On Thursday Sarah had to go to Melbourne for a few days for an appointment. She took Isaac and Jacob with her, which meant I had some quality time with Micah and Joshua. They came with me to the services as Wharparilla and Glanville and out and about on some other adventures. Over the two days, one of the things I noticed was how many times they asked me questions. ‘Dad, can you get me a drink please’, ‘Dad can we please…’, ‘Dad, can you please help me with the Lego.’ Actually, there weren’t as many pleases in there, but oh well.
It’s no surprise that throughout his life, people were constantly coming up to Jesus and saying, ‘Jesus, please…’ Four times in Mark 10 people come up to Jesus with a question. At the start of the chapter it’s some Pharisees, who come asking, ‘Jesus please tell us if it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife.’ They weren’t asking permission, or trying to enter into a debate about the breakdown of the fundamental unit of society and the subsequent effect on future generations. No, they were trying to trip Jesus up.
Later in Mark 10, verse 17 the rich young man came to Jesus and asked, ‘Jesus, please tell me what I must do to inherit eternal life?’ You might remember we looked at this passage, and this question a few months ago. The answer there was that we had to give our whole lives to following Jesus.
Sometime after this Jesus and his disciples are heading to Jerusalem. As they’re going Jesus begins to tell them what’s waiting at their destination. It’s not a hero’s welcome, or fortune and glory. Far from it. Instead he tells the twelve that he will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, mocked, spat upon, flogged and killed, though after three days he’ll rise again.
It’s no surprise then that the disciples are amazed that Jesus still wants to go to Jerusalem. Perhaps picking up on their unease, the crowds that follow are afraid, their ranks thinning with every step they took towards Jerusalem. You can imagine the disciples spread out on the road as they follow Jesus, each of them lost in thought, wondering if it’s worth it.
It’s at this moment that the sons of Zebedee seize their chance. A while back, in Mark 9:34, the disciples had been arguing about who among them was the greatest. James and John decide that it’s time to settle the matter and so they wander forward to speak with Jesus. ‘Jesus, please can you do us a little favour?’
Don’t you love the way that the ask it? They’re obviously hoping that Jesus will say, ‘Sure, you bet, what can I help you with?’ But Jesus wasn’t born yesterday. He knows better than to say yes without clarifying what they’re after. So he asks them back, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They’ve got no choice but to come out with it now. ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your glory.’
Now think about this for a moment. Jesus has just finished talking about his imminent arrest and execution and they’re asking him about taking up the places of honour in his throne room. Now in one sense maybe it shows great faith in him. Maybe they’ve seen through his talk of death and resurrection to what lies beyond the grave. But at the same time, they seem to have glossed over the realities of the cross a bit too glibly. They almost seem to be saying, “It doesn’t matter how he gets there, as long as we can benefit from it.”
It’s very easy, isn’t it, to overlook the sacrifices of others? To say that we can’t feel a thing, as they’re suffering on our behalf. That’s as great a temptation for us, as we think about Jesus’ death, as it was for the disciples. You see, our remembrance of Jesus sacrifice is wrapped up in such sanitised packages isn’t it? We celebrate the communion with nice clean bread and pleasant tasting wine or grape juice. There’s a natural rejoicing at times like Easter and Christmas. We tend to overlook the true nature of the incarnation. We overlook the fact that Jesus swapped the glory of being one with God for a smelly stable. That he willingly suffered the indignity of appearing in the form of a baby and growing as a little child with no rights in a poor village in an oppressed nation. The images we cling to are of a warm, friendly, probably well-lit stable, a beautiful baby, an innocent mother, deserving shepherds, wise men from the east. It’s all so sanitised isn’t it? Yet the reality was far from that sort of image. Jesus came as a nobody. He was rejected and despised by anyone of note. He suffered the most painful and undignified death you can imagine.
But it’s much easier to think about the good things, isn’t it, the way James and John did, rather than the reality of how those good things were achieved?
And don’t we all, like they did, look for a shortcut? Who wouldn’t want the gain without the pain, the glory without the gory, the spoils without the sacrifice? That’s why the world is full of get rich schemes, miracle weight loss pills and promises that you can be holy without taking up your cross and following Jesus.
You can only imagine how rejected Jesus must’ve felt at their request. Notice though, that he doesn’t rebuke them completely. Rather Jesus points them to the cost of discipleship. Although they may not have understood what he meant at this point, I’m sure they did later, after the resurrection, as they considered what it would mean to continue as his followers. At this stage they may’ve heard his mention of the cup as a reference to a cup-bearer, a position of honour. They may have thought of baptism as something like John’s baptism: that is, a token or symbol of God’s renewal of his people before the coming of the Kingdom. But the reality was far from it. It meant suffering and death.
And was it just James and John that Jesus was talking to at this stage or was it all disciples? There’s certainly a sense in which it’s true for all disciples isn’t there? All disciples are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus. We’re all called to be baptised with Jesus’ baptism; that is, a baptism of fire, of rejection by the world.
So the question for us is the same as it was for them. Are we ready to suffer and die for what we believe? Do we value our closeness to Christ so much that we’re willing to stand at his right and left hands as he’s tortured and put to death? Or are we interested only in the glory of being with the conquering King in his kingdom? What Jesus is saying is you can’t have one without the other, but, the one makes the other worth going through.
He finishes by reminding them, once again, that the standards of the Kingdom are opposed to those of the world. Whereas in the world we expect those in authority to wield that authority, to enjoy the status of their position, in the Kingdom of God, those who are great are the ones who serve others. The first are the ones who act as slaves of the rest.
On Friday after taking the boys to Wharparilla and Glanville we dropped in on the op shop. While we were there, Rebecca brought in some grapefruits to sell. At the same time another customer and I both became very interested, it turns out we both liked grapefruit! But this woman was insisting that I should go first, that I should get first pick of the fruit. But I was adamant that was not the way. My outfit, my role, didn’t warrant superiority but sacrifice.
Our supreme example of this is Jesus himself. He ends by saying that even he, even the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, God’s chosen King, came not to be served but to serve, and give up his life as a ransom for many. Far from valuing himself as indispensable because of his position, the way others would, he gave himself up to death so others could be brought back into the Kingdom. Are you prepared to give up your life, that is, your rights, your comfort, your familiar church environment, in order to make it possible for others to be brought into the Kingdom? That’s what it might mean to be a servant or a slave of all.
Let me finish with these great words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)