In Mark 10, we find the disciples learning a lesson the hard way. James and John approached Jesus with a simple request. They wanted to know if Jesus would allow them to sit by His side, one on the left and the other on the right. Their request revealed a selfish and personal ambition, to be rulers with Jesus in His new kingdom. Jesus did not directly rebuke them but He did explain that they did not understand what they were asking. Jesus pointed out that sitting in those seats would include enduring the same treatment Jesus was about to endure. Hearing of the request made the other disciples angry. Jesus intervened and explained that greatness in His kingdom came through service not through position.
Within this passage, we find what we will call three “no needs” of Christian service.
- No need to ask for a seat. When we are involved in Christian service, we are usually too busy doing the work to worry about where we sit. This is about focus and being honest about why we do an act of service. If we help another person so we feel good about ourselves or to gain some type of recognition, the act itself is tarnished. No one else may see it as tarnished, but we know when our motives are off target. If the purpose is to gain a seat, the worst thing that could happen is we actually get the seat and then realize we are not capable of doing the “other duties as assigned” that come with the seat. The seats sought by James and John carried a bigger burden than they realized. God knows who needs to sit in which seats and is more qualified to make that decision than you or I.
- No need to get mad. The other disciples were mad but why? We are not told, but scholars suggest that one possible reason was their desire for those same seats. They had all made sacrifices to follow Jesus. They had done many of the same things done by James and John. In fact, Peter had just as much of a claim to those seats as James and John. The issue is Christian service is about focusing on our role to be played — on being faithful to what we are called to do. Not everyone in that group around Jesus that day would be called on to preach on the Day of Pentecost, but neither would that disciple (Peter) be called on to write a Gospel account (Matthew and John). Too many times, we get focused on what others are doing, wanting what they have or are getting. Christian service is marked by faithfulness to what God asked us as individuals to do and be, not by how we rank the importance of an action. Instead of betting mad, we ought to be getting busy.
- No need to look for another Model. Jesus pointed to the model followed by the world where authority is sought and grabbed. The disciples needed to stop looking to that model and look to Jesus as the Model. They needed no other Model. He reminded them that He would give up His life as an act of service. He had the right to claim whatever seat He wanted to, but that was not the model He was following. It’s funny how leadership gurus talk about servant leadership as if it is a new thing. Jesus demonstrated it 2000 years ago! Christian service is built on the character of Christ. Jesus is sufficient in all things and that includes being a model for service.
The disciples learned an important lesson about Jesus, about greatness, and the “no needs” that day. They learned that a consistent, sincere lifestyle of putting others first, while placing their own desires and ambitions on hold for the benefit of the Kingdom was the path to true greatness. No need for any other path.