Glory in suffering Mark 10_35-45
An opportunity too good to miss! Two fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, with nothing but a small boat, smelly clothes and a few torn nets, heard the voice of Jesus say ‘come follow me!’ Not knowing what lay ahead, or where Jesus would lead them, they left everything and followed him. Now, once again, an opportunity too good to miss beckons them. Jesus, the one they left everything in order to follow, is talking about God’s kingdom and how he is about to inaugurate its rule in heaven and on earth. James and John sense something important is happening, and want a big part in Jesus’ kingdom;
“Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” James and John have an opportunity too good to miss, at last, a chance at glory, at honour and a chance be someone important. A big ask you may say, wanting glory out of someone else’s hard work and effort; taking the cream without the cake.
For Jesus said to the disciples, just a few words before, how he was to reign in his kingdom ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ Failing to understand or comprehend the suffering Jesus must endure to be king, James and John only see an opportunity at glory; they ask to be rulers with him at his right and left; rulers in a kingdom they know very little about.
Yet isn’t this sort of behaviour, taking the glory for our selves without the hard work and suffering, what we are all doing? What is advertising and commercialism all about…giving you and me an opportunity too good to miss! This year on Mount Panorama in Bathurst, Holden won the prestigious ‘king of the mountain Bathurst 1000’. But now, thanks to advertising and commercialism, you and I can be part of the glory without any suffering or hard work. You can be like James and John and demand your part of the glory, simply by wearing Holden merchandise. (hand out stickers and hats etc.)
By wearing the name Holden, people see you as part of a winning team; you are now someone who also won on that day; by wearing the team colours, by possessing the badge of the lion, you are now someone who can celebrate as if you own the team. By the trickery and allusion of advertising, you, who are really a ‘nobody’ in the world of car racing, instantly become part of a winning team. Yet all this without touching a spanner, changing a tyre, or putting your life on the line by driving at 300 km/h. Commercialism offers an opportunity too good to miss…for us who are no bodies, we can have glory without suffering, winning without racing and be kings in a kingdom we know very little about.
It is very easy for us to transfer the idea of advertising and its promises of glory without suffering into our church and commercialise Jesus and our faith in him. Are we the James’ and John’s of the 21st century? We are at a point in time now, when we need to ask ourselves a sobering question…who is Jesus to me and what do I expect from him? If you believe in the Jesus of the advertising hype, you can be part of the glory of God’s kingdom without the suffering, without even knowing anything about Jesus.
No longer do you need to go to church, forgo weekends and evenings for studying God’s word. No longer do we need to repent of our sins, put to death our sinful lusts and call on the Spirit to renew our hearts. No, commercial Christianity, or as Luther put it, a theology of glory, says, ‘ticking ‘Christian’ in the sensus papers, wearing a Jesus tee-shirt, having a Jesus coffee cup in the cupboard, and buying a snazzy looking bible for the book shelf , is suffice enough to demand of Jesus ‘Let me sit at your right hand in your kingdom of glory’.
Like all advertising, a commercialised faith, without baptism, without confession of faith, without the means of grace in Holy Communion, without servant-hood and suffering, can only promise glory but never deliver. A theology of glory can be as empty and irrelevant to true faith and salvation as it is for me to claim to be the winning Holden driver just because I wear a Holden Jacket.
Jesus urges and teaches James and John, and us and all believers that suffering and persecutions, servant hood and self-denial come before glory. The kingdom of God is like an upside down pyramid; the panicle must carry the greatest load; the first and greatest must be the least and servant of all; they must carry the load of others. That is why Jesus answered James and John ‘You don’t know what you are asking for”. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’
Isaiah foretold of the cup Jesus must drink to the dregs for our sin and the baptism he is to endure for our glory. Jesus is to be the pinnacle of the upside-down pyramid of God’s kingdom; he is the greatest, yet becomes the least; the king of heaven becomes our servant who bears our load; ‘By oppression and judgment he was taken away… For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth…Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.’ And Jesus adds ‘For the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.
We want the glory without suffering, Jesus had the glory, but chose to suffer, in order to share his glory with us, as the writer of Hebrews says ‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.’
In our baptism, we died to ourself. Jesus took our old life of sin and false glory and gave us his life. He exchanged his glory for our sin; he gave us what is his and took upon himself what is ours…we are born again by water and the Spirit into God kingdom through the suffering Jesus endured on the cross. As St Paul says, ‘our life is hidden in Christ.’ We already live in glory with Jesus, but it is hidden from sight, it is a statement of faith, as we confess in the creed ‘I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints’.
Since we believe and know this to be true, in Christ, we are now called to lay down our pursuit for glory and to suffer just as Christ suffered. We too are to be the least and servant of all. We too now exchange glory for servant hood, exchange power for service of the gospel, exchange the Jesus coffee cup, for a cup of suffering. So do not be surprised if your life in Christ is not what you expected or what the commercialised Jesus claims it should be. Living a theology of the cross is what Jesus meant when he said ‘You know that those who are regarded as 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 slave of all.’
Are we prepared to suffer for our faith? Is the church shrinking because it no longer wants to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus? Is suffering for the sake of the gospel an opportunity too good to miss? Let me close with some quotes from famous Christians who have received their reward in heaven, and let you make up your own mind.
‘Every time her blood was shed, each drop became a man, and each man thus converted stood prepared to pour out the vital current from his veins to defend the cause…Christ’s church never sails so well as when she is rocked from side to side by the winds of persecution…Nothing has helped God’s church so much as persecution – Charles Spurgeon. And ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’ Hugh Latimer, to Nicholas Ridley as they were being burned at the stake.
Suffering for the sake of the gospel…an opportunity too good to miss…!!! or ???