The human heart desires to be great, although it may measure greatness in different ways. Sometimes, we think that our love makes us great, and so we want our love to be seen by others. Do they notice how much we do for people? We are sad and frustrated if we put forth a lot of effort but receive no recognition or thanks. We may measure the selflessness that we feel we exemplify, and wish that others were measuring it, too. Better yet, if only they would try being selfless like us. Love can be a measuring stick that leads to pride, even if we do not call it pride. Heavens, no! We are humble, just look how humble we are!
I am not saying that love is a bad thing. But is that how we measure greatness? As soon as we start measuring or comparing love, or want it recognized, it changes into something that is not love.
Other standards exist. How much money have we given to this? How much time did we spend on that? We cannot help but notice that some others do not seem to give much time at all. How pure is our heart when resisting certain temptations? We cannot help but notice that others fall easily to sins that we steadfastly resist.
Especially we hope that God notices how we live above and beyond what we had to do. Perhaps we are patient enough to wait till the next life for the celebration of our fine qualities, but then there better be a parade! Angels in twelve part harmony, musically praising our selfless life, would be nice as well.
Does God notice when you do good works? Yes, He does. It seems that He will even give special rewards for those deeds. The problem is when we think how we are a little better than the rest, and wonder where our recognition is.
Selflessness is harder for us than we think. The opposite of greatness is to be the least; the unnoticed; the unsung. In other words, the despised. Are you ready to do everything that you can, and then be despised? You might be despised in spite of doing good, or despised because nobody noticed you did good, or despised precisely for doing good.
This is so hard that even the apostles of our Lord stumbled at this point. James and John were influenced somewhat by their mother, yet at the very least they went along with it. The other disciples were upset at the two brothers, but why, if they were selfless? Christ had to teach them all, not only James and John.
We want to think, ďOh, those silly disciples! Will they ever learn?Ē But remember that these were men specially chosen by Christ to be the foundation on which He built His Church. Only hubris would assume that we are equal to them by any stretch.
The desire to be great and to be recognized was in their blood. The apostles got it from Adam and Eve, who aspired to be as God. It is in our blood as well. If the apostles did not resist this desire, how much less will we.
Even if we manage to live a life of servant-hood without recognition or greatness, we do not like it. It hurts. It presses hard on us to be despised. We would rather be nice, comfortable servants who are respected and treated well. But Christ calls us to be slaves of all. Our flesh is not comfortable with slavery.
Are you ready to be a despised slave? With the new heart implanted in us by the Spirit, we can do it a little. We can stumble about clumsily at the task. But our prideful flesh keeps finding subtle ways to trip us up.
The Lord keep us at this task, and help us do better at being selfless, despised slaves of all.
If we were able to selflessly give of ourselves without a trace of self-interest, then there would have been no need for Christ to come. If we think that we are selfless creatures, then we are saying that we do not really need Christ.
But He did come. He had to come for us sinners.
The King chose to be a slave. From before the world began, He lived in comfort and glory at the right hand of His Father. He already occupied the highest place because He was the eternal Son of God. There was no need for Him to earn anything or prove anything. He did not need for people to notice or recognize how great He was. He already possessed all the greatness and honor and majesty and power of the fullness of the Godhead. But He decided, in obedience to His Father, to come to earth and become a slave. The very highest became the very lowest.
To do this, Christ had to knowingly walk into a trap. He allowed Himself to be delivered into the hands of the chief priests and elders at Jerusalem. But in our text, He was willingly going to that city where He predicted His death would take place. This is why people were amazed and afraid as He went. Why not use His power to avoid being betrayed into the Jewish leadersí hands? Or better yet, just donít go to Jerusalem! But He willingly went.
Then He would be condemned. The judgment of men would fall upon Him, who knew no sin. What a mockery of justice He would have to endure! Here we see how much He was willing to place Himself at the very bottom. The Innocent One made Himself least by submitting to a verdict of guilt. Not just guilt, but a death sentence would fall on Him. The holy Son of God must be counted as a criminal worthy of capital punishment.
They would mock Him and scourge Him and spit on Him. What indignity and shame! How could He endure it, when at the tiniest word from His mouth, He could end the tortures they devised. He could simply make Himself not feel the sting of the whip. He could make the spit always miss Him. He could refute their mocking with the same wisdom that allowed Him to confound every test of the Jews.
But no, He allowed the terrible treatment to go on. The pain and shame continued. He shows us His greatness in His willingness to be treated as the least. This is what least looks like in Godís eyes: to be despised and mistreated. This is what God values, and what we should aspire to. We should endure everything, as He did.
This is true love: suffering and sacrifice. Our very best attempts at love are pale and self-serving compared to the Passion of Christ as He suffered horrible injustices for us. He shows us true greatness.
This is compounded by the fact that He saw it coming. The words of Christ in Mark ten are His prediction. He knew in advance. He knew how awful it would be. Yet He walked straight into it.
Finally, He would be killed. The deathless One would taste death. He would drink the cup of woe that our sins deserved. He would not do it to the sound of angels or even disciples singing His praises at the foot of the Cross. No, He died to the sound of mockery and blasphemy. He was swallowed by darkness as He surrendered His life. No visible greatness there. He was not trying to win the admiration of men. He considered only what His Father asked of Him, and what our salvation required. It was ugly. It was horrifying. It was love.
That is greatness.
But Christ did not remain dead. His prediction also spoke of His resurrection. Christ knew that the end was not the grave. The end was glory, and the redemption of men. He set His eyes on that, and He endured all that He had to.
Well, thatís easy for Him, we might say. Just endure a little while and then you get to sit at the right hand in glory.
Yes, that is exactly it. That is exactly what we must do. Endure our shame, whatever form that takes for us Ė far less shame than Christ had to suffer. Take the pain. Take the mocking. Take whatever the Father allows the devil and the world to send us. Relatively speaking, this life is brief. The eternity that awaits us is incomprehensibly longer. There we will be seated at the right hand of glory. We will experience such joy that we will laugh at the worst that we had in this life.
For Christ has purchased our resurrection. Christ has won for us glory unending. We will abide in His glory, not because we have been loving enough or better than others or above average. No, we will have glory because Christ suffered as a slave in our place and then rose again to reveal our future. He has made it so.
Therefore we can endure much. We can be despised by men and suffer as much shame as they can heap upon us. Perhaps, we might even bow our heads to the death of a martyr. Even that is not too much to suffer for our Lord. He has made us great by the shame He endured. Therefore, be despised, but keep your eyes upon Christ and His glory. Amen.
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