What kind of leader is Jesus? How does his reign transform our relationship with power? How does he bring us close to him? Preached @ St. Peter’s Comox October 21, 2018
As we approach the gospel this morning I want us to keep to longings of the human heart in consideration.
First, can you imagine someone whom you deeply admire and respect? Imagine a time you were in the same room with them. Did you find yourself trying to get close to them, trying to stand near them, to hear them, to be part of their conversation? When we admire someone we want to be close to them.
Second, we as humans have this tendency to want to be close to power. Proximity towards those in authority can make us feel secure and safe. We scramble for position and status and recognition. Some of this is a hunger for affirmation, some of this is desire for power so that we can protect what we love in times of trouble.
Both of these desires I imagine were at work when James and John approached Jesus. As they approached him to ask their question they wanted to be close to him and they wanted to be close to power. Surely they were right in recognizing that Jesus was a king when they asked their question: can we sit on your right and your left when you come into your kingdom?
Yes Jesus is a king. But they did not know what they were asking.
A long time ago, when the people were new to the land of Israel they got tired. Generation after generation they got invaded and this land set apart for the holiness of God fell into chaos. God would raise up a leader to cast of the peoples’ oppressors but then it would happen again. They had enough of the uncertainty, enough of trusting in what they could not see. They went to the man of God, to Samuel, that he would intercede before God and ask for a king. They wanted a king like the other nations to lead them into war, to protect them from their enemies.
This angered Samuel. Samuel knew that they were a people unlike other nations, and that they had a king unlike other kings, Yahweh the Lord God of Hosts, ruler of angel armies. Why would they replace such a king with a king like that of other nations. God warned them that if they had such a king he would take their sons to fight in their armies, their daughters to serve his household, their food to feed his officials and their wine to gladden the hearts of his friends. The people insisted, God, give us a king like the gentile nations.
God gave them a king like the other nations, a mighty warrior, King Saul. Saul’s need for control and esteem divided the nation, his jealously led to brother fighting brother, he was a king like that of other nations and God’s people got what they asked for. Yet our God is a God who uses and transforms all things for his glory. After King Saul, God raised up a king after his own heart, not a king adorned as a warrior but as a shepherd, a man who sang praises to God upon the heart, heard the Lord’s rebuke, searched after righteousness. God made a promise to David’s line, that a descendant of his would sit on the throne forever.
Eventually those sitting on the throne of David turned away from God and forgot his promises, again and again they were reminded, again and again they forgot. Until eventually the Word of God came to the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed that God would end the reign of the kingdom and send his people into exile. Looking ahead to this exile, God gave to his people’s imagination, what the fulfillment of the promise of David might look like, who a king after his own heart would truly be.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Isaiah 53:4-10
Can we sit at your right and your left they asked the king.
You do not know what you ask. He answered.
Can you drink from the cup of suffering I am to drink of, or enter the baptism I am to be baptized into?
Yes. They answered.
Where the gentile kings of the nations cast the consequences of their failings upon their subordinates, make them suffer for their weakness and gather to themselves comfort and supremacy, the good shepherd does something else. He bears the suffering of others, he pours out his life for his subjects, he fulfills the Lord’s will by giving up himself for the people of God. James and John would be killed for righteousness sake, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom that breaks forth in Christ. But to sit on the right hand and the left hand of Christ when he comes into his kingdom was not for Christ to give. I sometimes wonder if that’s because it was the two thieves who hung with him that Friday. I don’t know who sits at Jesus’s right and left, but its not the sons of thunder.
Understandably the other apostles were a little upset that James and John had wanted to take this proximity, this status for themselves. Perhaps they felt insecure, afraid, jealous.
But as Jesus often does, he interrupted their argument.
Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
Our God is the God who washes our feet. Our God is the God who has washed us with his blood. He has transformed authority into shepherding, he has transformed positions of security into positions of sacrifice. His reign begins in us when we surrender, when we look to those we have power over after the eternal good purposes our God has for them, when we look for the kingdom breaking forth in them. That can be hard because lets face it people are hard to love. But hold the responsibility God has given you with sacrifice, with concern for those in your care, and knowing that you are a people set apart. Our King is not the ways of the world, not a gentile ruler, not a false God. You know who your king is.
Jesus transforms our desire to be close to him by coming close to us taking all that we are upon him. Jesus transforms our desire to be close to power and glory by transforming glory, revealing for us that true power comes in sacrificial love. Come let us open our hearts to his reign in us.