Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty: Conquering Hero or Suffering Servant?

          As you read the gospels you sense that a showdown in Jerusalem is approaching when Jesus and the religious leaders will engage in conflict that will allow the tension that has been building between them to find relief. Jesus warned his disciples repeatedly that there was trouble on the horizon in Jerusalem:  Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:17-19 NIV)

Jesus could not have used words that were more clear concerning these events, yet apparently the disciples either did not listen or did not comprehend the plain meaning of Jesus’ words! So it is rather surprising to find out that this is what happens after Jesus warns them of the trouble in Jerusalem: Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Mathew 20:20-23 NIV)

                Rather than taking to heart the grief and approaching suffering of Jesus, James and John wanted to establish positions of honor for themselves in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. Jesus warned them that they did not know what they were asking – then he asked them if they could drink the cup that he was close to drinking. Their response was a curt “We can!” which is proof positive that they were not talking about the same cup as Jesus. They imagined drinking from the golden goblet of power and glory, the ones kings used for their wine. Jesus was speaking of the cup of sorrow and suffering, the one that contained the wrath of God.

                When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28 NIV)

Jesus pointed out their misunderstanding by challenging their desire for power and the ability to command people to serve them with the true role of the disciple, which is service to others. He then offered himself as the example of one who was not seeking to be served but who was serving others and even offering himself as a ransom for them. It was hard for the disciples to believe that the Messiah would be a servant who offered his life for others instead of a powerful king who demanded the lives of his enemies! That is still hard to believe and it is even harder to emulate! The tension that Jesus pointed out as active in the heart of Peter – “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” – was alive and well in the hearts of James and John, and most disciples since then.

What would it look like for someone to actually obey the direct commands of Jesus to stop looking to be served and start serving others? What does the commitment to offer yourself for the benefit of those around you look like? Keep watching Jesus, because he is going to show exactly what that looks like in seven days in Jerusalem that forever changed the world!

- Kenny Payne

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