The Quest for Power, 28 February 2021

The Quest for Power
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:32-45

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: The Kingdom of God is upside-down where the greatest serve.

What comes to mind when you think of power? What is power? Is power good or evil? Yes!

It seems that some want power, some are afraid of power, some need power, …and we all have a certain measure of power, though all of us have limited power.

Andy Crouch has called power “the ability to make something of the world.” I think we all want to make something of the world…and so does God!

Last Sunday we returned to our study of Jesus from the book of Mark. The more we know about Jesus, the more we will know Jesus. He came to earth to create a path not for religion, but relationships. Do you know Jesus? He wants to be known, yet there are so many obstacles that stand in the way, most notably our other gods and idols we discussed last week, such as our love for money, sex, and power.

John Mark, the writer of this gospel or “good news,” tells us

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. (Mark 10:32)

The Passover celebration is near. Jesus is with his disciples and others. He had told them twice already that he would die, though they will seem to be clueless about the prophecies later. He tells them a third time…

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)   

No wonder there was astonishment and fear. Jesus couldn’t be more clear about what was going the happen, and everything occurred exactly the way he predicted.

I understand there are skeptics who may think Mark simply took historical events and wrote Jesus’ words back into the story. While that may technically be possible, it is impossible for ancient prophets centuries earlier to rewrite the events. One of the greatest proofs of our faith is Jesus and the multiple prophecies he uniquely fulfilled. God knows the future. God is omniscient—all-knowing. The crucifixion was no accident. It was part of God’s plan, even though it didn’t make any sense at the time to the disciples.

This is true in our day, too. Josh Kaiser—pastor of OneHope Church—was telling me last week how one of his goals is to communicate God’s goodness to his congregation and generation.
God is good…all the time. All the time…God is good!

“But how can God be good when I’m going through this…?” I don’t know, but your story is not over. As Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!”

God is good. God can be trusted. It’s okay if it doesn’t feel like it in this moment. You’ll see! In the meantime, faith fills in the gaps. “I believe, LORD. Help me in my unbelief.”

Now we move to a most interesting conversation.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35)   

They want a blank check! Can you imagine?! What audacity! Jesus is willing to play along.

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Mark 10:36)   

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
(Mark 10:37)   

Translation: we want the two best seats in heaven, in the next life. To be fair, James and John were two of Jesus’ three best friends, along with Peter. But this is quite the request.

“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?” (Mark 10:38)   

Jesus knows what lies ahead for himself…death. Following Jesus—being with Jesus—means following him everywhere…including the cross. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come alive. It’s not all fun and games. You take the good with the bad, the hard with the easy, the suffering with the comfort, the pain with the glory. But whatever price you pay in this life for following Jesus will be rewarded in the next…for eternity!

“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, (Mark 10:39)   

Jesus says they will suffer and die…and they did. It’s believed that all of the disciples died as martyrs except John…who was boiled in hot oil. Jesus doesn’t invite us to a life of pleasure and parties. The invitation is come and die…so you can truly live. Any sacrifice for Christ will be worth it…for eternity. James and John died for their faith…

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.” (Mark 10:40)

We don’t know who will sit beside Jesus…or if it really matters.   

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. (Mark 10:41)

Can you blame them? I would be angry, too! Now Jesus seizes this incredible teaching moment.

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. (Mark 10:42)

If you thought the lust for political power is a new thing, you haven’t been reading the Bible! Two thousand years ago, people were seeking to rule over others. They had agendas they wanted to implement, power they wanted to exert, and most likely people they wanted to oppress. This is the way of the world…money, sex, and power.

It’s easy to criticize politicians, but don’t you want power, too? Have you ever put someone else down so you could feel better about yourself? Have you ever silently thought you’re glad you're not like
that person? Have you ever felt justified cutting in line or cheating because you felt better than another? Have you ever experienced a feeling of entitlement?

I thought so! Me, too! But Jesus says,

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:43-44)   

God’s Kingdom is upside down. Jesus turns the tables. In his world, the greatest serve. The first are last. The word “slave” here is not like our nation’s understanding of slave, but rather a bondservant, someone who is working off a debt for a specific time. They often owned property and could obtain freedom.

Jesus always backs up his words with action. He practices what he preaches!

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.” (Mark 10:45)   

Here’s Jesus with his disciples on the way to his crucifixion. He has just told them exactly what would happen. He knows his life will be given for theirs, a ransom or payment for their sins…and ours. God became flesh and spent more than three decades serving. God served us! What kind of God would do that? Furthermore, God died for us! Show me any religion with that love, that mercy, that grace!

Only a God like You/could be worthy of my praise/and all my hope and faith

That’s our God! That’s our King!

So What?

In his book Playing God: Redeeming the gift of Power, Andy Crouch writes,

Power is all about image bearing—reflecting and refracting the creative power of the world’s Maker into the very good creation. And image bearing is for flourishing. But as idolatry fills the world with false images, and as those false images proliferate, the image bearers lose their capacity to bear the true image. The more the image bearers lose this capacity, the more creation itself is diminished, reduced to utilitarian means to bitter ends. Idolatry is the true failure of power.

This flows perfectly with last Sunday’s sermon on money. Our hearts are drawn to money, sex, and power…for our benefit. There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with any of them. Money can be used to bless others. Sex is one of God’s most wonderful ideas, a remarkable experience for a husband and wife in bonding and celebration of their relationship, to say nothing of procreation. Power can bring about freedom for the powerless and justice for the weak.

The issue is the heart. Why do you want money? Is it for yourself or others?

Why do you want sex? Is it for your personal pleasure or strengthening your marriage?

Why do you want power? Is it to bless or oppress others?

Andy Crouch adds,

Every Maundy Thursday, the night before Good Friday in the Western liturgical calendar, Christians around the world gather to wash one another’s feet. Two thousand years after the Teacher and Lord knelt with a towel around his waist, his followers, servants and messengers continue to imitate his example. There is no act of culture-making power more extraordinary than creating a ritual, an act that continues to bear witness to truth from generation to generation, long after the first persons who experienced it lay in the dust of death. The persistence down to this day of the act Jesus performed at that table, and the acts from that night that the other Gospels report—taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread and wine—is the ultimate test and sign of his power. In this moment, Jesus creates culture, forever transforming the meaning of towel, loaf and cup, forever altering the way teachers and masters will see their roles, and the way their students and servants will see them.

Following Jesus means following his example of service, of washing feet, of daily sacrifice, of putting others first, of praying for one’s enemies, of blessing those who curse you. Could anything be more counter-cultural?

I wish I could say Christians model this well, that we never seek power, that we put others above ourselves, that we are content to go last, that we are known as servants.

The great theologian (!) Jimi Hendrix famously said, "When the power of love takes over the love of power, that's when things will change.”

Tony Campolo notes, “A basic sociological principle is you can’t express love and power at the same time. Whenever you love, you lose power. Love makes you vulnerable … We have a God who loves us so much he was willing to become vulnerable.”

I have to admit I’ve been embarrassed by so-called Christians who clamored for power, especially during this past political season, as if either candidate was the Messiah, the Savior, the answer to the world’s problems…and that somehow their guy would give them power.
Washington’s got nothing on the Kingdom of God! I know politics is messy, but our allegiance must never be to a president but to a Priest, the great high Priest, who is also a Prophet, and King, Jesus Christ. His mission wasn’t to seek power for himself. He came with all authority on heaven and earth. He came for the world. In fact, he gave us his power and authority…for the sake of others.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

What does Jesus do with power? He sends his followers on a mission.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

One final passage from Andy Crouch:

There is no point in this story where Jesus gives up power—instead, it is the culmination and demonstration of his power. What Jesus gives up in this story is not power but privilege and status…

For those of us preoccupied with protecting our privilege and raising our status, this indifference of Jesus is terrifying. It prompts the kind of outburst that came from Peter. It is holy power, utterly purified, without an ounce of self-protection or self-regard. Jesus’ only use of power was to create, never to protect himself or to exalt himself. Perhaps this is the deepest explanation of his nonviolence. Violence, even when used in justifiable self-defense, does nothing to restore, redeem or create. It only damages in return. And Jesus simply never had a thought except to restore, redeem and create a new community among whom power would be used always and only for flourishing. In such a community, privilege and status can only be disdained and discarded. They are distractions from the real calling of image bearers: to be fruitful and multiply, far as the curse is found.

To follow Jesus means rejecting the world. It involves dying to self. It requires you to think—and act—differently. There’s no keeping up with the Joneses, giving them what they had coming to them, or even telling them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people don’t have bootstraps!

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8)

This includes the unborn, yes, but it also includes the marginalized, the forgotten, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the refugee. We all have a certain measure of power, given not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Everything we have—our money, time, talents, energy, power, influence, relationships—is a gift, on loan from God. We are to be good stewards and will one day given an account for what we did with what we’ve been given.

This is not a message about trying harder. It’s not a message about abusing yourself and being a doormat, either. Love your neighbor…as yourself.

It is a message of surrender, of letting go, of leveraging what you have for others, as Jesus did.

The Kingdom of God is upside-down where the greatest serve, where the first are last, and where power is poured out for others as Jesus poured out his life—and blood—for us.

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One more thing…

I want to offer a final challenge to you today. Last week I said generosity kills the money monster, the temptation of greed. Likewise, there are three spiritual practices which kill the power monster, the temptation to selfishly use power. They are solitude, silence, and fasting. These classical disciplines—along with sabbath rest—allow us to disconnect from busyness, achievement, and striving and put our faith and trust into action. Dallas Willard’s classic The Spirit of the Disciplines and John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted are two recommended titles.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

The G.O.A.T., 27 September 2020

GOAT: Greatest of All Time
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:33-37

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus is the Greatest of All Time, though the path to greatness is a paradox.

There’s a lot of discussion lately about the GOAT: the greatest of all time. In basketball, the debate is LeBron James versus Michael Jordan. In football, Brady or Manning. Hockey fans can’t agree on Gretsky or Hull. Debates rage in soccer over Renaldo or Messi. Golfers argue over Woods or Nicholas.

Muhammad Ali was never shy about being called “the Greatest.” He was not only a great boxer, he is considered by many to be the most important athlete of the 20th century. He was named the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC and became a legend in and outside of the boxing ring.

Just before takeoff on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seat belt. “Superman don’t need no seat belt,” replied Ali. Legend has it that the stewardess retorted, ”Superman don’t need no airplane.”

H.G. Wells said, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”

I doubt I would have trouble convincing most of you that Jesus Christ is the greatest human of all time. But who’s next? Who’s the second-greatest human in history? What about in the Bible?

Today we’re returning to the book of Mark, the shortest gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ. It’s a fascinating biography of the Messiah, and our text today speaks volumes about true greatness.

In the eighth chapter of Mark, it is said of Jesus…

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Jesus predicts his death. It is so clear that Peter rebukes Jesus which results in a teaching moment for Jesus! A few verses later…

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

These are not easy words…and I’m not convinced anything has changed. To follow the world, we can pursue happiness, money, sex, power, and pleasure…but following Jesus means the death of our sinful, false self. It means surrender and sacrifice. Paul connects Jesus’ example to our calling.

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

Jesus continues…

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

This is known as a paradox—“a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true,” Whoever wants to save their life will lose it. Whoever loses their life for Jesus will save it. Missionary and martyr Jim Elliot famously said,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30-32)

This is the second time Jesus predicts his death in the book of Mark. The disciples were clueless, but Jesus is teaching them about greatness. He’s the greatest, and yet his mission is not to be served, but to serve.

Don’t you wish our politicians could try this?!

Our passage for today, Mark 9:33-37, begins…

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34)

Jesus hears them arguing, which is never a good sign! When he confronts them, they probably tried to change the subject! They know they’ve been caught in the act!

Numbers 32:23 says, “be sure that your sin will find you out.” It’s one thing that they’re arguing. It’s another that they’re arguing about who’s the greatest.

It should be noted that God isn’t always fair. It’s not fair that some are born into great wealth and comfort while others have refugee parents. It’s not fair that some are born with natural beauty while others have less-attractive features. It’s not fair that some are born in this great country with freedoms and liberties while others are monitored 24/7 like lab rats by their government.

Likewise, it’s not fair that Jesus picked twelve to be his special followers. It’s not fair that Peter, James, and John were in Jesus’ inner circle, privileged with unique opportunities. It’s believed that John was Jesus’ favorite among the three. Maybe this was the topic of conversation that Jesus overheard. What we know for sure is Jesus was not pleased with this argument, though it’s a debate that rages to this day. Who’s the greatest? Whose rank or status in society is at the top? It’s no secret that there are the rich, famous, and powerful on one extreme and the sick, poor, disabled, homeless, foreigner on the other. It’s human nature to pre-judge based upon what we see, whether it’s a shiny, new sports car or worn-out shoes with holes in them.

I’m guessing the argument was not about who was the greatest among the Roman leaders. They probably weren’t conversing about the greatest athletes in the upcoming Olympic Games. No, my guess is they were all trying to one-up one another, comparing stories of encounters with Jesus to see who he loved the most.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Mic drop! Here’s another paradox, another radical, revolutionary, counter-cultural declaration. In our world today, alternative has become another word for cool, edgy, trendy, and different. The ultimate alternative lifestyle is following Jesus. It’s extreme, outrageous, …and oh so rewarding! It’s not the pathway to comfort and pleasure, but the peace of Christ from an obedient relationship with him is priceless. When you don’t have to pretend and wear masks to cover up your flaws, when you don’t have to worry about pleasing people because you’re pleasing God, when you don’t worry about—well, anything—that’s the road to contentment. Servanthood is the pathway to true satisfaction.

For many of this, this statement of Jesus to serve almost sounds cliché, but imagine the Creator of the universe washing your feet! Imagine the Son of God dying for you! Imagine the greatest human in history loving you with a perfect, unconditional love!

If we’re honest, we all want to be great. We’re conditioned that fame and fortune will lead to happiness, though history proves that lie! We want to be in control. We lust after power. We want it our way. We like to be served, admired, complimented, and praised. But Jesus says if you want to be great—if you want to be first—you must be last, you must serve, you must die to your self, your pride, your will…and seek first God’s Kingdom.

Greatness is not about power.
Greatness is not about possessions.
Greatness is not about position or prestige or performance or any other p-word!

Greatness is a humble servant, dying to self, obeying God, loving well.

By the way, Christians love the idea of being a servant…until they’re treated like one! Are you living as a servant or king/queen? Are you seeking a cross or a throne?

It’s interesting to note Jesus sits when he teaches, the opposite of our culture where the teacher stands and the students sit. In Jesus’ day, the teacher sat as they were worthy of respect. This small detail underscores the significance of Jesus’ words. He is deliberating teaching them something very important.

What follows is no coincidence. It is the “so what” of his brief teaching.

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)

This was scandalous! In the culture, children were not cute, idolized creatures who were spoiled with extravagant birthday parties, designer clothes, and expensive video games. Children were nothing more than a nuisance. They were to be seen and not heard. In the original language, the word “child” could also mean “servant.” This is another example of the extraordinary Kingdom of God. This child has nothing to offer. They don’t have money. They don’t have power. They don’t have connections. They can’t produce with physical labor. Yet Jesus welcomes them.

Jesus values hospitality—welcoming the stranger, the powerless, the other. He serves those who should be serving him. He died for the very ones—you and me—who deserved death. He sees every human as a masterpiece.


One of my favorite things about First Alliance Church is its growing diversity. We have people of all different shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, education and ethnicity. Everyone is welcome.

I found a sign that said,

We welcome
All races and ethnicities
All religions
All countries of origin
All gender identities
All sexual orientations
All abilities and disabilities
All spoken languages
All ages

Here’s how Paul said:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

That’s the message of Jesus. All are welcome. All saints. All sinners. We don’t celebrate sin, of course, but we recognize we all sin, we all fall short of God’s glory, we all need His amazing grace and forgiveness, He so loved the whole world that He sent Jesus.

I’m glad you are different than me. This world can only handle one Kirk Schneemann!

I’m thrilled we are all different. We can learn from one another. We can learn patience by being with one another! We can learn new skills, new ideas, and new perspectives through doing life together. I need you. I really do! You need me. That’s family!

This past week Heather and I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma. It exposes the manipulation of social media to feed us information just like those things we click. If you watch YouTube videos about fishing, they will recommend other videos about fishing. If you click on fake news about the earth being flat, suddenly other conspiracy theories will be presented to you. If you are a progressive, you’ll be encouraged to consume more news and media that support left-leaning ideology. The filmmakers of this documentary present a compelling argument that our nation is divided because we never hear from the other side, whether it’s a different cable news channel, a different set of Facebook posts, or a different type of podcast.

Tragically, this is nothing new. Decades ago in 1955, Donald McGavran promoted the homogeneous unit principle, the idea that, “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.” In other words, we need white churches for white people, black churches for black people, fancy churches for rich people, etc. It’s a good marketing strategy, but a terrible expression of faith. Revelation tells us twice that every nation, tribe, people, and language is included in God’s plan for humanity. Jesus prayed that we would be one, united family (John 17). Only satan could bring about the division, the injustice, the hatred that exists both inside and outside the church today.

Next month we’re doing a sermon series along with some other area churches called The Great Divide. In God’s Kingdom, age is not an issue, as evidenced by Jesus’ love for children. In God’s Kingdom, politics is not an issue. It’s all about King Jesus, not a donkey or elephant. In God’s Kingdom, ethnicity is not an issue. We’re all part of the human race, all created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth, no matter your skin color, national citizenship, zip code, or language.

It sounds so basic, so simple, so obvious, yet time and time again I hear about people—often pastors—who fail to value or sometimes even recognize the “other.” Every person you meet this week is a masterpiece! That includes those noisy kids that are going stir-crazy from staring at computer screens all day. That includes the person with the cardboard sign, the annoying co-worker, the harsh boss, the nagging spouse, the lunatic driving 70 on the Trail, and yes, those politicians you despise from the other party.

For the record, I still content Michael Jordan is the GOAT, the greatest of all time in the game of basketball. If you disagree, I can respect that. But the ultimate GOAT, the greatest human of all time is undeniably Jesus the Messiah. His teaching was great. His example was great. His love was great. His death and resurrection were great. Thousands of years later, he remains the most powerful, most influential person in history.

We love him—and others— because he first loved us.
We serve others because he served us.
We are hospitable and welcome the stranger because he welcomes us into his family.
We die to ourselves so we can live as new creations.

Jesus is the greatest, and he is worthy of our praise and worship, both in word and deed, all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, all of our strength.

Family, be great! Humbly serve. Extend hospitality. Love well. It’s the Jesus way to live.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library