Following the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Pastor David continues the “What It Means” series by explaining the “upside-down” nature of the Kingdom. We learn through the teaching of Jesus that true leaders are true servants.
part 20 the greatest in the Kingdom
We have been discussing what it means to be a citizen in the Kingdom. We have walked through the SOM in which the main theme seems to be righteousness, not just an outward and physical righteousness but an inward righteousness that comes from the heart because in the Kingdom the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
I mentioned briefly that the Kingdom is an upside down kingdom (inside out, backwards, counterintuitive). Going forward, that will be our main focus and we will camp out on some ways in which the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed an upside down kingdom.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY AN UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM?
We mean that in many ways our views, our thinking, our paradigm, our lifestyle will be the complete opposite of those outside the Kingdom of God.
CONSIDER OUR KING AND HIS ENTRY & CROWN.
When King Jesus rode into the capital city of Jerusalem in John 12, he was not on a horse with sword in hand but on a donkey. Then, he was not fitted with a crown of gold and jewels, but a crown of thorns. They expected him to lead Israel in triumph over their physical enemies with the sword, namely the Romans, but the scriptures tell us that having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
So he triumphed over an unsuspecting enemy, the unbelieving religious leaders and their followers and the means of his triumph was not the sword in putting them to death, but the cross in his being put to death.
Intuitively, the religious leaders would look at this and say that they won, Jesus lost. BUT, in shedding his blood, atonement was made for sinners to be reconciled to God. Not a loss for Jesus and his followers, but a win.
This is indeed an upside down kingdom.
DEFINING SUCCESS DIFFERENTLY
Last week we wrapped up the SOM by saying that according to Jesus, to heed is to succeed. In an upside down Kingdom, success is defined differently. How do we define success in the world? More stuff, more money, better car, bigger house, hot wife, maybe not even wife just multiple partners – hot partners?
How do we define success in the Kingdom? Knowing God and making him known. Walking in obedience to the decree of the King. A life of faith expressing itself through love. Loving God, loving others. Doing to others what you would have them do to you. That is success in the Kingdom of God.
SUCCESS IS AN INTUITIVE DRIVE
By nature, we are driven by success, greatness; for many people life is a quest to be the best.
This begins at an early age. When we get in the van as a family, I usually hear from one of my children I won I got my seatbelt on first. And of course the one who lost says, “It’s not a race.” Why? Nobody wants to lose. This doesn’t stop with seatbelts. This kind of competition, this desire for greatness, this quest to be the best is seen everywhere in society.
After all, what are the Olympics? Just a time for people to get together and play some games? There’s no winner. We are all here just for fun. No, the competitors want the gold medal; they don’t train for the silver. What is American idol? A show where we just koombaya and sing cause we like to. No, I’m the best singer out there and I’m going on the show so that the world can see that and crown me with my rightful position as the greatest.
People desire greatness; humanity is on a quest to be the best.
This drive to be great is seen in the actions and words of the apostles.
Turn with me to Mark 9:30ff 30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
HOW DID THAT CONVERSATION GO? I’m the tallest. But I’m the strongest. But I’m the fastest. But I’m the oldest. But I’m the smartest. But I’ve driven out the most demons. Who knows, but in this discussion we can see that intuitive desire for greatness, they are on a quest to be the best. And when Jesus asked them, they didn’t shout it out loud and proud. Seems as if they knew deep down that their discussion was out of place.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
So they didn’t tell Jesus what they spoke of, but he knew. Jesus, knowing what they were talking about called a pow pow in order to give them some insight about greatness in the Kingdom. “Hey, you guys were arguing about who was the greatest. Let me tell you about greatness in the Kingdom. Out there, in the world you win, you’re the winner. The first are first and the last are last. However, in the kingdom, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” We find that Jesus says this phrase or at least some semblance of it five times in the gospel narratives.
What an upside down Kingdom. What a paradigm shift. Right there, Jesus gave them some profound insight. So they got it, right? From that day forward, they understood that in the Kingdom the last are first and the first are last and all of the implications? It was a learning process.
Check out what happens in the next chapter. Flip over to
Mark 10:35ff 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
When you come in your glory and sit on your throne as King, let one of us have the seat to your left and the other the seat to your right. Expecting a kingdom of this world, not fully understanding that the kingdom is upside down, they are thinking, “Jesus is going to be crowned King. When he does, we want to be the ones on his right and on his left.” Because those are positions of greatness and we want to be great. The greatest of all, is the King and that’s Jesus, but we can at least have like the second and third greatest positions.
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “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, 40 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.”
Now, can you imagine if word got out to the other 10 apostles that these guys went to Jesus and requested this?
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Why do you think the other ten were indignant? Well, because they too wanted to be great. They too were on a quest to be the best. I want the place of power next to Jesus. I deserve it. I thought we settled it. I’m the oldest. And these guys went to him and asked for it. The nerve of those guys! Time for another powwow.
42 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.”
We have already said that people desire greatness; they’re on a quest to be the best. But why? What were the underlying motives? They wanted the spotlight. They wanted glory. They wanted a position of power and lordship over others.
That’s what the disciples were after. That’s what people in the kingdoms of the world are after. When you’re the boss, you get to boss others around. When you’re the boss, people report to you. When you’re late, you have to answer to the boss. When you’re the boss, you come in late, who do you have to answer to? Who wouldn’t want that kind of power and authority?
MEETING WITH MANAGER
I had a meeting with the engineering manager recently at work. We were sitting in the conference room and the door was open. He was getting a little loud and I thought, that is probably disturbing to the rest of the folks out there trying to work. So I said, here, let’s shut that door so we don’t disturb them. You know what his answer was? “Oh, I’m the manager. Psht. They can deal with it.” What he was ultimately saying is, “Since I’m the one with authority, they serve me. I don’t serve them. I don’t have to be considerate to them, but they do to me. They have to report to me, but I don’t have to report to them.” Outside of the Kingdom, people see their position of authority as a means by which to serve self and do what is in their own best interest to the neglect of others. They use their position selfishly and Lord it over others.
Jesus words it this way: You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
Out there, in those kingdoms, in the Kingdoms of the world, those in positions of authority exercise their authority in a way that seeks their own glory, their own benefit, their own comfort. It is a very self-serving exercise of authority. They feel they are better than the rest and should thus be served by them. The mentality is they exist to serve me because I am the best. Jesus says, that is how the kingdoms of the Gentiles operate. BUT NOT SO WITH YOU!
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. Greatness in the kingdom is not defined in the same way as it is in the kingdoms of the world.
Take the world’s understanding of greatness and flip it upside down for Kingdom of heaven. In the Kingdom of Heaven, The best serve the rest.
If I’m the boss, I don’t see my position as one that affords me the right to do whatever is in MY best interest and serve self. Rather, my position is one in which I serve my direct reports. I hold myself to a standard higher than the one I set for others. I don’t posture myself such that I lord it over them, I position myself under them in the sense that I humbly serve others. That is greatness in the Kingdom.
Greatness out there is determined by how many people you have under you, serving you. In the Kingdom, however, greatness is measured not by how many people you have serving you, but how well you serve others. Want to be great in the Kingdom? Then, be a servant because in the Kingdom the best serve the rest. You want to be first in the Kingdom, be the slave of all, in the kingdom the first are last and the last are first.
PEOPLE STILL HAVE AUTHORITY IN KINGDOM
Jesus isn’t saying that in the kingdom nobody gets a position of power or that we shouldn’t. It means that if we do, then we don’t operate in that position as those in the world operate. We don’t lord it over others and exercise power to the benefit of self; rather, we serve others and empower others for their benefit.
Citizens of the Kingdom do have positions of authority over others. And the God-inspired text calls those in the Kingdom to submit to those in authority, but in the same breath the inspired text calls those in authority to lead in ways of servanthood.
- Ephesians 5:22 Wives submit to your husbands. Husbands have a position of authority to which wives are to submit. But how are the husbands to exercise that authority? Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. He is to serve her. In the Kingdom the best serve the rest.
- Eph 6:1 Children obey your parents. Parents have authority over their children. But how are parents to exercise that authority? Eph 6:4 Fathers do not exasperate your children. Instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. They aren’t to Lord it over them, but to serve them. In the Kingdom , the best serve the rest.
- Eph 6:5 Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear. But how are masters to exercise their authority? Eph 6:9 Masters treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them. They weren’t to lord it over their slaves, but to recognize that he who is both their masters is in heaven. In the Kingdom, the best serve the rest.
So citizens of the Kingdom have positions of authority, but the way they exercise that authority should look radically different from those outside the Kingdom.
WHAT WOULD THIS LOOK LIKE?
What would this look like on a practical level if citizens of the kingdom live out this mentality of servanthood, this mentality that doesn’t say “I’m better than you” but one that says “I will posture myself as your servant”? What would that look like?
People in the kingdoms of the world passionately pursue the position of greatness as they define it in various ways. They do what they need to do to climb the corporate ladder. Sometimes they throw people under the bus to get there, or they do shady things and dishonest things in order to get to the higher position over people.
Imagine if citizens of the Kingdom of God pursue with passion the position of great according to Jesus’ definition?
IN THE OFFICE. Rather than throwing others under the bus, they would love, serve, and empower others. They would look not only to their own interests so that they might climb the corporate ladder but operate with integrity with a TEAM mentality instead of an I mentality. I can imagine their employers saying things like, “Man, there is something different about that guy. I know he is a Christian and I don’t know that I can get behind all that Jesus stuff, but man, if this is what Christians are like, then I want to hire only Christians. They don’t hop on the gossip train or start drama. They squash it. Instead of joining in to slander, they encourage other people to go to those with whom they have problems in order to seek resolution.” Wouldn’t Christians in the workforce do a real number on their respective places of employment living by the Kingdom principle that the best serve the rest? Christians empowering others to do their jobs well instead of seeking to lord power over others. Rather than saying things like that’s not my job they gladly serve in areas outside of their scope of work. Rather than trying to protect one’s position of power by not sharing information out of fear that he or she is replaceable, he or she gladly empowers others because in the Kingdom the best serve the rest.
Imagine what this would look like if Christians employed as government officials were to live out Kingdom principles. They wouldn’t be swayed by lobbyists, but focused on serving the people and doing what is in the best interest of the community, not just themselves. For them, the phrase $ talks is not in their vocabulary. They wouldn’t issue campaigns focused on digging up dirt on their competition in order to appear superior. They would focus on doing what is good and right and just, and their policies would speak for themselves. For citizens in the Kingdom the best serve the rest.
IN THE CLASSROOM.
There’s that kid who is the best. That straight A student who has amazing notes and just gets it. A worldly mentality may be, “I want to be the best, so they can fend for themselves. If they didn’t take good notes, that is their own fault.” However, for a Kingdom citizen, the mentality would be upside down. I should share my notes to empower my classmates so that they, too, will be successful. I’ll take time to tutor other students who are struggling. In the Kingdom, the best serve the rest.
CHRISTIAN INTERACTION WITH UNBELIEVERS
We have probably all heard the term “holier than thou.” What exactly does that communicate and how is it often used? It is used to describe the way Christians come across to non Christians. Christians tend to exude an air of superiority. I’m greater, I’m better, I’m more religious. If Christians live out this principle that the best serve the rest, would this not eradicate this air of superiority? Would we not posture ourselves in such a way that says, “We are all sinners in need of a savior and I’m no better than you. I have found rest in my soul and peace with God through Jesus and you can have that relationship too, let me introduce you to him.” Rather than giving the impression that we see ourselves as holier than thou, others would recognize that we aren’t posturing ourselves above them and over them as better than them, but coming alongside them in humility. And ideally, rather than the remark of “those Christians think they’re better than everyone else” the remarks would be “look at the way that those Christians, in humility, treat everyone else and serve others.”
JESUS PRACTICED WHAT HE PREACHED.
This teaching on greatness in the Kingdom is challenging. It is paradigm shifting. It would be one thing if Jesus taught these truths with words alone. But Jesus didn’t just verbalize this. He mobilized it. He modeled it. He didn’t just preach it. He practiced what he preached. Jesus modeled this in the most amazing way.
The pervasive thought is that it is difficult to serve others because we tend to be selfish and prideful. We tend to think that we are entitled. I’m 8 so I deserve an iPhone. I’m 16 so I a car and I deserve to have the insurance paid. I graduated high school so I deserve to go to college and have that paid for. I deserve to be served. I deserve to have others do for me.
We all have this sense of entitlement to varying degrees and I would venture to say that the higher up you are on the chain or the pyramid, the harder it is to humble yourself and to serve. As the head of the household, there is an intuitive sense of entitlement: I get to control the remote control, drink the last coke, eat the last slice of pizza, I control the thermostat; you’re cold, grab a blanket. As the boss I make the office policies. As the CEO, how much more do I get to mandate the affairs of the business.
To serve requires a heavy dose of humility and that gets harder and harder the more authority one has, because after all, “I have worked hard for this position and I now have a sense of entitlement. Serve? I deserve to be served.” Now in the grand scheme of things, who has a higher position of authority than the King? Who has more authority than the king of kings? Who has more authority than Jesus? Jesus says in Matt 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” All authority. If anyone deserves to be served it is King Jesus.
And look how he exercised this authority. Though he deserved to be served, he says, “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.” Imagine how much humility it would take to be the King, the Messiah, and to then wash his disciples’ feet, yes, even the feet of the one who would betray him that very night. Imagine how much humility it would take for King Jesus to subject himself to the spitting, flogging, mocking, and crucifixion? Imagine how much humility it would take to go to the cross on our behalf. Though he was without sin, he became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. Though he was charged with wrongdoing that he did not commit, though he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
What humility from the one in the highest position of authority! To what extent did Jesus serve? To the fullest extent. He laid down his life!
If the one with all authority set aside his divine prerogatives and served in this way, how much more should we who are far lower on the chain, who are far lower on the pyramid, set our pride aside and serve others. As much as we feel an intuitive sense of entitlement, in this upside down Kingdom, we, like our king, should set that aside and in humility, serve others.
In the Kingdom, the last are first and the first are last. In the Kingdom, greatness is defined by servanthood. In the Kingdom, the best serve the rest.