“Not so with you.” You will think different. You will act different. You will be different. “Not so with you.” What do you think the disciples thought when Jesus said this to them? Here they were all twelve of them bickering, fighting, and acting like a bunch of children over who gets the front seat on the eternal van ride with Jesus in heaven. “Not so with you.” Four words. Jesus spoke four words to remind these twelve men, his disciples, his chosen, that they were just that, chosen by him to be his followers; to be different. But what led up to this moment? First, a request.
Matthew tells us that the mother of the sons of Zebedee, that is the mother of James and John, asked Jesus to let her two sons “sit at his right and the other at his left in his kingdom.” James and John’s mother wanted her two boys to have positions of power and authority next to Jesus. Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the other ten disciples. We are told that they became “indignant.” They were angry. They were jealous. Why? Could it be that they were mad they had not thought of asking Jesus for these positions of honor first? Could it be that they thought John and James were being selfish and arrogant by making this request? “Not so with you”
Do you wonder what Jesus thought of all this? He had just shared with his disciples the complete picture of what he was about to endure upon his arrival in Jerusalem. There it was clear as day! “The Son of Man will be betrayed.” That same Son of Man “will be condemned to death” and that death would be at the hands of Gentiles who would have him “flogged and crucified.” Then the best part, “On the third day he will be raised to life!” Wow! There is salvation right there. Yet, where do we find the disciples? Uh, James, John, your trying to take our seat. “Not so with you.”
So, what did Jesus think of all this? Well, for one he was patient. He explained to James and John that he couldn’t grant their mother’s request. God the Father had already prepared those places at his left and right for the ones to whom they belonged. He was patient also with the other ten. He called them together. He wanted to make this clear to them before they reached Jerusalem. He wanted them to know that as his followers they were called to think differently about positions of authority, power, and greatness. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.”
‘My disciples, you have seen how the world runs. You have seen how rulers take advantage of their subjects and treat them with contempt. You have seen how unfair and how unjust it is to live in the kingdoms of this world.’ “Not so with you.” You will be different. If you want to be great in my kingdom, if you want positions of authority at my right and left, then you need to set aside your sinful ambition. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
Does that sound right to you? Seek greatness in God’s kingdom by being a servant? Be great in God’s sight by living as a slave? How does that work? That’s now how greatness is gained on this earth. Greatness is gained through hard work and dedications. Greatness is seized through power and strength. It’s won by outsmarting and outmaneuvering the competition. And once you have that greatness you don’t serve others! They serve you! “Not so with you”.
We as God’s children are different; we see greatness differently. Greatness means you serve. You look at the people around you and recognize that you are no better than they are because like them, you are a sinner. You recognize that both you and them have that same desperate need for a Savior. And when you recognize that need there is no room for sinful ambition. There is no room for competition. There is only room for service.
But often still even amongst children of God our temptation to go back to the world’s view of greatness corrupts our service. We are turned from the thought of, “How can I best help this individual,” to “How can helping this person best serve me.” Think about that the next time you do a favor for a friend or family member; what is your motivation? For those of you who are married, why do you make the bed in the morning, why do you vacuum or do the dishes? Is it to keep your nagging spouse off your back, or is it because you are eager to serve them and make their life easier? Children, what motivates you to obey your parents and teachers? Love for God and his commands or a desire to make yourself look better in front of your friends or siblings?
Do you see the issue? So often, we do what is right, but we do it for all the wrong reasons. We do what is right to benefit ourselves, and if it does not benefit us, we either do nothing, or we do it begrudgingly. That is not God-pleasing service, but seeking greatness for selfish, sinful ambition. We become those “rulers of the Gentiles” Jesus spoke of, who abuse their authority by failing to serve. This sinful ambition separates us from the greatness that is prepared for us in God’s kingdom. This sinful ambition leads us away from our Lord and into the jaws of the devil, where we will suffer for all eternity.
But, remember Jesus’ words from our lesson. “Not so with you.” Yes, often we fail to live that life of service God calls us to live. Yes, there are times when our sinful ambitions run rampant and we are no different from the people of the world, but it is in those moments that our God pulls us aside as he did with his own disciples and reminds us not just how we are different from the rest of this world, but why: we are different, we live with different attitudes and perspectives because we have seen clearly the ultimate service that our Savior did for us.
“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 perfect example of service, the title “Son of Man” is proof. Jesus is God, yet in humbleness, in service, he became a man. God put himself on our level, not to be served, but to serve. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty you might become rich.” Jesus left all the riches of heaven for you. Jesus set aside his power and glory to serve you. What was our Lord and Savior’s service?
“He gave his life as a ransom.” Jesus left his greatness in heaven to be under the law and to be obedient to death. Jesus left his greatness to serve us by dying for us. John writes in his gospel, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” When the chief priests asked Jesus if he was the Christ, he didn’t cower in fear, but openly and willingly confessed, “Yes, it is as you say.” When Jesus was spit at, struck with fists, and slapped, he remained silent as his attackers demanded that he prophecy “Who hit him?” Jesus our suffering servant, the servant of all, humbly and willingly began in our lesson that walk to Jerusalem in order to perform this service on our behalf, to offer up his life for his friends, for us. Our God served us by washing away all our sinful, selfish ambition. He didn’t do it for his own glory but for ours. Now we are great. Now we are holy and our place is at our Father’s side in heaven for all eternity.
One day in his studio, Leonardo da Vinci worked at a painting with his own matchless genius. Suddenly, handing the brush to one of his students, he commanded, “Paint on.” The student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to paint on that which his great master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him with the question, “Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?” “Paint on,” the Suffering Servant commands us, “wherever I put you, at whatever work I place before you. Let my service inspire you.”
Brothers and Sisters, “Paint on.” Seek greatness in God’s kingdom by imitating the service and love of the Servant of all, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As you go home tonight remember Jesus’ words “Not so with you.” You have been called to be different to seek greatness in God’s kingdom by serving others and by being a slave to all, “Paint on!”