Scripture: Mark 10:35-45
Anyone who is a Tyra Banks fan remembers her hit TV show “America’s Next Top Model” — a reality television series and interactive competition in which a number of aspiring models compete for the title of America’s Next Top Model and a chance to begin their career in the modeling industry.
Winners typically receive a feature in a magazine and a contract with a modeling agency, among other prizes. The show’s theme song is “Wanna Be On Top.” Every contestant wanted to win the coveted prize of being America’s Next Top Model.
When you are on top, many around you want to top you or topple you. They want to beat you. They have no clue what it took for you to get where you are. They don’t understand what you have to do to remain on top. Most are not willing to do the work to get on top. They just want to be on top.
You’re on top, the best, the boss, the major operator, moving at your highest vibration when you follow Jesus — who made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. You are on top when you surrender your will and ways to the will of God and serve others.
Jesus called 12 men to be his disciples. The 12 became Jesus’ closest followers. After Jesus taught these 12 men for three years the Way of the kingdom of God, He commissioned them and then He sent the 12 to do the work He prepared them to do.
When they returned, they were no longer the 12 disciples. They were now the 12 apostles. But like every student, they still had lessons to learn. When you think you know everything, you’re not a good student of life.
The disciples often argued about who was the greatest. Jesus explained, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Again, Jesus taught them a lesson on true greatness. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and requested: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
James and John should have known better, particularly since they were members of Jesus’ inner circle along with Peter, and John was the beloved disciple. Apparently, James and John didn’t understand Jesus’ lessons on position and power. Sometimes, even if you know better you don’t do better.
Let’s examine Jesus’ lesson on position and power — what it means to be on top.
Lesson 1: Ask Jesus (vv. 35 – 37)
James and John wanted Jesus to do them a favor. After all, Jesus taught them to ask and it will be given…for everyone who asks receives. What you ask for and how you ask for it are important.
James and John should have asked Jesus, “Lord, tell us what we can do for you.” Yet, they asked amiss by requesting power and prestige for their own personal selfish gain. They failed to understand Jesus’ mission. They were spiritually undiscerning.
The call to discipleship demands full commitment to the Lord, denial and surrender and servanthood. A true disciple of Jesus Christ asks, “What can I do for others, not what can others do for me.”
Lesson 2: Align Your Ask With God’s Plan (vv. 38 – 40)
Jesus responded to James and John, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I must drink from? Or to be baptized with the baptism of suﬀering I must be baptized with?” To drink the cup means to share in the fate.
James and John responded, “We can.” Jesus responded, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.”
James is one of the only two apostles whose death is recorded in the Bible. The other one is Judas Iscariot. James died the first martyr for following Jesus (Acts 12:1–2).
John is regarded as the only apostle to die of old age, but not without persecution. John allegedly went to Ephesus, where he wrote his three epistles. Tertullian, a Christian historian, wrote, “the Romans brought John into a coliseum and dunked him in a vat of boiling oil. When he emerged unharmed, the entire coliseum converted to Christianity.”
From there, John was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, where he received the revelation from Christ and wrote the Book of Revelation. Eventually, John made it back to Ephesus and died an ordinary death sometime after 98 AD.
Even Jesus, who was very God and very man, understood it is God who fulfills promises and grants promotion, position and power. The Lord declares, “For I know the plans I have for you…” (Jeremiah 29:11) You wanna be on top – align.
Lesson 3: Acknowledge God’s Will (vv. 41-45)
Rank and status are norms in our society. The world celebrates being on top. Award shows are all about being on top. Young preachers want to be pastors of top churches, presiding elders or even bishops in the church.
Amazon wants to be greater than Walmart. Facebook wants to be greater than Google. Microsoft wants to be greater than Apple. James and John wanted to be greater than the other 10 disciples.
When the other disciples discovered what James and John had asked, they were very indignant. Then Jesus explained to them for the last and final time the value system in God’s kingdom.
Rank and status have no place in God’s kingdom.
If you are seeking to be on top in God’s kingdom, kneel down and serve. In God’s kingdom, all are seen as equals. There are no big “I’s” or little “you’s.” God is on top and in control! In God’s Kingdom, you are not required to be the best. You are required to give your best in service and love.
You become great in God’s sight when you sincerely and unpretentiously look away from self and point others to the Lord. It’s not about you! It’s not about me! It’s about the Lord! It’s about the will of God!
Pastors, it doesn’t matter the number of people in your congregations, if they are not following you as you follow Jesus Christ, you’re just a group of people on a slow walk to hell.
Preachers, it doesn’t matter if you preach like Peter and pray like Paul, if souls are not being saved, save your empty rhetoric, your mindless motions, and your conspicuous calisthenics. You’re wasting your breath!
Church school teachers, it doesn’t matter how much you think you know, if you are not teaching the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ — His life, death, burial, and resurrection — you are just telling a story.
To every followers of Jesus Christ, if you aren’t leading others to Jesus Christ through your life, love, and service, you are not a disciple of Christ and your labor is in vain.
Therefore, continue to work out your soul salvation. Do the good things that result from being saved. You and I are commissioned to seek the lost and serve the living. Serve God and serve others. Want what God wants. Do what Jesus did. This how you get on top.
God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what God wants (Phil. 2:13). The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.
You wanna be on top – acknowledge!
God put his love for you and me on top. He sent His only begotten Son into the world to save sinners like you and me.
Jesus was on top. Jesus came all the way from heaven down to save a wretch like me. Yet, Jesus put His love for you and me on top. He came to this world as a servant. He suﬀered, bled and died. He did it for our redemption. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
He put his love for you and me on top. Jesus paid the price to release you and me from the bondage to sin and death. The least we can do is give ourselves away so God can use us in his Master plan.
You wanna be on top? Be a servant! Serve others! Imitate Jesus! You wanna be on top? Serve the Lord with gladness! Enter God’s courts with praise! You wanna be on top? Go low! How low can you go?
After the meal, Jesus got up, took oﬀ his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:4-5, NIV).
You wanna be on top? In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Mary S. Minor is the senior pastor of Brookins-Kirkland Community AME Church, 3719 W. Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles, CA.