In our world there has always been the struggle for power, to be number one. Just look at the coming and going of various civilizations and empires throughout our world’s history. One nation after another has sought to rule the world. In the earlier days of history, for example, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans all conquered the world. However, their empires didn’t last, simply because another people wanted to take their place, believing that they offered something better to the people of the world. They wanted to call all the shots and so they destroyed the empire that preceded them.
In more recent times various empires appeared in Europe, each more or less supplanting the one before it. Charlemagne controlled vast lands in Europe until his empire was divided into three parts. The Holy Roman Empire ruled several nations until the nations under its control went their own way. Napoleon expanded French culture and made France a great nation by conquering other nations around it. However, he was eventually defeated. The British controlled about a quarter of the world’s land at the height of its empire. Gradually, nations broke away from its sphere of influence. The Habsburgs ruled an empire in eastern Europe until it was pretty much dissolved after WWI. Hitler attempted to rule the world and controlled almost all of Europe for a few years until Germany was destroyed by the allies in WWII.
All this goes to show us that people have a lust for the power to control the lives and destiny of other people. Empires weren’t built just because that was the thing to do. Great men were driven by the lust for power, the desire to be number one.
It’s still true today. People want to be number one. They want to be served instead of serving. And some will do whatever it takes to be number one, whether it be lying, cheating, killing, stealing…whatever. People are willing to throw aside any principles they may have in order to achieve their goal of power.
This contrasts greatly with what our Lord says in our text. That’s why many people have a problem with our Lord’s words. It goes against human nature. It’s not natural to want to serve others. It’s more natural to want everyone to serve us. It’s all a part of our sinfulness.
In our text Jesus is presenting a better alternative. And he wants it to start with the disciples who will pass it on to others. That alternative is being a servant to others, just as He was a servant to all of us.
I really want us to think about this because if we all did what Jesus asks His disciples to do, our society would be revolutionized. There would be a lot less poverty and hardship in the world and more goodwill. Why? Because everyone would be thinking of how to serve his neighbor.
Now for this to work, everyone has to do it. But that’s where the problem comes in. Even though Jesus gives us a better way to live, we don’t trust Him and instead think mostly of ourselves and how we need to get ahead and domineer others.
Had the empires that have existed in the world been bent on serving the needs of others, they might have lasted for much longer. However, ego maniacs brought about the downfall of their own empires. They destroyed their nation and themselves.
This is a good lesson for all of us. Thinking about serving only ourselves will bring about our downfall. Don’t believe me. Wait and see. Keep continuing down the path of serving self, and let me know the results when we’re standing before God Almighty.
To prevent our own destruction from happening and for the benefit of making life better for others, we must adopt a servant attitude. It’s what Jesus wants us to do. If that weren’t true, He wouldn’t have told His disciples to be servants of all in our text.
Now I’m not so naïve to believe that from this point on we all are going to make it our aim to serve others and so improve our society. I know that’s not going to happen. I’ve been around people long enough to know that won’t happen. But what I am encouraging us to do is wrestle with the temptation to put ourselves first, to be number one.
In verse 31, just preceding our text, Jesus says those who are first will be last and the last will be first. So all this expending of energy and striving to become number one will land us in last place before God. What an irony. People think they are really getting ahead in life by striving to be number one, by placing themselves first. The point of our text is that the end result of such a philosophy of life isn’t what we think it will be. Just the opposite will happen.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to be the best at what we do in life, but what I am emphasizing is that we should try to be number one in God’s eyes in what we do instead of in the world’s eyes.
Didn’t I say earlier that those who strive to put themselves above others will fail? That’s what Jesus says. The first will be last and the last will be first.
What happened to the empires and their rulers whom I mentioned at the beginning of the message? They were number one in the world for a while but then they went out of existence. Not a one of those empires is around today.
The only empire that is still standing is Jesus’ empire, the church, which spans the entire globe. It will continue to last because it has been built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, who gave up being number one for the sake of our salvation. His death on the cross was proof of His desire to humble Himself for us.
Because He became last for our sakes, He became number one. Some more irony. He became number one on account of rising from the dead, on account of His victory over death, which now has no power over us. Jesus is now the ultimate number one, who deserves such an honor because of His sacrifice for us and victory over death. Nothing can change what Jesus did. And praise God, because if what Jesus did could change, the church would be resting on a shaky foundation. That would threaten Jesus’ empire all over the world. But praise God that Jesus’ empire rests on an immovable foundation, all because He stepped down from being number one and became like one of us in order to save us.
I hope Jesus will inspire us to give up striving to be number one, of thinking only of ourselves. If we want to be great, then we need to be servant of all. That’s what Jesus tells us in our text for today. Being great in the eyes of Jesus is much more meaningful and lasting than being great in this world.
But I know that the praise and recognition from people is too great at times to ignore. We like such attention and so that’s what drives us to be number one. It’s not what God thinks; it’s what people think that matters to us. Well, I pray that will change. I pray that we will get on our knees and beg for the Lord’s forgiveness. Striving to be number one in this world for the sake of our pride and recognition from others is sinful. God put us here to be a servant to others. When we humble ourselves by giving up our ambition to be number one in the eyes of the world, we become great in God’s kingdom.
This really takes a lifetime to work on. Every day we have to remember that God has put us on earth to serve Him, and the sooner we come to that understanding, the better off we will be, because we are then in harmony with God. Even the very first humans, Adam and Eve, were put on this earth to serve the Lord. It was when he and his wife wanted to become number one that things went awry. Things didn’t turn out as they had thought they would.
May we not fall for the same deception. May we recognize our place in the world as God’s servants and treasure God’s promise of being great in His kingdom.