THE UPSIDE-DOWN PYRAMID
Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
In the Name of Jesus, Who often said that "...the last shall be first, and the first last," Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Have you ever heard of the "pyramid scheme?" It was an clever money racket that swept through several major cities some years ago. It was really big in Seattle, where I happened to be living at the time. A friend of mine tried to get me into it. It worked like this: I and nine other friends of his were each supposed to give him $50. Then I was supposed to convince ten of my own friends to give me $50 apiece. Of that $500, $50 would go to my friend, and I'd have $400 in the clear. 10% of the money always went to the person above you on the "pyramid." So the money flowed upward, and the people who got in at the beginning - who were at the top of the pyramid - often made thousands of dollars in a matter of weeks. It was highly illegal, of course, and it didn't take an Einstein to figure out that eventually a lot of little guys on the bottom of the pyramid would get burned: they'd pay their $50 and get nothing in return.
The popularity of the pyramid scheme depended on greed: I don't care how many people get burned as long as I get rich! Much of our American society runs that way, doesn't it? A person's success is very often judged by how high up on the pyramid he's been able to climb - how much money he makes, how many people he has working for him. The ones on the bottom serve the ones on the top. But in our text for today, Jesus explains that there's one very important arena in which the rules are just the opposite. That's the kingdom of God. Today Jesus tells us about...
"THE UPSIDE-DOWN PYRAMID"
I. In the kingdom of the world, everyone scrambles for the top. II. In the kingdom of God, Christ calls us to the bottom!
I've always thought it appropriate that one of the symbols on the back of a dollar bill is...a pyramid! In the kingdom of the world, everyone scrambles for the top. Climbing the pyramid - or the "social ladder," as it's often called - is in the American blood. Almost everybody would like to make more money, have more power, and be in charge of a lot of people. Wouldn't you? Sure you would! Things such as money, power, authority - these aren't necessarily bad things, in themselves. They can certainly be blessings from God, for which we should thank Him. If God gives us these things, we should be good stewards of His gifts and use them to His glory. But we need to understand one thing very clearly - the kingdom of God doesn't run the same way the world runs. If anything, it's just the opposite.
In the passage just before our text, two of Jesus' disciples got a little mixed up about this. James and John came to Jesus with a rather strange request: "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." Jesus had predicted that, one day, He would be seated on a throne of glory, so James and John were trying to reserve the best seats, right next to Jesus, in advance. If Jesus was going to end up on top, they felt, then they deserved to be up there with Him.
And they weren't the only ones who were spiritually ambitious. All of the twelve disciples had the bad habit of arguing over which of them was the greatest, and who deserved to have precedence over the others. Each of them wanted to be on top of the spiritual "pyramid". Of course, when they found out that James and John had gotten their request in ahead of them, they got pretty sore about it. Jesus cut short the argument. He took them aside and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you."
Jesus knew very well how the pyramid works in the kingdom of the world! Unbelieving people scramble for the top, and grab all the power and authority they can. More often than not they abuse that authority by oppressing the people who are lower down. "Yet it shall not be so among you," He said. In the kingdom of God - among the community of your fellow Christians - this is simply unacceptable behavior. Rather, Jesus said, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." -- Mark 9:35.
But how often don't we displease our Savior by doing just the opposite? We scramble to the top, trying to gain the upper hand over the very people Jesus tells us to serve! How much damage is done, for example, to the Christian family when people are bent on being served, instead of serving each other! Christian wife: are you serving your husband by submitting to his authority, as the Bible commands? Husband: are you serving your wife by loving her as much as Christ loves the Church? -That's what God's Law requires! You young people, are you serving your parents by being obedient to them and helpful? Or do you disobey them, talk back to them, and make their lives miserable? A church member who considers himself a pretty big person in the congregation, and expects others to pay attention to him and serve him...has got his spiritual priorities all turned around! A pastor who lords it over his congregation and forces his decisions on them, whether they like it or not...well, he's at the wrong end of the power structure! Because, unlike the world, the kingdom of God is an upside-down pyramid. In the kingdom of God, Christ calls us to the bottom.
There's a game that all of us played as youngsters, called "king of the hill." I remember playing it on a huge pile of snow in the parking lot of a church near where I grew up. The rules were simple: we'd all scramble for the top, elbows flying and legs kicking. Once on top, we'd do our best to stay there, by pushing any challengers down the slope. Well, imagine how strange it would be if one of the players started on top, went down to the bottom on purpose, and proceeded to help the other players go up. It'd be "king of the hill," only backwards! It would be an upside-down pyramid, and it's a very good picture of what Jesus did for us!
In urging His followers to serve one another, Jesus very naturally used Himself as an example. He said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Yes, Jesus calls us to service. Yes, He calls us to the very bottom of the pyramid...but not before going there Himself!
This season of Lent is the perfect time for us to remember just how far down Jesus went for us. During the Christmas season we focus on His humble birth; how the King of all creation came down to earth as a tender baby, born in the rudest of all shelters: a stable. But it's Lent that really shows us just how low Jesus was willing to go in order to save us. After living a perfect life of obedience to God and service to others, He made the final, fatal sacrifice. On the hill of Calvary He offered up His innocent life as the ransom for our sins. Only one price would pay our way into heaven: the price of the innocent blood of the Son of God. This price our Savior willingly paid. It meant being scorned and spit upon. It meant enduring the physical and mental torture of a cruel, disgusting death. But Jesus did it. He made Himself the lowest of the low...for us. What a wonder - the Master of all becomes the Servant of all! Paul says, "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God...made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross! -- Phil 2:5-8.
The sacrifice was offered, and it was accepted by God. The empty tomb on Easter morning proclaimed to the world that the victory had been won. Satan was disarmed, and heaven was open to all who would believe in Jesus. Now His' perfect righteousness has become your perfect righteousness! His death on the cross means that eternal death can never claim you! With His resurrection, He makes the ironclad promise to you, "Because I live, you will live also!" -- Jn 14:19. It gives me the greatest pleasure, as your pastor, to tell you that, in Jesus, all your sins have been erased, your name has been written in the Book of Life, and you and I will enjoy the bliss of life eternal together in heaven!
In the mean time, anything we can do to show our gratitude to Jesus can only be considered a labor of love, don't you agree? And our Lord shows us how we can do that: by following Him to the bottom of "the upside-down pyramid." He says to us Christians, "Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all."
There isn't really any servant class left in America, is there? The days of butlers and maids is past. It's usually considered degrading to be a servant to somebody else - let alone a slave! But in the upside-down pyramid, serving others is the no disgrace...just the opposite. Among Christians, serving is an honor. Even being a slave to our fellow-believers is the highest privilege! When you husbands show love to your wives, you're really showing love for Christ. When you wives submit to your husbands, you're really submitting to Jesus. Children, by obeying your parents, you're obeying the Lord. You members of this congregation, you can honor the Lord by honoring each other, and by serving each other every chance you get, both in and out of church. Paul says, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another." -- Rom 12:10.
Teaching Sunday School or VBS, playing the organ, serving on the church council, supporting the work of the Gospel with your dollars - all these are honorable ways of serving the Lord. They may seem like humble things, but in the upside-down pyramid of God's kingdom, that makes them the even more important. In fact, the lower you can go, the better! Just offering the comforting Good News about Jesus to a friend in need may be the best service of all - you don't know whether such a simple word might not end up saving that person. It's certainly a good way to say thanks to Jesus for saving you!
On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President of the United States. In his inaugural address, he gave us one of the most famous quotes ever attributed to a president: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." It was an inspiring statement, and one which still challenges us citizens to a patriotic spirit of self-sacrifice. If it applies to this earthly country of ours, then it applies even better to the kingdom of God, of which every Christian is a citizen. Let's follow our Savior to the bottom of the pyramid, to a life of service. Lets ask, not what our fellow-Christians can do for us. In thanks to Christ, let's ask what we can do for our fellow-Christians! AMEN.
ONE THING IS NEEDFUL
Lutheran Sermons for the Church Year by Pastor Paul Naumann