I totally resonate with the disciples who come to Jesus and ask to have an important role in the kingdom of God. Because, to be really honest, I, too, would like to be great. I mean, in my obit I would like there to be a sentence that mentions an accomplishment that's pretty earth-shattering. And what I like about Jesus' statements in this passage from Mark is that He doesn't have a problem with this desire, doesn't say that it's selfish in some way.
No, Jesus just uses this audacious request of James and John as another teaching moment. You see, greatness is actually a good thing to want, because God is great, and following Jesus is the path toward becoming one with God. It's just that one of the things that makes God so great is that God serves. David saw this combination clearly, as in Psalm 68 where his song has this phrase:
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord
which is followed later in the second (or third) verse by this:
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.
Later song writers also linked these concepts of service and greatness together, as is evidenced in Philippians when Paul encourages the new Christ-followers to become like Christ by quoting this song:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
By encouraging his disciples to become servants, Jesus is not relegating them to second class citizenship. Rather, he is offering the invitation to follow his own path
to greatness. This also ensures that the Spirit which will live within his followers will be able to follow the modus operandus of the Godhead - that of service.
It's true that we serve FOR God. It's also true that we serve LIKE God. But what's truly empowering is that we serve WITH God. Jesus modeled this. It's what made him great - and there's plenty of room for greatness in his kingdom!