Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (B)

March 22, 2015
Text: Mark 10:32-45

            Jesus does not rebuke James and John for their request.  After all, they had simply taken Jesus at His Word.  Did He not say, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7; ESV)?  Throughout His earthly ministry, our Lord taught us to ask God in prayer “as dear children ask their dear Father” (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction).  Dear children ask their dear fathers for all sorts of things, many of which would not be beneficial for them.  As a father, I am asked for candy probably 12 times a day, and that doesn’t include the candy petitions my wife receives from the same three dear children.  If we said yes every time we were asked, our kids would already be in dentures.  But it isn’t wrong for them to ask.  They ask the right people.  They ask those who have God-given authority over them, who have been entrusted with their health and welfare, and who hopefully have enough wisdom to balance the concern for a healthy diet with the occasional joy of sugary treats.  As an imperfect earthly father, my goal (though I often fail miserably) is still to always hear the needs and desires and requests of my children, and respond to them in love and for the good of their bodies and souls.  And if I, then, who am evil, know how to give good gifts to my children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matt. 7:11).  So also, our Lord Jesus.  The point is, you can ask God anything.  He always hears your prayers.  He never fails.  Even when you ask for things that are not good for you.  He hears.  And He always answers.  He always responds with something good.  The answer is never simply “No.”  No prayer falls from a Christian’s lips without some benefit bestowed by God.  Oh, He may not give you exactly what you want in the manner and time you have prescribed.  But He will give you what is good.  You can count on it.  Your prayers are never in vain.  When God does not give you what you want, it is because He is giving something better. 
            Jesus does not give James and John their request.  He answers their prayer by giving them something better.  He teaches them.  He teaches them that the Son of Man is glorified (and therefore also His Christians are glorified), not by sitting in the highest seat, being honored and served, but in serving and giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Jesus turns everything on its head.  This is the theology of the cross over and against the theology of glory.  James and John are theologians of glory.  They want to be exalted, being Jesus’ right and left hand men, His closest advisors, His trusted confidants.  They want the VIP seats in heaven.  Though it is not wrong for them to ask, to be sure, their motivation is all wrong.  Pride, one of the seven deadly sins… Pride, which goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18)… Pride is what leads them to ask.  “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).  Pride responds: “We are able” (v. 39).  James and John don’t know what they are saying.  For Jesus is a theologian of the cross.  The cup He drinks is that of His bitter suffering and death for the sins of the world.  The Baptism with which He is baptized is the Baptism of His blood shed for proud and fallen humanity, to save us from eternal death.  And in this way, by doing this for James and for John, for you and for me, Jesus Christ is glorified, and He glorifies our Father who is in heaven.
            James and John make their request out of pride, but don’t be too hard on them.  They had simply beaten the other 10 to the punch.  That the 10 were indignant betrays the guilt of their own pride and lust for honor.  And if you had been there, you would have done the same.  Our harshest judgments are reserved for those whose sins we see in ourselves.  We are proud that we aren’t as prideful as James and John.  Not to mention how much greater are the sins of those in the pew across the aisle, or the yayhoo driving in front of us on the way to Church.  Judgment and self-exaltation are the fruits of pride, which is deadly.  Repent.
            And hear the teaching of Jesus: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (v. 42).  For that is the way of our Lord.  He who is, by definition, greatest among us, God in the flesh, becomes our Servant, is made a Slave, bound, beaten, nailed to the tree, that God may exalt Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His own right hand (Phil. 2:5-11).  “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  The glory of Jesus Christ is to be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, to be condemned to death and delivered over to the Gentiles, to be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed (vv. 33-34).  He is crucified between two thieves, one on His right and one on His left, as He comes into His glory (probably not what James and John had in mind).  His glory is to shed His blood and give His life.  For you.  For the whole world.  To make you His own.  To win for Himself a people and a Kingdom.  “And then after three days he will rise” (v. 34).  That is the theology of the cross. 
            Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath for your sins, drinks it down to the very dregs.  He is baptized in His own blood, gushing from every part of His Body, His sacred head wounded for you, His hands, His feet, His side, pierced for you, the scourge marks all over His flesh suffered for you.  But in this something amazing happens.  Your debt to God is paid.  Your bondage to sin and death and the devil is broken.  And what was a bitter cup becomes now the sweet cup of blessing that is a participation in the Blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).  The Baptism with which you are baptized becomes now the font of new birth and eternal life.  Your robes are washed white in the Blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14).  James and John and the 10 and you do drink the cup of the Lord and you are baptized into Christ.  But you drink and are baptized from the other side of our Lord’s death and resurrection.  What was death to Him has become life for you.  What was the payment for your sin has become the gift of His righteousness to you.  From His spear-riven side poured water and blood, the water of the font, the Blood of the Supper.  You are born and nourished by Jesus’ death.  You live on His life.  His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. 
            That being said, there is no room for pride.  Jesus has done it all.  What do you have that you have not received (1 Cor. 4:7)?  Everything you have is a gift, undeserved, given by grace.  So that changes your prayers.  As you grow and mature in the faith, you recognize that prayers for your own exaltation at the expense of others are not all that helpful.  It is not wrong to ask for an improvement in your earthly position.  But don’t be surprised if Jesus gives you a lesson in humility instead, which is far better.  It is far better to state your needs to the Father in Jesus’ Name, and then let Him work out all the details.  It is far better to pray for the needs of your neighbor than the luxury and comfort of your own flesh.  And it is far better to become your neighbor’s servant and slave, that at the proper time God may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).  You can even give your life for your neighbor, suffer for your fellow Christians, die for the Name of Christ, be a martyr, knowing that Christ died for you, and that just as He is risen, He will raise you.  Self-sacrifice for the sake of another is actually your glory, even as it is Christ’s.  Suffering for the Name of Jesus is a tremendous honor.  Of course it isn’t pleasant at the time, and it isn’t something you seek out, but when God bestows it, you rejoice and give thanks, for great is your reward in heaven.  That is the theology of the cross.  And the cross is always given for your good.

            As it happens, when our children ask for candy, most of the time we give them something more nutritious.  Sometimes we make them go without, or we give them broccoli, which is hard for them to bear.  Then again, sometimes we do give them candy.  Because we want them to have joy.  So it is with our God.  When we ask Him for things that are not necessary for our body or soul, He responds by giving us the good gifts we really need.  He is our dear Father.  He knows what is best for us.  He always hears our prayers, and He always answers for our good.  Sometimes He makes us go without, or He gives us a cross, which is hard for us to bear.  Then again, He gives us an awful lot of candy.  Because He wants us to have joy.  But He wants our joy not to be in the candy, but in the Giver of the candy and the daily bread and the cross.  He wants our joy to be in the cup and in the Baptism and in His teaching us.  He wants our joy to be in Jesus, who does not rebuke us for our prayers, but gives us His Kingdom.  And in this way, you can take Him at His Word: “Ask, and it will be given to you.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

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