Sermon on Mark 10:35-45, for the 5th Sunday in Lent 2021 (B), "The Road Between"
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. When you are watching an intense movie or reading a great book, you can instinctively tell when the plot is building to the climax. Jesus’ disciples, James and John certainly sensed something big around the corner, in Mark 10. And they weren’t wrong about that. Jesus had made His third and final prediction of His death and resurrection. He had just talked about eternal rewards, their persecution, and His own betrayal, death, and resurrection.
But with the particular skill of selective hearing that we humans are best known for, James and John were caught up anticipating great things, while completely ignoring all the sacrifice and crosses on the road in between. Their request seems audacious: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Guarantee us positions of glory in your kingdom! The highest place of honor reserved for us. After all, who is more deserving?
Before we get too angry, like the other disciples, we might consider that they took Jesus at His Word. “Lord, hadn’t You taught us that “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:19) or Matthew 7:7–8 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”? Jesus, we’re asking, and we’re knocking!” There’s nothing wrong with that per se, and again and again Jesus urges us to ask boldly.
But then again, they were asking for their own glory and profit. Remember Jesus qualifies that our requests are to be made in His Name, and according to His will, not ours. We’re just as prone to seek our glory and profit. Just as prone to ignore the road between mission and glory. James teaches us that “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3). Ask, and ask boldly! But don’t ask wrongly for your own passions or your own glory. That’s where they got off track. Jesus knew they didn’t grasp what was in store for them. But they were devoted to Jesus, and if their flesh was weak, at least their spirit was willing. They didn’t grasp what was ahead, but they still wanted to follow Jesus, not abandon course.
Are we ready for the road between? Are we trying to land at the finish line and the winner’s circle, without completing the mission laid out by Jesus before us? Without enduring the crosses, the hard service, the sacrifice in between?
And where would this glory come from? James and John envisioned ruling with Jesus in His kingdom. Jesus saw with clarity that His mission led to His glory. His mission at the cross. 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” 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, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.
When Jesus talks about drinking His cup or being baptized with His baptism both phrases describe His coming death. He’s saying to James and John, when my glory comes at the cross, are you ready to share in it? My glory comes from my mission, including the suffering and the dying. You want to get to the glory and recognition at the end but aren’t thinking about the road between. The road between is marked with Jesus’ dragging, bloody footsteps in the dust. The sweat and the tears flowing down, as a heavy beam of wood is dragged to that place of death. The altar of His sacrifice. The whipping, the crown of thorns, the jeers. The glory under all that ugliness and pain. Sorrow and love flow mingled down from the precious face of Jesus. It could have been the place of hate and bitterness, but it was shockingly transformed.
How does the road between lead to His glory? Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The road between is transformed by His service, His ransom.
Jesus ransoms us from the slavery of sin. A blind slavery that wants glory at the expense of others, lording it over them, exercising authority for our own gain and profit, and not to uplift and care for others. Our “short cut” to our own goals, honor, and pursuits tramples over others. Jesus exposed this human drive in their request and turns it on its head. He shows how His service to will of the Father undoes the wicked slavery of our sin. His obedient endurance of the whip, the ridicule and abuse, the thorns and the nails, purchases our release. The costly price of His precious blood, running down the splintered wood of His cross. At the costly price of His groaning agony, dying, struggling breaths, spoken out in words of forgiveness for all who hated and despised Him.
That shocking love tore a gaping hole through the anger and devilish fury of blind men. It showed how truly powerless and self-destructive evil is. Jesus’ shocking love and sacrifice that showed the smallness of our imagination for glory and honor. The shocking love that showed the power of doing good, unjustly suffering wrong, which overthrows the power of injustice. The shocking love of Jesus that demonstrated, as MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This was how Jesus’ mission led to glory. Glory through service, through ransom, through sacrifice.
Why didn’t Jesus come to be served? He was God’s Son! Equal in glory with His Father, creator of the universe. If anyone deserves service, its God in the flesh! But who could have served Jesus rightly and obediently? With perfect duty, fitting for the King of kings and Lord of lords? None of us. But Jesus laid down perfect obedience and service in His life, death, and resurrection. No turning to the left or right from what was good. No glory at another’s expense. All His glory came from the true servanthood and true sacrifice, His “baptism”, His “cup” He drank on the cross. Jesus served us in a singular way, that can’t be copied. Far beyond mere “example.” His ransom was the very purpose of His mission, and it delivers everything our own service couldn’t deliver.
Yet clearly His service lays out a road between for us to follow. When Jesus hears our drive for selfish glory, He answers back: “Not so among you”. Faced by our sinful nature, Jesus can nevertheless speak back the truth of an emerging reality to us. The reality He creates in us by His ransom: He’s freed us to live as people of God, not for the old sin-slavery. Instead, our life is “enslaved” to service, goodness, and sacrificial love. That reality emerges as the fruit of His ransom, so He can truly say of His ransomed: “not so among you.”
So, the emerging reality for ransomed, forgiven saints, is that we walk on that road between, together with Jesus. We take up our crosses and follow Him. Though the way be marked with suffering, we follow His lead. I do not know what burdens, crosses, and sacrifices you will make on your road between. I know that you do not carry them alone. That He has promised to trade yokes so that our heavy burdens go one way to Him, and His light and easy yoke goes the other way to us. We continually reap the fruit of His ransom, both in the forgiveness of our sins, and in the ransomed freedom of our new life. He trains our footsteps; He builds our endurance for that road between. He bears us up under His cross when life seems too heavy to push on. His relief and comfort are never more than a breath of prayer away. We need only lean on Him.
Jesus’ shocking love, His costly ransom, turned the road between into glory. Glory in His cross. Glory in serving others and not coming to be served. Glory that creates disciples like Him. Not out for our own glory or profit, but ready to walk the road between in service to others. Ready to live out the “not so among you” of His new life, created and underway in us. Stay the course, walk the road between, and eyes always on His perfect service and ransom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.