Sunday, May 20, 2012
Living the Resurrection: The Way of Service
Matt. 20:20-28: Acts 8:9-24
Before embarking on his public ministry, Jesus faced three temptations. One of them had to
do with the proper use of power. I imagine the devil whispering into Jesus’ ear and saying something
like, “Power is the number one thing people are looking for. Power is the treasure people seek.”
Then he shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says they can all be his. The only condition
is that Jesus must worship him.
Usually when people think of power they think of political, military or economic power. Today, on a
global scale, we may think of the power struggle between Jew and Palestinian over land entitlement
in the Middle East or the political power struggle that is waging within Syria or the economic power
struggle within Greece. Closer to home we may think of the power struggle between the Quebec
government and university students over proposed increased cost for tuition or the power struggle
between doctors and the Ontario government over wage freezes. Most people think power struggles
are what other people engage in. We seldom think of ourselves as fighting over power yet the Bible
teaches us that the desire for power is a part of everyone’s experience and that this needs to be
made holy by the Spirit of God.
Matthew relates a power struggle that went on within the original band of Jesus’ followers. James
and John had a good Jewish mother who wanted her boys to be ‘on the top of the pile’ so she asked
Jesus if they could sit closest to him. The brothers were in agreement with their mother’s request and
in response Jesus spoke directly to them, decaling that in his Father’s kingdom power meant service
and involved sacrifice. Here’s a record of what was said:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him,
she asked a favour of him.
And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of
mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup
that I am about to drink?”£ They said to him, “We are able.”
He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this
is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over
them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;
just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for
many.” (Matt. 20)
Rightly used power has the ability to create and bless. Wrongly used power can destroy,
disenfranchise, dehumanize and kill.
The power that destroys demands control. It always wants to gain the upper hand. It destroys
relationships, destroys trust, and undermines genuine communication. The destructive use of power
plays itself out in all of our relationships. It begins at an early age and continues through life.
Children vie for power and say things like, “This is my ball and you can’t play with it.” Teens are also
power brokers and say things like, “If you want to be one of us, you have to dress like we dress and
do what we do.” Adults continue to play the power game and say things like, “If you don’t do things
my way, I’m outta here.” Power plays are not limited to the last three minutes of a hockey game, they
happen all the time.
The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a sin about power. They were given everything
for their pleasure - every delight and everything necessary for a good life. Yet they wanted more;
they wanted to be like God in knowing good and evil. Not content to be creatures, they wanted to be
This same spirit often festers in humanity today. For many, it’s not enough to enjoy the rhythm of
work and rest that each day brings. Many of us want to scramble above our peers and be the king or
queen of the castle. We want to be like gods, a cut above everybody else.
For Adam and Eve, their desire for power meant a broken relationship with God. They hid from God.
The desire for power today continues to rupture people’s relationship with God. When our minds are
absorbed with self-advancement, when our wills our bent on manipulative control, it’s difficult for us to
hear God speaking to us. The ‘Me’ shouts so loud in us that we can’t hear anything else.
There’s a story told in the Book of Acts that serves as an illustration of the destructive use of power.
Simon Magus, a magician in Samaria, was a man who wielded great power over people. His talent
for deception and sleight of hand resulted in fame and fortune. People revered him; they gave him an
elevated status. When Philip came to Samaria proclaiming Jesus as the God-sent Christ, Simon
listened and became a believer. Later, Peter and John came to Samaria and laid hands on those
who had believed in Jesus and the Holy spirit came upon them in very demonstrable ways. When
Simon saw that the power of God had come upon some of the believers, he wanted it too. And so he
offered to pay Peter and John if they would give it to him. Peter rebuked him for thinking he could
buy the power of God and use it for his own purposes.
The sin of Simon the magician was that he wanted God’s power not to promote the things of God but
to promote himself. This God-power, he reasoned, would make his magic a notch above every other
magician’s – his paycheque would increase as well as his fame.
Many people today come to God with the mindset of Simon Magus. They want God’s power to make
their individual lives better – more prosperous, greater status, more fame. But that’s not what God’s
power is for.
Any use of power for our own advantage is a destructive use of power. These uses of power puff
people up and make them think that they are better than those around them. Whenever individuals
try to put themselves on the top of the heap – like James and John - they either knowingly or
unknowingly, are putting others below them. When prideful power imposes its will on others, the
inherent value of others is diminished.
Someone once wisely said, The only cure for the love of power is the power of love.” Jesus came to
so infuse the hearts of men and women with the love of God that the love of power would be
overcome. Submitted to God and under God’s control, power can be used in creative and restorative
Relationships can be healed
Those without worth can be given value
Lives can be blessed
Freedom can reign
Examples from history of men and women who have used power positively abound.
Parliamentarian William Wilberforce used his power in eighteenth and nineteenth century
Britain to help abolish the slave trade.
Dietrich Bonheoffer used his power as a pastor and theologian in the Confessing Church to
oppose Hitler’s Nazism in twentieth century Germany.
Martin Luther King Junior used his power as a leader in the American civil rights movement to
bring equality to American blacks.
Jean Vanier used his influence as a son of one of Canada’s former Governor-generals to
establish L’Arche communities around the world, bringing value and respect to the severely
South African Bishop Tutu used his power within the church to usher in a process of
reconciliation within a deeply divided society.
The power that brings healing and freedom is grounded in God and Jesus freely imparted this power
throughout his ministry.
To the twelve, Jesus gave power and authority to drive out demons, cure diseases and talk
about the kingdom of God. (Luke 9)
To the seventy- two, Jesus again gave the power to heal and talk about the kingdom of God.
Jesus promised the twelve that when the power of the holy spirit came on them they would be
able to do the things that he had been doing and more. (John 14)
The risen Jesus reminded the first followers that when the power of God came upon them they
would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
This power that comes from God is not tied to a particular position or to a particular title. It comes
with no official status. Rather, it belongs to everyone who seeks to do the will of God and wants to
see his kingdom come to earth. This power that God gives never forces, never coerces, never
manipulates, never promotes self; rather, it takes on the form of a servant, looks in the eyes on the
one being served and says you are valued, you are loved.
Do you remember what Jesus did at the time of the last meal with his disciples? He assumed the role
of a servant. Jesus, their leader, their teacher, put a towel around his waist, put water in a bowl and
began to wash their feet. And then afterward he said:
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s
For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Very truly, I tell you, servants£ are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater
than the one who sent them. (John 13)
In the Kingdom of God, the exercise of power functions through the ministry of the towel.
The church is meant to reveal glimpses of what God’s kingdom is like. As a group of people working,
learning and sharing life together, there are many tasks to be done. Some are enjoyable, some are
not. (With the perspective of 2000 years, we have idealized the washing of feet but at the time when
people wore no socks and walked dusty roads in a hot dry climate, it was a dirty, smelly job). Today
when we speak of volunteerism in the church, we often speak about the importance of a good fit – of
people doing something they like to do. There is some truth in this. But there will always be jobs that
few really want to do but need doing. These, above all, require a servant’s heart. It’s for this reason
that some churches don’t speak about volunteers within the church; they speak of servants.
Followers of Jesus are meant to emulate the towel-clad, foot washing Jesus and perform whatever
tasks need doing and do them in such a way that the people being served feel the love of God.
About a month ago, I received a notice via email that Chuck Coulson had died at the age of 80.
Chuck Coulson was a man who at one time in his life wielded great political power and used it largely
for his own purposes. Later in his life, after becoming a Jesus follower, he was transformed by the
power of love, put a towel around his waist and began to serve those in prison. Here’s a short clip of
God’s creative power is a power that serves, a power that works to make others whole; all other uses
of power are destructive and harmful. Like Jesus, in his wilderness temptations, each of us must
make a decision about how we will use power – for ourselves or for the building of God’s kingdom.