Jesus never held a position of power in Society, and though that be the case, this doesn’t mean it is wrong for anyone in our society to hold important positions of authority, like Governor General, Commander of the Armed Forces, or Prime Minister. We need people in such positions of authority. The New Testament tells us to honour heads of government and to pray for them, and of course to obey them. These people rule as God’s servants so we live in peace and safety. Through their rule we enjoy freedom from chaos and evil. We honour these rulers for the important role they play, and not necessarily because they are always wonderful people.
Jesus obeyed the earthly rulers like Pilate, even when they used their power to have Jesus executed as a criminal.
Luther understood God’s rule to be seen in our world in two ways. He used two hands as examples of this rule by God.
God rules countries with his right hand through people in authority, like monarchs and presidents and prime ministers who keep law and order in our societies. These people may not be Christians, or religious people, but they might still rule well in their important role. With history also showing that some of the worst rulers in Europe have been Christians.
God’s left hand rules the Kingdom of Grace. People are won for this Kingdom by God’s love, and not by force. People enter this Kingdom by God’s grace.
Jesus builds the Kingdom of Grace. Things had not been going well between people and God. One could say, things had not been well at all for thousands of years. Jesus came to change that. He came out of loving concern to win people with God’s love. It is a love which cost Jesus his life. This is his important role, his moment of honour and glory, to take the place of the marginalised people, the victims of evil in society, the people with broken relationships with God and their neighbours and partners. Jesus suffers the consequences. It cost Jesus his life.
Jesus comes to win people through his love, and not by using force or supernatural powers. Even his closest disciples can’t understand this. They want Jesus to use his power to set himself up as a powerful earthly ruler. In his miracles they see that Jesus has tremendous power from God. They dream of setting him up as their King who would use his power to drive out the Roman rulers who had invaded their country. His followers were prepared to fight, like Peter who drew a sword and lashed out to defend Jesus. His closest followers expect Jesus will build an earthly kingdom of power. Maybe that is why some of them follow him. They want to be up there on the dais with him when he is in power. Jesus tries to explain that this is not his role. He even goes into hiding with them so he can have time alone with them and tell them of his impending death, his sacrifice. His victory dais would be a rough wooden cross. Verse 30 describes how:
Leaving that region, they travelled through Galilee. Jesus tried to avoid all publicity in order to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” But they didn’t understand what he was saying, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
It was no use. They had their hearts set on becoming important. Jesus even asked them, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.” Their aims are so human, and earthly and natural!
We can find people like that in the Church. They aspire to positions of power and might even look down on other people, especially those who don’t get to worship very often.
Jesus doesn’t look down on people. He gets alongside of them, even those who are usually despised in their community. The love of God is so deep. The love of God is so expensive it cost Jesus his life. In verse 35 we read how Jesus sits down with the disciples:
Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.”
To become a follower of Jesus is not to grasp for power, or to use others as a ladder to climb up higher. It is to get alongside the weak, the hurting, the broken hearted and the despised people. To give a practical and down to earth demonstration Jesus actually takes a child as an example. A child is an obvious example of someone who has no power. A child was to be seen and not heard. A child is one who takes orders from adults. A child wouldn’t boss an adult around. Jesus puts his arm round the child, and says to the disciples:
Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.
Jesus rules unlike any earthly ruler. Jesus wins people with God’s love for a kingdom that lasts forever. He even invites us to come and eat and drink at his table out of his great love for us.
If our Christian ministry is to be effective, we need to be like Jesus: we have to get alongside of people, and at times put our arms round them, and not Lord it over them. That is God’s challenge to us. Where this costly love is genuine, people will respond. Think of the way Australians respond positively to the people of the Salvation Army: they are people who are known widely in our community as the people who get alongside the people in need.
It is not always easy to meet this challenge. We need to sacrifice any dreams of power and authority we might harbour and instead become servants, we need to receive nourishment from the Lord’s table – new life and love – so that we can share this with others. And we need to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus, and when we do the view of ourselves is changed to that of hope and security in him alone, and our view of others seen through Christ becomes the same, as we see Him in them and them in Him, and see them as ourselves. Knowing their joys and sorrows and see there is no difference between us in wants and needs, and no difference in Christ’s love and see that in all ways and in all things – we serve to and receive from those that the Lord puts before us, all the while joyously knowing- that nothing in our hand we bring, but to the cross alone do we cling.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.