I was asked a question on Friday that didn’t catch my full attention until after I thought about it some more. Someone asked if I was concerned at all with Hurricane Michael. We didn’t leave. Didn’t put hurricane shutters on. Didn’t buy pallets of water bottles. We pretty much acted like things were normal. Now we knew it was out there. We were certainly watching, ready to change plans if necessary. But with what turned out to be a category 4 hurricane only 80 miles away, we weren’t concerned. My reasoning was we were never in the cone of uncertainty. The track stayed pretty consistent. It would go right, veering away from us. No, I wasn’t worried.
But why not? Others certainly were. Hurricane shutters went up on almost every third house in our neighborhood. People did leave. Others did buy all the water they could. Up until the morning of landfall, people were concerned it wouldn’t turn, putting us right in the path. So what was my certainty based on? A cone of uncertainty. Weather people. Gut feeling. I probably should’ve been more concerned. I wasn’t in control. I couldn’t do anything about it. That’s what had people panicking. Loss of control, uncertainty about the future, the looming suffering if it hit.
The two disciples of Jesus might have had any number of reasons for their request. This wasn’t the first time either. Just a couple of chapters back the twelve talked about who was the greatest. Now two stepped forward and made it seem like they thought they were the greatest. But maybe it wasn’t arrogance. They just heard again how Jesus would suffer and die. Jesus mentioned mocking, flogging, and being spit on. Maybe James and John approached Jesus because they felt out of control and uncertain. It could be seen in their bargaining like little kids bargain. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Maybe they shouldn’t be asking. Could this be some desperate play to regain some control? Secure their positions and future. Get rid of uncertainty. Except ignorance and mistaken identity asked the question. “You don’t know what you are asking, Jesus said.” Things were about to turn upside down.
We’ve been uncertain before. Hurricanes offshore getting ready to blow in and threaten to blow down what we’ve built will do that. Timing also gives us uncertain feelings. Timing on the check getting deposited to cover the bills just written. Or timing that a person we care about gets the health news they want before its too late. Or we seek control. Suffering because of a broken relationship leaves us out of control. If we ignore problems and pretend everything is okay, we’ll be okay. We want control back so badly we’ll pray as the disciples did. “Lord God I need a good grade in this class, get me this job, give our church success and we’ll grow.” Aren’t we really saying do for us whatever we ask? That’s control. We don’t have it but we want it. We wrestle it away from God and claim it. We don’t like uncertainty so we try to control every part of our lives. That can involve sin, even sinful anger towards God when things don’t go well, or frustration with suffering.
You like being on top in your life, in control, like the boss or project manager. People on top shouldn’t suffer. Not like the workers, like the little people, below them. Jesus turns things upside down. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” The power structure pyramid flips. The top is bottom and bottom is top. For the Christian to become great they give up the top. Control isn’t what you should be after. You aren’t going for the top like the rest of the world. You’re becoming the servant. It’s upside-down control because it’s no control at all. Giving up the top leaves room for who really belongs there.
Jesus is top and in control. How did he get there? Giving up his top position. He had moments where the angry mob looked like they might throw him off a cliff. Things seemed totally out of control. Jesus was confronted over healings he did of others. He was thrown out of communities. Things looked uncertain, especially when he told the disciples about the future with its mobs, spitting, and death. But control was upside down. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” Jesus gave up the top so he might earn the top. Jesus suffered through life, faced death, gave up power and authority and control so when he rose from the dead he would have the top. He would have all power and all authority. All control would be his. The victory would be his. And it would be yours.
James and John did have some arrogance. Jesus asked if they could drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with. “We can they answered.” Had they not heard anything? Jesus wasn’t talking about greatness and authority and an earthly kingdom. With chests held out, they answered we can, but could they? Wasn’t it really just more control they were seeking? In reality, they couldn’t face the suffering Jesus would face, couldn’t accept the death Jesus was to be baptized with. They didn’t want Jesus to accept them without a fight. They didn’t want life on the bottom, hardship, difficulty, being kicked down and then kicked when down. Jesus was going to the cross, walking through life carrying a cross. They would too, Jesus promised.
Seeking control is really arrogance on our part. And it’s fooling ourselves. Drink the cup, it can’t be that bad. Face death, figuring it won’t get us that close to actual death. Our view on suffering and hardship is really a weakened viewpoint. We assume there will be a little ridicule. We’ll have to not get caught in the really big sins. But our suffering isn’t bad comparatively. In truth, we’re destined to get what he got. “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” The cup of suffering is in our lives. Our roofs may still be on, our church may still be standing, but it’s not because we were in control. And when suffering does enter life, it sometimes hits hard. We talk back to mom and dad and get grounded on the same day we want to go to the big game or party. We show up late to work and the extra workload forces us to miss important events. And some suffering knocks us back even more, showing we were never in control. We get rear-ended at a light. We have a heart attack. Tragedy strikes, because sin is in the world. Sin is in our hearts. Life is not slowly and steadily getting better. Death awaits us and we need a rescue from our sins.
The Son of Man is in control. Jesus serves you, serves this whole community, serves the world from the bottom. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Three things to pay attention to there. Gave his life. It was a ransom. It was for many. Jesus didn’t issue orders from the safety of the bunker. He entered the battle. Came and did it himself. In the showdown on the cross, Jesus stomped out Satan and his control forever. It was his own life he gave. He gave it for you. It was you who was held for ransom by your sins and death. Jesus completely took your place and freed you from sin’s grasp. The payment was perfect. It fit the crime since Jesus was carrying all your sins. God forgives you. And this wonderful news doesn’t just count for you. It’s for the world too. The many. All people. Jesus served them all, from the bottom, from the cross. He defeated sin and death, rose from the dead, and rose to the top.
Jesus installs you in that position now. Not with you in control, but him. The one who served you puts you in a good position to serve others. Sacrificing a few hours to help a neighbor is nothing to the Christian. Finding extra dollars in the budget to give to hurricane relief comes naturally. Putting in the time needed to talk with a lonely relative, a fellow student, or a coworker is easy. You serve and you serve in hundreds of other ways that don’t get recounted in a sermon, don’t ever make you famous, that may not even get recognized. That’s part of being on the bottom to serve. You’ll happily be out of control since you’re following in the footsteps of your Savior. You don’t need credit; you need grace. You have it, fully, and you can use it to serve, fully.
We might look desperately for control. Especially when what we’re facing is suffering. Facing a destroyed church or home, that’s the suffering of many in Panama City this morning. Our suffering might not be that plain, but it’s just as real. Whatever you’re feeling uncertain about, feeling out of control about, you can give up that top position. Jesus is here for you. He’s in that spot, controlling everything for you. And you can serve from the bottom, just as Jesus did. Because of his grace, you won’t be there forever. It’s upside-down today, but someday soon, Jesus will bring you up to heaven and heaven is your home. There you’ll always be on top because of Christ.