Hubris Meets Humility - Mark 10:35-45

Advent 2023: Why He Came  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Humanity and hubris go hand-in-hand. If you’re not familiar with the word “hubris,” it’s the cross roads where pride and entitlement meet. It’s the belief that you play by a different set of rules than everyone else because you deserve it. Hubris is the bold defiance of wisdom because you believe you are beyond any consequences you might incur. It’s arrogance acted upon. It’s pride boldly applied.
There’s a story in Greek mythology that explains hubris. Daedalus is a master inventor who builds the labyrinth for the king, but the king begins to distrust him. So, he imprisons both Daedalus and his son, Icarus, into a tower. To escape, Daedalus builds for his son a pair of wings from feather, thread, and beeswax so that he can fly out to release them. The father warns his son not to fly too closely to the son so that the heat won’t melt his wings. But, the young man feels invincible with his new wings. He wants to enjoy them to fullest and see heights that were previously impossible in the ancient world. So, he flies higher and higher until eventually his wings melt away, causing him to crash into the sea and drown. That’s hubris.

God’s Word

Hubris is an infection from which all mankind suffers. It was hubris that made Adam and Eve believe they deserved equal footing with God. It was hubris that led to Tower of Babel. And, it’s hubris that leads you to believe that you can flourish in your life apart from moment-by-moment abiding in Christ. This morning, our passage show us both the infection of hubris and its antidote. We’ll see How Jesus Reshapes Our Worldview: (headline)

“Greatness” doesn’t come through “self-promotion.”

We live in an era of outlandish self-promotion. Everyone has to be a brand. This is especially clear in sports now, isn’t it? Athletes are no longer simply part of a team. They’re a brand unto themselves. Deion Sanders has always been one of my favorite athletes. I wore 21 when I played football because of him. But, he’s a perfect picture of this, isn’t he? He’s not just Deion. He’s Primetime. And now, he’s Coach Prime. In fact, if you notice at a lot of his press conferences, he doesn’t even wear Colorado Buffalo gear. He wears Coach Prime gear in Colorado colors. He’s promoting his own brand more than the team he coaches.
In fact, you can google tips on self-promotion and article after article, video after video will appear to help you develop your personal brand through self-promotion for the purpose of self-advancement. Hubris in our culture is not only present. It’s celebrated. It’s such an assumed reality in our lives that it’s hard for us to even see it or it’s dangers except in the most extreme examples. And, why is it so common? Because we want greatness! Deion wants greatness associated with his name. Our social media presence says we want greatness associated with our motherhood or with our chosen lifestyle. But, this story is included in Mark to warn us as followers of Jesus against the pursuit of greatness through self-promotion.
Hubris “deceives.”
Mark 10:35–38 “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?””
Jesus calls James and John “the sons of thunder” in chapter three, and they’re living up to their name in chapter 10. These were bold, loud, forward men. And, you can see it in how they approach Jesus. They want Jesus to give them “whatever (they) ask.” And, what are they asking for? They’re asking for the seats of highest honor in Jesus’ kingdom. They want seats of “glory.” They want to be considered the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. This likely comes from their recent experience when they saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes into his glory with Elijah and Moses. Only three of the disciples had this experience — James, John, and Peter. It must’ve occurred to them that there were only two spots of highest honor on Jesus’ two sides with apparently three candidates. And, they wanted the inside track.
This is hubris — to ask for what you don’t deserve because you believe that you deserve it, to feel entitled to a reward that you haven’t earned. And, it reveals what hubris always reveals over time: they are deceived. They don’t understand Jesus’ mission at all. Jesus says to them explicitly: “You do not know what you are asking.” They are still thinking of the Messianic mission in the traditional way. That is, they’re still thinking he’s about to be the king, ascend the throne, and overthrow Rome, in spite of the fact that Jesus has just told them three different times he was headed to the cross. But, they were so starry eyed for greatness that they couldn’t see the cross that stood in their way.They’re posturing for position during the very moment they ought to be preparing for the cross. They want glory, but they’re headed for suffering.
And, that’s why so many “would-be” disciples of Jesus turn away from him. They think being with Jesus entitles them to an easier and more profitable life. They think being with Jesus translates into an immediate reward. But, first comes the cross and hubris refuses to see it. Hubris refuses to hear the words of Jesus that first a life must be laid down if it is to be raised up. And so……
Hubris “disappoints.”
Mark 10:38–40 “Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.””
Jesus recognizes how naive his young disciples are. That’s what He’s pointing out when He says that they don’t know what they’re asking. There’s a gap between their assumed path of discipleship, and their actual path of discipleship. So, Jesus tries to sober them up. When He asks them about drinking his “cup” and being baptised with his “baptism,” Jesus is alluding to the cross. He’s trying to sober up these young men. “Cup” is used here the same way it’s used in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks if this cup can be removed from him. It’s an illustration used by Jeremiah and Isaiah to describe the cup of God’s wrath that had been stored up, and it was about to be poured out upon Jesus. The “baptism” is a reference to God’s wrath that comes in the flood, against which man can do nothing but drown. Jesus is about to suffer, and He’s about to suffer at God’s hand for the salvation of God’s people. And, when he asks the disciples if they’re really ready for that, they answer with great hubris — “We are ready.”
There’s a clear gap between their assumed path of discipleship and their actual path of discipleship. They were seeing the fine wine of the king’s palace in their future, but it was the bitter wine of the cross that would come first. They were looking forward to the shouts of praise in the new kingdom, but first would come the shouts, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And, whenever there’s a clear gap between expectation and reality, disappointment ensues. Jesus is resetting their expectations so that they can know that suffering must precede glory.
It’s not uncommon for new believers in Jesus to be disappointed when their lives get harder, not easier. But, this is the expectation that Jesus sets for us in the here and now. Suffering now, and glory later. “You will” and “you will” and we all “will.” That’s the path of discipleship, and Jesus tells us that we should count the costs if we’re to follow him. When GK told me that she wanted to be saved and baptized, this was the conversation we had. As badly as I wanted my little girl to profess her faith in Jesus and follow him, I wanted her to understand the costs. I explained this meant that she was signing up to be made fun of and to not be able to be included in all the groups she wanted to included in one day. I told her that it meant that if Jesus called her to leave her mom and dad to move somewhere else, she was saying in that moment she would go. From now on, she would only go where Jesus wanted her to go and do what Jesus wanted her to do and be who Jesus wanted her to be. But, one day, it would all be worth it.
If you approach Jesus with hubris you’ll be disappointed, and be sure to notice too that……
Hubris “divides.”
Mark 10:41 “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.”
The Bible starts with a story about how hubris separates and divides. Adam and Eve seek to be equals with God, believing it’s their right, and it separated them from God. Further, in the curse that resulted in Genesis 3, it became assured that conflict between one another would be the norm. Hubris always brings division, and we’re seeing that again here. The other ten disciples hear of what James and John are asking, and they’re incensed. Now, they’re not incensed because these two men would have the audacity to ask Jesus for such a ridiculous request. It seems to be that they’re upset because they want these spots of honor for themselves.
And, we see here the great threat to the unity of God’s people. The greatest threat to our church is my ego and yours. Our main threat isn’t in the culture. It’s found in our hearts. And, the same is true in your marriage and your friendships and your relationship with your kids. Wherever egos collide, people divide. And, you’ll usually find, like you do here with the disciples, that the bigger you ego is, the easier you are to offend. You don’t get the appreciation or recognition that you deserve. Your effort doesn’t pay off like it should. Someone disagrees with you on a minor theological point or an issue of the conscience, but you’re too certain they’re wrong and you’re right.
That is, the greatness that you believe is rightly yours isn’t translating. Well, through this, Jesus is setting the context for us to learn the true pathway to greatness, and it’s in the last place most of us would think to look.

“Greatness” comes through “self-denial.”

In our current era of self-promotion, especially within the sports world, I have found the story of Jordan Travis, the QB for Florida State to be a refreshing break from the norm. Jordan signed with Florida State out of high school, and the early years did not go well for him. After three years, he felt like he had perhaps reached his ceiling and that he was actually taking away from the team. So, he sat down with his coach. He offered to give up his scholarship because he felt like his play had not earned it, and he didn’t want to take away a scholarship the team needed. He would even stay with the team as a non-scholarship player. The coaching staff assured him that they were encouraged by his progress and wanted him to remain a scholarship player. And, of course, you know what happened. He became a Heisman contender and led FSU to an undefeated season. His humility even showed up again with FSU was left out of the playoffs because of his broken leg. He said, “I wish I would’ve broken my leg earlier so everyone could see how great this team really is.”
Do you see how that level of self-denial stands out in such a culture of self-promotion? We can see in his story a small degree of what Jesus is teaching his disciples to a much greater degree. Humility, not hubris, is the pathway to true greatness.
Humility “redirects” leadership.
Mark 10:42–43 “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,”
Jesus makes a comparison that was meant to be shocking. He says to all of his disciples: This is how godless politicians operate, not my disciples. That’s who the “rulers of the Gentiles” are. They lord over their people and insist on getting their due and making sure everyone knows how great they are. But, you’re not godless politicians. You’re disciples in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is reconstructing their concept of leadership by redirecting their ambition. You see, everyone whose living so that they can have authority over others and be held in high esteem are chasing vanity, chasing after the wind. But, those who would find true greatness are those whose ambition to serve and elevate others, not themselves. In Romans 12:10, Paul frames up this same concept like this: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” That is, the world tries to outdo one another in receiving honor. That’s what godless politicians do. But, the people of God outdo one another in showing honor.
Hubris divides, but humility unites. I point this out in marriage counseling every time. When you have two people both insisting on what they want and what they need. Then, ironically, neither person usually gets what they want from the other person. But, when the husband is constantly thinking of how to serve his wife, and the wife is constantly thinking of how to honor her husband, the most remarkable thing happens: Both people have their needs met by the other person. And, both the joy of giving and receiving marks their home. That’s the kind of leadership we need in our homes. That’s the kind of leadership that we need in our churches. Are you more interested in receiving honor or showing honor?
And, Jesus takes it a step further.
Humility “redefines” greatness.
Mark 10:43–44 “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
Self-promotion is more valuable in our culture than money because it leads to money. And, money leads to greatness. That is, self-promotion is the great currency of our day. But, in Jesus’ Kingdom there’s a different currency. There’s a new economy. In Jesus’ economy, the “servants” are those who are great. The “slaves” are the most esteemed. That’s a new definition, isn’t it? Positions of historic dishonor become positions of greatest honor. “Servants” are table waiters. “Slaves” are those who literally exist to meet the needs of their master. Both of them live to fulfill the desires and will of someone else. And, Jesus says this is greatness. Because those who humble themselves as “servants” and “slaves” now will be exalted with Jesus forever.
The challenge for us is live according to this new Kingdom economy right now by faith while we live in this world that treasures self-promotion. It’s to live for what will always be great — treasures stored with God — rather than what will only be considered greatness for a little while longer. It’s to live for what is actually great even though it won’t, in the here and now, feel very great.
Christians seek greatness with a towel tied around their waste. When I think of the greatest Christians I’ve ever known, I rarely think of the most educated or the most endowed. I think of the most humble. I think of Ralph Vaughn sitting on the lawn mower, cutting the church yard with a smile on his face. I think of Edwin Lester telling me he’d prayed for me before he even knew my name. I think of Joyce Vaughn making sure that every girl in Africa knew they mattered. I think of Pete Brooks being willing to drive our teenagers to any place in the world so they could hear about Jesus. I think of Bobby Wilkins picking me up as a teenager to spend time with me. Hardly, anyone outside these walls even know those names, but, brothers and sisters, that’s greatness. That’s greatness. That’s the target. That’s what Jesus is showing. This is the path to glory.
Humility “redeems” glory.
Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””
You see, this is why Jesus came! Jesus came to redeem the glory of God’s image bearers, and by so doing, He would increase the glory of his Father in heaven. But, the means to do it was for him to was for him to humble himself for the purpose of absorbing all of the wrath that was owed for our hubris. Jesus pays the ransom owed for our hubris through his own humility.
There are two big words here that jump out at us. The first is “came.” “The term ‘come’ is a strong giveaway that he existed before he was born.” (Keller) He is the eternal God who emptied his dignity to be born in a barn. He left behind the eternal praise of his name with the songs of angels to hear his own people yell, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He came and slept in the dirt for us that we might go and live with him.
And then, there’s the word “give.” He did it all voluntarily. He was a king, but made himself servant. Kings aren’t servants! They have servants! He was the Lord, but He gave himself as a slave. Lords aren’t slaves, they have slaves! But, Jesus “came not to be served but to serve!”
This is what Christmas is about, and this is what the Christian life is about. Here’s a simple truth that ought to drain your life of every ounce of hubris: Jesus has served you. Jesus washed your feet and died your death. Jesus has paid your price. And, here’s the simple truth that ought to propel you forward into a life of serving: Jesus has served you. You see, there’s no hubris at the foot of the cross. There’s only humility. Jesus has valued our lives above his own life, and that’s why the only logical conclusion for us is to count others as more significant than ourselves. And, that’s why the cross is the starting place for all true glory. Oh, Jesus has served you. What are you going to do with that?
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