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Lent 5 2024
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
March 17, 2024
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:32-45


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            When you go to a professional sporting event; a football, baseball, basketball, soccer game or a hockey match, there is that magical moment when you walk through the tunnel into stands of and emerge into a bright new world.  As you sit and look around during the game, ask yourself, “Who is the greatest one there?” The star player, the coach, the celebrity in the sky box?  Who is the greatest?  It is an age old question.

Sometimes it seems that being one of Jesus’ 12 disciples would have been amazing, but being a follower of Jesus is really rough on the 12 disciples. This teacher is like no other and it is hard to keep up with all that He is doing and with all that He is teaching and all that he is saying is going to happen.  He is amazing.  He heals the sick, He raises the dead, He makes the blind see, He feeds thousands with five loaves of bread and a two fish.  The movement that started out so small is growing and growing.  Jesus is the Christ of God, the Messiah, the anointed one who has come to save His people.  His success and influence grows and grows, but then He keeps saying these strange things about what will happen when he goes to Jerusalem.

            Mark 8:31 (ESV) 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  The first time Jesus says this is right after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ.  When Peter hears that people are going to hurt Jesus, Peter declares that he is not going to allow it to happen.  Peter will protect Jesus.  But instead of being grateful for Peter’s care, Jesus rebukes Peter harshly.  Mark 8:33 (ESV) 33 … “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

            The next time Jesus teaches about what is going to happen in Jerusalem is after His transfiguration on the mountain and driving a demon out of a boy.  Mark 9:31 (ESV) 31 …“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

This time the disciples do not know what to say -- so they remain silent.  Although, it seems that as they travel along the road the 12 engage in the age old question, “Who is the greatest?”  Jesus is teaching them the ways of God, but they are clinging to the ways of man and Jesus reprimands them.  Mark 9:35 (ESV) 

35 … “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 

            Now, in today’s reading they are on the road to Jerusalem and Jesus tells them a third time, Mark 10:33–34 (ESV) 33 … “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” 

            This scene is really crazy.  Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem and Jesus has said that in Jerusalem they are going to condemn Him, mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him.  You do not have to be a genius to figure out how to make this better.  There is an easy answer to this problem.  Just stop.  Stop going to Jerusalem.  Turn around and go the other way.  They are going to kill you in Jerusalem.  Turning around is the plan that makes sense.  But Jesus’ ways are not the ways of the world.  Jesus’ ways do not make sense to the world. 

            So, how do the disciples respond to Jesus’ third description of what is going to happen to Him?  Rebuking Jesus for talking like this did not work.  Being silent did not resolve the tension.  Maybe they should just change the subject.  James and John ask Jesus to do whatever they ask -- and what is it they want?  Mark 10:37 (ESV) 37 … “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  James and John have figured out who is the greatest and it is the two of them.   

            The issue of greatness is an age old problem.  We desperately want other people to know that we are better than them.  In the corporate world there are marks of greatness displayed by those who have achieved success and by those who want to achieve.  You dress for success.  It matters greatly about the brand of your shoes and your wristwatch, the cut of your jacket, the cost of your car, and the color of your credit card.  These things are meant to impress others.  Where you sit at a sporting event shows your status. Are you in the skybox or right behind home plate, or are you way up top in an obstructed view seat?  Your natural, sinful self wants others to see how great you are.  Even after being reprimanded earlier for arguing about who is the greatest, James and John still want everyone to know that they are Jesus’ favorites; they are the greatest.

These two disciples do not comprehend what Jesus is repeatedly saying and He tells them, Mark 10:38 (ESV) 38 … “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  The spots to the right and left of Jesus in His glory are already reserved for two lowlifes who will be crucified next to Jesus who has made Himself a lowlife being executed on a cross. 

            Jesus will pray that this cup might pass, but He indeed will drink the cup of God’s wrath.  Jesus will be baptized in his own blood and intense suffering and torment. He will be immersed in God’s wrath as the penalty for the sin of the whole world. 

            Can James and John drink the cup and be baptized with Jesus’ baptism?  They will, but not until Jesus has drunk the cup and been baptized and left the blessing. You also drink the cup and are baptized with Jesus’ baptism.  You drink from Jesus’ cup at the Lord’s Supper.  1 Corinthians 10:16 (ESV) 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”  You have been baptized in Jesus baptism.  Galatians 3:27 (ESV) 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

            Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath and He was baptized with suffering and death on the cross.  His cup and baptism are, for you, a cup of blessing and a baptismal blessing, but there is still suffering attached.  To follow Jesus is to take up your cross.  James learns this when he is executed by the sword of Herod Agrippa in 44 AD.  John is grieved by the death of his brother and the other nine disciples executed for the faith.  It is thought that John is the only disciple to have died a natural death, although as an old man he is exiled to the island of Patmos where he receives the vision he records in the book of Revelation. 

            You are a baptized child of God.  You drink from the Lord’s cup of blessing and this marks you as an enemy of the world.  The world hates you because it hates Jesus and you are one with Jesus.  The ways of the world say you should reject Jesus to avoid the hate and the suffering and the self-denial; to avoid the cross.  This is the way of the world, but Jesus teaches, Matthew 5:11 (ESV) 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  God’s way is different than man’s way. 

Oh, dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken?  Jesus broke the law of the world that seeks after personal greatness, power, and glory.  Despite knowing what will happen, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to give His life as the ransom for you.

            Jesus knows that figuring out who is the greatest is the way of the world; declaring your greatness is the way of man.  Self-promotion is the how the world operates but that is not how Christians live.  Mark 10:42–44 (ESV) 42 …“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

            Christianity is radical rebellion against the culture. To be great is to be a servant to others.  As you enter the stadium remember the greatest at the sporting event is not the star player, not the coach, not the celebrity, but rather perhaps the security guard or the person grilling the hamburgers or the one sweeping the stands afterward.  Christian greatness is very different.  It is a very different life to be a Christian -- humbly serving others instead of promoting yourself. 

            Jesus’ life on earth was a life of serving others culminating in the ultimate service of giving His life in exchange for yours. Mark 10:45 (ESV) 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  

            Oh, dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken?  Jesus broke the law of the world that seeks after personal greatness, power, and glory.  Despite knowing what will happen, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to give His life as the ransom for you.

            The people of the world know how to avoid the difficulties and suffering of the cross.  They reject the cross and they are left in their sin.  Jesus comes to earth for the very purpose of going to the cross to save you. Contrary to everything that makes sense, Jesus gives Himself for you.  The Lord of the Universe is your servant.  Take up your cross and follow Him.  Amen.