We never know where people are going to go in life, or where we will end up
Hesham Shehab: Jesus’ Love Drives Us to Serve Others
Sermon text preached by Rev. Hesham Shehab
Sunday, March 21, 2021
Mark 10: 35-41
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Do you remember your high school graduation picture? Do you know where are some of your classmates? Some maybe made it to fame or infamy. Some massed fortunes…maybe others are serving prison sentences or are already fertilizing mother earth.
We never know where people are going to go in life, or where we will end up. James and John, two brothers, and some of the first disciples, have aspirations for greatness. They ask Jesus for a favor. They would like to be first in honor when Jesus came into his glory. They probably imagined how wonderful it would be when the whole world realized just who Jesus was. So, they wanted him to agree that they could be with him and be his closest assistants and share in the power. Apparently, they had been thinking about this for a time, for we read in Mark chapter 9 that they were arguing about which of them was the greatest, but were afraid to tell him.
Their request is not that much different from our prayers to Jesus. Give me a good job, help me get that promotion, keep me healthy, let me move to a better home.
Jesus does tell us, “Whatever you ask for in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14). The catch (if I can call it that) is that when we ask in the name of Jesus, we are asking that His will be done over our will.
I have learned that the hard way myself. Today, life for me, as pastor and missionary, is not easy. But it was more difficult before I surrendered to Jesus and His will. There were days that I wished I would die before I would see the next hard day of work and toil.
I remember that, in Beirut Lebanon, I used to do three jobs. I would wake up at 4 am, jump on my bicycle, because it was more practical in heavy traffic…and go to a news agency where I translated selected newspaper articles from Arabic to English, then, at 9 am, I would jump on my bicycle again and go to the Daily Star newspaper where I would pick and edit selected articles translated by my coworkers. Then at 2 pm I would jump on my bicycle again and ride around 6 miles to another newspaper, where I edited an Arabic page there and worked until 9 pm or 10 pm. 4 am to 10 pm, six days a week and a half day work… I had half a day off.. where I tried to follow up on my Ph.D. dissertation then. All that was to send the kids to decent schools and put bread on the table. Yes, a good education in Lebanon used to be more important than bread and butter. Public schools suck in Lebanon, and if you want a good education for your kids, you have to send them to private schools with an American or French system of education.
But life was so difficult, and sometimes I would cry out to God and ask Him to take me…but then I would say to myself…what a wonderful world…no I am joking…(that’s Louis Armstrong). I would say to myself, why ask God for my demise, instead I can ask Him to fulfill His will in my life, because He knows what’s better for me and my family.
So, we have to ask Jesus for His will in our lives, not our will. I think one way to explain this is that Jesus is like a person on top of a hill or a high rise building who could see not only better, but also could foresee our future. He is not shortsighted like us.
If it weren’t that way Jesus would be a kind of Genie who gives us three wishes before he disappears, and we’d be all the more greedier, and selfish than we are now.
Now when James and John ask for the highest positions when Jesus comes into his glory, Matthew reports that there mother was there, and she’s the one who made the initial request for them. So, there’s a matter of family pride here as well. “Jesus, my boys have left me to follow you, so be good to us and see that they don’t get left behind when things take off for you.”
We can learn a lot from this conversation. One is we don’t always know what we are asking for. Whenever I hear this, I think of the criminals who were crucified next to Jesus. After all, that is where Jesus was glorified. Jesus’ glory was to die on the cross to win salvation for the world. Had James and John got their way, they would be the ones crucified next to him.
Have you prayed and asked for something, and didn’t get it? Then you found out later that it was a real blessing that God didn’t answer your prayer in the way you wanted? I call that “The Mercy of Unanswered Prayer.” There’s an answer, but it’s not the one you expected. But it is gracious.
Gracious in that our Lord looks ahead in our life and sees what we really need. You may think you want that promotion and deserve it, but who knows if you are ready to face the unseen difficulties that go along with it. Right now, we must learn to be content with the means that God is providing.
Another thing we learn from this conversation is that for the Christian the desire for position and power should only be realized when one can submit to servant hood. To serve Jesus is to be a servant to other people. Jesus taught his disciples not to “Lord it over one another.” God does not put us in positions over others so that we feel important. He does it so we can help and care for other people.
As Christians, we learn this from Jesus himself, who humbled himself and became obedient, even to death, to help us with our greatest need.
James and John are not ready for responsibility, because at this time they crave it for themselves. They will not be good servants if they only want a comfy position in the coming kingdom. Someday they will serve Jesus unselfishly, even to the point of giving their lives for him, but at this point they need more training.
We are in training too. God wants us see how we can serve him. God has elevated believers to a high status. 1 Peter 1:9 says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light.” That means as a believer you have a new status.
You are a priest. Now priests have two jobs. One is to pray. On the cross Jesus cleansed us of our sins so that we can pray for ourselves and others. We offer praise to God, telling Him how great He is and expressing our thanks for all the blessings he sends.
The other thing that priests do is sacrifice. This is what is missing in James’ and John’s request. They are not ready to sacrifice.
Jesus says to them, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” In the Old Testament to drink a cup means to share in someone’s fate. Usually, it was to receive punishment from God for the wrongs you did.
Jesus drank the cup of God’s judgment against sins that he didn’t commit, but others did. The disciples weren’t ready to do this.
He also asked if they were ready to be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with. Now this can be confusing if we think that we are talking about water baptism here. What he means is the suffering he is about to undergo at the hands of the people in Jerusalem is like a baptism.
Certainly, all the disciples had been baptized with water and the spirit by this time. But the suffering they would face for being a believer would come later in their lives.
We never know where this life will lead us. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you will be led to service and sacrifice. We may receive some recognition from others, but we should not seek it. Rather, the words of Jesus ring in our ears, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
If you are a believer, then Jesus will be moving you to serve others, and care for them. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
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