“Submission and Service”
October 18, 2015
By John Partridge
Scripture: Job 38:1-7, 34-41 Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45
What’s the first thing that comes into your head when I say the word, ‘submission?’
In today’s usage of the English language, the word ‘submission’ comes to us loaded with a lot of negative baggage. My best guess is that this is largely because of our battle with slavery in American history. There are likely also negative associations with military history where submission of is associated with surrender. While we often use the word ‘submit’ in a variety of perfectly innocent ways (we submit payments, we submit resumes and applications) whenever we talk about human submission, eyebrows are raised, heads turn, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. If you think I am exaggerating, just wait until someone in church starts a conversation about wives submitting to their husbands, slaves (or employees) submitting to their masters, or discussing what it really means to submit to Caesar. Submission is one of those places where us freedom loving, fiercely independent Americans automatically resist, even if that submission makes complete sense.
Another word that we struggle with, though admittedly not with nearly the same ferocity, is the word ‘service.” Service is just too similar and too connected to that of ‘servant’ and although we don’t occasionally mind serving one another, or serving guests, we resist the idea of being labelled as servants.
But despite our reluctance and resistance to use these two words, this morning we are going to spend some time understanding them a little better. We begin in Job 38:1-7, 34-41 but you need to remember where we left off last week. Last week we heard Job boldly proclaim his desire to get in God’s face, to proclaim his innocence, and demand justice. While we know that Job was completely innocent and that even God considered him to be upright and blameless, it is at this point that Job’s boldness went too far. God comes to Job but his answers are not at all the kind that Job was expecting.
1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?
39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?
God’s response to Job’s boldness is to take him out to the woodshed and give him a whooping. And what we read isn’t even half of what God had to say. God’s answer is, “Who are you to question me?” God is so far above Job that it is as if an ant demanded to know why you mowed your lawn, or if an Army recruit demanded that the President of the United States explain why he had to wear a uniform. The difference between God and Job in intelligence, understanding, strength, power, and authority is so gigantic that Job’s only legitimate response is… submission.
When finally confronted by God, Job must admit that he is not in a position to demand anything at all. He must surrender to the will of God.
Similarly, not long after Jesus explains to the disciples that they will be rewarded for what they have given up to follow Jesus, James and John come to him asking for even more. Many of the disciples were convinced that Jesus was going to overthrow the government, throw out the Roman army, and be crowned as king over all of Israel. James and John are clearly included in this group (which was probably all of the disciples) and, completely ignoring the fact that Jesus has just told them that persecution would be a part of their reward, they are looking forward to how they will personally benefit when Jesus becomes king. (Mark 10:35-45)
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In this passage, is as statement that runs absolutely counter to everything that our culture tells us, and nearly contrary to human nature: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Our culture teaches us to pursue dominance, look out for number one, to climb the ladder of success even if we have to climb over our friends, family and coworkers to get there. Human nature and our natural competitive spirit often motivate us to see leadership and greatness as a competition that we need to win, and to win means that we have to defeat someone else.
But Jesus defines greatness in an altogether different way.
For Jesus, leadership starts with service instead of dominance or competition. Real leaders don’t “look out for number one,” they look out for the people on the bottom. Real leaders don’t climb over other people, they lift other people up. Winning doesn’t mean defeating someone else, winning means building up everyone else on your team so that the entire team can be successful.
As he often does, Jesus stands conventional wisdom on its head.
How would it look if a corporation, or any employer, spent as much time focusing on how to serve their employees as they did trying to make a profit? I’m not saying that profit isn’t important, but wouldn’t the world be a different place if employers saw their employees as masters to be served rather than resources to be exploited?
Even Jesus is not exempt from this new, radical, and transformational leadership formula. Jesus said, “…even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus himself, as the King of kings and Leader of leaders, must therefore, become the servant of everyone. And he does. But Jesus’ service to his people goes even farther than that. In Hebrews 5:1-10, Paul fleshes out this idea of Jesus’ servanthood.
5:1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
6 And he says in another place,
You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus has been called to be more than just a servant. Paul says that Jesus has also been selected to be our high priest, which means that he is our liaison, our intermediary, between us and God. Jesus is our representative, our ambassador on behalf of humanity, in the throne room of God. His job is to be compassionate with those who make mistakes because they didn’t know any better and to gently guide those who are wandering off in the wrong direction. Jesus’ job is to serve all of those who serve God in addition to offering himself as the sacrifice for our sins. What’s more, Jesus hasn’t just been appointed as our high priest for a year or two, or even for a thousand years, but he has been appointed as a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek. This is one of those weird names, and odd titles, that pop up in scripture that we really don’t understand without a little more background. In these cases, having a Bible with good footnotes can be invaluable to your understanding. Basically, this is a historical reference to a traditional Jewish story. Melchizedek is a priest of God who appears exactly once in the Old Testament but Jewish tradition held that since he was only heard from once, and never mentioned again, it was because he never died. From that tradition grew a literary usage that referred to him as a way of talking about things that never end. Saying that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek is a way of saying that Jesus will never die and his priesthood will never end.
So what Paul is saying is that Jesus came to earth to offer himself in our place as a sacrifice for our sins, and then became our representative, our ambassador, before God, to spend himself in the service of God’s servants, and to serve both God and humanity forever without end.
As we are called to serve others, we are reminded that once again, Jesus is our role model.
We are called to be servants so that we can serve the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Servant of servants.
Job realized that submission was his only reasonable option and his submission was the beginning of his restoration.
The prayers of Jesus were heard because of his reverent submission to God.
The lesson we must learn is this:
When we are called to God’s mission, we must submit to God and serve others.