Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
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?” 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.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 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, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:35-45, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We have often talked about how God, through Jesus Christ, has retrieved us from the jaws of our mortal enemy, Satan. How in Baptism God placed the name of Jesus on us to make us his children instead of the property of Satan. That is what Jesus is talking about here, too, when he talks about being the ransom. You know what it means to be ransomed; you’ve seen it in a thousand television programs. Someone is held captive until a release price is paid. That’s God’s Amazing Grace for us that he was willing to pay the release price, the blood of Jesus, for our sins, to remove us from the power of sin, death and especially from the power and control of Satan. It is a very comforting thing to remember that Satan has no power over us, and God is here for us, to fight for us, and defend our cause against him.
10The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. Proverbs 18:10 (ESV)
What makes all this work, what’s behind all this, is God’s willingness to serve us. Jesus says “for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” And that’s a curious thing, that the Creator of the universe willingly serves his created creatures. That’s like the boss serving his employees. That’s the master serving the slaves. But that is exactly what we see all over the scriptures. Jesus serves sick people by healing them. He serves hungry people by feeding them (by the thousands!). He serves confused people by teaching them. He serves outcast people by hanging out with them. It was the constant complaint of Jesus critics, “He goes in with sinners and eats with them.” They have a hard time getting their minds around what Jesus is doing. “If he is really from God,” they think, “he should be spending his time with godly and worthy people. He should be spending his time with the folks who put the real money in the collection plate. He should have been spending his time with us, telling us what a good job we’ve done.” They wanted Jesus to tell them they were the good guys they thought they were.
But Jesus makes it clear he is doing something different. Jesus explains it in parable after parable. One is in Luke 15, there he tells us of the shepherd who lost one sheep from his flock of a hundred. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep behind and goes out to find the missing one. Then he carries it home on his shoulders. The shepherd serves the wayward sheep, by carrying it home. It is a picture of Jesus serving. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. But look how Jesus goes one step beyond the parable. He gives up his very life for the lost sheep. One of our well known Lenten hymns says it like this:
How strange is this great paradox to ponder:
The shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander;
The master pays the debt his servants owe him,
Who would not know him.
I love that line “The shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander.” They don’t wander off accidentally, they do it on purpose. They don’t make little missteps that get them into trouble. It isn’t that they’re not quite perfect. It isn’t minor character flaws that keep popping up that leads them a little astray. They love to wander. They want to do it, and look for the chance to strike out on their own away from the shepherd. And he dies to bring them back. Paul tells us what that’s all about, too.
"For while we [sheep who love to wander] were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [sheep who love to wander]. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners [sheep who love to wander], Christ died for us." (Ro 5:6-8, ESV)
Jesus serves by dying for sinners who love to wander off.
And one thing we love to do is put ourselves in the ninety-nine, the “good sheep” who “don’t need to repent.” We don’t really belong there. And although we love the Savior, we are also the sheep who love to wander. We so easily fall into sin. “I’ll just do it this time I’ll worry about the consequences later. I can sin, because I know God will forgive me.” “I’m not really that bad, I know other people who sin more than me.” “for all the good I do, I’m really a good sheep, not a bad one.”
That’s really what Jesus disciples were doing, too. They clearly have a different view of things than Jesus does.
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.”
I really want you to pay attention to what they are asking Jesus for. They want that, when Jesus comes into his glory they can be in their glory at his right and his left. “Jesus we really deserve to be right there at your side basking in the glory, too. We’ve seen all these wandering sheep you’ve been with. We’ve been right here at your side all the time. When you really get down to establishing your glory, we [who are sheep who have never wandered], deserve to be at your right and your left.” Jesus answers, “You do not know what you are asking.” You don’t really understand why I’ve come. It’s all about service. It’s about what I am doing for you through my life and death and resurrection. “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
Notice again the disciple’s request. “We want you to do for us…” We want glory. We want you to make us great. They don’t get it. But mostly they can’t serve as Jesus serves. We can’t serve as Jesus serves. Even our best service is marred by self interest. Even if at first our motives are good, we can’t help think about how good it will look to other people that see us doing it. Call it the I-hope-other-people-see-me-put-my-money-in-the-collection-plate syndrome. We love to come to worship to receive the gifts God gives us here, but we are sure to sit in the same place every week to be sure everyone knows that we are here. And what parent hasn’t thought more about how other people will think of them when their child misbehaves. We really want the glory, even when we fight against the temptation; the sin of self glory is still there in our hearts. All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isa 64:6, NIV) Isaiah says that even the good things we do are not acceptable to God. We can’t hide our sinful hearts, our desire for self-glory, from God. He knows the true story.
It is only through the work of God that we can be delivered from that sin that so much fills our hearts and corrupts even the good things we do.
Where guilt is great and sin abounds,
There God’s great love is poured,
And fervent prayer from saints resounds:
“Oh, vindicate me, Lord”
We call upon Jesus to help us. We call upon Jesus to serve us. Because we know that Jesus service is different. His is selfless. Without realizing it James and John actually point that out by what they ask. That’s why Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking.” Jesus talks about his cup and his baptism. That’s his service to the world. It’s the cup of suffering. It’s the baptism of bearing the whole world’s sins. It’s the cross. James and John wanted to be with Jesus, “in his glory.” The cross turns “glory” on its head. Jesus “glory” comes in his suffering and death. His “glory” is to vindicate us, to free us from our sin, our sin of wanting self-glory. It’s backwards from the way we naturally think. It’s the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 and giving everything for the sake of the one lost sheep. And backwards from the way the world works. It’s backwards from what James and John were thinking. Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking… 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.”
And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. (Mk 15:22-28, ESV)
I’m sure that that’s not what James and John had in mind. But there on the cross, Jesus comes into his full glory. Jesus shows his true nature on the cross, in his willingness to suffer and die. It is in that suffering and death that we see what Jesus means by saying that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. There is where the Shepherd gives his life for the sheep who love to wander.
And there it is again. God’s Amazing Grace. That he sent his own son, who deserves to be served by the whole world, yet, lived died and rose again to serve the whole world. As for me and you sheep of the shepherd, who struggle with our love to wander, he serves us, too. Right here, right now, through his Word. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.