I’m often taken in by the miracles that Jesus performed during the few years that he exercised his public ministry. I can only imagine what it must have been like to eat meals with him as one of his disciples or to walk from town to town observing him as he healed people and gathered followers.
As I read my Bible, I like to picture the scene, “smell” what was selling in the market places, and imagine the people who filled the story. I can see Middle-Eastern men and women with dark hair and dirty feet in dirty sandals caused by the dust from unpaved roads. They were real people after all, and these Biblical events truly took place. It was just so long ago.
Sometimes, because of this, it might be easy to think that these weren’t people quite like us. But, if you allow yourself to “breathe the ancient air” so to speak and submerge yourself into the story, you’ll find that within the crowds Jesus reached and even the disciples that followed him, there was a desire for significance, a competitive nature, and ambitions for success. Does this sound like anyone you know? Maybe we aren’t so different from them.
On this particular day, from Mark 10, Jesus was walking with his disciples. They had recently left one city and were entering Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. It was days before what we know as “The Triumphal Entry” or “Palm Sunday”. Jesus was focused on what was about to happen to him and so predicted his death to these men. He was about to give up his life for the sins of the world. He knew it would begin with betrayal and beatings and end in gruesome death.
Two of Jesus’ disciples, who also happened to be brothers, followed up this heart-wrenching conversation with a little request of their own. They seemed to have listened as Jesus poured out his heart regarding his upcoming death, but instead of preparing themselves for life after Jesus, they focused instead, on their own quest for significance. I’ve paraphrased, but it sounded something like this:
James and John: “So, we’ve been talking and we were just wondering if you would do us a favor?”
Jesus: “What is it?”
James and John: “In heaven, we’d like to sit in places of honor next to you. One of us on your right and the other on your left.”
Jesus: “You don’t know what you’re asking for! Are you willing to drink from the cup of sorrow that I’m about to drink from? Are you able to be immersed in the suffering that I’m about to be immersed in?”
I can’t help but think, what were you guys thinking? You had Jesus, literally inches from you, sharing his heart and what you’d need to know for the days to come and yet all you cared about was your position in front of everyone else.
But who am I kidding? As a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit indwelling me. He is living and active in my life. Multiple copies of God’s word are in my home, placed in my reach and there’s even a Bible app on my phone! If my heart will be surrendered and my hands faithful to pick it up, then I too, have the opportunity to hear all that God has for me. Like James and John, I’ve too often cared about my “position” and I have been filled with pride just like they were. I believe it’s that “noise” that keeps me from hearing what I so desperately need to hear from Him. And because of my own selfish desires, I have missed what was so obviously put in front of me. Can you relate?
Meanwhile, the other disciples heard about this conversation and they became a little ticked off. They can’t believe the audacity of these two brothers asking for such honor in heaven and anyway, what about them? Aren’t they significant?
Jesus rallied his disciples. I’m sure he knew how quickly a fight could break out among this diverse group of men. He began to refocus them yet again. He reminded them that kings and lords are tyrants over their people, but that they should be different from everyone else. Then he says, “I, the Son of Man came here not to be served, but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” He was leading by example. But, I can imagine a frustrated thought… If you knew what I was about to do for all of you, you wouldn’t be arguing about your place cards!
This mission wasn’t about place cards or being the guest of honor in heaven-and neither is ours. It also wasn’t about position or significance, although it seems too often that’s what our lives are focused on. As you’ve probably experienced, positions change and significance fades. Our lives here are momentary and vapor-like. So don’t waste time “arguing” with yourself or anyone else about your place. God desires for us to love his Son and to share him with others. According to scripture, He is the real host of the “party” and there’s room at the table for everyone who believes!