Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jesus' Right and Left

Sermon on Mark 10:32-45
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
March 22, 2015 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

James and John didn’t get it.  They didn’t understand what Jesus had come to do.  They thought, like the rest of the disciples, like many other Jews at the time, that the Messiah would come to free Israel from the Romans and restore it to its former glory under kings David and Solomon.  All the talk about Jesus dying on the cross and then being raised again three days later either disturbed and upset them, or it went completely over their heads.  Even if they had some idea that the crucifixion and resurrection had to happen first for some reason, they still assumed that Jesus was going to restore the physical nation of Israel to its former glory, and that this whole death and resurrection thing was probably just a detour necessary to fulfill some prophecy or another.  And so, after hearing Jesus talk again about His death, James and John try to change the subject (actually, we learn from other Gospels that they enlisted their mom).  They would rather talk about what they think is going to happen after that.  That’s the part that they are interested in.  They’re interested in who is going to be part of Jesus’ cabinet when He becomes king of Israel.  They want to be His second and third in command in the new government.

Of course, the other disciples don’t like that.  But even though they might sound like they’re offended that James and John would be so arrogant, the fact is they just wish they’d had the idea first.  They all want to have high positions in Jesus’ supposed new government, and they’re annoyed that James and John were the first ones to ask.  None of them really understands what Jesus is here for.  None of them really understands that the death and resurrection stuff isn’t just something Jesus has to get through in the process of becoming king.  None of them understands the fact that it is precisely in His death on the cross that He becomes king.  Which is why when Jesus asks them if they can drink the cup He will drink and be baptized with the baptism He is baptized with, they immediately, and without giving it much thought, say they can.  They have no idea what they are being asked to do.

It’s easy, by the way, to sit back with our 20/20 hindsight and think that we would have done better than James and John in this situation.  But we too, according to the old Adam in us, don’t like the idea that the kingdom of God came by suffering, and specifically suffering for our sins.  We too would like Christianity to be something that rules the world and determines also civil law.  Many Christian groups spend most or all of their energy, not on examining themselves and repenting, but on trying to fix the evils of society.  We Lutherans have been hesitant to get involved in the civil sphere, and there are reasons for that.  Our mission has to do with individual repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, not on fixing the worlds problems as such.  It’s only when the most innocent and helpless (the unborn) are involved, or when we are told we must support a problematic agenda with the money in our own Synod’s benefit plans, that we have spoken out as an organization rather than as individual citizens.  But that isn’t what many Christians want to see.  They want to see the Church ruling the world.  After all, if we’re all about telling everyone else what to do, then we can distract ourselves from our own sin and our own need for forgiveness.

Jesus came to bear the punishment for the sins of the world.  Only death can atone for sin.  But one man’s death only atones for that man’s own sin, unless that one man is both perfect and God Himself.  And so the cup He will drink and the baptism He will be baptized with, are nothing less than bearing the sin of the whole world and dying with the wrath of God the Father falling upon Him full-force.  That’s not something any human being, even James and John, who with Peter are the inner circle among the disciples, can ever do.  Only Jesus can do that.

But Jesus does say that they will drink His cup and be baptized with His baptism.  That doesn’t make sense, if they can’t.  Well, they can’t in their own right, though they will be treated in ways that resemble His death.  James will be the first of the Twelve to be martyred.  John will be exiled and will outlive all the others.  Peter will be crucified upside-down.  Andrew will be crucified on an X-shaped cross.  But Jesus isn’t just referring to the fact that they, too, will be treated the way Jesus was treated.  He is referring to the fact that His death and resurrection will become theirs.  He dies for them.  He dies for you and me.  His death atones for their sin, and ours.  But what’s more, is we participate in His death and resurrection.  When you were baptized, you died with Him, and rose with Him.  You really were there on the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, dying and rising with Him.  And the body and blood that were given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, the same body and blood that rose again as the first-fruits of the new creation where we will live forever, are present for us to eat and drink in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  James and John, as well as you and me, really do participate in His death and resurrection, through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (by the way, that’s why Jesus chooses the words he does, emphasizing the cup and the baptism, because it is those Sacraments which give us His death and resurrection to be our own).

As for the question of who will sit on His right and His left when He comes into His kingdom, His Father answered that question, too.  But you have to understand that Jesus’ kingdom is one of the forgiveness of sins.  Which means His throne is where He gives that forgiveness from.  When Jesus came into His kingdom, when He was crowned and given His throne, none of the Twelve were on His right or on His left, though John was standing in front of Him with Mary His mother.  When Jesus came into His kingdom, those on His right and on His left were thieves.  One repented of his sin and trusted in Jesus for salvation, the other mocked Him.  But the point is, the throne is the cross.  The crown is made of thorns.  And so those who are with him are not those who are most loyal to Him but notorious criminals, as is appropriate for the one who became sin itself for us.  His right- and left-hand men at this most important time in His life were sinners, as He took on the sin of the world.  But it is because He did that, that we also can hear and believe what He says to the thief who repented: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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