Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 6th, 2005, Matthew 20:17-28

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 6th, 2005

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

Matthew 20:17-28

(Thank to Glen Nelson, CJ.31.1)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s easy to smile as you hear about the mother of James and John. And it’s not because we think we are better than she is, but we know exactly where she is coming from. What I means is that most of us have been right were she is doing exactly what she’s doing. And what is she doing? Well, she’s promoting her children. When you have children you want what’s best for them, at least what you think is best. It’s easy to find yourself giving a little nudge here and there with the “right people” in hope of making a difference for them. What John and James’ mother is doing isn’t very different at all from things that any parent has done. And her actions are not all that far removed from artwork plastered on the fridge, beaming with pride as a child stands to play a solo in the band concert, or coming to our feet when our child breaks into the paint and drops an important basket. All parents naturally want to see their children do well. That’s just a part of being a parent. And that seems to be what’s going on here, too. This woman wants her children, James and John, to be “set up,” to be in positions of power and prestige when Jesus “comes into his kingdom.”

Now while it’s only natural for her to want what’s best for her children, but there’s a problem with what’s going on here. What she wants, and what her sons want is honor and glory for themselves. They want to sit at Jesus right and left when he “becomes king.” They want to be in the positions of greatest power. They want to have the most influence. They think that if they have the special most important relationship with Jesus, they want to have the most reward. They must think that they deserve it, that they are Jesus’ favorite disciples. (They may even be his cousins.)

It’s very interesting that they ask Jesus for this ‘favor’ right after he has told them about why they are going to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. He said. But these three are more concerned about getting center stage for themselves. It’s as if the things Jesus said pass right through them, in one ear and out the other. They are occupied in their own pride and ambition. They want to be considered Jesus best. That means they want to be considered better than all the rest of the disciples. As you can imagine this didn’t sit very well with the other disciples. St. Matthew uses the word “indignant.” When they heard what was said they were “indignant” at the two brothers. That means they were angry at what they saw as inappropriate behavior. Really, what they were really upset about was that they didn’t think to ask Jesus first (or that they didn’t push their mothers to ask!) They are jealous of the positions that they think James and John might actually get. They all want what the two asked for. All in all, it’s a pretty ugly scene. In the fits of pride and anger everyone forgets what Jesus had just said. Everyone quite misunderstands Jesus and the real reason for the journey to Jerusalem that lies ahead.

Of course we’d like to think we are better than that. We can try to convince ourselves that we wouldn’t find ourselves in the disciple’s sandals on that ancient road to Jerusalem, misunderstanding Jesus, demanding recognition for ourselves. But we know different. You’ve seen pride’s ugly behavior in your life. You know how you first react, your inner feelings, when someone else receives recognition for doing something good. You wonder why people don’t see all that you do and recognize you. You long to stand on the Olympic platform receive all the praise. You know how your heart asks the question, “Why are they getting all the glory? Isn’t what I do around here just as important?” You know how hard it is to swallow your selfishness and congratulate the person and truly be happy for them. “I’m very happy for you,” you say aloud but your heart is crying, “Why do you get all the breaks.” And there we are sulking with the ten disciples, indignant at someone else. It’s the same ugly scene. It is the same ugliness that caused the disciples totally to miss what was about to happen. When it happens to us we miss Jesus and his work in our lives, too.

What Jesus told the disciples was the very opposite of what is going on in their hearts. The journey to Jerusalem is a journey to the cross. There is no selfishness in Jesus. His concern isn’t for himself and what would become of him, instead the disciples, and the whole world of other people, are foremost in his mind. He knows what has to be done for them. He knows what has to be done for you and me. And that’s the very thing the James and John don’t understand. “We want to be, one at your right and one at you left.” They want the power positions. They want to be recognized as Jesus right hand men. They want to be served. Jesus came to serve.

“You do not know what you are asking.” And indeed they don’t. The throne of Jesus kingdom isn’t what they think it is. Jesus doesn’t rule his kingdom sitting on a plush throne with a golden crown lined with minsk, and a royal robe of purple. If you think about it for just a moment you know it, too. In fact, we are here today (and every Sunday) to receive the benefits of Jesus kingdom. Jesus didn’t come to be served. He wasn’t thinking as the disciples were. He came to serve. He gives his whole life in service to you and me. But it’s more than just giving us food, clothing, shelter and family. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, ESV) Jesus serves us in the way we need it most. He hangs on the cross giving his life as a ransom for our sin. He builds his kingdom by bleeding and dying to restore our relationship with God. Forgiveness of sin is the basis for Jesus’ kingdom. And he earns that kingdom on the cross. So when James and John ask to be, one on the right and one on the left of Jesus they really don’t know what they are asking. Listen to Matthew’s description of Jesus throne, the place he actually defines what his kingdom is:

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. (Matthew 27:35-38, ESV)

You know that pride, that ugliness that we talked about. It’s there setting on Jesus throne with him. He serves you and me, and the disciples, and all people, nailed to a cross shaped throne dying a sinner’s death, our sinner’s death. In fact, all the sin that we so often let rule our lives is taken up by our cross shaped king. Jesus came to serve. His whole life is shaped by the cross were he takes our sin and our punishment and gives to us forgiveness and the promise of a new life in a kingdom not ruled by selfishness and hurtful pride.

And Jesus death didn’t end his service either. First of all, he’s not dead anymore. After three days in the grave he came alive again. He didn’t just serve us by dying; he serves us also by living again. He promises a new life and a new life that begins with the forgiveness of sins and the defeat of death. And it doesn’t even stop there. Jesus still serves. Today Jesus serves again. He brings his kingdom, the forgiveness of sins to you right here, right now. It is here in his Word, the good news about what he has done for you. It is spoken into your ears and your mind and into your heart. Jesus Word brings his kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, with it. And he serves again every time his body and blood are poured into you. His holy and precious blood, the body and blood that walked on earth, received the nails and thorns and the roman whip, and dripped on the ground at the cross, is present in bread and wine. Jesus comes there to bring his kingdom, too. He is physically present to give the forgiveness of sins just as he promises. We are served by Jesus. He gives us what we need.

John and James had it all wrong. But they got it right. They served other people with the Good News of the kingdom of Jesus. They even suffered for it. John lived in exile. James lost his head. Jesus said they’d drink the same cup, that’s what he was saying. Serving others in Jesus’ kingdom sometimes means suffering. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant. Jesus’ kingdom is about service. And so we serve, too. We make sure that people have what they need; clothing and food, shelter and heat. We serve other people because Jesus serves us. But never forget that Jesus kingdom is about more than food and shelter, it is most importantly about the forgiveness of sins. It’s about taking care of the ugliness that separates us from God. It’s about Jesus serving people with his life, death and resurrection. We serve people best when we give them what they need, food and clothing, but most of all Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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