In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Gospel of Mark, whenever anyone calls Jesus “Teacher,” you can be sure that the next thing out of their mouths is not going to be good. When they say “Teacher,” they’re about to say something false or unbelieving or out of misunderstanding. Ten times people call Jesus “Teacher” in the Gospel of Mark: once a man calls Jesus teacher when he brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus and asks Jesus’ disciples to cast out the demon, but they cannot. And Jesus says, “O faithless generation! How long am I to remain with you?” (9:17-19) Twice the young man calls Jesus teacher, when he comes to ask Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And he says that has kept all the commandments from his youth. But he goes away in sorrow after Jesus answers him (10:17-22). Twice Pharisees and Sadducees call Jesus teacher when they are trying to trick Him (12:13, 19). Only once does someone call Jesus teacher and it comes anywhere near being a good thing: a scribe calls Jesus teacher when he says that Jesus has answered correctly about the commandments and loving God and loving the neighbor. Jesus says to him, “You are not far from the Reign of God.” (12:32-34)
But four times the disciples call Jesus teacher, and none of them is positive. First, in a boat during a storm, while Jesus is sleeping in the boat, they say, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” (4:38) As if Jesus might not care. Then John tells Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, but we stopped him because he wasn’t following after us” (10:38). Then, the disciples say, “Teacher, look at all the great buildings and beautiful stones” of the Temple. Jesus says, “All these stones and buildings will be torn down, stone from stone” (13:1-2). And here, James and John come to Jesus and they say, “Teacher,” and you know that the next thing out of their mouths is not going to be good. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Now, if your children try to get you to say yes to something before they tell you what it is, you can be pretty sure that they’re going to ask for something that they should not have. Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they say, “We want you to grant us to sit one on your right and one on your left when you come into your glory.”
I don’t know what James and John think that Jesus’ glory is going to look like, or when it’s going to happen, but I imagine that whatever it is, it’s probably not too different from how we view glory. Think of any famous person, any celebrity, any athlete, or musician, or powerful person. Why is it that people want to get close to them? Why do we read stories about their lives in magazines or on the internet? Why do we care so much? Why do people want to take pictures with them, or get their autographs, or buy items owned by them? Why do people want to be their friends? Because the closer you are to them, the more likely it is that you’ll get to share in their glory. We all do this to one extent or another; it seems to come naturally to us. So James and John seek out the same thing. They figure that the closer they are to Jesus, the more they will get to share in His glory. The other ten Apostles are indignant with James and John, upset when they hear what they’ve asked Jesus. But I’m not at all convinced that it’s because they know the question was wrong. Often, jealousy hides behind righteous indignation. It’s just as likely that they’re upset because they didn’t think to ask first, that they didn’t get to Jesus first.
But Jesus says to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I’m going to drink, and be baptized with the baptism with which I am going to be baptized?” They say yes. Jesus says, “You will drink the cup and be baptized with my baptism, but to sit at my right and left is for those for whom it has been prepared.” What is Jesus’ cup? What is Jesus’ baptism? What is Jesus’ glory? Strange we should ask, since immediately before James and John come to Jesus to ask this question, Jesus tells them for the third time in the Gospel of Mark. For the third time, Jesus tells them what’s going to happen to Him. “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is going to be handed over to the scribes and the Pharisees, and they are going to condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will spit on Him and mock Him and kill Him and after three days, He will rise from the dead” (10:32-34). And then in chapter 15, when Jesus is crucified, they hang a sign over His head: “The King of the Jews.” He is crowned with thorns and enthroned on the cross. And the very next verse says: “And they crucified with Him two robbers, one on His right and one on His left.” The only two times this phrase is used: once by Jesus in chapter 10, and once in chapter 15. His cup is the cup of suffering; His baptism is a baptism of blood; and His glory is a crucified glory.
Jesus says to all His disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and exercise authority over them.” That’s how it is in the world, and that may be how it has to be in the world. “But not so with you Apostles; not so with you Christians. If anyone wants to be great among you, he must be servant of all. If anyone wants to be first among you, she must be last of all.” Because this is the glory of the kingdom, of Jesus, in this world: “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Christians today are no more immune to chasing after the glory of the world than were James and John. There is the more obvious chasing after glory, as when people preach power, wealth, success, and comfort as the goal for Christians in this world. Anyone who preaches that kind of thing simply hasn’t read the story of Jesus and His Apostles. They all shared the glory of Jesus: James was the first martyr among the Apostles, and John was exiled to the island of Patmos because of his confession of Jesus, and his testimony to the Word of God. And the other ten Apostles and Paul were all martyred for their confession of the Name of Jesus. How could it be any different today? But within the Church itself, we often seek after glory. Whenever there are power struggles, struggles over control, or over someone’s individual preferences for the Church, it means that the glory of the Church—that is, of Christ—has been exchanged for the glory of the world, for how the world does things, for how people rule in the world. Sometimes the fight for power and control takes place between members of a congregation, and sometimes between pastors and congregations. Every time, there has been a failure to understand or believe Jesus and to share His glory. It happens when members of a congregation begin to think that what they do every day is not as good, or not as spiritual—not as glorious—as what the pastor does on Sunday morning. But the glory of Christians is not to be seen, not to be acknowledged, not to have power, but to serve, and to serve in the place where God has put each of us. Which is more glorious, Jesus says, to recline at the table to eat and drink, or to serve? Clearly, the more important person is the one who eats and drinks, while the less important one serves. Jesus says that He is among us as one who serves. And Paul says of the servants in God’s House: we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Christ’s sake. Isn’t this, instead, the glory of Christ in the world: to hear the very words of God, to eat and drink the very Body and Blood, and then to serve our families, and serve in our jobs? Try to be faithful to Christ in those places, and I can guarantee: you will suffer for your faithfulness, in one way or another. The servant is not above his Master. And, to be honest, if anyone thinks that being a pastor means getting all the glory, just because he stands up in front and reads the Scriptures, and preaches Jesus, and baptizes and feeds God’s people, well, you can have the job. And, by the way, I’ve got a really nice bridge I’m trying to unload.
No, in this world, no matter the vocation you have, the closer you are to Jesus, the more likely you are to suffer. The glory of Christ in this world always looks like shame, weakness, suffering, and death. But the glory is for those for whom it has been prepared by God. What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, nor any mind imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him, these things have been revealed to us by the Spirit through the Word: as Jesus says to those on His right: Come, you beloved and blessed of My Father, and enter into the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. On that day, when we hear the voice of Christ call us into the eternal Kingdom, then, and only then, will the suffering give way to glory. Then, and only then, will the thorns and cross give way to crowns and thrones. The Resurrection is not of this creation, not of this age. This age and creation is only death. The Resurrection is of the new creation, begun already in Christ. Then the cup of suffering will be the cup of rejoicing. Then the baptism of blood and death will be the baptism of eternal life. Then the glory of the cross will be the glory of the resurrection. So it will be for you, for whom it has all been prepared.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/22/15