School is in session. College is in session. Without doubt this morning we have a number of teachers and a number of parents who already share the same frustration. The frustration: trying to teach a student who "just doesn't get it."

I can guarantee you that it is no fun being that student who "doesn't get it." When I was in the fourth grade I had a horrible time understanding the concept of fractions. I simply "did not get" the concept. My teacher could not communicate that concept to me, so Mom took up the challenge. One night she was trying hard to explain fractions. She was having no success. So, creatively, she said, "David, if six birds are sitting on the fence, and two fly away, what is left?" Well, I am not stupid! I knew the answer to that question: "Four!" Mom asked, "Four what?" In my brilliance I answered, "Four birds."

Sometimes we "do not get it" because we do not understand the concept. Sometimes we "do not get it" because the concept is so radically different that we do not believe it, will not accept it, and refuse to trust it.

No one has ever been as frustrated as Jesus by people who "did not get" the concept.

  1. The world, the country, and the age that Jesus lived in was an age of dictators.
    1. The western world was controlled by the Roman Empire's reigning Caesar.
    2. When Jesus was born, Herod the Great controlled Palestine with a iron hand.
      1. Herod was a powerful, regional king who ruled by Caesar Augustus' permission.
      2. When Herod the Great died, Caesar Augustus allowed his sons to be figure head rulers over areas of their father's kingdom, but Rome controlled the political affairs of Palestine.
      3. Even as figure heads, they had power and used it--John the Baptist condemned Herod Antipas for taking his half-brother's wife, and Herod Antipas had the power to imprison, then behead John.
    3. Jesus' world knew nothing about the democratic process--there were no human rights.
      1. The social and political reality was quite simple.
        1. In the world of politics, he who possessed the power held position, and he who held position exercised control.
        2. In the religious world including Judaism, the same was true: he who possessed power held position and exercised control.
      2. Jesus' twelve disciples had never experienced the democratic process.
        1. They knew nothing about human rights.
        2. Reality was simple: get power; take position; exercise control; live the good life.
        3. That was reality in politics, religion, and business.

  2. These twelve men watched Jesus every day.
    1. Jesus had power--power like no one else ever had.
      1. He could heal any disease that existed.
      2. He could raise people from the dead.
      3. He could stop storms and still foaming waves.
    2. Jesus had position.
      1. They knew he was Lord.
      2. Peter confessed that he was the Christ.
    3. But they never saw Jesus use his power or position to control people.
      1. Each day Jesus served.
      2. And with his power and position:
        1. He never lived "the good life."
        2. He never destroyed his enemies or exalted himself.
        3. He just served, and mostly he served the defeated and disadvantaged.

      Though they watched Jesus every day, the reality of their world controlled their thinking and desires.

  3. In Mark 9:33-37 Jesus returned to Capernaum.
    1. When he reached the house, Jesus asked the twelve, "What were you talking about as we were walking to Capernaum?"
      1. They didn't answer his question; they did not want to tell him.
      2. They discussed which of them was the most important, and they knew he would not like that.
    2. Jesus sat down and told the twelve to come to him.
      1. In essence Jesus said, "You still don't get it, do you?"
      2. "If you want to be of importance in my kingdom, then you must be the last, the last of all, the servant of all."
        1. Quite honestly, that paradoxical statement doesn't make a lot of sense.
        2. How can you be last and first at the same time?
        3. You can't get to be first by working to be last.
        4. You can't get to the top by serving everyone else; you get to the top by gaining position so everyone else has to serve you.
        5. This is true in all societies because all societies are governed by "this world" perspectives.
        6. But it is not true in Jesus' nation, his kingdom--Jesus' nation or kingdom is as unique and different as is Jesus.
        7. What is necessary to be first in the ungodly human society will not make you first in Jesus' godly kingdom.
        8. What is necessary to be first in Jesus' godly kingdom will make you a servant in both ungodly human society and in Jesus' kingdom.
      3. Jesus took a child in his arms and said, "Whoever receives one child like this in my name receives me..."

  4. The twelve still did not "get it"--right up to the very night Jesus was betrayed, they still did not get it.
    1. In Matthew 20:20-28, during the last week of his life, Jesus tried again to penetrate their thinking.
      1. James and John had their mother to make a request of Jesus.
        1. She approached Jesus as a woman of that day would approach any man or a person would approach a king, bowing before him.
        2. He asked, "What to you want of me?"
        3. "I want you to give my two sons the two prestige positions in your kingdom."
        4. He replied, "You don't know what you are asking for."
        5. Then, turning to James and John, he asked, "Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink." He was referring to his death.
        6. They had no idea that he was about to be crucified, so they replied, "We are able."
        7. Jesus replied, "You will drink the cup; but God, my Father, will decide who gets what positions in my kingdom."
      2. The other ten heard the request and knew precisely what was happening.
        1. James and John were trying to get what they wanted, and they were trying to gain unfair advantage over them.
        2. So they were indignant with James and John.
      3. Jesus had a heart-to-heart talk with all twelve.
        1. "I know that we Jews are being governed by non-Jewish rulers."
        2. "I know that these rulers are under powerful men who love to use their authority."
        3. "But my kingdom just does not work that way."
        4. "If you want greatness in my kingdom, if you want importance, then you will serve everyone else."
        5. "The person who occupies the highest position in my kingdom will be the person who serves as slave."
        6. "I am the example, and in my kingdom you will be what I am."
          1. "I will sacrifice my life as a ransom for many."
          2. "I did not come to be served; I came to serve."
    2. They still did not "get it."
      1. They wanted to rise in the pecking order; they wanted authority; they wanted the right to control, to call "the shots."
      2. They did not understand before the crucifixion.
      3. They did not understand after the crucifixion.
      4. They did not understand when Jesus' ascended back into heaven.
      5. They did not understand until the Holy Spirit came almost two months after Jesus died, and they preached the good news for the first time.
    3. If you are a citizen in Jesus' kingdom, if Jesus saved you from your sins, if Jesus rules your life, the road to significance is the road of humble, unselfish service, the service given by a devoted slave.

  5. That is the astounding paradox.
    1. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords who will someday judge the world.
      1. All who accept his forgiveness accept his rule as willing citizens in his kingdom.
      2. All authority and power are his.
    2. But his kingdom does not exist to use power and authority to defeat human enemies or to exercise control over society.
      1. His kingdom exists to serve people while it serves God.
      2. His kingdom is as interested in serving the troubled and defeated as the victorious and liberated.

  6. When you are standing before Jesus on the day of judgment, what do you want Jesus to say to you?
    1. I cannot count the times I have heard Christians pray in worship for God to help us live in a way that will allow us to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
      1. That statement comes from Matthew 25:14-30 in the parable of the servants who were given the talents.
        1. The two who served well were commended and blessed.
        2. They were told, "Well done, good an faithful servant."
      2. Look at that statement carefully.
        1. It is not, "Well done, good and faithful scholar, or theologian, or debater, or judge, or worshiper, or member."
        2. It is "Well done, good and faithful servant."
      3. Am I condemning or demeaning study, or knowledge, or standing for spiritual truth and values, or worship?
        1. Absolutely not!
        2. I focusing your attention on what Jesus obviously emphasized: no matter what you do, no matter how you develop, no matter what success you achieve, the end result of your spirituality must be service.
        3. Whatever you are as a Christian, whatever you do as a Christian, by Jesus own declaration, goodness and faithfulness involve service.

It would be incredible to witness what would happen in a congregation, any congregation, if three things happened: no one believed that Christ appointed him or her to tell everyone else what to do; everyone understood that he or she existed as a Christian to serve; as Christians served, no one cared who got the credit. You cannot imagine what any congregation could accomplish if the greatest commitment of its members was to accomplish God's purposes by doing as much good as they could.

During Jesus' life time, the twelve did not "get it." They believed power gave a person position, and position gave a person control. But in Jesus' kingdom, all power creates is greater opportunity to serve. The twelve did not "get it." Do you?

It has taken me a long time to understand that I am a slave. I am influenced as much as anyone else by the society in which we live. But I have realized that of myself, I am nothing. I only have significance when I serve the One who saved me, the One who rescued me.

You only find life when you give it away.
You only find purpose when you give up your own.

When we are baptized we acknowledge who we are--condemned nobodies--then somebodies because of whose we become.

Christ died for you.
Will you give your life to Him?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 14 September 1997

This sermon is also available in French.

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell