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If Jesus Lived in My Neighborhood

Serving promotes unity, fosters teamwork, imitates Jesus, and changes us.


Mark 10:35–45 offers several reasons why we should be servants in our community, in our work environment, and in the neighborhood in which God has placed us. Jesus said that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. But what took place before Jesus said those words? Why did Jesus break into a seemingly impromptu speech on servanthood?

A few verses before, in Mark 10:32–34, the disciples and Jesus are walking to Jesus' neighborhood in Jerusalem. He's explaining what is going to happen to him there: I've got some news for you. The religious leaders are going to arrest me; they're going to mock me; they're going to spit upon me; they're going to kill me. Three days later I'm going to come back from the dead.

This is the opposite of a smooth segue. Jesus tells them he is going to be put to death.

In verse 35, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask Jesus to let them have whatever they ask for. Just like a little kid says, "Hey, Mom! Just say yes, just say yes," these disciples asked for permission ahead of time. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."

Talk about being presumptuous. James and John felt they deserved seats of honor. I'm so glad none of us ever worry about things like that. We never worry about the corner office. We never ask to be first. We never want our favorite choice for dinner. Actually, we're just like these two guys. Jesus looks back at them and says: You guys don't know what you're asking. Do you drink the cup that I drink?

Anytime you see the word "cup" in the New Testament, it is always a picture of life or death. Nevertheless, James and John say: Oh yeah, we can do that. Yet Jesus says to them: That's really not for me to grant.

Bear in mind that this conversation is not just between two brothers. There are ten eavesdropping followers of Christ nearby. For that reason, Jesus launches into an extemporaneous speech about service, because he wants to make it crystal-clear that his disciples are to put others first.

Service looks so distinctive—so countercultural—that, when you serve, people take notice that there is something different about you, and that you march to the beat of a different drum. Why should we take the culture we have at church—of volunteering and serving others—and infuse that into our neighborhood? To begin with, one Christian author writes, "More than any other single way, the grace of humility is worked into our lives through the discipline of service." I want to give you four more reasons why you should serve.

Serving promotes unity.

First, serving promotes unity. Anytime you take the focus off self and place it on others, you are humbling yourself. The foundation of unity is humility. Jesus says in Matthew 23:11–12, "The greatest among you will be your servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." If you are arrogant, then your service is a waste. That's why the psalmist says, "Serve the Lord with gladness." So use your gifts to his glory. Look for ways to be a servant at work. Do things without being asked. Your labors of love count eternally. They can build unity within your neighborhood.

Serving fosters teamwork.

There's another reason to serve: serving fosters teamwork. I enjoy trying to look for ways to build relationships. Serving can take a relationship and add the glue to it that is so necessary. Service is an expression of grace to someone, an undeserved gift that we give to others—a cameo of the gospel. In fact, service is the language of grace. But you have to be ready to step up and serve at the drop of a hat. Jesus always looked for those opportunities, and we have to have eyes and ears that are always on the lookout and always listening for whatever needs might arise in our neighborhood. We have to be ready to respond.

When we serve, we realize how much we need each other. Peter said in 1 Peter 4:10, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." There are so many Christians who use all sorts of excuses: Well, I can't do anything in my neighborhood. Can you bake? Can you landscape? Can you water flowers while your neighbors are away on vacation? While you're taking your two-mile walk every morning, can you stop and give them a smile and take an interest in their life?

Serving imitates Jesus.

There's a third reason we should serve: serving imitates Jesus. You want people to see his reflection in your life. That's why your example is so important. "Example is not the best way of teaching," Albert Schweitzer once said, "it is the only way." So guard your example. People in your neighborhood are watching everything that you do. They're watching to see how you live. In time, hopefully, they will learn that you have fallen in love with this person named Jesus Christ, and he has transformed your life. You must always watch your example, because others are watching.

John 13 illustrates Jesus' concern with service. It was just before the Passover feast, and Christ intended to talk about and show his disciples love. At this time Judas Iscariot was still there; he had not left to bring the religious leaders and soldiers to arrest Jesus.

They had already sat down for the meal, but it had become quite obvious that someone was conspicuously absent. The servant boy who typically sat at the front door, whose job was to wash the feet of the dinner guests, was nowhere to be found. Maybe it was because it was Passover, and he was observing the meal with his family. Whatever the reason, no one washed their feet as they came in.

In fact, while all of this was going on, the disciples were discussing which of them would be considered the greatest. Different place, different time, and yet the disciples revert to arguing over who is the greatest. This is like a grade-school boys' basketball team arguing over who is the greatest. Simon Peter is saying: Well, you know what, guys? I'm the guy that came up with that good confession. And I'm the guy who walked on water.

His brother Andrew says: You know what I found, Peter? I think that Jesus is much more into humility. He values that over being an obnoxious person who always wants everyone's attention.

James and John chime in: You know what? We're the sons of thunder. We could start a family dynasty. There are two of us. We're the greatest.

Everybody chimed in, one at a time. How do you think the disciples felt as each of them was tooting his own horn, and in their peripheral vision, they saw someone kneeling and taking off his outer garment, only to realize that the guy with a towel and a basin of water was the one they believed to be God's Son? He puts his servanthood into action. Since he had given this speech before, but it had fallen on deaf ears, he concluded the lesson by adding this phrase: "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do these things." Here's the Son of God going from person to person washing feet—dirty and smelly, calloused and cracking.

Have you ever been to a foot-washing service? Well, tonight you are going to get to participate. When the ushers get to your row, those of you at the end of each aisle take the container of water and the towel, and I'm going to ask everyone to remove your shoes and your socks then and turn to the person on your left.

I'm just kidding. You can breathe again. But take yourself back when, for a split second, you really thought that something bizarre was about to happen. My words triggered that emotion of uneasiness. You were uneasy because either you didn't want to handle the feet of the person on your left, or you didn't want them to see your feet, or probably both. But it doesn't matter which camp you fall into. It made you feel uneasy because either of them have the same root cause—the fact that we want to preserve our dignity. It's a pride issue; we don't want to wash someone else's feet. And we certainly don't want someone to wash ours.

I led you to believe that was going to happen because I wanted to target those emotions. No matter which camp you fell into, you need to realize that serving, by its very nature, is neither glamorous nor glorious. So leave your dignity at the door, because it's not about you: it's about him and it's about others. Every time you serve, every time you do a modern-day equivalent of washing feet, you are imitating Jesus. In time, the people in your neighborhood may start to see the resemblance, if you serve the way Jesus Christ served. Have you ever wondered how your servant's heart could soften hearts so that they would be open to the gospel? Jesus said in Matthew 23:12, "Whoever humbles himself will be exalted; whoever exalts himself will be humbled."

Richard Foster says:

There is a difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When I choose to serve, I retain control about whom I serve and when I serve. But when I choose to be a servant, I have given up all rights and all control."

In other words, service is not about adding another activity to our schedules. It's about fleshing out servanthood in our neighborhoods, where God has placed us.

Serving changes you.

Let me offer you one more reason why we should serve. Serving changes you. Your attitude, if you serve out of compulsion, will be sour. There will be no benefit from that. You'll be the same person you always were. You'll serve for the wrong reasons. But if you serve with an attitude of love, and if you sense that Christ is the one who is receiving the glory, then the sky is the limit for what you can accomplish, and you will earn the right to be heard. It was Francis of Assisi who said, "Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words." When you begin to serve others outside of these walls, you will never be the same.

I want to remind you of one more biblical truth: Jesus lives in your neighborhood; he lives in the form of that person who needs to be touched by you, who needs to be served by you. Jesus is the latchkey kid who just needs somebody to play catch with him. Jesus is the elderly widow who is dying of loneliness. Jesus is that young couple who would give anything for a person with a healthy marriage to come over and encourage them and say, "You know what? You can make it through this. It's okay. We'll help you."

Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." Jesus Christ is in your neighborhood, and he's waiting for you to reach out and serve him. He's waiting for you to choose to be a servant, not to serve just when it's convenient, but to serve when you are called to be his follower.


My uncle Greg had cerebral palsy, and he was a quadriplegic. He was an incredible inspiration to me. He was one of those guys who had a golden attitude, and he accepted his lot in life and ministered to a whole lot of people in his own way. He was able to get around quite well with an electric wheelchair, but his speech was difficult to understand.

A few years ago he attended a handi-camp week at Country Lake Christian retreat. One of our church members served as a volunteer that week, and he was assigned to my uncle Greg. That meant that for four solid days, 24 hours a day, he did everything for my uncle Greg. John fed him every bite. He gave him every drink. He slept on a concrete floor on an air mattress beside Uncle Greg's bed. He took him to the bathroom and cleaned him up. He did everything for four days for Greg. John even got some of his friends together and took my uncle Greg out on the lake in a floatation device. He swam for the very first time in his life.

On the very last day of camp, they call the servant volunteer up onto the platform next to the camper. They talk all about the camper, and they recap all the different things they've done. Then they ask them one question: "What was your favorite thing of the week?" They always say the same thing—swimming. They were a little concerned that they wouldn't be able to understand Uncle Greg because of his speech.

So John got up there with Uncle Greg, and he talked all about the different things that Greg had done that week. He said, "We've nicknamed him 'The Fish' because he loves to swim so much." He said, "Okay, Greg. It's your turn now. What was your favorite part of the entire week?" Everybody could understand my uncle Greg, because my uncle Greg raised his hand up and pointed back and said, "You." John said, "Oh, there had to be something else. Was it the swimming? Was it the snack time?" Greg raised his hand up again. He said, "You."

You will never know how much your service can impact others in the neighborhood until you humbly pick up a towel and a basin of water and begin to wash feet.

Dave Stone is the former Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky,

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Sermon Outline:


Jesus wants to make it crystal-clear that his disciples are to put others first and serve them.

I. Serving promotes unity

II. Serving fosters teamwork

III. Serving imitates Jesus

IV. Serving changes you


You will never know how much your service can impact others until you humbly pick up a towel and a basin of water and begin to wash feet.