Summary: A sermon about transformation through humility and servanthood.
An author tells of a time that his car was struck by lightning while he was driving.
When he was safe at home, he started to tell about his experience to his teenage son.
He was expecting at least a bit of sympathy.
Instead, his son interrupted him and said, “Dad, let’s go buy a lottery ticket!
They say the chances of being struck by lightning are like the chances of winning the lottery.”
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning, it appears that James and John, Zebedee’s sons are every bit as self-absorbed as this man’s teenage son when they come to Jesus saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Jesus politely asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
They respond, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.”
Their request follows the third time that Jesus predicts that when He goes up to Jerusalem He “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.”
It’s surprising then, that James and John would ask for seats beside Jesus in His coming glory.
Had they not been listening?
What is our reaction to James and John’s request?
Is it laughter?
Is it embarrassment?
Is it an amazed disbelief that they could make such a request right on the heels of Jesus’ own death prediction?
John Calvin writes that this passage contains a “bright mirror of human vanity,” because, “it shows that…they who follow Christ (sometimes have) a different object in view from what they ought to have.”
Jesus has foretold His coming condemnation, humiliation and death, but James and John are still dreaming of power and position.
When we look in the mirror, are we that much different than James and John?
We certainly 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 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?
Ambition is a good thing.
But when you mix ambition with vanity you get poison.
And one reason why it is poison is because it turns us into monsters who are willing to do just about anything to get our way!!!
And on our rise to the top or in our trying to rise to the top, a lot of people get hurt.
A lot of folks get stepped on, left out, pushed around, bullied, used and treated like objects rather than human beings who are created in the image of God.
It’s been said that “some people get so caught up in their own agendas that they look at the Trinity for a possible vacancy.”
And that we all have “Zebedee’s sons in our genes.”
It’s part of our nature.
It’s part of our broken condition.
And into our broken condition with the poisonous venom of ambition mixed with vanity comes a big heaping spoonful of fear…and fear is often in the driver’s seat…
…and what a bad driver fear is!!!
The death toll is high when fear is at the wheel.
Fear causes us to seek security in power and position.
Fear breeds prejudice.
Fear breeds preemptive war.
Fear of the future leads to all kinds of efforts on our part to secure ourselves—not unlike James and John, rather than risking the way of the Cross.
Really, James and John’s request isn’t just comical, is tragic.
If you thought about it too long and hard you might begin to cry.
Because, again, we are all James and John.
In verse 32 of Chapter 10 we are told that “Jesus and his disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, with Jesus in the lead.
The disciples were amazed while the others following behind were afraid.”
Ambition, vanity and fear…
…all these things drive us…
…all these things seek to destroy our happiness, our humanity…
And so, coming to terms with our fear, with this poison that keeps us up at night, this poison that keeps us from being the people God created us to be, this poison that keeps us from being who we really are and really can be…
…coming to terms with this junk, this brokenness is the only place where we can begin to live a new life of discipleship.