Mark 10:35-45 (NIV) 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This actually works out quite well since the last sermon I did ties right into this one. It’s like the next episode in a TV series or the sequel to the book you might enjoy. The to be continued that everyone waits for. Most continuations begin with a small recap and since a fair amount of time has elapsed since we heard the first part of the story, let’s look at a quick summary of what happened last time.
In Chapter 9, verses 30-37 Mark sets the scene with Jesus and his disciples traveling privately to Capernaum. Jesus took this opportunity to teach his disciples. It is here where Jesus told them, for the second time, that he was going to be killed, but would rise from the dead after 3 days. They didn’t understand what he was talking about and ignored the Savior’s words. Then the disciples proceeded to argue secretly about who was the greatest among them. Jesus, of course, knew what they were arguing about. He then taught them a very valuable lesson. He said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Jesus was teaching them that to be great in his eyes they had to humble themselves and serve others. To give them an example of what he was talking about, he called a nearby child and explained that anyone who was welcoming even a small child was doing something great in the eyes of Jesus and his Father. The lesson was so clear. Did the disciples get it? Did they understand it? Did they see how Jesus’ death was the greatest example of serving the world has ever known? To be continued... But the time is ripe. The time is now. Let’s take a look at the next episode in our text.
This time, Jesus and his disciples were going away from Capernaum on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus emphasized for the third time how he would need to die for the good of the world and that it would happen in Jerusalem. So this is it right? This is where the disciples tell Jesus they understand that Jesus is serving others by dying for all their sins, right? This is the part where the disciples tell Jesus they remember and understand the lesson he taught them earlier about humbling themselves and serving others, right? Wrong!
Instead, here is what actually happened. Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John came to talk to Jesus. They were brothers, sons of Zebedee. Jesus called the two Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).” The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why they were called that, but the name seems to indicate they were bold. And that makes sense because they had something bold to ask Jesus. They weren’t completely alone though. With them was their mother Salome. Hey, if you going to ask Jesus for something big, why not have your sweet dear old mom with you?
James, John, and Salome seemed to have a three step plan. The first step was trying to get Jesus to say yes to something before he knew what they were asking for. They told Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Quick show of hands; how many of you have ever tried to get someone to say yes to your question before you ask it? They were trying to trap Jesus into saying yes. “He’s the Son of God. He’s not going to lie. We can hold him to it.” However, Jesus responds as wise as ever, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The first plan has failed. “Nuts. Jesus caught on. What are we going to do? Ok, let’s do plan b. Let’s just ask him and see if he says yes.” And that’s what they did. They inquired, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Remember, these are the sons of thunder speaking, so at least in this talk with Jesus, none of their questions actually have question marks at the end of them (go ahead and check either account dealing with this conversation in your Bible). “Oh man, what is the answer going to be? What’s he going to say.” Jesus opened his mouth to speak. “You don’t know what you are asking.”
The second plan has failed. The sons of Thunder and Salome have one last chance. Maybe they can convince Jesus. At this point, Jesus inserted a question of his own. “Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Jesus was asking them if they could suffer and die for the gospel message just like he was going to. Jesus is once again pointing them towards understanding his death. Not sure if James and John had any clue what Jesus was talking about, but they seemed to understand enough to know this was the chance they had to implement plan three: convincing Jesus. They put their best thoughts to their argument and came up with, “We can.”
Jesus told them they would end up suffering and dying for the gospel message, not in the same way as Jesus did, but suffer and die nonetheless. If we fast forward a bit from our account, we see that James would be put to death by King Herod (Acts 12:1,2) for preaching the gospel message. John would be exiled and imprisoned to the island of Patmos for preaching the same gospel. Despite this, the spots to Jesus’ right and left were already prepared for someone else as designated by the Father.
Plan 3 had failed. And it’s a good thing too. James, John, and their mother were only concerned about their own glory. They were a family that should have been serving the world, but instead were interested in gaining rank so they could lord it over others and point to it as a reason people should glorify them. They wanted to siphon of some of Jesus’ glory. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. James and John were good men. And Salome was a good woman. They all recognized Jesus as the Messiah and they cared very deeply about the Savior. The Bible shows they all did great things, sharing the Word of God with others. They remained faithful to the Lord their entire lives. However, the sinful nature inside of them still made its devilish presence known all the time.
That is how it works, doesn’t it? Even if you are a follower of Jesus that sinful nature is constantly tearing and twisting within you, urging you, driving you to make poor choices. It takes a great attitude that wants to serve others and shifts it to think only of yourself. It makes us want things that aren’t good for us or don’t belong to us. The world tells us all the things we so desperately want until we see them no longer as wants, but needs. Our sinful nature wants us to think the actors and actresses look more desirable than our own spouses. That our friend’s houses look so much better than ours. That the fame of people should have been ours and deep in our hearts that sinful nature feels it’s unfair and wrong that we don’t have all that. We are attracted to power, riches, and fame. And what’s even worse, is sometimes the only reason we hang onto Christ is because we are hoping to get all these things. We have a three step plan just like James, John, and Salome. Step 1: trick God into giving it to me , etc. Step 2: ask him for it forcefully. Step 3: Convince God that with all we do to show the world we are Christians he has no choice but to give it to us. “I did what you asked Jesus. I told people about your how you lived and died for the sins of the world. Now what are you going to do for me?” We look for cheap earthly gifts from Jesus to make us great in the eyes of others and treat him as the dispenser for whatever our sinful hearts desires.
So you see, just like the disciples we have that sinful lust for glory rather than service. Then too, just like the disciples, we are in a perfect part of the text to hear what Jesus has to teach us again. Let’s jump back to our account for today. The other 10 disciples were furious when they heard what James and John were asking. They didn’t seem to have a problem with what James and John asked Jesus, but moreso that they didn’t think to ask Jesus for glory first. Jesus gathers his disciples and us around him and begins his beautiful lesson.
“Many leaders across all nations exercise their authority to gain more power and lord it over others.” And then in words that should jump off the page for us he says, “Not so with you.” Here Jesus makes it abundantly clear the disciples were not to gain power and glory to lord it over others. Jesus has something better for them. He continues, “Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all.” Here is the lesson he teaches us again and again: Our family serves the world! And then, masterfully, Jesus does something he’s been doing this whole time. Throughout the text, the disciples keep putting the focus on themselves, but they can’t even save themselves, much less give themselves lasting glory. Jesus shifts the focus back on him, not only as an example of service, but for their salvation. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, to give his life as a ransom to many.”
And every time I read this I hope this is when a part of Jesus lesson finally hit them. Jesus deserved more stuff than anyone and yet he had been serving the disciples this whole time. He served them as he fed them bread along with the 5,000. He served them as he performed miracles as signs for their faith. He had picked them from various allotments in life so they could witness the greatest story ever told. He protected them so they had time to spiritually mature. Soon, he would show his service to them as he washed their feet. Soon, he would give the ultimate act of service as he died for their very sins. He had given them something greater: salvation and lasting greatness and glory in heaven, rather than just a short meaningless glory on earth. On top of that, they received the opportunity to share the same saving message with others.
I want you to take a look at your own life and see if it comes together for you too. When has God served you in your own life? I want you to take a moment and dig through your memories or have a flashback. Think of how God has served you throughout your life. We are going to take a whole minute of silence. See if you can think of any moments.
Does anyone want to share?
When I personally think about this it takes me awhile to think of one. But then a couple ideas trickle through. For example, I see how God provided for me with food, a good education, and people who cared about me. Then the ideas come pouring out as I can see how much he has served me in deeper and more meaningful ways. I was a prideful young man who found his identity in strength, speed, and winning fights. I can’t help but wonder if a knee injury in high school was to help me shift my focus off of me and onto him. I see now that in every dark moment I had, God was right by my side. Most of all, I see how he took me, an undeserving and deeply sinful man, gave me faith as a free gift, and showed me from his own Word how Jesus died to cleanse me of my sins.
He is there for you too. Every day you feel you can’t get out of bed or think one more bad thing will break you, he is there with you, rooting for you. He leads you to him and serves you in good times or bad. Whether you fully grasp it yet or not, he sacrificed himself for all of your sins, and invites you with open arms into faith. As, literally a God among men, he didn’t lord it over you, but he came to serve you. Man, I love Jesus.
With the focus back on Jesus, it is a lot easier to see why some people are willing to give up everything for Christ. We want to show our love for Christ in our own life by serving him. Jesus tells us the best way to serve him is by serving others. Anyone who is out there today who doesn’t believe in Jesus or doesn’t quite understand what he did for us, I want you to know the Lord wants to serve you too. And so do we. We would be happy to share his message and answer any questions you might have, not because we want to sell you anything, but because we want to share the same message that was shared with us. We want to show the same love that Jesus showed us. We want to use our lives as a way to bring people to Jesus. He wants our family to go out and serve the world. Amen.