Note: This post offers a preview of my new book, Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership Through the Teachings of Jesus [2019, Kirkdale Press]. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for bulk order pricing.
Reframed and Re-routed
In this fourth and final post in which I introduce to you my new book, Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership Through the Teachings of Jesus, we now come to the heart of the matter…
Ultimately, those who want to emulate the greatness of Jesus
will be called upon to follow him to the cross.
Ponder with me for a moment Jesus on the cross. The omnipotent, self-sufficient One laid aside the prerogative to exercise his power in pursuit of self-vindication or retribution. In his own words, he “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Instead of calling out and casting off those who deserted him in his hour of need, he spoke words of conciliation and compassion. Repudiating self-indulgence to medicate or ameliorate his pain, he bore every ounce. He offered grace to the penitent criminal and absorbed the abuse of the truly guilty, even asking the Father’s forgiveness of those who had no idea of the cosmic magnitude of their crimes.
Jesus told Nicodemus he would be “lifted up” (John 3:14) — but he did not mean exaltation in the short run; it was the lift of redemptive sacrifice for all time. The cross teaches us that to be great on Jesus’ terms is ultimately to forfeit yourself for the other. It is a journey of descent, not of ascent. Bible teacher and songwriter John Fischer probes our resistance to this idea of greatness artfully and poignantly in his song “Nobody Wants to Die.”
You want to be a winner without takin’ a loss,
You want to be a disciple without countin’ the cost,
You want to follow Jesus, but you don’t want to go to the cross.
Everyone wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
[John Fischer, “Nobody Wants to Die,” copyright 1982 Word Music, LLC (admin. by WB Music Corp.)].
How do you become great?
In case you have not yet figured it out, I must inform you that you cannot conjure greatness. Merely trying harder will not produce it.
The sort of greatness Jesus has been commending in this passage only comes by means of grace. Gratitude acknowledges and appropriates God’s grace. God’s grace appropriated engenders, in its turn, true greatness.
Greatness is not an ethic for us to emulate. No competition can win it for us. No, greatness is the product of a supernatural grace we can entreat and not merely a standard we can embrace.
Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last,
and the servant of all. (Mark 9:35)
We can join the parade of those who brandish this saying as a noble, yet benign and insubstantial platitude. Or we can dig deeper into the text and grapple with the life-altering implications of Jesus’ teaching on the subject.
My intention in Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership Through the Teachings of Jesus has been to help you see that a more comprehensive understanding of the context of Jesus’ statement and the scope of his commentary on that statement are critical to the process. If you have the courage to engage it in this way, you will not come out unscathed. On the other hand, if you are willing to submit to the soul surgery born of rigorous engagement with this text, I believe you will be ready to experience the deeper potency of life and leadership that the Lord who spoke about true greatness is eager to bestow on those who seek it for his glory.