Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 26, 2017)

MATTHEW 20:17-28


In the name + of Jesus.

     James and John asked a bold question of Jesus.  They knew that the kingdom of God was entering this world through Jesus.  And of course, a kingdom means power and glory.  James and John had their mother approach Jesus to ask on their behalf.  Perhaps Jesus would be more appeased by a mother's request.  And they had good reason to think that they could get what they asked for.  If Jesus was about to establish a kingdom, the twelve apostles were his closest confidants.  What's more, James and John were in the most privileged inner circle—witnessing Jesus raise the daughter of Jairus and seeing Jesus transfigured on the mountain.  It made perfect sense.  But just to make sure there would be no doubts, James and John put in their applications, and they were smart enough to submit them first.  The mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and ... said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
     When the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. (Matthew 20:24)  The anger of the other ten apostles was not entirely righteous.  While they certainly thought, “I can't believe how conniving and arrogant those two are!”, there must have also been thoughts of, “I wanted Jesus to give me a position of glory, honor, and power.  Why didn't I get to Jesus first?” After all, these apostles had a tendency to debate amongst themselves which one of them was the greatest.  Now, James and John were seeking to get that title for themselves.
     Jesus' immediate response to the mother's request was blunt.  It was not directed to Zebedee's wife, but to Zebedee's sons: “You do not know what you are asking.” (Matthew 20:22)  Not just James and John, but all of the apostles, had a worldly idea of greatness and glory.  They had envisioned themselves ruling over the church, perhaps even the world.  They thought that prominence in the kingdom of God meant personal glory and honor.  Jesus crushes these ideas.  Glory in the kingdom does not come through exerting oneself, but through emptying oneself.
     Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  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 your slave....” (Matthew 20:25-27)  Glory comes through selfless service.
     Our sinful nature fights this.  We understand the allure of worldly power and glory, and we are drawn to it.  We want to be celebrated.  We want to be heralded as experts.  We want others to serve us, to pay for our drinks, to step out of our way, and to re-tweet our opinions.  When we hear Jesus say that we are to be servants and slaves, we go into self-preservation mode.  We do not see any advantage in serving selflessly.  If we serve, we hope to get something out of it—accolades from people, or at least a reward from God.  The world considers selfless service to be foolish.  Selfless service means that people will take advantage of you.  It means that you will devote time, energy, concern, and money on people who will never pay you back, who might not care, and who might criticize you for your efforts.  And yet, this is the kind of selfless service that Jesus calls us to.  Glory comes through selfless service.
     If you bristle as such selfless service, all it shows you is that you are not like God.  None of us is.  Consider Jesus, the Son of Man (who) came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)  Jesus did not come to serve us because he owed it to us.  Jesus laid down his life for people who rightly deserve death.  Jesus suffered damnation for people who have earned a place in hell.  We can't even boast that Jesus did this for us because he knew we would return the favor or pay it forward.  We still sin against the Lord.  We have not proven our worth.  Jesus set us free from our sins, knowing that we might run right back to them.  Nevertheless, Jesus gave his life as a ransom for our sins, and not only ours but for the sins of the whole world.
     Jesus paid the price of sin for all—for sinners who try hard not to sin but still fail, and for sinners who delight in their sins and will never give them up; for people who rejoice that their sins are forgiven, and for those who reject the payment and will perish anyway.  The world considers this a foolish waste.  The great leaders of this world would weigh their options, count the cost, and determine who they can afford to save and who is not worth it.  They certainly do not exhaust their resources for rebels.  But Jesus graciously covers the cost for all people.  Jesus selflessly served so that you would be rescued from death and delivered to eternal life.
     Glory comes through selfless service.  This is the precise reason Jesus came.  He told his disciples so.  As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:17-19)  That is where God reveals his glory to you.  Now, it is true that God is glorious no matter what.  If God had not created the heavens and the earth, he would still be glorious.  God is holy, all-powerful, and awesome.  But that does not save anybody from their sins.  Only God's mercy does that.  That mercy is not revealed in dazzling displays of power, but in Jesus dying a bitter death in weakness and shame.  That is the payment for sins.  That is where Jesus was treated as sinners deserve so that sinners would not be treated according to their sins.  This is how you have been delivered from a shameful death and marked for glory in life everlasting.  Glory comes through selfless service.
     James and John had sought glory for themselves.  Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22)   In their jockeying for greater prestige, James and John boasted, “We can.”  Jesus could have replied a second time, “You don't know what you are asking.”  They did not really get how glory comes in the kingdom of God.  Still, Jesus assured them, “You will drink my cup...” (Matthew 20:23)  They would learn what it is to serve selflessly for sinners, to suffer ridicule and loss, to give graciously only to have that grace despised and abused, and finally to die in Jesus' name.  The world treated them with shame and contempt.  They lived and died in weakness and humility.  Their glory was reserved for heaven.
     And so it remains for all Christians.  Glory comes through selfless service.  You will probably feel that living for Jesus is thankless, and even useless.  For a godly and faithful life, you will be mocked and maligned.  For confessing God's truth, you will be called a liar and a hypocrite.  For giving generously to the needs of others, you will be conned and called a fool.  And the only reason you will do these things is because your Lord transforms you to be more like him.  You, too, will drink from the cup which Jesus was given.
     But your glory will not come from how much you endure or accomplish for the name of Jesus.  Your glory comes through Jesus who endured, accomplished, and served selflessly for you.  He continues to serve you, and his mercy continues to cover your sins.  The cup he gives you now is the cup of blessing by which you ingest the forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  Your life may not appear to be that glorious now, but the glory you are looking for does not come in this world.  It comes in the next.  That glory is yours through Jesus who gave himself selflessly and completely for you so that you would be his completely and eternally.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.