There’s something in all of us that longs for greatness and significance and respect and honor. Of course, determining greatness requires comparison and ranking, and winners and losers. In Mark 9 this plays out as we find Jesus’ disciples arguing over which one of them is the greatest. In response, Jesus turns everything upside down as he proclaims, “If anyone would be first (greatest), he must be last (least) of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
And then in Mark 10, in one of the more remarkable statements in all of Scripture, Jesus replies to another discussion on greatness and position by saying:
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:2-45).
What makes this so significant is not that Jesus connects true greatness to service and slavery, as counter-cultural as that is. Rather, the weightiness comes when he connects service and slavery to himself. Here the great Creator and Sovereign King of all that exists tells us that serving and self-sacrifice are a part of the very nature and character of God. Jesus has come to help a sinful, undeserving world by giving and serving, and ultimately, by dying to save people from their sin. Jesus is truly great, and by imitating him in selfless service for others, we find ourselves on the path to true greatness. We find ourselves living in the glow of the gospel.
We can be tempted to look at the great serving and saving work of Christ on the Cross and assume that meaningful service must be dramatic to be significant. “Go big or go home.” And if we think like that we are often paralyzed and end up doing nothing at all. True greatness, gospel-style, is big in that it requires real sacrifice and selfless service. But it’s small, because it happens in the everyday, ordinary things of life. It’s heroic while often looking pedestrian. And yet, when we give ourselves to serve others, we imitate Christ and demonstrate the gospel. Can it really get any better than that? No.