Dying to the Gift
Sunday, November 12th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
32 And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, 33 Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34 And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. 36 And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37 They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39 And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40 But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Father, we thank you for sending Christ to lead us back to Paradise. We thank you Lord Jesus for offering your life as a ransom for many. And we thank you Holy Spirit for redeeming our lowly nature, and elevating us through faith, hope, and charity to abide and dwell with God. Teach us now the proper use of authority, and the essence of real greatness, as we meditate upon Your Word. In Jesus name, Amen.
If you could change one thing about yourself or about your life, what would it be? If God came to you like He came to Solomon and said, “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kings 3:5), what would you say? What would you ask God for?
- Solomon asked for wisdom, and God gave him not only wisdom and an understanding heart, but also riches, honor, and the promise of a long life if he kept God’s commandments.
- It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine yourself in Solomon’s position. To be king for a day, or a year, or longer. To have God’s blessing, to possess great wisdom, and to also have wealth and power and a healthy body. Who wouldn’t want those things that seem to make life easier and more pleasurable?
- Well one of the chief purposes of Mark’s Gospel is to portray for us what a king ought to be. The Gospel of Mark is a revelation of Jesus Christ as the true son of David, and therefore as a new and more faithful King Solomon.
- Already, Mark has emphasized this aspect of Christ’s kingship through his fighting with wild beasts in the wilderness (Mark 1:13), by his showdowns with the Pharisees (Mark 2:23-27), and by drawing many other parallels between the life of David as he was hunted by Saul, and the life of the Jesus as he is hunted by Herod, by demons, and by those who desire to murder him.
- The life of Jesus after his baptism (his anointing) is the life of a wanted man. Just as David was anointed long before he ever reigned in Jerusalem, so also Jesus in his earthly ministry. And here for the first time in Mark’s gospel, we are told exactly where he is going, he is going to Jerusalem to die and rise again. That is the path the king of kings walks for his people.
- And so what we have in the life of Jesus, is the pattern for how authority is to be wielded in this world. If you have any authority over someone else, whether as a governor, or boss, or manager, or teacher, or parent, or older sibling, whatever sphere of authority God has given you, however small or large, Jesus gives us the pattern for how to wield that authority well. What is authority for? What is the gift of kingship for? What is a leader or ruler supposed to look like? Jesus is giving his disciples the answers to these questions because they are going to lead and rule the church.
- So as we walk through this text, let us his consider how we might imitate Christ’s actions and obey his words.
Division of the Text
Our text could be divided into three sections.
- In verses 32-34, Jesus foretells his future death and resurrection.
- In verses 35-40, James and John ask Jesus to give them honor and authority.
- In verses 41-45, Jesus explains the purpose for his coming to earth.
32 And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid.
- Notice first of all, that a king goes before his people. Mark wants us to know that while they are walking to Jerusalem on their way to celebrate the Passover, it is Jesus who “went before them.” Jesus is zealous to accomplish his task. He is a man on a mission, and his sole desire is to do the will of His Father.
- When leaders lack this kind of single-minded conviction, it is easy to grow idle, it is easy to go astray. And in the worst cases, like King David, some men abdicate their role as commander in chief, they delegate certain tasks that ought not to be delegated, and they choose to stay back and lounge in their palace. This is a real temptation for anyone who has been given power and authority. You are tempted to sit and be ministered to, rather than get out in front and minister to your people. David abdicated, he stayed behind, and what did that lead to? Adultery, murder, and civil war.
- But what does Jesus do, he arises and goes before his disciples, and they follow him in fear and amazement. Why are they amazed?
- We are not told exactly, but perhaps they are perplexed why his face is now set like flint to go to Jerusalem. Or perhaps it is because he just said that
“the first shall be last, and the last first,” and now here he goes first in front of them. This is a real turning point in Jesus’ ministry, and Jesus tells them for a third time what is going to happen to him.
And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, 33 Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34 And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
- What does a king do for his people? In what sense is a king first? He goes before them as a shepherd goes before his sheep. He is the first to go into danger. And because he is the tip of the spear, he also suffers first and foremost.
- In this case, the wolves are the chief priests, scribes, and Gentiles. And because they are hungry for the flesh of the righteous, Jesus is going to be mocked, scourged, spit upon, and slaughtered. And only after a brutal crucifixion, shall he rise again. This is the work Jesus is zealous to accomplish, and yet despite his plain words, the disciples continue to not understand. They are still thinking of the kingdom in carnal terms.
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.
- Here are two of the men in Jesus’ “inner ring,” who are asking for a blank check to get from Jesus whatsoever they desire. Their mindset after hearing of his immanent death and resurrection is what can I get from Jesus, not what I can give to Jesus.
- Despite Jesus having just rebuked them for arguing over who should be the greatest (Mark 9:34), the disciples have not given up that contest, and James and John are intent on winning.
36 And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37 They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
- This is the ask: to sit on either side of Christ in glory. They want to be exalted with Jesus in the highest possible places of honor. How does Jesus respond to such a lofty request?
38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
- James and John are kind of like two toddlers that wants to drive their dad’s sportscar, but if they were put into the driver’s seat and given the keys, they would not even be able to reach the gas pedal. What they imagine they can do, is totally beyond their actual abilities.
- So Jesus says to them, you don’t know what you are asking. James and John are only thinking about the laurels of victory, of fame, of glory, and the authority they will have over everyone else. What they are not thinking about is all the responsibilities and duties that come with such a position.
- Who is qualified to be Christ’s counselor? To sit as his right hand and his left hand? This is one of those instances where if you regard Jesus as a mere man, you might think yourself just below him. He is great, but you could sit next to him. And this is how the disciples are thinking. They fail to recognize that what they are asking in reality is to sit next to God and give him advice.
- Which as you know from other places in Scripture is something no man can actually do, although at times God invites certain men, like Abraham, or his prophets, to “deliberate” with him over his actions.
- Paul says in Romans 11:34, quoting Isaiah 40:13, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?”
- So there is a sense in which no man can counsel God, and yet God condescends to reveal certain truths to his prophets and the apostles. This whole 3-year training program the disciples are living through, is Christ training them to exercise his authority when he ascends to heaven. But the disciples have yet to connect the dots. They are still thinking like worldly men.
- So Jesus asks James and John, “Are you able to drink the same cup and receive the same baptism as me?” Both of which are symbols for judgment and death.
- The cup refers to the cup of salvation, and the wine of God’s judgment.
- Baptism refers to the ordination for death and the washing of the sacrificial animal before it is placed upon the altar.
- Jesus is the lamb of God who offers himself for the life of the world. And before He is enthroned as king, before he is placed upon the altar as an offering for sin, he must drink the cup, and be baptized into death.
- Can James and John do the same?
39 And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40 But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.
- Despite James and John not really knowing what they are asking for, they believe they are qualified, they can drink the same cup and receive the same baptism as Jesus.
- And while in their present state they are certainly not able, which will be manifest when all the disciples scatter and hide (Mark 14:50), Jesus knows that eventually, after the Holy Spirit is poured out, indeed they will drink the same cup, and receive the same baptism, and suffer death for Christ.
- As with the rich young ruler who called Jesus good (not knowing he was God), James and John likewise speak the truth of themselves, though not as they intend.
- Tradition holds that John was boiled alive in oil but survived and was exiled to Patmos.
- As for James, Acts 12 says that Herod Agrippa “killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.”
- So just as Jesus foretold, both of these men (and all the apostles) would suffer and die for Christ, but nevertheless, to sit at his right hand or his left, is not something that Jesus gives out according to the flesh, for James and John were likely Jesus’ cousins, and these places of honor are not given out according to blood relation, but rather according to God’s predestination and man’s true merit.
- Now hearing of James and John’s request, the rest of the disciples are made envious and angry.
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
- How do you cut the cord of envy in your heart? The disciples are “much displeased,” not because they love Jesus, but because James and John asked for something that they all want.
- In their mind there are only two seats up for grabs, two open cabinet positions as chief advisor to the king, but there are twelve of them. And it is this kind of scarcity mindset, and zero-sum thinking, and personal glory chasing, that Jesus comes to bring an end to. How does Jesus do this?
- He does this first by dying for our sins of envy and jealousy and vainglory, and second by calling his church to imitate his life as servant of all.
- What is the essence of kingship? What is the essence of being a lord or master or ruler? It is to bear in yourself the burdens and sins and needs of those under your authority. Because as far as your authority extends, so also your responsibility and duty before the Lord.
- In Scripture, authority is portrayed as a burden that the king, or high-priest, or prophet, carries on his shoulders.
- Aaron the high priest literally wears an onyx stone on each shoulder that has the names of the tribes of Israel inscribed upon it. Moreover, he wears on his chest a heavy golden breastplate, keeping the people close to his heart. That is the priestly burden, and it is a heavy weight.
- Likewise Moses, who functions as prophet, priest, and king, says to God in Numbers 11:14, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.”
- The burden that Moses felt as ruler over such a rebellious nation as Israel, was so heavy that he asked God to kill him and relieve him of that duty. He essentially says to God, “if you love me, please kill me, I cannot carry these people and their constant sins.”
- What does God do? He distributes a portion of that burden to seventy other elders who will help carry it.
- Is the burden of responsibility what the disciples are thinking about when they vie for the best seats in the kingdom? Of course not. They are thinking of the kingdom in carnal and earthly terms. Jesus says, they are thinking like Gentiles.
- What then does lordship and authority look like in God’s kingdom? It looks like loving service. It looks like slavery. It looks like stooping low and bearing up under the heavy burden of other people’s problems, and doing them good even when they think you are doing them harm.
- Service is not doing whatsoever your inferiors demand of you. Servant lordship is doing whatsoever God commands of you, which is to own no man anything but to love him.
- For isn’t this exactly what Christ has done for us?
- Jesus does not cater to our petty and selfish demands. But he does always and in every instance, do what is most good for us.
- Jesus gladly and joyfully assumes responsibility for the sins of the whole world, sins that he did not commit. What Moses could not carry for one nation, Jesus picks up and carries for all nations throughout all time. Christ bears on his kingly, priestly, and prophetic shoulders, the weight of the world’s sins.
- For this is why he came. “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
- This is the servant lordship that Jesus wants his disciples to imitate, because they are the foundation for the church, their witness is going to be the beginning of Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
- The irony of the disciples jockeying for power is that they are going to receive from Christ even greater authority than they presently aspire to. Jesus has already told them they are going to sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). And while they presently conceive of those thrones in earthly terms, as ruling like the Gentiles rule, in actuality, their thrones are spiritual and heavenly and everlasting.
- Revelation 21:14 describes the New Jerusalem saying, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
- Christ is the chief cornerstone, and the apostles are the glorious foundation that the heavenly city shall be built upon. And what do foundations do? They bear weight. What do kings do? They bear the burdens of their people. And it is this bearing of heavy weight that becomes our glory/
I have told you this before, but I’ll tell you again, that in Hebrew the word for heavy and glory is the same word. It’s this word chavod (כָּבוֹד). Gold is chavod, for it is heavy and glorious. When Abraham’s flocks multiply and his possessions increase, he becomes more chavod, more weighty, more wealthy. God is the one who is supremely chavod, which is why we speak of the weight of his glory, and the gravity of his presence.
- And this idea of chavod really captures what it means to be a king, what it means to have authority.
- It is to have honor married with duty.
- It is to have authority married with responsibility.
- It is to have weight and distinction married with humble service.
- Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is the brightness of God’s glory. Jesus is God’s chavod.
- And so the path to glory, the path to honor and immortality, is always cross before crown, pain before pleasure, humiliation before exaltation.
Two Points of Application
I want to close with two points of application for us.
#1 – Serving others rarely feels glorious, but it is glorious in the eyes of God.
- Serving others does not usually feel in the moment like some great heroic act. The kind of service Jesus commands of us, is often the kind of service that goes unappreciated, unseen, and at times can feel very insignificant and even futile. You wash the dishes, so that they can dirty again, so you have to wash them again.
- When you are frustrated, or tired, or annoyed by other people’s problems, when it starts to feel heavy, that is a sign that you are exactly where God wants you to be. And he has given you in those people and in their problems, a great opportunity to become chavod.
- If you really want to be glorious like God, which all of us should aspire to be, that glory will not come to you apart from difficulty.
- So when you are going through a hard season, when you feel the burden upon your shoulders, that weight and sorrow in your heart, receive those trials as God’s gift to you to make you more like Him, to make you shine even as He shines. Ask God to help you wear the crown of thorns with a good attitude.
#2 – When you serve others, remember you are serving the Lord Jesus.
- How do you stay motivated to serve thankless sinners? How do you stoop low and wash people’s feet, even when they are spitting in your face and criticizing you?
- Jesus says in Matthew 25, when he judges between the sheep and the goats, that inasmuch as you serve others, you are serving the King himself.
- Matthew 25:35-40 says, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?…etc. 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
- So when you are serving fussy children, or your angry husband or your nagging wife, or your unreasonable boss or your irresponsible employees, remember that they are the Lord Jesus. Your service to them is as serving Jesus Christ himself. And what they may not see or appreciate or like, God sees and God appreciates and God shall reward.
- This is why the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:5-8, “Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.”
- When we begin to see in one another, that we are serving God himself, we can overlook their many faults, we can cover their many sins in love, and owe them nothing but to love them, just as Christ has loved us.
- So who has God called you to serve? See in them the Lord Jesus Himself.
When you are faithful in the little things, God makes you a ruler over much. And there comes a point in everyone faithful Christian’s life, when they must die to the gifts God has given them, in order to receive something even greater.
- Abraham was given the miraculous gift of a son in Isaac. And then God asks him to give Isaac up. He asks Abraham to die to the gift. And it is that death to the gift, and the passing of that test, that made Abraham into the father of all the faithful. He dies to the gift to become more chavod.
- This is the pattern of all the great saints.
- 1. God promises us a blessing.
- 2. We wait for it in faith, eventually we receive it.
- 3. But then God asks for it back because he wants to give us something even greater.
- The Christian life is God taking us from one degree of glory to another. But in between each glory, we have to die to what He has already given. We must put everything on the altar again, we must drink the cup, until finally at life’s end, we die for real, but by then we have had plenty of practice in dying, and we know what waits for us on the other side: resurrection and glory.
- So die to the gift. Die for your people. Become a priest and king unto God.
- In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.