Last week we saw how Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler was aimed at helping him to let go of his ‘penny’, his possessions so that he could open his hands to receive the gift of eternal life, which was worth more than all the riches on the earth.
To do this requires faith – a faith which is not a hope or a wish, but a faith based on certainty and absolutes. Remember we saw that Hebrews 11:1 says Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
And that when you break this verse down, we saw that it could be paraphrased in this way – Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen.
And such faith requires a big shift in how we think and view our life and the world.
I think one of the reasons why many believers struggle with faith and the world is because we have one foot in either camp and we end up trying to mix the two approaches together. Just as oil and water do not mix, so the perspective of faith and the perspective of the world do not mix and when you bring the two together a clash happens.
It was this truth that Jesus presented to the rich young ruler, and today in our gospel reading Jesus presents this truth to his disciples who are trying to mix faith and the world together.
James and John are even less tactful than the rich young ruler. At least the young ruler ATTEMPTED to flatter Jesus by calling him Good – James and John simply say “Teacher, Do whatever we ask”.
And what do they want? They want glory, authority and status.
Now, here are two Jews – their culture and life was steeped in the worship of Yahweh – the great festivals governed and shaped their year; they knew the law and the torah – they were men who were spiritual…. AND YET here they try and grasp onto something which was of the world – power.
They have calculated that Jesus, being the Messiah would rule and when he did begin to rule, they wanted to get their candidacy in for the top posts in the upcoming administration.
Now, one of the reasons they probably approached Jesus so readily was that they were cousins – they were the sons of Zebedee and Salome, and Salome was Mary’s sister.
So their thought was that we’re kind of family and so naturally we should be at the top of the tree with Jesus.
Notice Jesus does not rebuke them for asking this – what he says is ‘You have no idea what you are asking”.
Jesus then asks them – Can you drink the cup that I drink and be baptized in the baptism that I am baptized with?
In other words Jesus is saying, “You have no idea what you have to endure and experience in order to get to that position.”
And the two disciples show their absolute ignorance by saying “yes”.
Now the cup and baptism that Jesus refers to are Jewish idoms.
The cup refers to the life and experience that God hands out – both good and bad. So Ps 23:5 says My cup overflows which is a good image, while Is 51:17 says Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk at the hand of the Lord The cup of His fury; You have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, And drained it out – which is a bad thing.
So Jesus asks first of all – Can you drink from the experience which God is about to give ME.
The second image is baptism. This word means to submerge – be covered over completely.
Hence, secondly Jesus is saying “Can you be totally submerged and covered over in what I am about to submerged in and covered over in.
And what was this experience which Jesus was going receive from God and be submerged in – well of course the cross.
What Jesus asks James and John is can they handle going through Is 53. Can they be stricken, afflicted, wounded, bruised, oppressed and die!
Jesus is not saying “Can you be crucified for the world” – only he could do that – but Jesus point is – You guys want glory – but do you realize what kind of road you have to walk and what the road entails that leads to glory?
The contrast is that James and John wanted for free what Jesus was about to give everything for.
Jesus is saying to them – can you walk the Isaiah 53 road? That’s the road to glory.
What james and John had done was to mix faith and the world together. They saw Jesus as their Messiah but then believed that the way to get the places of authority was to do as the pharisees did – as the Romans did – to campaign, to get the favor of those in authority to advance their own ambitions.They had mimicked the Roman rulers who loved positions of authority and craved them.
The world focuses upon the benefits of position and status.
And while there is nothing wrong in aspiring to greatness we MUST be careful how we define greatness and the motives and reasons behind WHY we aspire to it.
The rest of the disciples reaction to james and John’s request showed that their own ambitions were based on exactly the same principle – it was just that James and John had beaten them to the request.
And so Jesus teaches his followers that you cannot mix the world’s values with faith values.
They needed to choose the right example to follow. The disciples had made a mistake and had followed the world’s values as to what is important and what authority is and
how we obtain authority.
Instead they must follow Jesus’ example. And the road to greatness means submission to servanthood.
And the ultimate example of a life of servanthood was Jesus – he came not to be served (as was his right), but to serve us by dying for us.
Now we all know this, don’t we. We have heard it a countless times in sermons. The problem is that many think and say that Jesus’ example is all well and good, but in the cut and thrust of Wall Street, or the business world, or politics, or law, this is just not practical.
But this is Jesus’ very point! We want success? True success? Lasting success? We want greatness? True greatness? Lasting greatness? Then we must drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism that comes not from the world, or from our bosses, but from Jesus and Jesus alone.
The worlds standard of greatness is power – how many people does a man control – how great an army of servants has he at his beck and call. The Emperor Galba sums up this idea of the world’s attitude to greatness when he said, on becoming emperor, Now, I can do what I like and do it to anyone.
For Jesus the standard is service. Greatness consists not is reducing others to one’s service but in reducing oneself to their service.
Some may say that to live as Jesus asks in the business world,will mean a ruined career. Maybe. Jesus lived what he taught. Our passage from Hebrews 4 this morning tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we were. Jesus knows about the temptations we are faced with. Even Jesus was offered the fast track to success – in his temptation with the devil, the devil offers him all the kingdoms and all the authority of the world right there and then – no cross, no suffering, no humiliation. All he had to do was bow and give authority to the devil. But Jesus does not take the easy road – he took the cup and baptism God had for him and he was killed.
But it was his death which led to his glorification . Romans 1:3&4 say concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
In other words, Jesus’ life on earth, lived under servanthood, being the slave of all, led to his total glorification where every single knee in the entire universe, whether human or angelic will bow at his name at the end of time. There is no higher place than Jesus.
So, living our life under the example of Jesus, being a servant of all instead of trying to be served by all, may ruin a career but it is the right thing to do, because it is the path to true and lasting greatness.
True faith, being the the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen, means we are also servants in every aspect of our lives, not just at church, not just in our homes, but servants at our jobs, careers, schools. We entrust our future to God. And when we become servants even in a culture or job which rejects such as attitude, we can then watch God do incredible things by opening doors no one else can open and closing doors no one else can close. And if we do reach the top of our careers or become greatly successful we then know it was not us – but the mercy, power and provision of God working as we sought to follow Jesus’ example of life.
Our Psalm this morning says Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,
10 There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
under your feet.
14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
Notice how the psalm begins – because you have made the Lord your refuge.
Is Jesus our example today? Is he our refuge? Our careers and our future are not in the hands of men – but in the hands of God. And we can only live our life to the very fullest – when we follow Jesus’ example – we can only achieve ‘success’ and ‘greatness’ when we learn to be the servant of all, just like our Lord.
This is why faith requires us to have such a different perspective, attitude and focus on this world and on our life. The life Jesus calls us to requires radical faith – certain, fully expected, rock solid faith, which has both our feet in Jesus, living lives of outrageous grace which goes utterly against the grain of culture.