March 20, 2016
Palm Sunday is celebrated all around the world. On Palm Sunday Jesus presented himself to the people of Jerusalem as a king. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He was coming in peace. He was coming in humility and gentleness. As is often pointed out the people of Jerusalem hailed Jesus as king but just days later demanded that he be crucified. You see, Jesus did not fill their expectations. Many thought he would overthrow Roman occupation and reestablish the kingdom of Israel.
O he was Israel’s king alright. It’s just that his kingdom was not of this world. His kingdom doesn’t operate according to the ways of this world. Most of the people could not wrap their minds around what Jesus was doing. He didn’t fit their categories. We’ve been looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us. This morning I would like to bring this series to a close by looking at one last gift. In a sense it’s the most important gift. The greatest gift from Jesus is the gift of Himself.
I. YOU CAN ASK JESUS FOR THE WORLD. Mt.20:20-24
Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, going by way of Jericho, which was about 15 miles from Jerusalem. In v.17-19 Jesus took his disciples aside and explained that in Jerusalem he would be handed over to the Gentiles and would be crucified and raised on the third day, but they did not grasp what Jesus was saying. At some point the mother of James and John came to Jesus with a request.
Many believe that the mother of James and John was Jesus’ aunt. She was the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. This would mean that James and John were Jesus’ cousins. If this is true it adds a little drama to the story.
One more observation: while the mother of James and John was not praying, she was bringing a request to Jesus. If we were going to bring a request to Jesus we would call it prayer. So let’s think about this.
She came and knelt before Jesus. It was a mark of respect. She wanted to ask him for something, a gift. Notice that Jesus said, “What do you want.” Jesus often displayed the ability to know what was in the hearts and minds of people. Did he already know what she was going to ask? If so it strikes me that Jesus is very gracious. We can come to him with all our requests. But this request? Look at what she asked for.
She asked that when Jesus would establish his kingdom that her boys would be given the seats on either side of Jesus’ throne. Wow! Well, why not? Someone was going to get those places of honor. James and John were part of the family. Their mother was taking advantage of her position in the family. It’s what you do. Any of us who are parents might have done the same thing.
Last spring we were trying to figure out where Matthew could get a summer job. He applied at a few places with no response. One day it dawned on me that I knew some people in the Oak Park Park District. So I did what you might have done. I spoke with the people I knew and Matthew was able to get a job.
Joe Kennedy, father of the late President, John F. Kennedy, did everything he could do to get one of his boys in the White House. He had money and influence and he used it to his advantage. It’s what you do in this world.
It seems likely that James and John and their mother thought that when Jesus got to Jerusalem, he was going to take over and set up his kingdom. That would explain why this was on their minds. Jesus did not say “Forget it about it,” right off the bat. Instead he told them that they really did not comprehend the gift they were asking for. Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup that he would drink.
Now in the Bible the word “cup” can refer to one’s destiny. Sometimes it speaks of suffering or judgment. Sometimes it refers to good things. In Ps.16:5, we read, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” In Ps.116:13 it says, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.” Here Jesus was referring to his approaching suffering.”
Well, I don’t think the question registered very deeply in their minds. I don’t think they gave it much thought. They certainly did not connect the question with what Jesus told them would happen in Jerusalem. They just responded, “We are able.”
Sometimes when we want something bad enough we are unable to assess things with clarity. Our desire often keeps us from discerning our true motives and hinders us in seeing the consequences of our desires. In v.23 Jesus told them that they would drink from his cup but that those positions of honor were not his to dispense.
When the other 10 disciples caught wind of what was being requested they were indignant. Why? It’s because they also either wanted those places of honor for themselves or they just didn’t want James and John to have those places. It is often difficult to see a colleague promoted to a place of authority over ourselves. It’s a blow to our pride and desire.
Now men and women, this request revealed a huge failure on the part of James and John and their mother to understand the way of Jesus. As we will see in a moment, they were asking for something that was very worldly. That’s why I say they were asking for the world.”
We can ask for the world in any number of ways. Basically whenever we ask the Lord for something that is not in keeping with his ways, we are asking for the world. Maybe it is some material thing that you want. Well, if that thing is more important to you than the Lord, you are asking for the world. Maybe it is wealth that you want. Maybe you want to be in a relationship with someone, someone who doesn’t know or honor the Lord. Well, you are asking for the world. Maybe you want to be acknowledged, consulted, and recognized. You are asking for the world. Whenever we ask for something that will promote ourselves and enhance our pride, we are asking for the world.
And don’t miss the irony here. James and John were asking for positions of honor and power in the kingdom of God. They wanted positions of power in a Christian organization. It is often sad but true that in Christian ministries and churches you find selfish ambition, manipulation and pride. It is often true that the world shapes our desires and even our prayers.
Do you ever ask Jesus for the world? He will let you do it. Ask for what you want. But the gift you want is far inferior to the gift Jesus wants to give.
II. JESUS WANTS TO GIVE HIMSELF TO YOU. Mt.20:25-28
It was obvious to Jesus that he needed to get his team together for some further instruction. They had learned much in their three years together, but this particular issue seemed to come up again and again. More than once the disciples had argued among themselves about who was the greatest among them.
First Jesus describes how people in the world view power and authority. In the world people are all about having positions of power and authority. We see this in politics. We see it in the workplace. We see it in families and other social relationships. We even see it in churches. We want recognition and we would rather be in charge than take orders from others. The disciples and the mother of James and John, were just being their worldly selves. And as is so often the case, the ways of God in his kingdom are counter intuitive to our ways.
If we are in the kingdom of God then we must understand that the pathway to greatness is humble service. We must become servants. The word for servant is the word diakonos. We get our word, “deacon” from this word. Jesus is not saying that the pathway to greatness is to become a deacon in the church. The word, deacon refers to someone who waits on tables. It describes a position of humble service. Then Jesus adds that the way to go to the top of the class is by becoming a slave. A slave is someone who either willingly or by force gives himself up to the will of another.
Now if you have ever been a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or someone suffering with a debilitating illness, you know how humbling and difficult it can be. Opportunities for frustration, impatience and anger abound. We struggle because the person we are caring for essentially takes away freedoms we feel we are entitled to. As the caregiver you must give help for even the most basic activities of life. In the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s it is common for the person you are caring for to forget who you are, to be ungrateful and to say unkind things to you. In many ways this kind of caregiver has made themselves a slave, a servant to the person they are caring for. This is one of the most difficult ways to serve. But really, whenever we are selfless and humble in service we are on the pathway to greatness in the kingdom of God.
Many of us are far too consumed with our need to be right, our need to be in control, and our need to be affirmed. And these needs hinder us in service. It’s not that rightness is unimportant, or that authority is unnecessary, or that affirmation is useless. No. These things each have their place. But when we are driven by the need for these things then it is difficult to do what Jesus calls us to do.
In v.28, Jesus points to himself as the primary example of what he is talking about. Jesus came to give himself, to give his life. Jesus’ gift to us is himself. And you notice that he gives his life as a ransom for many. What is a ransom? It is interesting to note that this word appears only twice in the New Testament, here and in the parallel account in Mk.10. A different form of the word appears in 1Tim.2. Basically this word refers to a price that is paid to free slaves. Today there are ministries who actually pay a ransom to free girls who have been sold into sex slavery. They are slaves.
When Jesus uses this word he is referring to his death on the cross. On the cross Jesus gave his life as a ransom for us. He died in our place because of our sins. In Is.53:4-6 we read, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned (everyone) to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
This is exactly what Jesus did for us. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. He died the death of a criminal so that we might have the forgiveness of sins and receive life now in the kingdom of God. The greatest gift of Jesus is the gift of himself, his life. And that raises a question.
III. DO YOU WANT THE GIFT OF JESUS?
Over-past 9 weeks we’ve seen that JC is so generous, so gracious. He offers forgive-ness of all our sin, eternal living in his kingdom, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, abiding joy, his love that fills our lives, peace that goes beyond understanding, the gift of prayer, and an eternal home with him in heaven. But all of these gifts are based upon the greatest gift, which is himself. He gives us himself.
All of these gifts that Jesus offers are real and true, and many have already entered into the reality of these things. Have you? You say, “Well, I’m not sure. I have many questions.” Indeed, we all have many questions. But consider this. When Jesus lived on the earth, he invited people to follow him. Many of the people who followed him did not have a full understanding of what he was teaching. Many had questions about Jesus. But they saw enough and heard enough to recognize that what Jesus was doing and saying was good, true, and life changing. Some of his followers were simple fishermen like Peter. Others were skeptics like Thomas. Some had a strong political bent like Simon the Zealot, but what they all had in common is that they became followers, disciples of Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the One who connects us with the fullness of knowing God.
When a person embraces Jesus as Savior, Lord and king, it means they turn away from the life they have been living. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “You know, the life I’m living isn’t all that bad. I have a good job, a loving family, friends and outside interests. What am I missing?” Let me just say that these good things are also gifts from God. But there is more to our lives. All of us know what it is to be disobedient to the good commands of God. We’ve all thought things and done things that we feel guilty about. We’ve done things that we know are wrong. We’ve been unloving and have hurt others. We’ve refused to forgive others. We’ve lived for ourselves and our desires and have not acknowledged God or thanked God as our good Creator and Ruler. All of our hearts are filled with pride and self-will, and we are not better people for it. Jesus came to address these important issues by forgiving our sins and by giving us his new life, his new way of living. It’s called life in the kingdom of God.
Gift giving is an important part of our lives. We give gifts on birthdays, at Christmas, on special days like anniversaries or mother’s day. We give gifts when people get married or when a baby is born. We give gifts just out of friendship or love. We give gifts when people retire after years of faithful service. Sometimes the gifts we give are given more because it’s expected. I may not know the couple getting married very well, but I give a gift. Other times the gifts we give are extremely meaningful because we dearly love the person. Think about those kinds of gifts. How would you feel in someone only loved you because of the gifts you gave them? The hope is that we love the person giving the gift. Jesus has many wonderful gifts to give. And many people want whatever they can get from Jesus. But what about the gift of Jesus? Do you want Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Jesus said, “Believe in me.” Jesus said, “Follow me.” Do you want Jesus? Amen