Last week we heard the words which most of us have memorized from early on, the words of the Gospel in a nutshell as they have been called, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And as we heard these words we heard them in their context, that is that Nicademus had come to Jesus questioning Him about His teaching and Jesus tells him about being born again. This morning we move back into the Gospel of Mark and we hear Jesus being a bit more explicate in His speaking to His disciples concerning the events of Jerusalem which lay ahead of Him, namely His suffering and dying. And then we hear the squabbling of His disciples concerning who gets the place of honor.
Our text begins with Jesus detailing what lies ahead, “32And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise”(v. 32-34).
Jesus has been with these apostles for some time, close to three years. He has been teaching and discipling them. He has been speaking in parables and explaining the parables. He has been speaking somewhat directly and now, here, at this time as He is heading to Jerusalem He speaks plainly, not in parables, not in allusions, but plainly. He speaks concerning the events that will happen, namely that he will be “going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him” and notice He even includes how the events will turn out in the end, “and after three days he will rise.” And now, after all this they were amazed and afraid.
Jesus was going to be delivered by His own people, the Jewish nation, the leaders of the Jews, those who held high positions, the chief priests and the scribes. This nation that prided itself on taking care of its own would be actively delivering one of its own to the Roman Gentiles, the ruling political party for a judicial sentence of the death penalty.
As a part of this trial that would lay ahead, Jesus knew what was going to happen and so He outlines these events specifically for the twelve. He was going to be mocked, spit upon, flogged and killed. The response of the twelve is that they were amazed and afraid. Perhaps they did not believe Jesus. Perhaps they were afraid that if these things happened to Jesus they might happen to them as His followers. Whatever the reason, they were amazed and afraid. But that did not last long.
Continuing on in our text we read of the confusion of the Apostles, “35And 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.” 36And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38Jesus 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?” 39And 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, 40but 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” (v. 35-40).
Jesus had just finished speaking about His suffering, death and resurrection and the disciples were amazed and afraid, but now their attention deficit disorder kicks in and just as quickly they change the subject so that now we hear James and John asking for places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.
Now understand, James and John were very much like the Pharisees and teachers of the law and many in Israel, and I would suggest even many in our own world today. There were many in Israel who had come to think of God’s kingdom in terms of an earthly kingdom. When God promised a Savior back in the Garden of Eden and when He reiterated that promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and so on, the promise was never a promise of an earthly salvation and kingdom, but always a promise of spiritual salvation and an eternal kingdom in heaven.
Yet, Jesus answers the two by asking if they understand for what they are asking. Can they suffer as He is about to suffer? Their response shows their failure to understand what Jesus is saying because they respond that they believe they are able.
And so Jesus explains what it actually means to sit in the place of honor. It means, as He says, that they will suffer. So, we see that all that amazement and being afraid really was more of a confusion concerning Jesus, who He is and what He came to do.
But our text is not over. Our text continues with Jesus again, teaching, “41And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42And 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. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 41-45).
In response to the request of James and John, the rest of the apostles are upset, or rather as the text says, they were indignant. And they had every right to be upset, after all, they were just as equal and had just as much right as James and John for the seats of honor, at least in their own minds.
As the good teacher that He is, Jesus sits the disciples down and explains what it means to be a true ruler and a great person. To be a true ruler and a great person means not to be served, but to serve. Even as Jesus Himself came, not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for us.
What does this mean? In our world today we think in terms of human greatness; power, fame and fortune. At the same time we do have the example of our world in which we speak about people in public office being public servants, that is that our elected officials are here to serve, at least that is or always has been the intent. Yet, too often today we hear about the offices of public service being less and less about service and more and more about power, fame and fortune, much like Jesus’ disciples. Perhaps you may recall one president saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” which has been played against a recent statement made by one of the citizens of this country, “What is my country going to do for me?”
As sinful human beings, we are not much different from those who have gone on before us. We are not much different than our sinful ancestors. We too have a tendency to focus our lives on this world.
God would have us focus on the world to come. This life is short and sweet and compared to eternity, this life is but a snap of the fingers, here today and gone tomorrow. We are very much like Jesus’ disciples. We attend divine service on Sunday. We hear the law and the fact that we are sinners. We hear the Gospel and the fact that God loves us, that Jesus lived for us, that Jesus suffered and died for us. We hear the same thing the disciples heard, that Jesus was “delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they condemned him to death and delivered him over to the Gentiles. And they mocked him and spat on him, and flogged him and killed him. And after three days he rose.” And then we leave and go about our daily lives and live as if this life is all there is. We live looking for power, fame and fortune in this world. We live looking for places of honor.
God would have us think in terms of service. First and foremost He would have us think in terms of His service to us. He is the One who came, not to be served, but to give His life. He came to love us first, so that we might love others with the same love with which He has first loved us. He did not ask what we could do for Him, but He came to do for us and to give to us. And He continues even today to do for us and give to us. He comes to us to give to us and do for us through the regular means He has given, His means of grace, His Word, Confession and Absolution, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is through these very means that He comes to us to give to us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Yes, we do talk about the fact that Jesus came as an example, but not just as an example. If He were just an example, that would lead us to despair because we can never be like Him. He came as an example, but even more, He came to fulfill the example He set, even to fulfill all righteousness.
Jesus gives and we are given to. Jesus runs the show and we know we have the best, we know we have all He gives, because He is the one giving and we are the one’s begin given to. Jesus has done all that needs to be done. Jesus continues to do for us as well. He has won salvation for us. He gives us salvation. And He continues to pour out on us all His good gifts and blessings.
I want to conclude with a bit of my own paraphrase of Jesus’ words to His apostles who were discussing getting to sit in the place of honor, and to us who strive for such a place in our own lives and in the world of eternal life. You know that those who are considered the best leaders in this world are not the ones who lord it over them, and attempt to exercise great authority over them. Yes, there are those types of leaders in this world, but they are not seen as great but as what they are, dictators and tyrants. And so, this type of behavior should not be so among us. Instead, if we want to be known as a great person in this world we must be a servant and be of service to others. For, whoever would be first among us must be slave of all. We have the example of Jesus Himself, the Son of Man, who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. It is Jesus who has given His all for us, who works in and through us so that we might be His people. With all humility, may God work such an attitude in and through us as a response of the faith, forgiveness and life He gives to us. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.