Sermons : 2015 : March 22, Glory That's Hidden - Mark 10:35-45

It was a perfectly logical request. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.” That’s the request made by James and John in Mark’s Gospel today. And I say it was perfectly logical because this event follows the Transfiguration which they just witnessed before in chapter 9. You remember the Transfiguration. See, its right there in the window. You would want to take Moses and Elijah’s place standing next to glorified Jesus, wouldn’t you? It’s perfectly logical. It’s even strategic…get your request in to Jesus now before the other ten disciples think to ask.

But you do have to be impressed with Jesus’ patience here and even afterwards because they push this even further saying they can drink from the same cup as Jesus and be baptized with the same baptism. It doesn’t take long after seeing glorified Jesus for the confidence of these men to go through the roof. But Jesus is patient. Luther says that Jesus treated the presumptuous pride of the Pharisees with severity but the ambition of these disciples with gentleness, for it springs from faith and needs only to be purified. And so it will.

Now the place from which this request comes is not an unfamiliar one to us. It’s natural to think about religion in terms of power. In ancient times, people offered up sacrifices to the gods to get it to rain or to get the crops to grow. But we’ve moved past such simplistic understandings. Except now, there is a pastor out there inviting his congregation to give more offerings so he can buy a 65 million dollar jet, so I guess that’s his prayer. I suppose a pastor of a smaller church could just ask for a Ferrari because it’s so much cheaper by comparison.

But while the times change, the prayers for glory or power remain the same. We want God to do something for us; to be our genie or our personal concierge. You probably have all heard of the prosperity Gospel, which despite the contradiction, is still alive and well in many places today. It says, you give God faith and He’ll bless you with riches and prosperity. If you’re poor in cash, according to this system, you’re poor in faith. So in that sense, faith becomes a tool through which you gain access to a better earthly life; a life of glory and prosperity in the here and now.

Now you might think, who wouldn’t see through that? Jesus was a poor carpenter’s son. He wasn’t rich or prosperous. He was from a small town and was shunned by people in power. How can you have a theology that puts all that focus on worldly success?

The answer to that question lies deep within us at the core of our being. Our sinful nature causes us to trust in our own decisions and control. You can’t stand it when people tell you what to do, can you? What do they say is the ultimate goal in business? Be your own boss. We feel this way because we resent being controlled by anyone else. We fear being in workplace situations where we are dominated by someone else.

Satan resented God’s control and rebelled against Him in heaven. Adam and Eve thought it seemed good when they were presented with the idea of being like God in the Garden of Eden. Being in control means eliminating your threats and attaining personal security. It means getting what you want without the worry that someone else will be imposing their will over you.

And when religion is uncoupled from the Word of God, it always goes this direction. Look at James and John today seeking as high of a position of glory as they possibly could. And so Jesus teaches and gently corrects. He talks about what it means to be a servant and how the disciples are not to lord their authority over others as the Romans are doing. Leadership in His Kingdom will be different than what is seen in the world or in the nature of man. The reason why religious leaders often become consumed with power is that they confuse their authority with God’s.

It is true that we as ministers are called to carry out certain responsibilities on behalf of Christ. It is true that Christ extends His authority to us to do things that He Himself did. For example, the Disciples were able to cast out demons in certain instances. They were able to heal on other occasions. In John 20, Jesus tells them whoever’s sins they forgive, they are forgiven and whoever’s sins they retain, they are retained. The church, as the bride of Christ, receives the authority to speak for her husband. But this authority is not a blank check—only repentant sinners sorry for their sins could be forgiven; only those believing in Christ could be healed. See, the work done by the Disciples was always done in Christ’s Name and it always pointed back to Him, not them.

Later, Jesus will say we will enter heaven like a little child or John, in His Gospel, tells of how Jesus is described as the Lamb of God. These are images of meekness and vulnerability. This runs contrary to how we think. We have a tendency to think in terms of guns and swords and using a bigger hammer. We think in terms of our own abilities or resources and our thinking runs along the lines of power—making ourselves more powerful. When was the last time you ever met someone who told you they were striving for meekness? Would you even think it was a good thing? I mean, other than for people like me, pastors and such. No, you would scoff at such a goal.

Meekness means that you place your life or trust into the hands of another to the point of abdicating your own control or will. It is complete trust in someone else. And so it is with Jesus when He submits Himself to the corrupt criminal justice system because He perfectly trusts His Father. Jesus is not the God who comes demanding subjugation. He is not the God who threatens punishment and condemnation to those who are prone to sin. And He is not the God who elicits faith by displays of glory and power.

He does not come to set Himself apart from you and above you as you see James and John looking to do. He is the God who comes to be one of us and to live among us. He shares our humanity in His birth and our trials in His earthly life. But He goes beyond the average life seeking the most shameful life as He feels the sting and pain of death on a cross. Even this human predicament, you and I shun. But on Good Friday, Jesus moves beyond being a servant or even a slave to being a labeled a fraud and a criminal.

The Gospels present us with stories of great paradoxes because it was not the Transfiguration that was the place of our Lord’s true earthly glory. It was Calvary. Here, where He dies as a weak and powerless King, He is really establishing His Victory over humanity’s greatest foes of sin and death. In his explanation of Psalm 81:7, Martin Luther would talk about God hiding the sweetness of his mercy underneath the thunder of His wrath. The death of Jesus conceals glory, but it is still there. It’s hidden under shame and condemnation. It is a cup of blessing disguised as a cup of wrath.

Jesus teaches these things today to James and John, but it is not until after He rises from the dead that the message really sinks in. We have this inclination to trust in our own natures even more than the words of Christ. We tell ourselves that glory is in the seeing and in the light and in the power. We seek earthly glory by trying to control as much around us as possible. In the spiritual realm, we gravitate towards those images of God that focus on His power or might or strength believing these things are more secure.

But of more value to us is His grace and love which moves Him to have mercy on us for the sake of His Son. Sin is not conquered through God’s might, but through His weakness as Paul says to the Corinthians. And so God calls for James and John today to follow Him in the way of servanthood and sacrifice. The corruption of power will surely follow and will always be a temptation for those who lead in the church, but those who hear the Words of Christ will seek to shepherd rather than to rule and to guide rather than to control. The Disciples will go on to glory, but first, they will go on to suffering as they shepherd the sheep and preach the words of the Savior who gives His life for the ransom of many. Amen.


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