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Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2015
Text: Mark 10:32–45
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
In the beginning of today’s Gospel lesson, it was already the third time that Jesus predicted His passion. He said to His followers that the Son of Man would suffer and be killed, and after three days rise again. However, immediately after that came another gross demostration of the disciples’ misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission and His reign. When James and John, the sons of Zebedee came up to Jesus and asked Him to let them sit, one at His right hand and the other at His left in His glory; Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking for.” Basically, Jesus was saying that they didn’t know what they were talking about. They didn’t even know themselves, not to mention the Kingdom of God. That’s why, Jesus asked them a rhetorical question, “Are you ABLE to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” This rhetorical question expected no answer. However, they totally ignored Jesus’ true meaning and answered without hesitation, “We are able.” Today, I would like to ask everyone of us the same question, “Are you able?” “Are you able to follow Jesus all the way?” “Are you able to drink the cup that Jesus drank, or to be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized?”
Generally speaking, there are three possible reasons why you answer “yes” to a question such as “are you able,”when you are not. We (1) overesitimate ourselves, (2) underestimate the difficulties, or (3) don’t know what’s going on. First, we often overestimate ourselves when it comes to being justified before God. Our self-righteousness not only tries to justify our past behaviors and thoughts, but more importantly, it overestimates our abilities or potentials to do God’s will. Like James and John, we often boast to God subconscieously, presumptuously without any hesitation. “No problem, Lord. I am able to do this and that.” “I am able to love God and others. I am able to keep all the Commandments, and to do whatever you bid us to do. I am able to follow you all the way…” Oh, really? Yes, you come to church. While you are physically sitting on a pew, why is your mind wandering away with other things? Why are you worried about the economy, the stock market and your job security? Aren’t we supposed to fear, love and trust in God above ALL things? People see you helping others. What they can not see may be your reluctant heart, or some other motives. People see your welcoming smiles. But, they can not see how much you may despise that person and want him to go away. You serve the church on a board or in a committee. But have you served diligently, with zeal, without laziness? Overestimating our self is often associated with self-glorification. Being a theologian of glory, people long for honor and glory, and even for the highest place in the kingdom of God. So much so, we ignore our sinfulness and inability. James and John were so eager to gain honor and power above their fellow disciples, that they were ready to promise anything without thinking about the consequences, and to say “We are able.”
However, it turns out everything is not as easy as they seem. This brings out my second point. God requires us to be perfect. As we said before, we should not just love God occasionally, or superficially; we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We should not just love our neighbors, we should love our neighbors as ourselves, not grudgingly, but with a willing heart. We should not just follow Jesus, we should take up our cross daily and follow Him. We don’t realize how hard it is for a sinful human being to fulfill all these. So, let’s go back to Jesus’ rhetorical question, to which James and John answered “yes.” Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” From the Old Testament and the three predictions of Jesus’ passion, we know that the cup Jesus was going to drink was the wrath of God that He would experience on the cross. Jesus bore the wrath of God against the sins of the whole world on the cross.The baptism that Jesus was going to be baptized with was the ultimate baptism of dying to sin and living to God, the complete washing away of sins, and the precious pouring of water, blood and the Spirit from the Cross. This was NOT easy. No one was able to do it except Jesus Christ, true man and true God. Not only was He able, but He also did it. He loved the Lord God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength. He regarded everyone as His neighbors and loved us so much that He obeyed the Father’s will and went to the cross to die for us. He drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin, and went through the baptism of death and life. Furthermore, He did it for YOU. He knew we were not able. So, He did all these for us, and for all humanity. What Jesus was going through was difficult. Neither you, nor I, nor Jame, John, nor anyone else is able to accomplish it. But, Jesus did it in our place.
This brings out the thrid point that I want to make about why Jame and John thought they were able. It’s simply because of their ignorance. They didn’t have any clue. They didn’t know God’s wonderful plan of salvation for us in Christ Jesus. They didn’t know how the kingdom of God would operate, and how Jesus would reign in His kingdom. However, not just these two brothers, all the disciples had the same problem. That’s why “when the rest of disciples heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.” Jesus hinted that they would not have the places of honor they were requesting if they continued to think this way. Right before our text for today, He had already said , “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Again, He spoke to His disciples then and to all of us now, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” This is how the kingdom operates. It overturns our thinking. But It is true. Do you remember what happened to all the disciples when Jesus was arrested? They all fled and were scattered. Do you know who was the most prideful and the most presumptuous disciple of all? A hint, it was not one of the two brothers. It was Peter. Remember what he promised he would do even when others were not able to? He said he would NOT fall away from Jesus. But what happened? He denied Jesus three times. Nevertheless, by the greace of God, after Jesus’ resurrection Peter repented and received the forgiveness from Jesus. And Jesus restored Peter’s leadership of the church by gently asking him three times, “Do you love me?” The kingdom of God is not about who is able to do anything for God, it’s about what Jesus has done for us, His forgiveness, His redeeming love, and eternal life. That’s why Jesus continued saying at the end of our text, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Thanks be to God, our own ability doesn’t count for our standing in the kingdom of God. Otherwise, everyone would fail and perish. Only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ can we have ANY standing before God. The interesting thing is that after James and John answered “yes,” saying that they were able to drink the cup that Jesus was going drink and to be baptized in the baptism that Jesus was going to be baptized; Jesus did not comment on whether they were able to do this or not. He simply proclaimed a statement of fact using future indicative verbs saying, “The cup that I drink you WILL drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, you WILL be baptized.” In Christian baptism, we are baptized into Jesus’ baptism, and into His death and His resurrection. Through repentence and faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the judgment and wrath of God on all our sins, which are nailed on the cross of Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. When we drink the cup of the Holy Communion, we drink the blood of Christ from the cup of our salvation. Therefore, we give thanks and praise to God for all of these because it’s not about our own abilities, it’s all about what Jesus has done for us, and about how it’s delivered to us in the Word and Sacraments.
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