As you know, whenever there is a contest, the person who finishes in first place is awarded a blue ribbon, a gold medal, or perhaps a trophy. It gives you a good feeling to be a winner. After all, you have worked hard and it is nice to hear the applause of others when you are awarded the prize. When someone sees that you have a blue ribbon, a gold medal, or a trophy, they know that you have done something very special.
James and John were two brothers who were disciples of Jesus. They thought that they were deserving of special recognition in the Kingdom of God. Now they knew that Jesus didn't hand out blue ribbons, gold medals, or trophies, so they decided between themselves just what special honor they deserved. They went to speak to Jesus privately. "Teacher," they said, "we want to ask you a favor of you."
"What do you want?" Jesus asked.
They answered, "When you are seated on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and one on your left."
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Are you willing to suffer as I am going to suffer?"
"Oh yes," they replied, "we are able."
"You may be able to suffer as I will suffer. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen."
No doubt James and John were disappointed by Jesus' answer, and when the other ten disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were furious. After all, they were as deserving of this honor as James and John. Jesus heard their fussing and called all of them together. "You've seen how rulers in this world throw their weight around," he said, "and when someone gets a little power it quickly goes to their head. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be the servant of all."
So you see, the Kingdom of God isn't about winning recognition, praise, or a seat of honor. It is about service to others. To see what that means, all you have to do is look at the life that Jesus lived. He came not to be served, but to serve, and he gave his life so that we could have eternal life. Eternal life! Now that is the greatest prize anyone could hope to win.
Father, may we, like Jesus, live a life of service to others as we look forward to claiming our eternal prize.