There is a lot about God that I don’t understand. And, yes, that is a huge understatement! But even the little I think I understand about God leaves me feeling amazed.
First, there’s the fact that the Almighty, Loving, Holy, and Righteous Creator chooses to be known.
The idea of an imperfect human like me being loved, and in relationship with, the almighty and everlasting God is impossible. We know we aren’t worthy of that kind of consideration by God and that makes a relationship with God seem impossible. For some people, it makes God seem impossible. I get that, I really do.
But then, as if that weren’t enough, we learn from Jesus that God not only wants to be known but that God seeks to serve.
This comes up when two of Jesus’s most prominent disciples, James and John, ask Jesus to give them a special ranking (Mark 10:35-45).
I describe James and John as prominent because they were with Jesus at some crucial moments.
- They were there when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31).
- They were on the mountaintop for the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-7).
- They went into the room with Jesus and Peter when Jesus healed the synagogue leader’s daughter (Luke 8:49-55).
- They were with Jesus and Peter at the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of the crucifixion (Mark 14:32-34).
Also, Paul described John as one of the three “acknowledged pillars” of the Jesus movement in Galatians 2:9 (although Paul also mentions a James here, this is probably not John’s brother).
James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, ask for a place of prominence next to Jesus because they see serving God as if it were like serving an earthly king. They tell Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37).
They think there is a hierarchy and they want to make sure they are at the top of it.
Jesus tells them they’ve got the kingdom of God all wrong. He says, “among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them… but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).
Jesus tells James and John, and the other disciples, that the kingdom of God isn’t like any earthly kingdom they know.
Earthly kingdoms are all about power and dominance. The kingdom of God is about something else. It’s about serving others.
Jesus puts the exclamation point on his lesson by saying something astounding. He says, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The word “ransom” here is sometimes misunderstood in economic terms. Rather than referencing a payment, it describes the act of liberation. Jesus gave his life to liberate us.
God did not become incarnate to garner power or demand a sacrifice. God became incarnate as a way to serve us, to be a sacrifice so that we would know we are free.
It’s astounding. Not only does God seek to be known, but God does so without seeking to be served.
This puts a new layer of meaning on the words the Psalmist sings: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, O Lord my God, you are very great. How manifold are your works!” (Psalm 104:1, 24).
God became incarnate so that we could be ransomed, liberated.
I am free so that I can live in relationship with The One Who Loves me. I don’t need to try to garner earthly power; it’s worthless compared to the unconditional and endless love offered in the kingdom of God. Instead, if I want to “become great,” I need to be a servant like Jesus. I need to find ways to ransom and liberate other people.
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