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Have you ever been to a restaurant and ordered something only to find that it was nothing like you imagined? For instance, when on a cruise this past year, I ordered something that I thought would have been a hearty appetizer only to find out that it was a cup of soup. Similarly, in Mark 10:35–45 James and John approached Jesus to place an order for something they wanted Jesus to do for them when He became King, only to find out they really didn’t understand what was on the menu.

James and John quietly approach Jesus and ask, when you come into your kingdom, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left.” In other words, after Jesus does the heavy lifting, overthrows the powers that be, and rules in Jerusalem, they want to make sure they had a prominent position in His cabinet. Jesus immediately responds telling them they really don’t know what they are asking, given the fact that Jesus was not going to seize power through violence and usher His kingdom in through force. Rather, Jesus would usher in His kingdom in a completely unconventional countercultural way.

In this exchange, Jesus clarifies for James and John, as well as us, at least three things about the nature of His kingdom.

  1. Jesus’ kingdom is about the power of love rather than the love of power.

James and John wanted to rule with Jesus. Were they wrong in asking this? Absolutely not! Humans were created to rule. Adam and Eve were vice-regents (prince and princess) under the lordship of God. But the temptation to rule themselves overcame the rule of God. In other words, the love (or lust) of power corrupted and overcame the power of love.

Here Jesus teaches James and John that His kingdom is marked by the power of love rather than the love (or lust) for power.

We live in a culture that finds power intoxicating. Don’t misunderstand power. Power comes in many shapes and sizes. Power can be manifested in freedom of individual expression, money, purchases (buying power), positions (businesses, organizations, or boards), images (seen through the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the company we work for, the educational institution we attended, or how others perceive us), or achievements (like educational or vocational). These things, and more, allure and entice people to forego morals, take short cuts, and hurt others. They also create an insatiable desire for [selfishly obtaining] more. In short, these things awaken people’s appetite, similar to Adam and Eve, to the love of power.

John would go on to write, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). John would also describe the love of these things above as desires of the flesh, which are from the world.

However, Christ’s kingdom overcomes the love of the world, for it was brought forth by a love of God and love for the world.

Therefore, those who are part of His kingdom live by the power of love rather than a love for power. But what does this look like? The next two points explain.

  1. Jesus’ kingdom is about giving up of one’s life in order to give life.

In asking whether or not James and John could drink from His cup or be baptized with the same baptism, Jesus alludes to his sacrificial and substitutionary death on a cross.

Jesus inevitably shares with James and John that to be positioned with Him means one must take up their cross and follow in His footsteps.

Thus, the one who follows Jesus will give up their life for the sake of others. Kingdom living means we give up so that others may go up. We give our life so that others might live.

I think this aspect of following Jesus is the scariest, and especially for Americans doesn’t quite allure and hook us in as fish swimming in the sea of self-seeking and self-aggrandizement. Yet the reality is when imputed with the heart of the kingdom, Christ followers don’t look for what others can do for them—including God Himself—but what they can do for the glory of God and the good of others. They look for ways to inject themselves in the brokenness of the world and in individual lives to see how they can be used as an agent of redemption, of reconciliation.

Just as a seed dies to give birth to a plant or tree, we die to ourselves in order that life may emerge from the darkened soil of human depravity and brokenness.

Death to ourselves, giving up our lives, is marked by sacrifice, substitution, and suffering. Of course, we are not called to die for the sins of the world, but we are called to die to self and to live for God so that others might experience abundant life in Christ. I know, suffering is scary and far from fun. But keep in mind, that suffering only lasts for the night (this life), but joy comes in the morning (at the Second Coming of Christ when He consummates His kingdom).

  1. Jesus’ kingdom measures greatness (or success) not by how many are serving you, but how many you are serving.

James and John sought a promotion. They wanted to be raised to General 1 and 2, but at best, their request made them look like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Jesus’ response communicates that success in His kingdom isn’t built on rising to the top whereby you have much power and many people serving you, but is about sinking to the bottom whereby you can serve others.

It’s not that you forget (theoretically) your position or place; it’s just you leave it, go down to the bottom, and take as many people back up with you to your position. Just as Jesus left His throne and made His way to a trough and then a cross in order to identify with us and take our sin upon Himself so that we may be restored image-bearers who rule and reign with Him forever; so we too humbly enter the brokenness, hopelessness, pain, and suffering of others in an effort to share with and show them the redemptive kingdom of Christ.

Jesus’ kingdom is counter-cultural to our understanding of success.

Jesus’ kingdom inverts service from top to bottom. It’s not about how many people we have serving under us, but how many people we are serving above.

Thus, Jesus’ kingdom metric of success is not how clean we are in our nice cozy comforts of prominence and power, but how dirty we are in our uncomfortable unselfish positions of servitude and sacrifice.

In closing I know that we fail many times to realize that we are part of Christ’s kingdom, given that there’s very little talk in church circles about kingdom. But the truth is, we are part of His kingdom and will one day rule and reign with Him forever. Thus, we must clarify the nature and characteristics of His Kingdom and His rule. If not, we may find ourselves thinking Jesus’ kingdom is one thing when it is something entirely different.

James and John realized that Christ inaugurated His kingdom by the power of love, which was demonstrated by service, sacrifice, substitution, and suffering. To a large degree Jesus did all the heavy lifting in establishing His kingdom. However, He hasn’t done all the heavy lifting so that we can request high-ranking positions in His kingdom—or live high-ranking self-centered prosperous lives. Rather His heavy lifting paves the way in which we follow Him to advance His kingdom on planet earth through love, service, sacrifice, substitution, and suffering. And it is through that kingdom life we manifest the nature of Christ’s kingdom and one day experience the weight of the words from our King, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”