A Savior Who Serves: Correction
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 10:35–10:45
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“A Savior Who Serves: Correction”
Have you ever helped a friend out when they needed something? One friend could have needed someone to work with them as they study for a test at school. Another might have had their car break down and asked you for a lift to work. Another was moving and asked for a hand in loading all their boxes and furniture into their rental truck, only to have to unload it all at their new place across town. Chances are you didn’t ask your friends to pay for your service. You just did it because they were your friends, and that’s what friends do. Maybe you’ve even lent a hand to a complete stranger, someone who needed directions or special assistance that only you could provide in that time and place. If it was no big deal, no great effort on your part, you might not have given it much thought. But if they’d required something more significant, something that required more effort on your part, that’s a little different, isn’t it? If you do something to help a stranger, you’re not looking for payback. You help just because it “seems like the right thing to do.” But what if that person you’d helped doesn’t even offer their thanks? Especially if you’ve gone out of your way or done something significant to assist someone, the least they could do is say “Thank you.” You’re entitled to that, right?
James and John probably would have agreed with you. These two brothers were a couple of Jesus’ closest associates, part of his inner circle. They’d been with him and shared time that not even the rest of the twelve disciples had. They knew that Jesus was someone special; that he was God’s chosen Messiah. And they apparently had some particular ideas about what that meant. They might have suspected that something big was about to happen. Would Jesus finally take his rightful place as ruler of a new kingdom, driving the enemy out and establishing his authority over the world, as the Scriptures promised? These sons of Zebedee –– whom Jesus called “sons of Thunder,” as Mark noted back in the third chapter of this Gospel – come to Jesus with a bold request. They want the places of honor at Jesus’ side when he comes into his glory. They’re some of Jesus’ best buddies. They’ve been at his side for years, traveling here and there as he taught the people. Why shouldn’t they continue in their role? They’re entitled to that, right? So when Jesus asks James and John if they are able to drink the cup that he will drink or to be baptized as he will be baptized, the brothers apparently assume that he’s asking them if they’re willing to fight beside him in the battle that’s to come. Bravely, James and John proclaim that they’re ready! But they don’t know what they’re asking, nor do they understand the question that Jesus had put to them. Simply put, they don’t get it.
In the verses right before the record of this incident, Jesus foretells his own death a third time. He knew that the cup that we would drink: the cup of God’s wrath. The Scriptures of the Old Testament repeatedly refer to that cup, filled to the brim with the Lord’s judgment against the sin of the world. The baptism of which Jesus spoke, the inundation that would soon wash over him, would come in his suffering and death as a willing sacrifice. James, John, and the other disciples have not comprehended what Jesus has taught them: that he, the Christ, must do what must be done – he must carry the weight of God’s holy judgment. Someone must take the cup and the baptism that the world has earned before things can be set right with God. And Jesus alone can do that. Jesus’ question to James and John is ultimately rhetorical: no one but he could pay the price for the world’s sin. He has to die to defeat the enemy, because he is a Savior who serves.
When the other disciples hear of the brothers’ request, they get all worked up. Why should James and John get special treatment? The rest of them have been with Jesus for about the same amount of time. They’ve walked with him and gone out as agents of his mission. Why shouldn’t they be considered for special places of authority under Jesus’ rule? Aren’t they equally entitled to special provision? Problem is they’ve got it all wrong.
What is authority? Greatness? Jesus’ disciples seem be thinking about such things like we might today, so he calls them together to set them straight. He provides correction, a complete reversal of their understanding of how the world works. It seems confusing. As Jesus lays it out, greatness isn’t measured by how many people serve you; rather, it comes from serving others. And the one who would be first needs be a slave to all. How is that not the exact opposite of greatness? To be great is to be appreciated, to have people willing to serve you, right? Isn’t it about have everything to which your work or your role has entitled you? To be in charge? To be better than others? If you’ve living that way, you’ve been deceived. You’ve got it all wrong.
Jesus didn’t come to be served. There’d be no point in that. As God, the Son has authority above all; yet He set that aside. He would drink the cup of God’s wrath as the Savior who serves. Mark once again points us to Jesus as the man of action who steps up and does what no one else could – not to make himself great, but to be servant to all. When he tells James and John that they would share in the cup and baptism that would come, he’s not telling them that they would give their lives to save the world. They would suffer for the sake of the gospel, but their real sharing in Jesus’ fate would come from the ransom that he would pay. That’s why Jesus came to give his life, putting aside his authority and glory to settle humanity’s debt before God. James and John would know the forgiveness that Jesus bought for their selfish superiority and their expectation of entitlement. And so can you.
Do you want authority so that people will obey you? Do you think that you’re entitled to having things done the way you want them done, to having people serve you? When it comes down to it, that’s idolatry. You’re setting yourself up as first and greatest in your life. But you’re not God. Jesus is, though, and he comes to you today as a Savior who serves, offering loving correction and redemption. He has shown us what it means to be the greatest by giving himself as a ransom, taking the cup of God’s wrath that was meant for you and me. He calls us his friends, moving heaven and earth to give us a new home with at his Father’s side – and he doesn’t even need a rental truck! (And you don’t even have to lure him over with pizza and beverages for compensation.) Reversing our understanding of greatness, Jesus served us all.
In this season of Lent as we continue to look to Jesus as a Savior who serves, I invite you to enjoy Jesus’ correction. That might sound strange. Correction isn’t usually a pleasant thing. When you’re doing something the way you think it should be done or thinking in a particular way only to have someone or something outside yourself correct you, a struggle ensues. There’s the way that it’s been and the way that it ought to be. But with Jesus’ correction, the “way that it ought to be” is the way that God would have you go for your good. Lay down the burden of fighting to be great in the eyes of the world, lording authority over others. Take on the role of one who is slave to all out of love. Living as servants, follow Jesus. Consider the ways in which you can serve in your friends, your coworkers (especially subordinates, and your family. Whether it is at work, school, or in your marriage, listen to Jesus’ correction and use the authority that you have been given to build others up.
As people who have Jesus as our Savior who serves, we are entitled to nothing. But through him, we have everything.