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Position is everything (Lent blog series Wk.5)

Have you ever asked yourself how the other disciples felt when Jesus took Peter, James and John hiking high up in the mountain? (Mark 9:2) Presumably Jesus had explained his intention to “get away by himself” with his “favourite three,” that they may be gone a while; or did they just quietly head off, without a second thought, whilst the other nine were preoccupied? This wasn’t the first time they’d been left behind though, was it? They weren’t privy to the miraculous resurrection of Jairus’ daughter either. (Luke 8:51) Told to wait outside whilst “Rocky and the Sons of Thunder” got front row seats. (Matt 16:13-20, Mark 3:17) “What’s that all about? What’s so special about them anyway?” they may have wondered. Like it or not, Jesus had an inner circle, there were things he needed to show Peter, James and John that he couldn’t/wouldn’t share with anyone else at that time, not even the other nine Apostles! (Mark 9:9-10) No doubt this caused a little contention between the twelve as they tried to ascertain who among them would be greatest in the Kingdom after Jesus’ inauguration. (Mark 9:33-37) We’re not given the details of the conversation that took place on the road between Caesarea Philippi and Capernaum but you can imagine how it started. “Where were you Peter? John? James? What were you doing while we were being challenged by the scribes, furious that we couldn’t heal that poor boy?” “That’s right, you were out with teacher, I suppose you think you’re better than us now, well don’t forget Peter, I’ve healed more people than you ever will! As for you John how many demons have you cast out? That’s right... none, you’ll not be sitting on the right or the left of Jesus in his Kingdom with a record like that.” Round and round perhaps it went, each claiming to be greater than the other based on works, or merit, or relationship or birth.

What is it that sparks such rivalry between brothers? Why are we, as they, so obsessed with position and the desire to be great? We see it every day in politics, music, television and film, in the work place, the school playground, even in churches! Instead of cheering one another on to love and good works, men, women and children claw their way to the top, tearing each other down to take that coveted position. One only has to look at the media to see people desperately striving to be better, bigger, stronger, smarter and higher than all those around them. When they can’t be “first” they’ll do all they can to prevent the success of those who are by being unhelpful, unkind or downright rude. Whatever the cause of this rivalry, Jesus is quite clear “not so among you.” (Mark 10:43-45) Why were the disciple so slow to understand this message? Why are we just the same?

Mark shows, throughout chapters 9 and 10, that Jesus is trying to open the disciples eyes. Yet it seems as though they just couldn’t get it, or maybe they didn’t want to get it. Perhaps the thought of Jesus dying was far too painful to consider. Or perhaps Jesus’ teaching cut too hard against their ingrained understanding of what the Messiah’s Kingdom would look like. Jesus presents a kingdom governed, not by pomp and authority as the Romans would, but by selfless, sacrificial acts of service to others, beginning with His own death. (Mark 8:31-33, 9:9-10, 10:32-34, 42-45) Not the Kingdom they were expecting at all. Instead, Jesus talks of a Kingdom where little children are considered just as worthy of a place with the King as anyone else. (Mark 9:36-37, 42, 10:13-16) A Kingdom where unity of purpose is more important than who’s following who. (9:38-40, 50) A Kingdom where the helpless and the marginalised are just as welcome with Jesus as the able and the fortunate. (10:17-27, 46-52) The only way into this Kingdom is by faith and with a willingness to deny oneself in exchange for service to others. Not by power or might, wealth or position! Jesus is looking for those who position themselves in faith and are willing to take the lowest place, the place of a servant. The greatest positions are reserved for faith filled, humble servants. Not for those who ask, want or take them for themselves, but for those who are willing to put others before self for the sake of God’s Kingdom, in the name of Jesus. For those whom the Father has prepared them! (Mark 10:40) The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, captures Jesus’ attitude and our proper response to this matter very clearly, he writes:

Therefore if you have any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself to death - even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place... (Phil 2:1-11 BSB)

Jesus was having a hard time opening the disciples’ eyes to this truth. It seems as though it was easier for him to open Bartimaeus’ physically blind eyes than it was to cure their spiritual blindness. How true is that of us, his disciples, today? Do we really see Jesus as we ought to see Him? Do we truly understand what it means to be His followers, His church today? John records in the book of revelation Jesus’ counsel to the Laodicean church, he writes:

You say, “I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me... salve to anoint your eyes that you may see. (Rev 3:14-22 BSB)

Ignorance is not an excuse, we’ll never understand how wretched, pitiful, poor or naked we are without renewed spiritual sight. More than ever, we need our eyes anointed that we may see Jesus’ Kingdom the way he wants us to see it! We must prayerfully ask: What are you trying to teach us Lord, through your word and by your Spirit, about yourself and your Kingdom today? What areas of our relationship with Him and the outworking of our spiritual lives need to be re-evaluated so that we can follow him more closely? What does serving Jesus and others look like for us in this new and challenging season of social separation and suffering?

Individually, the answers to these questions may differ, we all fall short of God’s Glory in one way or another, but not necessarily in the same ways! However, Mark presents universal answers to these questions, applicable to all, as relevant today as then. Just as Mark presents The Suffering Servant, so too must we present to those around us the very same Suffering Servant. This means lifting up the message of The Cross, (John 3:14-16) holding out the Word of Life at every opportunity, (Phil 2:14-16) a message of hope for all in this season of suffering and uncertainty. Jesus died so that we might have life and life to its fullest. (John 10:10-11) Let us faithfully share that Good News as best we can, in word and in deed. Let’s not be as slow to understand this lesson as the disciples were. Neither should we be all talk and no action, since faith without works is no faith at all. (James 2:14-18) Instead, let’s follow our Lord’s example whole heartedly, laying down our lives in service to others, continuing to look for practical ways to serve the many communities we belong to; remembering that the last will be first and the first last, the greatest among us servants to all. The most important truths to remember when tempted to fight for some position in your community, or when jealousy of another’s rise to “greatness” consumes us, are these: No one can receive anything unless it has been given to them from above, including their position. (John 3:27, 19:10-11) If God has given it to them, we should support them in prayer at the very least and practically where we can, not harbour a grudge or seek their downfall. Finally, we should remember that the highest position we could ever dream of has already been gifted to us... We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ, seated with him in heavenly places. (1 John 3:1, Gal 3:26, Romans 8:15-17, Eph 1:3-6, 2:6-7) Position really is everything, how great is that?

I am seated with Christ in heavenly places. I am a child of God. Hallelujah!

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