A collaborative post by Erroll Mulder, Jim Puntney and David Bolton
for “The WORD in 3D”.
~ ~ ~
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”
Luke 22:24-26 ESV
William Barclay once remarked, ‘It is one of the most poignantly tragic things in the gospel story that the disciples could quarrel about precedence in the very shadow of the Cross!’
Judas had already agreed to betray his master, and Jesus is aware of Peter’s pending denial. Despite these things, Jesus intensely ‘desired with desire’ (KJV) to share this last Passover with His friends.
However, the disciples, instead of being caught up with Jesus and His self-giving, were caught up with themselves and personal power. Who would sit where at the table? Who would be most important in relation to Messiah? Despite Christ’s spectacular self-humiliation (Jn. 13:1-17), here they are bickering over who would end up the greatest. It seems they were acting purely out of a worldly, materialistic understanding of Jesus and His kingdom.
Jesus reminds them that those in His kingdom march to a different drum [cf his repeated ‘you have heard that it was said… but I say to you’ in Mt. 5] In His kingdom, different to earthly kingdoms, it’s not about position or power but servanthood – a servanthood flowing out of the Father’s love in Christ.
Even the business world grasps the importance of service. One Service Station claimed, ‘We will crawl under your car oftener and get ourselves dirtier than any of our competitors!’ The anomaly is that there is often more argument about precedence, place and power in the Church than anywhere else.
I sometimes grieve over the ‘professional leadership’ in so many churches today in contrast to the ‘servant leadership’ of the ‘Good Shepherd’ (Jn.10:1-18). Centuries before, God had told Zechariah to ‘Dress up like a stupid shepherd. I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land – a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured, and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all’ (Zech. 11:16/MSG). Recognize the scenario?
To those servants who stick by him through thick and thin, Jesus promises a greater destiny, both now and in the future (Lk. 22:28-30/MSG): ‘I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.’
We have to be practical at all times. How do we implement Jesus’ example in serving?
- By perennial meditation on Jesus and His majestic servanthood: His incarnation, earthly ministry and death on Calvary. Re-read Paul’s great hymn to Christ in Phil. 2:5-11.
- By taking up our cross with seriousness and hilarity (Mt. 16:24-25), in the assurance of God’s prior and unconditional love for us. Cape Canaveral astronomers have just discovered the most distant galaxy yet, a billion times the mass of the sun, its light taking 13.1 billion years to reach Hubble Telescope! How much vaster is God’s love for us in Jesus? Why not pray again Paul’s Ephesian prayer in 3:14-21…
- By serving Jesus in ‘organic church’ mode, marked by divine rather than human institution; face-to-face community; every-member functioning; open-participatory meetings; non-hierarchical leadership and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as functional leader and head (F. Viola).
- By following Jesus into the world of the poor and the lost, being and doing and making disciples (Lk. 4:18-20; Mt. 28:18-20).
All this is impossible apart from being in Christ and He in us. Col. 1:27 (MSG) exclaims, ‘Christ is in you… It’s that simple.That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ!’
The passage of Scripture we are pondering here needs a little context, it seems, to bring this into proper view. Jesus is with His disciples in the Upper Room sharing with them the Passover meal just hours before His betrayal and crucifixion. Here is what He was talking about just prior to His comment, “…it shall not be so among you.”:
“Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.’ He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.'”
Jesus is literally pouring His heart out to His dearly loved disciples, and when He touches on the betrayal, they instantly start judging among themselves. Here we see the “flesh” man rising up to establish position and judgment.
So how does The King respond to His band of brothers? With an example they all were familiar with, authority, lordship, and rules: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.” This is how the soulish man rules, and Jesus was introducing them to a true paradigm shift from the soul man’s point of view to our Father in Heaven’s point of view. And the results are vastly different.
“you must be born again.”
As I look at the statement made by Jesus as He responded to the desire for position, Jesus and His talk with Nicodemus come to mind.
“But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest…”
Becoming the youngest can have many meanings, but how about the new birth into His Kingdom, seeing with new ‘eyes’, hearing the teachings of The Rabbi with a new heart, and living by His New Covenant, His very Life.
As we sojourn together in this greatest of all adventures, living by His indwelling presence, we can see how vital it is to become ‘little’, or childlike… to embrace Jesus with the wide-eyed open innocence of a child; to be supple in His hands like moist clay on The Potters wheel; to esteem others out of reverence for and toward our true Teacher, our true Leader…Jesus Christ.
“…and the leader as one who serves”
To serve we must give His Life, express His Life, and Love. Jesus has provided us not only the example, He provides for us the ‘Way’.
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”
To Love as He Loves, this is His ‘Way’ and it flows from Him through us to those we meet in our daily lives. This is Kingdom Life, and this Love is what is so desperately lacking today…to serve our neighbor with His Love.
So in conclusion, I ‘see’ this passage as Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, to live here and now through His indwelling presence, and to begin to “Love like God.”
With these words of Jesus, we see the stark contrast between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of heaven. We see two diametrically opposed directions in which they operate and by which greatness and leadership are defined.
The kingdoms of this world are infused with the spirit of “the god of this world”, Lucifer. His attitude is one of “I will ascend”.
“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! …You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Is.14:12-14
This inordinate grasping for greatness is the mark of “the god of this world” and defines the spirit of the kingdoms of this world. Greatness and leadership are defined by the ability to ascend to the highest place.
The Kingdom of heaven, on the other hand, is infused with the Spirit of “the God of heaven.” This Spirit is embodied in fullness in the Person of Christ and is manifest in and by Him as one of “self–descension.“
“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” Phil.2:6-8
This self-descending spirit of Christ is one of the most glorious marks of “the God of heaven” and significantly defines the spirit of the Kingdom of heaven. Greatness and leadership are defined by the willingness to descend to the lowest place.
These two kingdoms are at war and their opposing spirits constitute the epic battle line of the ages.
In this cosmic conflict, one of Lucifer’s primary tactics is to corrupt the vessel through which the Kingdom of heaven is manifest on earth, the ekklesia. Since He cannot corrupt its Head, he goes after the next best thing, its leadership. If He can inject his “I will ascend” spirit into them, he can most effectively corrupt the whole system that follows after them.
So what does it look like when “spiritual” leadership embraces this self-ascending spirit?
Jesus gave some tell-tale signs in Matthew 23:5-12.
Those who embrace it love:
• Displaying their religiosity publicly – vs.5
• Wearing distinguishing religious garb – vs.5
• Sitting in the preeminent seats at social and sacred assemblies – vs.6
• Being called by honorific titles – vs.7
Jesus followed His exposé of the religious elite of His day by saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” vs.3,16-17
Greatness and leadership in the Kingdom of God, therefore, embrace the complete opposite spirit from, “I will ascend.”
So, whom should we esteem in the church? Whom should we follow as our leaders? Is it those who bear the tell-tale marks that Jesus clearly rebuked, or those who are the most humble of servants among us, whom Jesus clearly praised?
Two Kingdoms are at war. One’s spirit is ascending, the other, descending; one lords-over, the other serves under; one is self-promoting, the other self-sacrificing; one is based on the love of power, the other on the power of love.
May we seek the greatness and leadership that come solely from the self-descending ways of Christ …the Lamb upon the Throne.
Together we say: (A collaborated prayer)
With awe and wide-eyed wonder we worship You, glorious Lord Jesus Christ, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth; Who became flesh and lived for a while among us. We trust in You and thank You for the precious gift of Life we have in You. As we follow You, we ask that You would work in us the self-emptying way of the cross, that we may become like You and, so, faithfully serve Your people in humility and love.
Please take time to visit and explore the contributing authors’ respective blogs for more Christ-honoring content by them:
Erroll Mulder at “Erroll Mulder’s Blog”
Jim Puntney at “Treasures in Jars of Clay” (blog no longer active)
David Bolton at “Christ-Centered Christianity”
For more information about this initiative, please see the “The WORD in 3D” About page.
Now, let’s hear what …You say??________________________________