St. James Elder, Apostle
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:35-45 Sermon
July 24, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
562 "The Son of God Goes Forth to War"
554 "Am I A Soldier of the Cross?"
515 "O Jesus I Have Promised"
195 "On Our Way Rejoicing"
BE CAREFUL FOR WHAT YOU ASK
TEXT: “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him [Jesus] and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But 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?’ 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; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those whom it has been prepared.’ And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Today is one of those days on the church calendar we call a “minor festival.” It is the day of St. James the elder, Apostle. Having such festivals is a great opportunity to learn a bit about some of these Biblical people; so today, let’s take a look at this man called James the son of Zebedee.
First of all, there are several people with the name of James in the Bible, two of which were Apostles of Jesus. One of the “James Apostles” was James, the son of Alphaeus, and the brother of Matthew. He is also called “James the less,” probably because he was younger.
Another James we find in the Bible is James, the brother (or more correctly, the half-brother) of Jesus. He would have been a natural son of Mary and Joseph, and wound up being a very dedicated disciple. He is most likely the one who wrote the Epistle of James in the Bible.
The James we are talking about today however is neither of the two I just mentioned. The James we are focusing upon today is James the son of Zebedee, otherwise known as “James the elder” (as opposed to “James the less”). James, along with his brother John were very close disciples of Jesus, and we find them present at some very key times in Jesus’ life.
James and John were both fishermen, working for their father Zebedee. The family was probably of a higher social level than the average fishermen. Their family could afford hired servants, and John had connections with the high priest.
Jesus gave James and John the Greek nickname “Boanerges” which means “sons of thunder.” Most likely they earned this title by being headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive. We see evidence of this in Luke 9, 51ff when a Samaritan village didn’t welcome Jesus. In verse 54 we read, “When the disciples, James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them [even as Elijah did]?'" That was their anger talking—like Jesus really needed their help if he wanted to destroy that village.
Nevertheless, they were close disciples of Jesus. They, along with Peter were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. They witnessed the healing miracle of Peter’s mother-in-law. They were with Jesus at the raising of the daughter of Jairus. And they were called to watch and pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. It is interesting though, that James is never mentioned by himself; Scripture always makes reference to “James and his brother John.”
As we examine our text for today, we find James and John approaching Jesus with a rather interesting request. It’s especially interesting the way they preface it. “Teacher…we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Talk about a loaded question! Can you imagine a child approaching a parent with that kind of a question? Or can you imagine an employee posing that kind of a question to their boss? What in the world could James and John have been expecting? Carte Blanche approval? Were they expecting Jesus to say, “yeah, sure guys, whatever you want, just let me know and I’ll take care of it?” What kind of a question is that to ask of anyone, let alone Jesus?
Of course Jesus gives the answer we all probably would. He simply asks them, “What do you want me to do for you?” He’s not their magic genie in a lamp, but he does have their best interest at heart. But prefaced the way that James and John did, you know that the request to follow was going to be a real biggie.
So here it comes: “Let one of us sit at our right and the other at your left in your glory.” And what a request that was!
If we examine this request of James and John closely, we find that it was carefully planned and crafted. In Matthew 20 where we find a parallel account of our text for today, Matthew records that it was the mother of James and John who was the motivating factor behind this. James and John of course were in total agreement, because the disciples rebuked them, and not their mother.
Why do you suppose they made this request? We can assume that all of the previous talk about going to Jerusalem must have meant that Christ’s kingdom was near. And as people often do, they could only think in terms of an earthly kingdom, and they wanted to reserve those right-hand and left-hand top spots for themselves in that kingdom. Those positions would be ones of power and prestige. And so they make the request for those positions, out of misguided ambition.
I would imagine that this was what was going on in their mother’s mind too. She was a loyal follower of Jesus as well. We know she was at the crucifixion with Mary. But she also wanted what was best for her boys.
Jesus’ response to the request was simple. “You don’t know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” And of course they respond with all due enthusiasm, “We can.”
There’s an old saying which goes, “be careful for what you wish, because it may come true.”
Jesus couldn’t promise them the right and left hand positions, because they were prepared for other people. If the scene on the mount of Transfiguration is any clue, perhaps those positions belonged to Moses and Elijah, we don’t know. But whomever they were for, Jesus couldn’t promise them to the two brothers.
Jesus however does give a good lesson in who is great in his kingdom. It wouldn’t be the people with earthly power and authority. That didn’t make a bit of difference as far as heaven was concerned. In our text for today, Jesus says in verses 43-44: “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.”
The earthly idea of power and greatness did not fit in with Jesus’ ministry on earth. Jesus could have come to earth in a cloud of glory instead of being born in a manger. He could have had the most lavish lifestyle on earth instead of relying on the hospitality of others. Jesus came as a servant, and died so that all men might have life.
We all have sinful pride and ambitions. We often seek the approval of people over service to God. If it were up to us, we would place ourselves in positions of honor and integrity. And when we see others in better positions than we are, we become jealous of them. We don’t like to think of ourselves as slaves and servants.
Jesus tells us in verse 45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
James and John didn’t need positions of authority. They needed a Saviour; and so do we. When we look at James, we see that Jesus dealt with him lovingly. He didn’t chastise him, but lovingly corrected him. If we think back to that Samaritan village that James and John wanted to destroy by calling down fire from heaven, we know that Jesus had other ideas. He didn’t come to destroy lives, but to save them. Jesus went to the cross to have the punishment fall on him, so that sinners like you and I might be spared.
And so we come to our Saviour through faith, knowing that he gave his life as a ransom for us. He became our servant, so we might have everlasting life instead of eternal death. Jesus comes to us, scolding us when he must, but then reassuring us of his ever-ready forgiveness through his Word.
James indicated that he was prepared to drink the cup that Jesus had to drink, which was the cup of suffering. Indeed, he did have to drink that cup. In about the year AD 42, just before Passover, James was beheaded by the order of King Herod Agrippa I. James was the first of Jesus’ Apostles to die as a martyr.
James, in a small way did share that cup of suffering; but he also shared in Jesus’ baptism. He, like us have been baptized into Jesus’ death. In Romans 6,:4-5 this is explained for us: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
James perhaps wasn’t too careful about what he asked Jesus that day. His words were prompted by misguided ambition. But he was indeed a most faithful and loyal disciple, who has now received his heavenly reward from the Saviour that loved him so much.
James received his strength through the Gospel—strength not only to die, but to live.
As we live our lives dedicated to Christ, let us never forget that the Gospel which saves us also gives us strength to face whatever may happen to come our way.