Summary: A sermon about freedom through following Christ.
“An Extraordinary Promise”
In some ways, tonight’s passage appears to be yet another example of the disciples—and not just James and John—as the fumbling, bumbling Keystone Kops who just can’t seem to get anything right.
Jesus has just told His disciples, for the third time, that He is going to go up to Jerusalem where Jesus “will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. They will ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, and kill him.”
But James and John immediately request for the places of honor when Jesus enters into His glory.
What they don’t understand is that the ironic place of “glory” is the Cross—and that criminals will be the ones to “sit” on Jesus’ right and left.
Also, James and John seem to have a sense that what they are asking of Jesus is a bit misguided or out of kilter.
They act a bit like sneaky children who try and trick their parents into giving them something they know their parents would probably say, “No” to.
So they come up to Jesus and ask that tricky question that most of us who are parents have heard, or that any one of us have said ourselves sometime in our childhood, “Will you do for us whatever we ask?”
What is our reaction to James and John’s request?
Is it laughter?
Is it amazed disbelief that they could make such a request right on the heels of Jesus own death prediction?
Is it embarrassment?
Part of our reaction may have something to do with the fact that we are all, in some ways, a bit like James and John.
Certainly we know better than to make the kind of outlandish, insensitive requests like these narcissistic couple of guys do…
…but if we are really honest with ourselves, we might have to admit that there have, at least been times in our lives when we have wanted the best seats in the house.
We may not be so upfront about it as James and John, but how many of us have spent all kinds of time scheming for privileged positions?
We may want a big house that causes the neighbors to drive slowly by in awe.
Or perhaps we dream of owning an expensive foreign car which will impress and cause others on the road to envy our situation in life.
Maybe we want all the accolades and applause without having to do the work…
…whatever it is, most of us probably long for a lot of things that we would never admit out loud.
So are we really that much different from these greedy disciples?
In our hearts do we often covet the best of the best, the top spot, the place of recognition?
One theologian has said that we all have “Zebedee’s sons in our genes.”
It’s part of our nature.
But coming to terms with our nature, our humanity is a place where we can begin to live a new life of discipleship.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living.”
When we are honest with ourselves about our condition, we can begin the journey toward wholeness.
And Jesus is Wholeness!!!
And therefore, Jesus could, indeed, fully and truly, with no hidden agendas come to this earth “not to be served but to serve.”
When we seek to be remade into the image of God, by allowing the Holy Spirit to work and mold us we begin to overcome the insecurities that drive us, the insecurities that cause us to be greedy and to covet.
When we allow Jesus to remake us, we can learn to serve in love, because of love and for the sake of love.
And the more we serve, in the name of Jesus, the more transformation takes place in our lives.
For transformation occurs through servanthood, humility, and a willingness to die to self and live with and for Christ.
When the rich man came to Jesus and asked Jesus about eternal life, Jesus invited him to “follow me.”
It is a means of grace.
After James and John ask Jesus to, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory,”
Jesus replied with, “You don’t know what you are asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?”
“We can,” they answered.
The baptism Christ will receive is death on the Cross.
And sharing the cup of Christ means to walk the way of the crucified Christ.
Again, it is the way to servanthood—ultimate and complete servanthood.
“Jesus said, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive…”