaps Jesus would be setting up a physical, earthly kingdom. Perhaps they had in mind that Jesus would sit on an actual throne, and that He would live in a palace and he would rule over all of the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. And, if that was the case, they would come to Jesus for advice and counsel and help in various situations. Well, with that in mind, these two brothers, James and John, thought He would obviously need some assistance. They would want to be His so-called vice-presidents and reign with Him and handle some of those requests and be the right-hand and left-hand assistants of Jesus. Well, there are a couple of problems associated with that. First of all, Jesus had no power to grant such a request. That type of thing belonged to His Father. Jesus was not in a position to make that determination. Jesus did not say or do anything without receiving that guidance from His Father. And so, Jesus responded by saying, that is not up to Me to decide. But the idea James and John were focused on was securing a place of power and position. They wanted to be those special friends of Jesus. They wanted to be in a place of importance. They want all of the people, and even their fellow apostles, to admire them and to think that they, indeed, were somebody special. Well, although James and John had no idea of knowing what all would soon take place, the two people who were on Jesus' right and left hand in His glory, were two thieves. As Jesus was put to death, we know that He displayed the glory of God; and those two criminals, those two thieves, were sacrificed, were crucified, with Him. The second thing we notice about the request was, as Jesus pointed out in verse 38, they really did not know what they were requesting. You know, James and John wanted a special place of honor. They wanted to be somebody special. In Matthew's account of this same story, it is their mother who makes the request on their behalf, in chapter 20. Oh, most mothers want the very best for their children. We see that even still today. And that perhaps is what is happening here. The mother goes to Jesus, with James and John beside her, and she says (basically), “My boys are special. My boys are perhaps better than all of the other apostles, and they deserve a place of honor. They can do a good job for You. Won't you please give them a place, one on Your right hand and one on Your left hand so they can be somebody special in the eyes of other people?” Well, perhaps that was what took place, as she made that request. And yet the cup and the baptism Jesus referred to here represented that they didn't know what they were requesting. It represented their suffering and their death; that, if these apostles, James and John and the others, were attached to Jesus and identified with Him and following in His footsteps then they would suffer and they would eventually pass away. They would die! Perhaps not in the same way Jesus did, but they would experience their own persecution and suffering and death. And surely this was not what James and John, or their mother, had in mind when they made such a request. Many years ago, I tried to check in to an out of state motel, with nothing but my out of state driver's license and a personal check. Well, that tells you how long ago that event took place. And the attendant with whom I was dealing had a number of questions for me, obviously, and I tried to answer them, to the best of my ability. I tried to explain to him what I was doing. I let him know that the funds with which I would be paying were certainly in the bank. But he was hesitant about letting me check in. And so, he excused himself for a moment, and he went to the back and began a conversation with his manager. And I saw the two of them talking, there in the background, and I could read their lips. The manager looked at me, and then he asked a question of the attendant; “Is he somebody?” And the attendant responded by saying, “I don't think so.” Well, when I recognized what was being said, my feelings were hurt. I'm not somebody special. The vote had been cast and I was a nobody. Well, perhaps at one time or another, we all want to be a somebody. We want to be recognized as someone special or to have a place of honor. And I suppose that is just part of our human nature. We have that tendency, that desire or ambition, like James and John did, to have a place of recognition and importance. Well, once the request had been made, and Jesus assured them that was not going to happen, we notice that the other 10 became upset with James and John. Maybe they did not like them or their mother making such a request, or perhaps they wanted that very same position that James and John sought for themselves. Well, after three predictions about Jesus' suffering and death and resurrection, one would think the disciples knew, somewhat, about what was going to happen; and yet, this part of the story reveals they really did not. They did not understand what it meant to truly follow Jesus as the Son of God. And yet, Jesus tried to teach His disciples these things on several different occasions throughout His public ministry. For example, in chapter 8, when Jesus first made that prediction, He told about His upcoming death and resurrection in verse 34. And He spoke these words: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Well, that is what it means to be His disciple; to put other people first, to deny ourselves, to not think too highly of ourselves. And we may, too, have to bear a difficult road on the way to experiencing maybe even a cross, like Jesus did. We may be persecuted and suffer and experience hardship along the way. And as Luke puts it, we put our hand to the plow, but we don't look back. We make the commitment to follow Jesus and to be His disciple, and then we stay with Him. On a previous trip, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. And Jesus took that occasion to make His second prediction, in chapter 9. And He spoke these words, in verse 35: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Again, and in another way, Jesus tells them, you cannot be great in the eyes of other people if you want to be great in the eyes of God. You are to be a servant of the people whom God puts before you. Jesus tried to help His disciples understand what following Him looked like. It was not about living a life of ease and comfort. It was not about receiving attention and honor from your friends, from your peers or from others in society. Rather, following Jesus was, and still is, about living a life of humility, about serving other people and about becoming great in the eyes of God. Well, that is Mark's emphasis, as he closes out this story, and we continue here in Mark 10, with verse 42 and following. <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. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.”> The rulers of the Gentiles, that is mentioned here, was another name for the Jewish leaders. They were the teachers of the Law, the scribes, the Pharisees, and other such groups of people, who believed they were better than everybody else, and so they lorded that over them. They looked down upon other people who were not like them. They even created some other laws for the people to follow; yet, they, themselves, did not follow them. And as a result, they thought they were great in the eyes of other people, and they wanted and commanded that kind of respect and spotlight and attention. And that, perhaps, is what these two disciples, James and John, were thinking for themselves. We want to be great. We want to be recognized as somebody special. And yet, Jesus pointed them in a different direction. In fact, it was the opposite direction. He showed them what true greatness really looked like. Throughout His ministry, Jesus set the example of that. He went about doing good and showing love and living with humility; and, He invited His disciples to do the same thing. Oh, to be a 'someone' in the eyes of God would require them to live differently. It would require them, and even us today, to not follow the crowds, to not seek that fame and that power and that significance, but rather to understand that our greatness and our significance would be measured by our service to other people. Jesus was about to provide the greatest act of service this world has ever known. When He did get to Jerusalem, He would redeem people from the curse of sin and the sting of death; that, after He would be beaten, He would die upon the cross of Calvary, and He would bear our sin upon His shoulders. But with that, He would take our curse of sin away and give us the opportunity to embrace the forgiveness of sin. And as Jesus rose up from the dead, so too, we can rise and experience a new life, a new hope and a new beginning, as a child of God. Yes, that was the ultimate sacrifice. That was the greatest gift that has ever been given. And any act of service or sacrifice we might do can never measure up to what Jesus has already done. We can't set people free. We cannot redeem them from the curse of sin. We can't do what Jesus did. However, as we think about Jesus’ teaching, we can do something! Like these disciples, here in Mark 10, we too, perhaps, are walking down our road of discipleship; and like them, we are to count the cost of doing so. It might be a road that is marked with suffering and loss. It might require us to make some sacrifices that other people are unwilling to make. But followers of Jesus do not fit in with the culture; rather, they go against it. Followers of Jesus do not seek the attention and the praise of other people; rather, they are content to serve people who need God's love and forgiveness. Perhaps we can say it like this: Jesus' disciples are content to be at the back of the line. That makes sense, doesn't it! We're content to be at the back of the line, serving those who are in front of us, ministering to other people, as we don't think about our own interests and desires. Yes, discipleship is a matter of serving others instead of being served by others, just like Jesus stated there in verse 45, which we just read. And those who truly follow Him will have to make some unpopular and perhaps very difficult decisions. They won't give in to the temptation to be like everybody else and to seek that place of prominence, prestige and power. The apostle Paul wrote about that, in 1st John 3, verses 16 through 18. <This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.> Jesus was great in the eyes of His Heavenly Father, because He came not to be served, but to serve other people. And if we desire that very same thing, then we too will live a life of sacrifice and service. In one of Jesus' greatest statements, here in Mark chapter 10, verses 43 and 44, He tells us how we can become great. It is not found in being a ‘somebody.’ It cannot be achieved through popularity or power or privilege. It cannot be found in the way other people of the world might seek to find it, through the recognition and the attention they receive from their peers or from the crowds and the people surrounding them. But in order to become great, according to God's standards, we are to take the opposite approach.
As disciples, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. We walk in His footsteps and we serve other people. Yes, greatness is found in the very same way Jesus found it, through a life of humility and service. And that is the challenge before us today. We ask our self the question, are we striving for greatness according to the world's standards or are we striving to be great in the eyes of God? My prayer and my encouragement for all of us is that we recognize that as disciples of Christ we follow His example. We live a life of humility. We serve the people whom God puts before us. That is my prayer for all of us, as we seek to become great in the eyes of God.



This is one of the two largest football stadiums within a two hour drive of the place where I live. Now, many people come to this facility to see their favorite athletes, their son, their grandson, someone else, play a football game. And it is a really big deal to play in this stadium. The players also think it's a big deal. They put in a great deal of work and effort. They make some sacrifices in order to play on that football team, and some of them become great players. No doubt, they are great in the eyes of their parents and grandparents and others, but they are great in the eyes of other people as well. There's nothing wrong with being a great football player. There's a great deal of effort and time and work that go in to making one a great player. But what does God say about being great? Oh, He's not so concerned about us being great in the eyes of other people; He wants us to be great in His sight. And that, too, comes with some sacrifices. It comes with some service and some effort that we put forth in ministering to other people. Jesus was great because He gave His life in service for all people. He died for us. He purchased our salvation when He went to the cross and made the ultimate sacrifice. Yes, if we want to be great in the eyes of God, we are to do the same thing, to live a life of service to other people. We minister to and we love and we give of ourselves to people. We make those sacrifices. And even though we might not get much recognition, here, what really matters is that we are great in the eyes of God.



Thank you for joining us for today's broadcast. Becoming great in the eyes of God is challenging, and yet that is to be our goal as we seek to become Jesus’ faithful and dedicated disciples. This lesson is available to view or listen to again. It can be found on our website, at keytothekingdom.com. There are several other lessons there, as well, and they are all available to download in three different formats. I invite you to find some which will bless you spiritually. Additionally, there are short devotional thoughts and videos, which offer practical suggestions for walking closer to Jesus. The website also has information about our mission effort in India. We work with some committed people to provide encouragement and hope for those who are struggling in various ways. I also encourage you to download the “Key to the Kingdom” app onto your smart phone. It is a convenient way to access everything on the website. For quite some time now, we have been uploading weekly messages onto our Facebook® page. Every Sunday night a new two minute message is posted, and they are designed to offer spiritual encouragement throughout the week. And finally, by calling the number on the screen, or by sending us an email, you can leave a message which will be returned very soon. Once again, I want to say thank you for spending a few minutes with us today. I invite you to join us again next time, as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”