There is a striking contrast in today’s Gospel lesson between Jesus and two of his closet disciples. Jesus is preparing them for his death. They were approaching Jerusalem where Jesus would die on behalf of all mankind in obedience to the will of God. It is the purpose he had been sent for and the purpose he would fulfill. He, the true servant of God and mankind, was seeking God’s glory and our good.
James and John, however, were seeking their own glory. They wanted to sit on thrones next to his, helping him to rule the nations. So Jesus asked them if they were willing to do what he was going to do and although they responded saying that they were willing, they had no idea what they are agreeing to.
The cup that Jesus is speaks of them drinking is the cup of suffering that Jesus prayed he could avoid. “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.” He prayed, but concluded, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” James and John would drink that cup as result of testifying to Christ’s resurrection. Both would be arrested and punished for their testimony. James would seal that testimony with his life. John would be arrested, flogged, exiled, and forsaken by men who should have followed him and learned from him. Each in his own way suffered some of what Jesus suffered for them.
Jesus also speaks of a baptism. They had been baptized with water as Jesus had, but after his resurrection they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit that Jesus received at his baptism to empower them for the kind of service that God and Christ would set before them as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and teachers of God’s people.
Working from this passage the early church also referred to martyrdom as a baptism of blood. As Jesus shed his blood for the sake of others, the apostles would, too. They were beaten, flogged, stoned, crucified, and beheaded, by those who rejected their testimony.
But there is more, baptism is the promise that the believer will rise to glory just as Jesus did. James and John would follow Jesus into death and on the last day they will rise as he did..
That they bore such suffering and gave their lives to call others to faith and life in Jesus, shows, first, that what Jesus said came to pass; and second, that they eventually conformed their lives to the pattern set by Jesus; as they served both God and mankind by their lives and preaching.
And what about you? You have been baptized with water and the Spirit according to Christ’s command. You have drunk of the cup that contains the blood Christ shed for you. But you still have a lot to learn and a lot to do in order to fully conform your lives to the pattern set by our Lord Jesus.
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:42b-45
Like the apostles, we have been called to serve God and mankind. We do that individually and together. We serve to bring glory to our God and our Lord Jesus and we serve for the benefit of others.
That “for the benefit of others” is key. American churches are full of people who are asking “What’s in it for me?” Many men and some women have built large and profitable “ministries” by promising people wealth, success, and healing, and delivering a great show. But this is not the way of Jesus. He did not ask, “What’s in it for me.” He asked what do they need? And then spent himself for the benefit of others.
At times, the demands upon him were so great that his family thought he was crazy and they even tried to rescue him from the crowds and from himself. Jesus tells James and John he wants them to be like him, bearing pain and suffering to serve others with the strength that God provides.
Therefore, our question should not be “What’s in it for me?” It should be “What can I do for them?” or in the case of a congregation, “What can we do for them?”
Matthew Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, breaks the answer to this question into three parts: “Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.”
One of our primary purposes as a congregation is to bear witness to Jesus Christ and to his work reconciling God to all people. Without him there is no salvation, no eternal life, no lasting purpose. As the apostle Peter told the Jewish elders,
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”Acts 4:12
Individually and together, we are called to pass on the life and witness we have received to others. This requires courage because not everyone wants to hear about it. As we heard last week, people love lies and darkness rather than the truth because the truth uncovers their evil. Yet unless they hear and face the truth they will not turn to Jesus seeking salvation. No one is saved because he thinks he is a good person. We are saved only by the blood of Jesus shed for us and received in faith. Carrying such a message requires time and effort. It often requires blood and tears as well, because those who don’t want to hear have often opposed and tried to silence us.
Still, we must speak in in the face of opposition, for the lives of others depend upon our speaking. And as God’s servants, we must obey him rather than men. People must be confronted with their need for a savior and Jesus must be presented to them as that savior, for he sacrificed his life to deliver them from certain destruction.
People need a savior, but they have other needs as well, so we also work together and individually to provide for the earthly needs of others. Such works of mercy begin within our families. Some families can do that and still have more than they need. Others do all they can and still lack. When that occurs it is up to us as a congregation to assist our fellow members. Some congregations can do that and still have more than they need. Others do all they can and still some of their members lack necessities. At the point, it is time for other churches to assist.
In our community the churches have also taken on some of the responsibility for helping outsiders as well. For example, the food bank that is staffed and partially supported by the churches in our community, is open to all people without any sort of condition other than need. By supporting it with our time and gifts we enter into the work of God who gives food to every creature and makes the rain fall on the just and unjust alike. You do the same whenever you give of yourself to help your neighbors with the necessities of daily life.
This same attitude of service to others should also carry over into other aspects of our daily lives. Honestly, one of the places it is most needed is in our homes. For where men, women, or children are primarily interested in their own desires and comfort strife abounds. But, where an attitude of Christian service prevails the little things that make life easier get done. There are disagreements but fewer fights. Violence and nagging disappear. Husbands treat their wives like queens instead of like slaves. And wives gladly pursue the benefit of their husbands. Teenagers are quicker to do their chores and will even go above and beyond the minimum requirement. Everybody see various things that need to be done and they just do them.
Yes, I know the reality is often different, but that difference shows that even we who have believed have more to learn and, yes, more to suffer. The work of conforming our lives to the pattern set by Jesus is not complete. But God’s grace is still sufficient for us and his power is perfected in our weakness. The same Spirit that transformed the apostles is at work within us. We who have been baptized with Jesus and have drunk from his cup, will receive the life Christ died to obtain for us. We have God’s Word on that.
Let us then seek God’s glory and the benefit of others, trusting that he who gave us salvation will also give us the opportunity to bless others as we have been blessed.