Sanctified Servers: The Priority of Serving

Sanctified Servers: The Priority of Serving

Muhammad Ali, the colorful 1960 light-heavyweight Olympic boxing champion who went on to hold the world heavyweight title three times, is known to have uttered many a memorable remark during his time in the spotlight. His personal catch phrase “I am the greatest” came to serve as an identifier of the man, in that whoever voiced it, one knew that person was alluding to Ali. 

It is another story of his to which we turn our focus, one that appears in Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes as well as in Karl Evanzz’s 2002 compilation I Am the Greatest: The Best Quotations from Muhammad Ali. 

Ali was flying to a prize fight.  He boarded the plane surrounded by fans and followers.  He was the greatest, most popular athlete on the planet.  Everyone knew who he was and admired him for his talent.  He went straight to first class where he sat in the seat with his sunglasses on and a smile on his face.  

He was served immediately with a warm hand towel.  He was given a glass of champaign and offered food.  Ali seemed to enjoy the attention.  Just before take off, a non impressed stewardess spoke to Ali politely asking him to “put on his seat belt”.  

Arrogantly, Ali told the lowly stewardess that “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”

Ali’s companions cheered at his response.  They clapped for him and sneered back at the stewardess.  Who was she to tell “The Greatest” what to do?

The stewardess leaned in to Ali.  She quietly whispered in his ear the following statement: “Superman don’t need no airplane.  Please buckle up or I will have you thrown off the plane.”

Ali looked back at the stewardess. His smile disappeared.  He quietly buckled his seatbelt and the flight took off.

Like Ali, we are all tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we should.  Somewhere along the way, we have all thought that we either want to be the greatest or we think that we are the greatest.  We just cannot help ourselves.  We want to be served like Ali.  We want fame, power and prestige like Ali.  We all have desired to be catered to in our lives.  

Saying this, there is great danger longing to be the greatest.  Desiring fame and power can run counter to the ideals of our Christian faith.  Those desires can actually blind us to what God has called us to do.  Can God use fame?  Can God use influential and powerful people to do His work?  The answer is yes.  God uses wealthy, powerful, important and famous people daily.  However, should we seek fame and fortune, or should we see God’s Kingdom and our place within God’s will?


Being First Is Not Always Best or Beneficial

Background and Context:
This morning we are reading from Mark 9.  Jesus has started His earthly ministry.  He has called the disciples to serve Him, be taught by Him, and to minister to others.  In this calling, the disciples have seen Jesus do some pretty amazing things. They have witnessed a host of unbelievable miracles.  Thousands of people are now following Jesus.  The spotlight is fixed firmly on their Master.  For the first time, people are talking about Jesus and His disciples.  The people know their names.  Chances are the crowds shout the names of the disciples as they enter local villages and towns.  Never before had these men, these nobodies, enjoyed such adulation.  

Naturally, the men begin to discuss just which of them is the best.  That’s what men do.  We cannot help but compare ourselves to each other.  We measure our worth by the accomplishments of other men and we often judge ourselves by these faulty standards.  

So, which disciple was best was the discussion of the day.  Who was the most powerful?  Who did Jesus like more?  Who was the crowd favorite?

The disciple’s number one priority that day was to be great!

You see the disciples, at this point in Jesus’ ministry, had missed the point.  They thought that Jesus’ Kingdom was an earthly one.  They were convinced that Jesus was coming to rescue their people from Roman rule.  They were excited.  When Jesus would become King, they would surly have positions of authority and power.  They would be famous.  Perhaps they could work out amongst themselves which disciple would be the best.  

Jesus overhears the discussion.  In the Scripture we see that Jesus attempts to refocus the disciple’s attitude towards giving rather than being great.  

Let’s check out today’s passage together.  

Mark 9: 33-37 ESV
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

The Disciples Flawed Thinking Led To…

I. Shame vs. 33
Mark 9:33-37 ESV
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent…

Have you ever been caught doing or saying something that you knew was wrong?  I have.  It’s a horrible feeling.  I can remember doing something when I was a kid that I have never told anyone about.  I am going to admit it here to all of you this morning.  Not even my parents know about this story.  The story takes place in the early 90’s.  I was probably 11 or 12 years old at the time.  My family had gone out for lunch at the local Picadilly.  We went there every Sunday after church.  My family had finished eating and we were waiting for the check.  I got a bit restless so I asked my parents if I could go to the lobby and wait for them there.  For some crazy reason my parents thought that was a good idea.  In the lobby was a pay phone.  Yes, a pay phone.  A device that one had to pay money to actually make a phone call.  I know, silly right.  It was during this period of time in my life that I was becoming well versed and skilled with foul language.  Now I never said anything foul to my parents, but my friends and I used it regularly with one another.  No one was in the lobby with me.  I wanted to practice my cursing but there was no one there to talk to.  So, I picked up the pay phone and dialed the operator.  A lovely voice answered on the other line and off I went.  I just started cussing.  I used every word that I could think off.  No, I was not cussing at the operator per say, I just wanted someone to hear me cuss.  I figured that the operator had ears.  I droned on for a minute or so then hung up the phone abruptly.  

I felt so good.  I laughed.  I had let every curse word fly and no one had heard me say anything.  I felt very satisfied with myself.  

The the phone rang.  It rang again.  It rang again.  A sinking feeling flooded me and I got a deep pit in my stomach.  I answered the phone.


The voice on the other end of the line was the operator I had just spoken to.

“I know who you are, I know where you live and I am going to tell your parents.”

I hung up the phone again.  I was TERRIFIED for weeks that I was going to come home from school and that operator would be there waiting for me.  I just knew that I was going to be busted.  

I lived with the shame and regret of that decision for weeks.  It was so terrifying that I can still remember it vividly some 30 years later.  

Friends, we make choices all the time don’t week.  Some of those choices are good and other decisions can lead to embarrassment and shame.  That’s exactly what happened to the disciples.  

They had been walking along the side of the road.  They were having a discussion that they thought was in private.  Their discussion was counter to the teachings of their master.  They thought their conversation, their secret desires of fame and glory, would all be hidden away from Jesus.  

They were wrong.  

Jesus instinctively knew their hearts and he called them out on it.  You can see their embarrassment and shame in the Scripture.  When Jesus confronted them on their thoughts, words and feelings, they remained silent.  No doubt when Jesus approached them about their conversation, they looked down.  They did not want to lock eyes with Him because they knew He would be disappointed.  Jesus was disappointed.  

You see, the disciples had no desire to become servants to the people.  All they were thinking about was power, fame, wealth, position and name.  They thought that Jesus was about to set up a new Kingdom and they wanted in on the top floor.  They were going to be his cabinet and they were trying to figure out who was going to be Chief of Staff.  

Not only did they misunderstand their placement in God’s Kingdom, the misunderstood God’s Kingdom in the overall concept.  They thought the Kingdom was earthly.  They thought that it had an earthly geographic location.  

So, why is this discussion such a big deal?  Well the disciples are displaying a powerful principle of being human.  We want to be boss.  You see, for the disciples, the first step was to see who was going to be in charge of the group.  Jesus knew the rest of the story because He had seen it before.  The next step for the disciples was going to to be to see who was going to be in charge period.  Where had Jesus seen this story?  Jesus had seen it displayed in the real life character of Satan.  

Isaiah 14:12-15 ESV
12“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
    to the far reaches of the pit.

Friends the desire to be the greatest is as old as time and first illustrated by Satan. This desire is perpetuated by our sinful attitudes and by the Devil Himself. Throughout Scripture, we see the Devil’s desire to be number 1.  He wants to be worshiped like God.  He wants to have power like God.  He wants to have followers like God.  

This morning, look deep into our spirit and look for any hint of thinking that we are better than others.  Ask yourself the difficult question, “am I demanding that others cater to me and my desires instead of serving people the way Jesus served people?”. 

The disciples knew they were busted.  They were ashamed of their actions.  They knew that Jesus had never emphasized first, best, or greatest.  Are we spending our precious time trying to be first, best and greatest instead of serving God, His people and His purposes?

Matthew 23:12 ESV
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The Disciples Flawed Thinking Led To…

I. Shame vs. 33
II. Separation vs. 33-34
Mark 9:33-34 ESV
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 

Notice the side effect of the disciple’s conversation, arguments! Scripture tells us that during the discussion of who would be the greatest, contention broke out.  Peter was mad at James.  John was mad at Thomas. Bartholomew was mad at Simon the Zelot.  No doubt they were all mad at Judas.  Lines were drawn.  The team was broken.  Each person felt that the others were less than themselves and that they deserved service.  

What a flawed way of thinking. 

When we talk about who is greatest, we often judge by faulty standards.  We never measure ourselves accurately.  We never measure ourselves to Jesus.  If we did, we would see just how far off target we all are. 

 When we talk about who is greatest, we often judge by short term accomplishments.  We think that our achievements are somehow greater and more important than someone else’s achievements.  Chances are the disciples were comparing how many times Jesus had complemented them or how many times Jesus asked them to do a certain task. Maybe they were looking at how many miracles they had performed.  Maybe Thaddaeus had healed a blind girl but perhaps Matthew healed someone paralyzed.  

As if any of these deeds were done under their power.  As if any accomplishment of their life was achieved under their authority of power.  

Our gifts, our abilities, all come from God and none are more valuable than the other.  They are the same value but used in different situations.  

Because the disciples were short sited, divisions found their way into the group.  

Friends, don’t think for a second that cannot happen to us.  If you are sitting here this morning, you are working on becoming a disciple of Christ.  It is easy to look around and start comparing yourself to others. It is easy to start thinking highly of yourself.  

I don’t have that sin.

I have been saved for way longer.

I am a deacon.

I have served on every committee.

I gave a huge sum of money.  

It is these sort of thoughts that open the door to selfishness.  Jesus, rather wants to open the door to selflessness.  Your gifts are not your.  Your perceived power and wealth are not yours either.  All these things belong to God and are to used to grow His Kingdom and serve others.  

How many times have we said to ourselves, “well the church is not meeting my needs”?  I have been doing this for nearly 20 years and not only have I heard this statement, I have said this statement.  Friends, it is not the job of the church to cater to your every whim, need or desire. It is our job to serve the church and put her needs above our own fancies.  

Friends, you were created to serve not to be served.  Our lot in life is not to be earthly Kings and Queens.  However, I have seen people in the church at just like that.  Let me prove it to you.  If God did not intend you to serve, He would simply beam us up right after we were baptized. Yet, we are baptized and low and behold we are still stuck here.  For what?  What do we do then? Where are we to go?  What are we do to?

Listen to this quote by Pastor Rick Warren:

“You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren’t created just to consume resources—to eat, breathe, and take up space. God designed you to make a difference with your life… You were created to add to life on earth, not just take from it. God wants you to give something back… God redeemed you so you could do His work. You’re not saved by service, but you are saved for service. In God’s kingdom, you have a place, a purpose, a role, and a function to fulfill. This gives your life great significance and value… For Christians, service is not optional, something to be tacked onto our schedules if we can spare the time. It is the heart of the Christian life. Jesus came ‘to serve’ and ‘to give’—and those two verbs should define your life on earth, too… You are going to give your life for something. What will it be—a career, a sport, a hobby, fame, wealth? None of these will have lasting significance. Service is the pathway to real significance. It is through ministry that we discover the meaning of our lives.”

Friends, it is my prayer that instead of trying to find our place in the hierarchy of power that we will try to find our place in the serving line.  

I heard a pastor once say it like this.  We have to many Christians wanting to be spoon fed like babies.  We have two many Christians wearing bibs.  We need more Christians wiling to wear aprons.  Aprons mean service.  We need Christians willing to give back.  

II Timothy 2:15 ESV
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. 

The Disciples Flawed Thinking Led To…

I. Shame vs. 33
II. Separation vs. 33-34
III. Shaping vs. 35-37
Mark 9:33-34 ESV
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Have you ever wondered why some statements were put in the Bible?
Notice that Jesus "sat down and called the twelve." What’s the big deal about sitting down? In Jesus' day, when a Rabbi was ready to give a profound lesson, he sat down before his pupils. The disciples had slipped into a gross error and committed a serious sin. They must be corrected and taught the truth. Their ambition needed to be instructed and guided in the right direction. Ambition is a virtue: But it must be directed toward the right goal. 

Jesus didn’t say that It was wrong to desire greatness, to desire to make a contribution.

Jesus did not rebuke the disciples' ambition.

What He did was to direct their ambition, their energy, their motive and efforts in the right direction.

The way to greatness is humble service.

If a person desires to be great, then he/she must actively seek to serve others.

No matter your position or authority, you are to actively work for the sake and benefit of others.

A person's ambition must not be to rule for the sake of holding position and authority or receiving honor from those around you.

To be great, a means to have ambition to use my gifts and abilities to serve others, helping and ministering to them in every way possible.

I love Brenda Anderson.  She is a talented and gifted artist.  Her medium is clay.  I have multiple pieces from Brenda in my office.  Just like this one.  When Brenda started, this was just a course lump of clay.  It had no purpose.  It had no real form.  It was pretty useless.  That is until met the potter.  When the potter found the clay, the clay too shape and form.  It found its purpose.  

The disciples were like that lump of clay and Jesus is the potter.  Jesus begins to shape and mold the disciples.  He points them in the direction of purpose and peace.  Perhaps that is happening for you this morning.  Perhaps you have been acting like a diva.  Everyone caters to you.  Maybe you are missing the joy of serving.  Moving forward, fix your eyes on Jesus and discover the power in serving others.  

Jesus decides to illustrate His point by using a nearby child.  Jesus tenderly welcomes the child into His arms.  He tells the disciples anyone who receives a child in the same manner as Him that they receive Jesus.  What is Jesus talking about?  What point is He trying to communicate to the disciples?

1. Children were considered second class citizen’s in Jesus’ day.  You’ve heard, seen and not heard.  Well in the ancient world, children were not even to be seen.  Yet, Jesus stops and loves this child.  He serves the child.  Jesus is demonstrating to the disciples that they, we, are to serve the lowest of the low.  There is no-one to low for us to serve.  

2. Receiving a child requires responsibility. I have three children and there are times it feels overwhelming. Serving can feel that way can’t it.  If God has given you a gift, a talent, a skill, then we are responsible for using it for His glory and for other’s good.  We are not here to squander our gift, rather we are to set it loose.  Are you using your gift, your talent in a responsible way.

3. Receiving a child requires forgiveness.  My children have taught me a lot about forgiveness.  I have made mistakes along the way and had to ask for their forgiveness. They have made lots of mistakes and I have had to forgive them.  When they make an errors, I don’t stop serving them and loving them.  I forgive them and serve them all the more.  When you are serving here in the church, you will notice that people make errors and mistakes.  it is our job to forgive, move on and keep serving.  

What a great promise Jesus gives to us.  When we receive a child, when we serve the humble and lowly, we receive Him.  We receive God.  

Are you looking for joy?  Are you feeling unfulfilled?  If that is you, find the Lord by serving others.  Today, make serving others your priority.  Make serving God’s Kingdom your number 1 priority.

Galatians 6:9 ESV
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

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