A sermon on Mark 10:35-45

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

October 21, 2018

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


A favorite movie at the Dakin household is the 2006 film Talladega Nights—The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. How many of y’all remember that movie?…As you may recall, Talladega Nights is a comedy about NASCAR racing that stars Will Ferrell. The title character, Ricky Bobby, is a championship driver who wins it all, loses it all and then finds a measure of redemption toward the end.


My guess is that the movie is a favorite at my house for several reasons. First is that, as you all know, we are from Alabama—and in fact Miriam was raised in Talladega just a few miles away from the track. Second is that our boys Will and Raleigh are fans of comedian Will Farrell and will see practically anything that he is in. (I confess that I’m not nearly that big of a fan, but sometimes, Mr. Ferrell is really funny.) A third reason is that much of the action is filmed at the Talladega Superspeedway, which its website calls “NASCAR’s biggest and baddest track.” A lot of racing fans would probably agree. It is a place that we are familiar with. Our family has been able to visit the speedway and tour the adjoining International Motorsports Hall of Fame. It is a pretty impressive place—even for someone like me who isn’t all that interested in NASCAR very much. It’s worth a visit if you are ever in the area…


In the movie, Ricky Bobby is obsessed with winning. It is the only thing that matters to him. In fact, the motto for his life can be summed up in a sentence that he learned from his father years earlier. The phrase appears a number of times in the movie. Ricky Bobby tells people, “If you ain’t first, you’re last…”


                “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” It seems to me that those self-seeking words might just as well describe the most important principle in the lives of a lot of people in our world today. Don’t you think that is true? In our society, it is all about looking out for Number One. Politicians, business leaders, sports figures, entertainers—so much of the news media is filled with stories and quotes from people for whom “If you ain’t first, you’re last” are words to live by. It is sad, really, when you think about it. Such thinking is striking evidence of a life unexamined and a person completely lacking self-awareness…


It is not a new phenomenon, though. Perhaps with the explosion of social media and a 24/7 news cycle over the last couple of decades, it has just seems more blatant and obvious to everyone. In today’s scripture text from Mark, Jesus recognizes this same tendency in two of his own disciples. It is amazing to me that these are two of the guys who are part of Jesus’ inner circle. They have been closest to him and have witnessed firsthand how Jesus lived. You might have thought that they would have been the ones to be able to figure it out on their own. But apparently not. And so Jesus calls them out on it. And then he proceeds to teach them the different, more Godly way that the kingdom of God works…


The story begins with Jesus and his disciples travelling down the road heading for Jerusalem. James and John come up to him to make a request. They ask, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…”


I do not know about you, but whenever anyone begins to make a request of me beginning with those words, I am immediately on my guard. And I wonder why they do not just straight out ask me. I suspect that, deep down inside, James and John had some reservations about the request that they were about to make to Jesus. And so, that is how they approached Jesus with their request to sit on his left and right hand—the places of honor—when the kingdom was established. As it turned out, their hesitation was well-founded…


Jesus gives them an answer that they did not expect. Earlier in Mark, Jesus had already told the disciples three times what lay ahead of him in Jerusalem. He told them that he would be betrayed to the chief priests who would condemn him to death. And then he would be handed over to the Romans who would mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him.[1] He had spoken about this plainly to them. So perhaps they were not too surprised when Jesus asked them if they were able to drink of the same cup of sorrow that he would be drinking. He had already told them what that was to be like. And of course, they replied that they were able to do so.


On one level, I think that Jesus was pleased with their response. They imagined themselves to be brave enough to follow the Lord through all the sufferings that he knew awaited him in Jerusalem. I imagine that their intentions were good—it’s just that they could not back them up. This would not be the last time they would make promises to Jesus that they could not keep. On the their way to the Mount of Olives after the Last Supper, all the disciples claimed that they would never deny Jesus even to the point of death.[2] As you know, that did not happen either…


When the other disciples got wind of what Jesus, James and John were discussing, Mark says that they got angry. But Mark does not tell us why they were so indignant. Was it because the others felt as if James and John had tried to go behind their backs to extract this promise from Jesus? Or were some of them planning the same move—only James and John had beaten them to the punch? Or were they angry with themselves because they did not think of approaching Jesus themselves first?! Knowing those guys, it could have been any of those reasons…


Ultimately Jesus quells the discussion and the argument. He calls the disciples all together to let them know that they are not to lord authority over each other. Jesus says that the kingdom does not work that way. Instead, he makes the astonishing claim that it is the one who is the servant—the one who is lowest on the totem pole—who is the greatest in the kingdom. He says that the one who would be great must be the servant of all. As an example, our Lord points to himself by saying that “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many…”


That last statement from our Lord must have been an eye-opener for the disciples. Jesus was their leader. There was no question about that. Jesus wielded the power of God in his life in a way that no one else has before or since. They all recognized that. And yet in this passage, Jesus calls himself as one who is going to be the servant to all of them.


What Jesus was teaching is this: true greatness lies, not by being served by others, but in service to others.


                Jesus’ statement about true greatness being found in service is a profoundly countercultural concept. It flies in the face of everything that the world around us values. We can see how the world around us sees how those who are judged to be important act. We can see it in such things as where people sit, how they walk in relation to one another, who always gives way when two people are talking at the same time, who stands back when a job needs to be done and who steps forward. (Depending on the job, it might be an indication of being important …or of a sign of servitude.)


So what does this “servant of all” model look like in more concrete terms in the life of the church today? There are lots of ways in which being a servant within the community of believers can find expression. We do not have time to talk about them all. But in the time we have remaining, let me suggest three things that show service in our midst—service that we can all engage in to the glory of God…[3]


One is the service of listening to one another. We all need the help that can come through listening to one another. And here’s the thing: you do not have to be a trained health care professional to become a trained listener. The most important requirements to being a good listener are compassion and patience.


Here’s something else: You do not have to have the correct answers to listen well to someone else. In fact, often the correct answers that we may have can be a hindrance to listening. That is because we become more anxious to give the answer than to actually listening. That is little more than pride rearing its ugly head in our lives. The truth is that an impatient half-listening is an affront to the person sharing. It defeats the purpose of listening in the first place.


To listen to others creates an inward working upon our hearts that transforms the priorities of our lives. And when we truly listen to others, then we are also sharpening our skills to listen for the voice of God as well. Make no mistake about it: The person who cannot genuinely listen to others will have difficulty listening to God as well. If we cannot genuinely listen to someone we can see, then how can we listen to the One whom we cannot see?


A second kind of service is that of bearing one another’s burdens. In Galatians 6:2, the Apostle Paul writes that we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Love is most perfectly fulfilled when we bear the hurts and sufferings of each other, weeping with those who weep.


If we care for others, then we will learn to bear their sorrows. The truth of the matter is that this is not always an easy task. If we decide to bear each other’s burdens, we can ourselves become burdened down and we can become heavy with their sorrows. It does not have to be that way. Instead, we can learn to uphold the burdens of others without being destroyed by them. How? By lifting the pain and sorrows of others to Jesus. In that way, we are helping to bear their burdens by handing them over to the Savior. Our Lord invites us to “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Casting the burdens of others on Jesus will help us to bear them more effectively…


A third kind of service to others is the sharing of the Word of Life with one another. Even in church, there can sometimes be the spirit of competition and of striving to get ahead—of needing to be regarded as important. One vital service that we can be to one another is share how the Lord is working in our life. We can all become discouraged in our lives and come to a place when we need to hear an encouraging word from someone else. This is not a matter of bragging or boasting. It is simply talking about the goodness of God—sometimes even with something that the Lord has been teaching us in our lives.


Such sharing is a service to others because it reminds us that God is still active in our day-to-day lives, making us more like Jesus. This is something of what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he counseled the church at Colosse to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as one body you were called to peace. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts toward God.” (Colossians 3:15-16)


                This morning’s sermon concludes with a performance of a song written by Larry Norman called “I Am a Servant.” Being a servant to others and being a servant of the living God…What I find most compelling about this song is Larry’s prayer in which he admits that he feels “lonely.” By speaking in that way, he hits on something that is true in the life of the Spirit. When we have known the goodness of God and then stray from it and decide to go it alone in our lives, it is a lonely road that we are on. It is a path that we feel we are walking all by ourselves.


Quaker pastor Philip Gulley explains it this way. He calls such living “the half-surrendered life.” Gulley defines the half-surrendered life as, “This is when we add God to our lives without subtracting those things which choke out God’s joyous, holy presence—[things like] our twisted priorities, our greed, [and] our slavish devotion to comfort. It is not enough to subtract some of those encumbrances. They all must go.”[4] The song is “I Am a Servant”…


I am a servant, I am listening for my name

I sit here waiting, I’ve been looking at the game

That I’ve been playing, and I’ve been staying much the same.

When you are lonely, you’re the only one to blame.


I am a servant, I am waiting for Your call

I’ve been unfaithful, so I sit here in the hall

How can You use me when I have never given all?

How can You choose me when You know I quickly fall?


So You feed my soul, and You make me grow,

And You let me know You love me.

And I’ve failed You[5] now, but I’ve made a vow

I will only bow before You

O please use me, O I’m lonely


I am a servant, getting ready for my part

There’s been a change, a rearrangement in my heart

At last I’m learning there’s no returning once I start

To live’s a privilege, to love is such an art

But I need Your help to start.

O please purify my heart.

I am Your servant.[6]


To God alone be the glory! Amen.

[1] Mark 8:31-31, 9:31-32; and 10:32-34.

[2] Mark 14:31.

[3] I am indebted to Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978), 110-122 for the ideas in this section.

[4] Philip Gulley, For Everything a Season—Simple Musings on Living Well (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1990), 50. Emphases mine.

[5] Original is “I’m worthless.”

[6] ©1976 Solid Rock Records.