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Jesus and the disciples have had a busy ministry schedule over the last few days and the pace became grueling.  Just a few days ago, they held a major food outreach where they fed over four thousand people.  They had an intense meeting with members of another denomination questioning what they were doing taking their members.  Then, there was the spiritual retreat for Jesus and his inner circle while rest of the disciples were getting “raked over the coals” for not being able to cast out a demon.  That turned out to be a mess that Jesus had to clean up.

So, on the way back to headquarters in the church van, Jesus decides to clear his schedule instead of doing any ministry in Galilee and focuses some teaching and preparing the disciples for the mission that he is sent to fulfill.  He tells them: “The Son Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

But they really don’t get that.  It does not compute.  And we know it doesn’t compute, because, at some point during the trip back to the office, they start arguing with each other over who the best minister is on staff.

When they get back to the office, Jesus plops down on the sofa, wipes his face, and takes a deep breath.  He calls out, “Hey, Pete, get the rest of the gang in here. I need to talk to you.”  You hear a little grumbling in the foyer – “Great – more teaching?”

The staff piles into the office, but they’re ready to get home and get some rest.  There is a big children’s outreach next week.  Jesus looks across their faces and asks a question that sucks the air out of the room: “On our trip back here, what were you guys arguing about?”  John immediately drops his head and cuts his eyes over to Pete, whose eyes are wide in fear and face is burning red.  James just stares at his iPhone and pretends it doesn’t pertain to him.  Andrew and Bartholomew cross their arms and glare at the others.  Busted.

Jesus looks over the faces of each of his disciples and reminds them of something that he has already told them:  “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  Jesus knows this is tough.  Jesus knows that this is a radically different definition of success that what the culture around them teaches.  Conventional wisdom says you work hard to achieve greatness, but Jesus is teaching them that greatness in the kingdom is defined by how we empty ourselves of status and focus on service.

But Jesus wants to drive the point home with an illustration.  He calls out to his assistant, “Hey, Mary, will you go to the after-school program and bring one of the children up to the office?  Thanks so much.”  When Mary comes in the office with one of the precious children, Jesus has the child stand in the middle of the room for everyone to see.  Then, Jesus reaches out and pulls the child in close for a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.  He smiles at the child as he teaches this truth:  “When you serve a child that the world ignores as insignificant, you are serving me, but really you are not serving me, but God himself.  Gang, let me put it to you another way.  As long as you are striving for status in my kingdom, you’ll always be last and this child who is ignored will be first on my list of priorities.  But when you empty yourselves of your self-importance and focus your priorities on my priorities, you will be great in my kingdom.”

Dr. Lee Reese, Assistant Vice President for Professional Studies

Sovereign God,

You have shown us your greatness by becoming the Servant of all through your Son.. We pray your Holy Spirit empowers us to empty ourselves of self-centeredness and become a servant in your kingdom so that you may be glorified and your children find peace. We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.