Imagine you are on a capsized cruise ship. Everything is upside down – lights coming up from the floor, chairs and tables on the ceiling. Unlike the old film The Poseidon Adventure, if the water didn’t get in but you couldn’t be rescued for a long while, you would get used to it. Soon you would step over the lights on the floor without thinking.
If it went on for years, children born in the ship would assume it was normal. Lights have always been on the floor, chairs have always been on the ceiling.
We accept things as normal that aren’t actually normal at all. We just think they have always been that way. Jesus came to show us the truth, to turn everything on its head – which is actually the right way up, the way things are meant to be.
We are used to life climbing the pyramid, whether in your career, qualifications, money, or prestige. It’s exhausting, climbing all the time. The higher you go, there is less room, and you have to push other people down in order to get higher yourself.
Jesus turns this on its head. He is the Son of Man, a title which means king of the universe. The guy at the top of the pyramid. Yet he came to serve, came to die.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.”
James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle and knew he was the Messiah, God’s chosen king. But they were still climbing the pyramid, still wanting the prestige. They wanted to secure their places at the top. Although Jesus had taught the disciples several times he was going to be betrayed and crucified, they still hadn’t understood.
Jesus sets us free from sin and death, but that’s not all. He gives us freedom from climbing the pyramid. Freedom to stay at the bottom and serve. Jesus wants to change your life, turn it upside down, put it back the way it should be.
Even when we’re serving, we can stumble into old ways and try to be the best, to gain recognition for our service. Don’t build a pyramid of service and climb that instead. Seek humility and the heart of God for what he wants you to do.
[based on a sermon by Mike Chalmers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church, October 2015]