It won't be long and high school yearbooks will be passed around and signed by the senior class. Remember those predictions about what people will do with their life?
My kindergarten friend Mark was always interested in basketball. I remember he played on the team in high school. I don't remember him being the best player, but he took it seriously. I lost track of him until last year. It seems his passion for basketball didn't get him on the team in college at Michigan State University. But he loved the sport so much that he became the student manager. It was an unpaid position, and probably meant a lot of extra work just to be involved in the sport. After college he held several jobs in college sports management, and last year he was named athletic director at, yes, his alma mater, Michigan State University.
We never know where people are going to go in life, or where we will end up. James and John, two brothers, and some of the first disciples, have aspirations for greatness. They ask Jesus for a favor. They would like to be first in honor when Jesus came into his glory. They probably imagined how wonderful it would be when the whole world realized just who Jesus was. So they wanted him to agree that they could be with him and be his closest assistants and share in the power. Apparently they had been thinking about this for a time, for we read in Mark chapter 9 that they were arguing about which of them was the greatest, but were afraid to tell him.
Their request is not that much different from our prayers to Jesus. Give me a good job, help me get that promotion, keep me healthy, let me move to a better home.
Jesus does tell us, "Whatever you ask for in my name, I will do it." (John 14:14). The catch (if I can call it that) is that when we ask in the name of Jesus, we are asking that His will be done over our will.
If it weren't that way Jesus would be a kind of Genie who gives us three wishes before he disappears, and we'd be all the more greedy and selfish than we are now.
Now when James and John ask for the highest positions when Jesus comes into his glory, Matthew reports that there mother was there, and she's the one who made the initial request for them. So there's a matter of family pride here as well. "Jesus, my boys have left me to follow you, so be good to us and see that they don't get left behind when things take off for you."
We can learn a lot from this conversation. One is we don't always know what we are asking for. Whenever I hear this I think of the criminals who were crucified next to Jesus. After all, that is where Jesus was glorified. God's glory was to die on the cross to win salvation for the world. Had James and John got their way, they would be the ones crucified next to him.
Have you prayed and asked for something, and didn't get it? Then you found out later that it was a real blessing that God didn't answer your prayer in the way you wanted? I call that "The Mercy of Unanswered Prayer." There's an answer, but it's not the one you expected. But it is gracious.
Gracious in that our Lord looks ahead in our life and sees what we really need. You may think you want that promotion and deserve it, but who knows if you are ready to face the unseen difficulties that go along with it. Right now it seems that any job is a good job, so we must learn to be content with the means that God is providing.
Another thing we learn from this conversation is that for the Christian the desire for position and power should only be realized when one can submit to servant hood. To serve Jesus is to be a servant to other people. Jesus taught his disciples not to "Lord it over one another." God does not put us in positions over others so that we feel important. He does it so we can help and care for other people.
As a Christian we learn this from Jesus himself, who humbled himself and became obedient, even to death, to help us with our greatest need.
James and John are not ready for responsibility, because at this time they crave it for themselves. They will not be good servants if they only want a comfy position in the coming kingdom. Someday they will serve Jesus unselfishly, even to the point of giving their lives for him, but at this point they need more training.
We are in training too. God wants us see how we can serve him. God has elevated believers to a high status. 1 Peter 1:9 says, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light." That means as a believer you have a new status.
You are a priest. Now priests have two jobs. One is to pray. On the cross Jesus cleansed us of our sins so that we can pray for ourselves and others. We offer praise to God, telling Him how great He is and expressing our thanks for all the blessings he sends.
The other thing that priests do is sacrifice. This is what is missing in James' and John's request. They are not ready to sacrifice.
Jesus says to them, "Can you drink the cup that I drink?" In the Old Testament to drink a cup means to share in someone's fate. Usually it was to receive punishment from God for the wrongs you did.
Jesus drank the cup of God's judgment against sins that he didn't commit, but others did. The disciples weren't ready to do this.
He also asked if they were ready to be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with. Now this can be confusing if we think that we are talking about water baptism here. What he means is the suffering he is about to undergo at the hands of the people in Jerusalem is like a baptism.
Certainly all the disciples had been baptized with water and the spirit by this time. But the suffering they would face for being a believer would come later in their lives.
We never know where this life will lead us. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you will be led to service and sacrifice. We may receive some recognition from others, but we should not seek it. Rather, the words of Jesus ring in our ears, "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all."
I have a story of servant hood to leave you with this morning. A woman found a stack of checks all made out to someone named Stacy, with a bank deposit slip for an amount over $3,000. Rather than call the woman, she decided to take the checks to the bank and deposit them in the woman's account. She told the teller that the owner would likely come in soon all upset about losing the checks. Tell her the money was found and deposited. Then tell her to read this note, which said, "Hi, Stacy, I found your deposit and brought it to the bank. I don't know if you take the train to work in the morning, but there is a homeless man who sits by the station nearby here every morning, and if you would like to pass on the good deed, he could use a cup of coffee and a bagel tomorrow morning. Have a great day."
That was a Tuesday. The man was seen having a bagel and coffee on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It seems Stacy was very happy about having the lost money deposited in her account.
That's an example of the kind of service God wants us to perform, and is so needed, especially with people losing jobs today.
If you are a believer, then Jesus will be moving you to serve others, and show you care. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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