By Paul Koch –
Imagine what it must have been like to be one of those original disciples of our Lord. Out of all the Rabbis one could follow, this one was different. Everything about Jesus of Nazareth was different. He didn’t wait for His potential disciples to come to Him; He called them out of their various vocations. He taught differently as one with real authority. He did amazing things again and again in their sight. He cast out demons and healed the sick and the lame. He made blind people see and caused the deaf to hear. Clearly this one was not just another prophet, not even the great Elijah sent from God. This one was the Messiah, the long awaited Christ, the Son of the living God. Imagine all they saw and heard. Imagine the excitement and wonder of it all.
Imagine how strange, then, it must have been to hear the one you follow and love so much speaking often, not about His exploits as a healer and worker of miracles, but about His own death. In the midst of all the powerful displays of His divinity Jesus keeps telling His disciples about how He will be delivered into the hands of men. He will be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and then be put to death. Then, on the third day He will rise again. What He keeps reminding them doesn’t fit with the displays of power and it doesn’t fit with the moments of glory. This is probably why every time He speaks about it the disciples fail to understand what it is He’s talking about.
The first time Jesus tells His disciples that He will suffer many things, be killed, and rise on the third day Peter takes him aside and begins to rebuke Him for making such a statement. After all, this is not the type of Messiah they wanted. It simply didn’t fit with everything they had come to expect from His work and ministry up to this point. The second time He tells them about the things to come they begin to have a passionate discussion, not about what it means that He is going to suffer and die, not about the promise of the resurrection, but about who is greatest among the disciples. The third time He makes His passion prediction it results in James and John making a request of Jesus.
This request by the sons of Zebedee further highlights the disciples’ failure to understand what it is our Lord is preparing to do. They demand that Jesus do what they ask of Him – before they ask it, of course. This language is pretty bold; it’s similar to when a child demands that you not be upset before they tell you what they’ve done. But Jesus hears them out and asks them what it is they want. They say, “Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and one on your left, in your glory.” What they desire is the two most important places of authority when He comes into His glory. They want to sit to the immediate right and left of Jesus himself. If that wasn’t troubling enough, the rest of the disciples also seem to be upset. It doesn’t seem, though, that they are upset because James and John bypass the news of Jesus’ coming passion. Rather they seem upset that they asked for authority over the other disciples, authority they wanted for themselves. They too wanted the glory.
Glory is the secret desire of all mankind. There is such a plethora of glories available! Sometimes our glory looks like the desires of our world, the desire to gain fame and fortune. This is the glory that comes with the thrill of being popular: having more followers on your Twitter feed and friends on your Facebook page than someone else. The glory of our world comes with being in charge and with having authority over other people. It is the glory that is found in our politics: from the Presidency of the United States all the way down to your neighborhood homeowners association. Then there is the glory that comes with a sense of fairness and justice. This is the glory that we demand when we have been wronged or when we haven’t been compensated for doing right. It is a glory that comes with the wielding of the law to make sure we get recognition for our sacrifices and credit for our performances.
And yet, there is still another avenue of glory that we long to journey down. There is the glory that we reach for when we seek to take a hold of God and His gifts and claim authority and control over them. This is the glory of the secret wisdom of God: to assume His ways are our ways, or that we possess a knowledge greater than anyone else. Such a glory flows from believing that we have it all figured out. We may think that all there is left to do is correct others but never to examine ourselves. This is the glory of the Pharisee thanking God that He did not make him like other men, the glory of the disciples arguing over who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, the glory of the sons of Zebedee demanding to sit at our Lord’s right and left hand. What it amounts to is believing that God will conform to our ideals and goals.
Now, our Lord responds to His disciples’ quest for their own glory, not with a harsh rebuke nor abandoning them in their failure to receive Him as He comes. No, He instructs them. First He unfolds what His glory means. For His glory is not defined by them. “You do not know what you are asking.” He says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” These are images of his coming, suffering, death, and what he has been telling them the whole time. He is the one who will drink the cup of the wrath of God. He will drink to the dregs the punishment for the sins of the world. He will be washed in a suffering and death as He repents for sins that are not His own, but yours. This is the road to His glory. This share in such suffering is all He offers them.
Because they are His disciples, they will in fact drink of the cup and be baptized with the baptism. Their journey and our journey is to share in the sufferings of our Lord. His death, in fact, becomes our death. His life is our life. As Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” James and John wanted seat of power and authority. They wanted prestige according to their understanding of glory, but our Lord turns everything over. His glory will not be defined as a ruler of Jerusalem or an earthly king, rather His glory is found when He is lifted upon that cross. The places at His left and at His right are not His to give. They are already prepared for two others, for two thieves. His glory will be to join in the punishment of low and filthy sinners of our world.
Our Lord radically turns over the established patters of lordship and authority and glory in our world. He says that such things are the ways of the Gentiles, the ways of those outside the household of faith. But for His disciples, for those who follow him, everything is different. He himself sets the pattern for our life. He has not come to be served, but to serve. He has not come to collect our good works or to give us badges of glory, but rather to give His own life for us. The first becomes last and the last becomes first because the rules of worldly glory no longer apply.
Without any merit or worthiness in you, He drank the cup of the wrath. He endured the baptism of pain and suffering on the cross. He did it, not so that you would serve Him with your great deeds, but that He might serve you with righteousness and mercy. Our glory is not found in ourselves but in the work and word of Christ alone. This comes outside of our passions, desires, and works. It is a Word that declares you to be forgiven: forgiven for all your sins.
In His turning of everything over, our Lord then sets you free in an incredible new life. It is a life where your glory is found in a Lord who served you with His own life, death, and resurrection. You glory is secure, then, in the gift of Christ which means that you are free to live a radical new life. You are given a life where your freedom is turned in service to each other. A life where you no longer have to seek your own glory, but you are free in Christ to serve each other. Free to be the children that He has called you to be.