Sermon The Drum Major Instinct, Mark 10:35-45 Last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
MLK was someone we can be proud to call one of our own, a Christian brother. He modeled Jesus teaching in the public square and received the persecution that comes along with that. Like Jesus, MLK did not shy away from difficult tasks, but he and others stood in the gap between God s wrath and society. Ezekiel 22:23-31 23 Again the word of the LORD came to me: 24 Son of man, say to the land, You are a land that has not been cleansed or rained on in the day of wrath. 25 There is a conspiracy of her princes[a] within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her. 26 Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. 28 Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, This is what the Sovereign LORD says when the LORD has not spoken. 29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. 30 I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. If we believe that God judges nations for the injustice that takes place within them, then we can believe that our nation was headed for serious trouble. As Abraham Lincoln said during his Second Inaugural Address, God will bring justice Himself if there is no one to stand in the gap: Yet, if God wills that it [the Civil War between the Union and Confederacy] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
I wasn t around in the 1960s, but I believe that the nation would have faced far worse social upheaval had MLK not been there with a message of love and nonviolence at that critical time. One of MLK s last sermons was titled The Drum Major Instinct. It expounded on Mark 10:35-45 where James and John come to ask Jesus to sit at His left and right in His kingdom. MLK said that every one of us shares that same basic instinct to lead the parade like a drum major, to be recognized, to receive admiration, and to excel above others. If not harnessed, this instinct can become perverted and cause detrimental effects in degrees: - We pay too much attention to praise from people - We are susceptible to marketing that appeals to our desire to be first and distinguished - We live beyond our means - We denigrate others in order to build ourselves up - This instinct lies behind chauvinistic nationalism ( We re #1! and My country, wrong or right! ) and leads to war and strife - It fuels racism, elitism, and cliques all of which have no place in the church MLK pointed out Jesus gentle correction. Jesus said it was admirable to want to be first but not in the way that people in the world think of being first. Instead, His disciples and all Christians, should desire to be first in love and service. Jesus Himself demonstrated what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God, coming humbly to our earth to lay down His life for our sake. He came to love and to serve. With this measure of greatness, everyone can be great in God s kingdom, regardless of race, nationality, education, sophistication, style, beauty, money, or social status. At the end of his sermon, MLK spoke prophetically about his own funeral, which took place just two months later when he was assassinated. He hoped no one spoke of his Nobel Peace Prize or the 300 to 400 other awards he earned. He said he wouldn t live behind money or any other of the fine and luxorious things of live. But, he hoped that people would remember that he tried to live a life of love and of service in carrying out God s will. Truly, we can agree that this is the true measure of greatness. *** Please play 2:50 5:50 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcuifZJdyaY With this example in mind, let s look at Mark 10:35-45 again. Mark 10:35-45 v. 35-37 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. Teacher, they said, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. 36 What do you want me to do for you? he asked. 37 They replied, Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.
Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus has already told them that the end is near, and that He will be betrayed and handed over to be killed by the Romans.And then, Jesus says He will rise on the third day after death. In the previous chapter, Jesus told them they would sit on twelve thrones judging Israel. Probably thinking of this, James and John ask Jesus for a special favor: That they be granted places of honor when He establishes the Kingdom of God. They had faith, but their priorities were misplaced. v. 38-40 38 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? 39 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, 40 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. Jesus answered James and John very gently. Jesus is not a harsh teacher, but He is always gentle with us. First, He told them that they didn t understand what they were asking. First, because they had no idea about what heaven would be like.We have a difficult time comprehending the reality of heaven, but the Bible says compares this life to a mist something temporary that clouds our vision. We understand heaven in the abstract, but it is no abstract thing. It is real. Just like when you are flying at night and see faint lights off far below you, maybe 30,000 feet below. You know something is there, but can only imagine what it actually is like there. 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. Second, because they didn t understand that being first in the Kingdom of God entails suffering. Jesus asked them if they were ready for suffering. Jesus never hid the truth from His disciples. In the church, we need to arm ourselves with the same attitude as Jesus because the Christian who understands that following Jesus can involve suffering no longer lives his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2) Are we ready to face suffering for the sake of Jesus? Sometimes, I admit that I am filled with a holy jealousy of those that we hear stories of. The people who maybe live in Sudan or Nigeria, or Pakistan or Iran, where you hear that they are asked to deny the Lord. They have the privilege of confessing with finality that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, when brought to Rome to die in the Coliseum, said Now, I am just beginning to be a disciple. Even at 80 years old and the bishop of the apostolic church of Antioch, where Paul and Barnabas taught, Ignatius relished the opportunity to know with finality that he could bear the name of Christ. Martyrdom was a reality for the early church, as it is today for many other Christians around the world. Yet, we are left with a different challenge and a different burden. Are we willing to lay down our life everyday for Jesus? Not just as a cliché, but in truth. Are we willing to forgive our enemies, to love those that despise us? To answer wrath with gentleness? Is this not another way of testifying that Jesus is truly our Lord and Savior? Second, Jesus told James and John that they would indeed drink from the same cup of suffering. Early on, James was murdered by King Herod (Acts 12:1-2) and later John suffered torture and was exiled to the island of Patmos. v. 41-45 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 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. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 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. The other disciples were indignant, not so much because of James and John s request, but because they themselves wanted positions of honor. So, as He did often, Jesus brought all of them together to teach them. Those who are considered first in the world boast about their position, lord it over others, and use their influence to please themselves. Not so with you, Jesus said. Jesus does not say that it is wrong to desire to be first and to excel. In fact, Jesus affirmed that there will be degrees of honor in heaven. That glory and honor is far above anything that this world can offer, and is what we should aspire to. This is how Paul put it: I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ Jesus has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage [Now,] I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer
with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!(Philippians 3, NLT) Paul says his ambition is focused on a single object: knowing Jesus by following in His steps. And, what example did Jesus leave? As He said, 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. How can we apply this message to ourselves today? For many of us, it means that we need to reorder our priorities. Recently, Amy Chua s article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, stirred a lot of controversy. Actually, I don t have anything to say about her parenting methods except that the Bible says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children. What I want to say about Amy Chua s article is that the priorities presented there are wrong if we want to disciple our children to follow Jesus. What underlies her message is a desire to be first in a worldly sense to receive distinction, honor, and excellence in the eyes of other people. We can all relate to this. When we are at a dinner party or meeting people maybe our relatives or old friends we want to present ourselves as successful. This often means having graduated from a prestigious school, established a successful career, or received special distinction. We may not brag openly, but in fact we define ourselves by these measures. That person is someone, we say. Or, They ve really made something of themselves. But Jesus taught a different way; He lived a different way. Even though He was God Himself, He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every other name. This Jesus through whom all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made this Jesus has at His right and left hand places prepared for those who follow His example. This is the distinction that Jesus told us to strive for. We should all have this holy ambition! A fine education and successful career are not wrong if you use them as steps on the ladder of your true goal. An education and career can be useful tools, but remember that they are just that they are not the goal in themselves. I want all you intelligent and talented young people to be all that you can be for Jesus sake. I want you to use your intelligence and talents to do everything you can to further the Kingdom of God in the time you have. One day, each and every one of us will know for ourselves what is worthy and worthless. One day, we each will stand before Jesus to receive our reward. Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to that day. He said his Nobel Peace prize wouldn t mean anything, nor would his education or other worldly achievements. I don t believe he was disappointed. I m looking forward to that day, and want to prepare you, too, so that you look forward to that day.