A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said 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 us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. 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 will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It was nearing the end of the summer and the time had come to send another class of high school seniors off to college. I could not have been more proud of the young men in our small group who had, for the past several years, committed time each week to studying the Bible together and encouraging one another. We huddled together for a final send off prayer, and I sincerely thanked God for the work He had done in the lives of these formerly juvenile and immature students, asking His blessing and guidance as they took their first steps away from home. Immediately after the final, “Amen,” as if to instinctively disavow the solemn occasion, the young man standing directly across from me, without any warning, offered a swift kick to the groin. As I lay curled on the ground in the fetal position, whimpering in pain, he profusely apologized, saying over and over, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, I don’t know why I did that.” No matter how long we have walked with Jesus, how mature we have become, or how inappropriate the action, there are moments where we can’t help but act like fools.
One of the great joys of ministry is getting to walk with people not only as they come to know and trust in Jesus, but also grow and mature in their faith. The process of spiritual transformation is difficult to notice in the moment, and self-evaluation is especially challenging. While it may feel as if our relationship with God is stuck in neutral, or even headed in the wrong direction, it can be helpful to seek out those closest to us and ask for their honest assessments. We often discover, to our pleasant surprise, that we are no longer who we used to be, that God has been at work in our hearts and lives conforming us more and more into the image of His Son. Of course, the spiritual life is not always a linear journey either. Sometimes we take three steps forward and two steps back, and think we have successfully kicked a bad habit or temptation, only to find it rear its ugly head once again.
Right after Jesus had finished telling the disciples what would happen upon their arrival in Jerusalem, that He would be beaten, executed, and rise again, James and John, prompted and led by their mother as Matthew’s gospel tells us, took Jesus aside to demand a favor. Amazingly, they had the audacity to command Jesus, “we want you to do anything we ask!” then unashamedly requested that He reserve for them the two highest places of honor in His coming Kingdom, to sit on either side of Him after He had come into his glory.
Not only did their request wreak of selfishness, and perhaps even nepotism (there is some speculation that their mother may have been the sister of Jesus’ mother), but the fact that they would even make such a ridiculous request was was proof that they still did not understand the mission and life of their Master. Jesus responded by asking if they were prepared to drink the cup and endure the baptism that awaited Him, demonstrating that His obedience was to be perfect in both an active and passive sense. He would willingly take and drink the cup of wrath, not of that of the Jewish leaders, but of the righteous Heavenly Father, that lay before Him. He would also submit Himself to baptism by fire, allowing Himself to be mocked, ridiculed, and beaten beyond recognition before giving up His spirit.
Everyone in the traveling party feared the fate that lay ahead of them as they continued onward toward Jerusalem, and the somber mood now took a turn towards bitterness as word spread about their conversation with Jesus. The other disciples grew indignant and towards the Sons of Thunder and chaos ensued, once again, about which of them was truly the greatest. Judas held the money. Thomas their collective courage. Peter the sword and confession of the Christ. They all argued their case for prominence and significance, each ignorant of the message of their Teacher.
Finally, Jesus spoke up, exclaiming “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.” He said, in essence, “What you seek is something that I do not offer. My Kingdom is unlike any in this world. The last shall be first. The least will be greatest. There will be no higher position, nothing more coveted, than to serve as the lowest slave.”
And Jesus would not just talk the talk. He would walk the walk. “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Of any human who ever walked the earth, there was none more worthy of praise and worship and adoration than Jesus. Yet there was none who experienced more agony and suffering and rejection than He. But His mission, His life’s goal, was always to serve. From before the beginning of His ministry, Jesus knew what lie ahead of Him. He was razor focused on what He must accomplish, and nothing, not even a group of inappropriate and immature young men, could distract Him from the ultimate goal of willingly giving His life as a ransom for man.
The cross was no accident. It was not some terrible misunderstanding. Jesus was not wrongly accused and convicted. He knew exactly what He was doing, and He was in control even in His submission. No one took anything from Him that He was not more than willing to give. He understood, in a way we never could, the true gravity of our sin. He saw that sin courses deep within us, corrupting each and every part, driving us to do and say things in ways that even we don’t understand. He knew that we are helpless to deal with it on our own, too weak to drink the cup of wrath, too spiritually impoverished to pay the price of our redemption.
Jesus laid down his life as a ransom for many. This is important to understand. The cross would not be the ransom for all. It is not a “get-out-of-jail-free” card that allows us to continue in blissful ignorance while also sparing us from our eternal judgement. Nor would the cross be a ransom for few. Jesus did not just die for the eleven. He did not lay down His life for an exclusive section of society, the best of the best, the religious or moral elites.
No. Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many. For as many as would believe in Him, any and all who would trust in His name. Even as He was hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out for mercy for the very ones who had nailed Him there. In His mind He gladly thought of all those who’s sins were being atoned for. If we find our hope in Him, He was thinking of you and me.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we are still far from perfect. We don’t know why we do or say the things that we do. We long to love and serve You, and yet immaturity and impurity still remains within. We thank You for the ransom You already paid on the cross, and we ask that You would continue to do Your cleansing work within our hearts. Convict us in every area where we fall short, and empower us to become Your willing servants as we feast upon Your Word. Words can never express our gratitude for all You have done for us. We pray in Your perfect name, Amen.