IN NOMINE JESU
It has been said that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the past century we have seen this proven numerous times. We have seen what those who seek power will do to gain it and what they will do to keep it, keeping it at all costs. We have seen what seemingly mild-mannered men have become once they gained total power in their respective lands. You know the names; they are forever etched in your memories because of all the evil they perpetrated, not only on the world but on their own people. They gained such infamy that they are remembered simply by one name: Lenin, Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Hirohito, Stalin, Mao, Castro, the Ayatollah, Pol Pot, Noriega, Khadafi, Slobodan, Saddam, and others. They either gained power or seized it for themselves, taking for themselves that which was not rightfully theirs, and lorded it over the masses who were hopelessly subject to their tyrannical rules, ruling with iron fists. Of those rulers, two are still firmly in power. Power can make a person do strange, if not evil, things.
In our text for today, James and John had a strange request, so strange that their mother asked Jesus to grant them this request. Saint Matthew notes that Salome, their mother, asked Jesus to grant this request. So when St. Mark notes that James and John approached Jesus with this request, their mother asked for them. They wanted seats of power in Jesus' kingdom. They wanted one of these sons of Zebedee (and of Salome) to sit at Jesus' right hand and the other at His left. They were glory bound, or so they thought. Jesus doubtless had more pressing matters on His mind. He had just catechized His disciples regarding His impending death and resurrection, teaching them the sheer humiliation He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders. Palm Sunday was near. His time to go to Jerusalem was at hand. Chapter eleven of St. Mark's Gospel begins with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But it was immediately after Jesus instructed them as to what He would soon face for the sake of mankind that these two brothers make this outrageous request. Jesus Himself says to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (v. 38). These two power-hungry disciples were willing to agree to anything as long as they had seats of power, and so they said, "We are able" (v. 39a), not fully understanding the gravity of Jesus' question.
Jesus was not speaking sacramentally here, for the Lord had not yet instituted His Supper and had not yet given them the charge to baptize. Jesus was speaking of the suffering He Himself would soon endure. He would later pray in the garden at Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday evening, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will" (14:36). The suffering James and John would endure could never equal the suffering that Jesus endured. Jesus' sufferings were for the salvation of all mankind. James and John would suffer as a matter of the confession of their faith in Christ. James was martyred, killed with the sword before the Passover by Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, in the year 42. John was jailed twice, threatened with his life, beaten, and later exiled to the island of Patmos, where he spent the rest of his life. Little did the "Sons of Thunder" realize that theirs would be lives of service, not of power.
Power is not ours to have, either. There are some whom God has called and given special authority. "And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, for edifying the body of Christ; till we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:11-14 KJV). Jesus says in our text, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to be great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all" (vv. 10:42-44). Power is not ours to have, for His is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. The Lord has given us to serve Him and to serve one another. If we want to be considered great, we must serve others. Literally, Jesus is saying that whoever would be great must be a deacon, to serve others by looking out for their welfare, tending to their needs. From the earliest days of the Church, the deacon serves in assisting the pastoral ministry by seeing to it that the needs of the people are met, that they have their daily bread. Saint Luke writes in Acts chapter six, "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them" (Acts 6:1-6). Anyone who seeks greatness without service will never be considered great in the kingdom of God.
But those who want to be first must be the slave of all, our Lord tells us, to stoop down and untie the sandals of our masters, to scrub the toilets, to perform the most menial tasks for others, for we are to be slaves to them if we wish to be first. Even John the Baptizer, the forerunner of the Christ, is the least of the least in the kingdom of heaven. John said, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk. 3:16), and again, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). The Lord Himself said, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the [Baptizer]. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mt. 11:11). If a man of John the Baptizer's greatness would be brought so low into the kingdom of God, what makes us think that we will fare any better, that we will be higher up the social ladder of heaven, if one was to exist? If we lack the authority that God has given to some and seek to seize power for ourselves, we do not serve God but ourselves. We listen not to the Word of God but to the babbling of words that comes from our own mouths. We seek to build ourselves up and tear the body of Christ down...all because we want that which God has not ordained us to have, power that is His alone. "I appeal to you, brothers," St. Paul writes, "to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve" (Rom. 16:17-18). There is no deception in our text. Jesus is direct in His teaching His disciples then and now. He has called us to serve others, for He Himself has first served us, giving of Himself—giving up Himself—that we would live lives of faith and therefore service here on earth. The Mighty One, the Lord, came down to earth, down to our level and made Himself nothing, making Himself one of us. Saint Paul encourages us in words we will hear again next week as the Epistle for the Sunday of the Passion, the historic Epistle for Palm Sunday: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5-11). Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God the Son—the Word who is with God and who is God—became flesh and tabernacled, made His holy dwelling, among us. He lived with us and died for us that we would live with Him forever.
Our Lord did what we are powerless to do...He died for the forgiveness of our sins and rose for our justification, that our heavenly Father would declare us righteous for His Son's sake. Jesus says, "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father" (Jn. 10:17-18), and again, "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" (v. 45).
Yes, today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Six, our gracious Lord serves us. He serves us in the Gottesdienst, in the Divine Service, His serving us. We are here in His house as His blessed guests, and He is our Liturgist and Host. He visits with us, teaching us from His Word. He has washed us in preparation for the Supper, giving us the heart-cleansing bath of Holy Baptism and declaring us clean through His Holy Absolution. We have become baptized into Christ's death, just as He was, and His death gives us life today. And now He invites us to come to the Feast, to drink from the cup He gives us, His blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, for us, for you, for the forgiveness of sins. The body and blood of our Lord indeed give us power, but not the power of which the world thinks. He gives us power to live as His children. Saint John writes in his Gospel, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:12-13 KJV). The power we receive is in the Gospel, as St. Paul writes, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Rom. 1:16a). This power, therefore, comes from the cross of Christ, "for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18 KJV). Our Lord through His Means of Grace gives us power to live as His children, that at the Name of Christ our knees bow in reverence to Him, and that our tongues confess Him as Lord, wherever we may be, whatever our vocations, whatever our stations in life. He has poured Himself out for us, that we may pour out ourselves in service to Him and to our fellow human beings. He gives us the power to live in His service, giving Him all glory, laud, and honor. Hosanna in the highest! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.