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Passage: Mark 10:35-45 (read at Bible Gateway – link opens in new window)
Let’s start our time together with some honesty. Who do you relate to best?
James and John, the other disciples, or Jesus?
Personally, I totally understand where James and John are coming from.
Notice the beauty of their request. Let’s look at verse 35, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Whatever we ask of you.
So let’s say one day they want so much gold they can go swimming in it. Another day, ten thousand newspapers declaring their praises. The next day, a harem of beautiful women.
If they change their minds and decide they want a huge palace, or to replace Tiberius as Emperor of Rome, or, my own personal favorite, an almond croissant served just right – flaky, buttery, bursting with almonds, fresh from the oven – well, they’d have all of those requests covered. Because they’ve asked Jesus to do “whatever we ask of you.”
James and John are shrewd, crafty guys. Let me give a little bit of advice. You know, right, that, if you ever run into a genie in a bottle, and you rub the bottle and the genie comes out, your first wish should be, “I wish for ten billion more wishes”.
There are different paths to the good life. Some people say, “hey, I’m going about this the honest way. I’m going to earn the good life for myself. I don’t need or want God’s help. When the fame, the wealth, and the power come my way, I will have achieved those goals by my own two hands. Thank you very much.”
But not James and John. They want a shortcut. A religious shortcut. Their message is, “Hey Jesus, you know how we’ve been helping you out here in your ministry? Well, how about a little favor in return – give us whatever we ask for.”
Let’s be honest today. I can identify with James and John. Can’t you?
Let me tell you something. Thinking about their dream, yes, I want to sit in glory one day. Basking at the right hand of God in heaven. We’ll get to the next life and everyone will be using their heavenly binoculars to look at me from miles away, and they’ll go, “Whoa, there’s Carson. He’s at the right hand of God! I had no idea. I should have given him a little more respect when I had the chance. Now look at me: I’m cleaning out the toilets in heaven … for the rest of eternity.”
That’s my dream. At the heart of it, I want Jesus to give me whatever I want. Why not? Why not ask for it? We’re talking about Jesus, who has great power, and who is supposed to really love us.
I think all of us face this problem. That all of us can identify with James and John.
Because this passage reveals to us the heart of idolatry. What is idolatry? Is it literally worshipping stone statues?
Well, … …. that counts. If you are bowing down to rock carvings and offering sacrifices to them, that is definitely idolatry. No question about it.
But, more generally, and more commonly in our day and age, idolatry is turning good things into ultimate things. Idolatry is worshipping something besides god – worshipping an idol instead of God. We replace God with what we really want.
And when idolatry goes unchecked, we can become so presumptuous that we even manage to work up the courage to ask God to help us worship our idols.
We ask God – to help us worship our idols.
We don’t always go for the unconditional “whatever I want” approach.
Often we’re more humble and modest about it. We’re more specific:
- “God, I promise I’ll do anything for you, if you’ll just get me an A on this test.”
- “God, I know I haven’t been to church in a while, but please, I need a raise at work.”
- “God, I’ve been sacrificing everything for you. I’ve been at church every week. I’m just asking for a girlfriend in return.”
Can you imagine if you did this in any other context? If I was like, “Mo, I need your help.” She’d go, “Ok, how can I help” And I said, “Can you find me another wife?”
Mo would not be pleased. If I am looking for a wife, well, I’m already married. Asking my current wife to find me another wife is illogical. And offensive.
I can identify with James and John. “God, can you please give me another god to worship?” Instead of wanting God, I want what God can give me. And sometimes, I’m not afraid to ask God to do my will.
Maybe James and John are too direct for you. But what about the other disciples?
Look at verse 41, “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.” They were jealous. They were upset that they hadn’t had the good idea to ask Jesus about sitting in glory first.
Maybe they were secretly thinking: ‘if we just keep our heads down and work hard, I’ll bet Jesus will give us whatever we want.’
But then James and John cut in line. Make the request in private. Try to elbow their way into first place. We learn from Matthew’s account of this story that they even had their mom there. The whole family was involved. And all of a sudden, the hearts of the other ten disciples are revealed: they wanted the same thing as James and John, but they were too proud to say so.
So what about you? Are you the direct type, telling God straight up, “here’s what I want you to do for me. The deadline is yesterday.”
Or do you go for the indirect route? Outdo others in your religious service. Make greater sacrifices. Act more obediently. Be more radical. And secretly, deep down, you’re hoping like crazy that God is noticing and will make all your dreams come true.
Whatever your strategy, don’t you think, deep down, “Wouldn’t it be great if God would do whatever I asked him to do?”
Like the disciples of Jesus, its amazing that we are so self-seeking. I think these reflections show, whether we want it to or not, that we are pretty selfish people.
So how does Jesus respond to his selfish disciples?
Does he say, “Because you asked for so much, I am not going to give you anything, ever.”
Or, “You’ve pushed too hard this time. You are no longer my disciple.”
Or, “Your request is incredibly immature and selfish. I am ticked off. I am angry. You are going straight to hell.”
No. Not at all.
Instead, he makes references to his upcoming crucifixion. Look at verse 39 with me:
“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.”
These are veiled references to his death. The disciples couldn’t have understood what he was talking about at the time, but we understand now.
Jesus was saying, “I’m not going to be king. I’m not going to be wealthy. I’m not planning to be popular. I’m not who you think I am.
I am going to give my life, on a Roman cross, to pay for the sins of the world.”
And in verse 45, Jesus shares his mission statement:
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Let it sink in: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Isn’t that amazing? Jesus’ closest friends are money-grubbing, power-hungry, yes men who are trying to use Jesus to get what they really want. And how does Jesus respond?
Does he say, “Ok, here’s the deal. You put in three years of blood, sweat and tears, and I’ll make sure you get a good position in my administration.”
Or, “Cast out 400 demons in my name and I’ll see to it that you get a nice house.”
No. He says, “I do not want your service. I want to serve you.”
This is a collision. Two cars, or maybe to be more historically accurate, two donkeys, colliding at 100 mph, smashing into each other.
The disciples – all out selfishness.
Jesus – all out selfless service.
The disciples: “give us whatever we want.”
Jesus: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Do you get that? Do you see how much God loves you?
We come to God saying “gimmie gimmie gimmie.”
And God says, “I love you MORE than that. Those things you want – I made them. I can arrange that if we need to, if that’s the right thing to do. But you need more. You need WAY more. You need salvation. You need rescue. You need someone to die for your sins. You need someone to die for your selfishness and your idolatry.
So here’s the deal: I’m not going to give you these small, petty things – I’m going to give you my very life.
You know what Psalm 75 says about this cup that Jesus says he is going to drink? “In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs” (v. 8).
What about Isaiah 51? “Rise up, O Jerusalem, you have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.”
Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath. So that we can experience forgiveness of sins and be reconciled to God.
This is uncomfortably good news. Here we have Jesus loving maximally selfish people. The request was “Give us WHATEVER we want.”
From his own disciples, who should have known better! Didn’t they understand that they were supposed to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength? And not the other way around?
We’re in Mark 10 – for the past nine chapters, Jesus has been showing them and teaching the disciples that following him is about service and putting others before yourself.
This is really, really good news: Jesus loves selfish people. He loves selfish nonreligious people. He loves even his own disciples when they are selfish.
And He deliberately gave His life for us on the cross that we might be reconciled to God.
Doesn’t that move you? Doesn’t that thrill your heart? Doesn’t that make you want to love God? Aren’t you attracted to the breadth and the height and the width and depth of God’s love? It’s overwhelming.
Once you encounter Jesus, once this collision happens, your selfishness and Jesus’ selflessness, you will be changed.
The original disciples were certainly changed. Jesus predicted that. He explained to James and John that they also would suffer greatly for the gospel.
And, in fact, they did. We read in Acts 12:
“About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
And according to early church tradition, his brother John died in exile on the island of Patmos.
These were not idle words.
Look at verse 43 with me. Jesus said to his disciples, and I believe these words apply to us as well:
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
We’re called to be changed by God’s love. And then, and only then, will our hearts be changed that we might imitate Jesus. That we might become joyful and glad to serve others.
Our world is ruled by people who lord their authority over others –by people like us.
But imagine a world where people used their authority to serve like Jesus!
What if everyone at Church of the Cross was eager to serve? And what if our service was self-forgetful, where we didn’t keep track, and we didn’t have a sense about how well we were serving others?
What if, at our church, outright selfishness was always met with sacrificial love?
What if we brought this attitude into our jobs and our families and our neighborhoods?
The dream of God’s kingdom is simply amazing. A community where people are soaked in the love of God – and are active in loving and serving others.
Today, meet Jesus. Bring yourself to him in all of your selfish wanting. Let his love overwhelm your life. And no longer seek to be served, but look to serve others.
What a beautiful vision. What a loving God. May Jesus change our lives today.
Dear God, we confess that we are outright selfish people, who want what you can give us more than we want You. We thank you for loving us enough to give us more – to give us your very life, offered on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins. Please win our hearts today and make us like Christ – that we might seek, not to be served, but to serve, and to give our lives for your kingdom. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
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