Are You Able?

Fifth Sunday in Lent

29 March Anno Domini 2009

By Rev. S. D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, OR


Mark 10:32-45

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, 33 saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles. 34 "And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again." 35 And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You." 36 And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 37 And they said to Him, "Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 39 And they said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 "But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 41 And hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 "But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen!

It’s hard to believe but Lent is nearly over, this is the last Sunday in Lent. Next week is Holy Week. Not so many weeks ago we began our Lenten journey with a question. Maybe you remember it? It was right after Jesus and his disciples had descended from the Mount of Transfiguration. They were walking on the road and He asked them, "Who do people say that I am?" They responded with a variety of answers. Some say, John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; yet others, one of the prophets.” Then He makes the question more personal. “But who do you say that I am?”  It was Peter who responded first, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” So Peter wouldn’t think that he had come into this knowledge on his own, Jesus says: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” In other words, there is no way that you could ever figure this out, Peter, only God can give such knowledge.

I’m reminded Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism. It’s about the Holy Spirit it says: I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

Peter couldn’t have come to the knowledge of the Christ on his own, but neither can we.

After Peter’s confession Jesus begins to speak plainly about what must happen. He tells them He must go to Jerusalem, He must suffer many things and He must be rejected by the elders, chief priest and scribes and be killed and after three days rise again.

But the idea of Jesus suffering and the death of his Christ just doesn’t fit into Peter’s idea of what God’s Kingdom should be like. So he rebukes Jesus, “May it never be, no way Jesus, heaven forbid.”

Can you imagine such arrogance? Trying to tell God what His Kingdom should be like? But yet, wasn’t Peter just trying to have God live up to his expectations? Have things the way he wanted them? In reality don’t we do the same? Don’t we try to shape God into an image that we can get our minds around? Why have a God that requires suffering, why not have a God that gives out fortune and fame?  After all don’t we know best?

But in the end Peter is rebuked by Jesus for desiring not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of man.

As the Lenten Season began with a question so it will end with one. But this time the question doesn’t start with Jesus. It starts with two of His disciples, James and John the children of Zebedee. By the way these two have an interesting nickname, “Sons of Thunder” a name Jesus gave them. Scripture doesn’t tell us why this name. But maybe when you hear their question you might come up with your own reason. Here’s their question: "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." They practically ask Jesus to sign a blank check. But Jesus doesn’t buy it instead He asks a question in return: "What do you want me to do for you?" The thunderous pair blurt out, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

The disciples are sincere and forthright but they have misunderstood. "In your glory" is equivalent to "in your Kingdom."  They believe that Jesus in talking about rising up in a glorious dominion over His enemies, establishing an earthly kingdom that will have no end. They like Peter have their own preconceived notions about what Christ Kingdom is and how His glory fits into that. They were trying to turn the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of man.

Jesus signals them to stop pursuing this course. "You don’t know what you’re asking. Jesus uses a common practice of the time in Roman-Greco debate. He answers a question with a question. I think every parent and spouse learns this technique. Can I have a cookie? Is the lawn mowed? Are you going to the store? Do you want to drive? Would like to go out to dinner? Where do you want to go?

Jesus asks them: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Jesus is being gentle. "Drink" represents Jesus active obedience to His suffering, and "baptized" denotes His passive obedience to His death.  He is implying that the way to glory is the way of suffering and death. In other words the way of God’s glory is not through physical power and might. It’s through meekness, lowliness, suffering and death.

Jesus refers to His arrest, scourging, and crucifixion as drinking from the cup and being baptized. You might remember the Old Testament references to someone drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. This is what Jesus is talking about—the cup of suffering and a baptism of blood. He doesn’t come right out and ask James and John, do you want to come and be crucified as I will be? But perhaps that would have been easier for the disciples to understand. For they at this point still do not accept that Jesus must be tortured and killed. They think He’s going to establish eternal rule right then and there on Earth!

The failure of the disciples to grasp and accept the passion and death of our Lord is a consequence of the theology of glory, and it continues today. It’s the theology of self. It’s about what I want. The theology of the cross accepts suffering and turns to the Lord for strength in the certain hope of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It looks at what He (T) wants. The theology of glory puts us in spiritual danger when we encounter suffering. Because it leads us to believe that suffering is not part of the Christian life. 

Each of us by nature is a theologian of glory. Even when we hear Jesus’ teaching about bearing our crosses and being persecuted for His name’s sake, we still stop and respond to trials and adversity with despair, shock, and we ask Why? Why me Lord? Take this cup from me! By nature we believe that our status as God’s children will somehow insulate us from hardship.

That’s what makes the theology of glory so deadly, for it is often far more subtle than the more obvious examples. Anyone who is familiar with the words of Jesus should be suspicious of those who preach of the excitement and success caused by the Christian life. We’ve all heard those enthusiastic types who talk about how your life will be changed forever when you receive Jesus into your heart. There are those who truly believe that becoming a Christian will solve all your financial difficulties, fix all your marital problems, and make you a better person in general. And in the end, it creates a false sense of security because it teaches you to believe that God owes you something. And when He doesn’t pay up then it must mean you have no faith. No faith, no hope, no reason to continue in the church.

I’m not trying point out the weaknesses of those who are not Lutheran theologians of the cross. The Scriptures themselves reveal the consequences of this theology of glory. The disciples gathered together and hid in fear after Jesus was crucified. That first Good Friday did not end in quiet reverence and hopeful anticipation of the first Easter morning. No, there were followers of Jesus who were left in the depths of despair because they expected the kingdom of glory without having to suffer for it, and they thought all was lost because Jesus had died.

The Lord told James and John that they didn’t know what they were asking for. And it’s the same for you today when we pray not according to God’s will but according to our own. When our theology of glory trumps our theology of the cross, we begin to expect the Lord to grant us our every wish. And if He doesn’t we expect Him to explain Himself. The Lord has promised to grant you everything you need, not everything you want.

Jesus is the one and only focus of the theology of the cross. Theology of the cross keeps its eye on the ball, the one who is the crucified and risen Christ. And He is the Christ who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. It is the Christ who shed his blood and died for your sins and was raised again for your justification. It is the Christ who did not say believe in me and I’ll grant you your every wish and desire, but who said you will be hated and persecuted for my name’s sake, and you will suffer and perhaps die for believing in me.

As God’s child, you will indeed drink the cup of suffering as long as you are on this earth. You will be harassed by the unbelieving world, you will face trials and tribulation, and you will be tormented by conscience and contrition over sin. Yet, Jesus has promised to give you peace from these crosses. For He forgives your iniquity, He absolves your sin and He removes it from you as far as the east is from the west. He calls you to His altar; there He gives you the visible and touchable promise of His own body and blood shed for the forgiveness of sin.

You indeed are able because God’s grace is sufficient for you, dear fellow redeemed, for in it you have the sure and certain promise of the forgiveness of all of yours sins and the blessedness hope of everlasting life in the Name of the Father and of the (T) Son and of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus name, amen and amen!

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.