To Those Serving
January 1, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Jesus went to Jerusalem with the disciples. While on the way there, the Lord re-stated his prediction that he would undergo suffering and be killed. The scripture says immediately after the first passion prediction Peter began to rebuke Jesus, but then instead he had received a reprimand from Jesus, (8:32 ff). The scripture says right after the second passion prediction the disciples debated between themselves over "Who is the greatest?," (9:34). Then the scripture says after the third passion prediction James and John placed themselves ahead of the other disciples and put together a plan that they alone would become the greatest.
2. The scriptures have laid out this picture, not hiding the lack of understanding of the disciples. It's not that they weren't sincere; nor that they weren't devoted. Peter said, "As you said, we've given up every single thing and have followed you," (10:28). It was pretty much just like he said it. But yet, they did not [really] understand Jesus. After seeing Jesus get crucified and die, then meeting with the resurrected Jesus and then after Jesus' ascension, they came to see the truth when they had received the Holy Spirit for themselves.
3. So, no problems in misunderstanding about Christ have ever arisen among the disciples [after] they had received the Spirit of God, or in the churches since the descent of the Holy Spirit, have there? No, I wouldn't say that. Therefore, there's no [apparent] reason the descriptive detail had been left behind that we read today. The reason the disciples with their lack of understanding was being described must be because a similar problem like this had arisen again even in the church of a later period. It could happen even in this church. We might be sincere. We might be devoted. But, before you know it, we're going into a completely different direction than the one Christ is moving in. That kind of thing can happen. Therefore, we must not take the way these disciples were as something that is only something that happens to somebody else.
When He Receives Glory
4. While we ponder over this, let's listen once more to the statement from these two disciples, the sons of Zebedee, James and John. They said to Jesus, "Master, would you please grant the request we are making?" Then, when the Lord says, "What do you want me to do for you?," they immediately confide in him by asking, "When you receive your glory, please have us sit, one on your right and the other on your left," (verse thirty-seven).
5. They were under the conviction that Jesus would soon "receive glory." It is literally the words of "in your glory," but this clearly means "to become king." Therefore, the statement of we want you to have us sit on the right and the left appear in the text. Even Peter said previously as he faced Jesus, "You are the messiah," (8:29). The messiah is defined as "the anointed one." The person of Jesus was the king anointed by God, and he was the king appointed by God, and he was to establish the kingdom of God on this earth and he came in order to become the king of the kingdom of God. That's how all the disciples believed [him to be].
6. Of course, the disciples weren't so dingbatty that they thought Jesus would simply fulfill something such as becoming the king of the kingdom of God. In order to fulfill the kingdom of God it was evident that they must wage a fierce battle yet to come; because the forces in this world were in existence for sure and were in opposition to both God and to the messiah.
7. What forces [were there] to oppose God and to obstruct the fulfillment of the kingdom of God? The disciples thought of this as follows. More than anything else above all, it was the government of the mighty Roman empire. From the Jewish perspective, the Romans were Gentiles ignorant of God. It was the commonly held understanding of the Jews as they waited for the kingdom of God that unless that Gentile system of government was toppled and Israel was restored, it was impossible for the kingdom of God to come. Therefore, the people, above all other things, were expecting a powerful king to topple Rome for them. And this very Jesus of Nazareth was the powerful king with the ability to topple Rome. That was the conviction of the disciples.
8. However, while the disciples were continuing on in their journey with Jesus, they began to notice that the forces against the messiah were not just the government of Rome alone. There was another opposing force [against him]. It was none other than the religious leaders of Judea.
9. Jesus ate dinner with sinners and tax collectors, he spoke the blessings of God in which he invited sinners, he preached the forgiveness of sin, and the words of Jesus [during al this activity with sinners] infuriated the scribes of the law. The overwhelming support of the public for Jesus had begun to threaten the religious authority of the chief priests. Since they were wishing for Jesus of Nazareth to become king, he could not avoid coming into confrontation with the animosity of the existing religious leaders. It was even obvious to the eyes of the disciples that the person of Jesus of Nazareth could not avoid a clash with the authorities of Jewish society first, before [the clash with ] the Romans.
10. So now, Jesus and the disciples are on their way going up the road to Jerusalem. Jesus was heading into Jerusalem where the authorities against him were waiting [for him]. It was obvious to anybody looking that Jesus was going up to the capitol city with a special resolve. In verse thirty-two, the scripture says, "While the group was going up to Jerusalem, Jesus stood at the lead and proceeded forth. In seeing this, the disciples were astonished and those following were afraid." Anyone of them already knew in advance that a final showdown was awaiting [him] there.
11. But even still, all the disciples still firmly believed in victory. Because James and John had the conviction that Jesus would receive glory and come to rule as king, they were so ready to secure a promise [from Jesus] ahead of time. "When you receive your glory, please have us sit one on your right and the other on your left." In verse forty-one the scripture says, "In hearing this the other ten disciples began to get angry with James and John." Everybody was thinking the same way. Up to that point and to that degree, the disciples were under the conviction that Jesus would surely receive his glory. Why [were they so convinced of this]?
12. There were two reasons for their thinking that. First, [they thought that because] Jesus had obtained the support of most of the public. An overwhelming number of people were their allies. [Anyone could] see this even by looking at the circumstances through which Jesus was entering the capitol city Jerusalem. A great number of people were cheering aloud and welcomed Jesus. This was the situation in which they were placed.
13. But, it wasn't just the number of people that was with them. Second, there had been the miraculous power there which Jesus had displayed over and over so far. Therefore, the disciples believed and had no doubt that in this decisive setting from here on out there would be a supernatural intervention from God and the power of God would be directly shown forth.
14. Thus then, how ever great the Roman imperial system of government might be, it would not [pose] a problem at all. No matter how resistant the old religious system of government of the Jews was, it would not be a problem at all. For, it was set to be overturned through the power of God as revealed in Jesus. That's why James and John requested, "When you receive your glory, please let us sit, one one your right and the other on your left."
The One Who Came To Serve
15. Well, this is what the disciples were thinking. How about [us]? Isn't it similar to what we are usually thinking?
16. We know that the power of evil is at work in this world. We know that the power of the state has acted diabolically. We know that the powers of this passing world are used in a manner that goes against God. In addition, we know that these powers that go against God do not necessarily find themselves only in the godless secular world. We know that the ruling of these powers that go against God can also be found in the religious world, even inside the church. In the church there are times when its authority is used actively against God.
17. Therefore, we often think like this. "Since it is an evil power going up against God, whether it's a power on the secular side or it's a power inside the church, it will have to be overturned and ruled by a 'greater power.' You must confront power with power. You subjugate it with power." -- That's how it is, even the disciples believed it and doubted it not. Thus, they enjoyed the overwhelming support of the public; for, numbers is power. They even rejoiced in the miracles of Jesus; for, it is the power of God. Also, they expected Jesus to demonstrate raw power as the powerful messiah. They were seeking for the true king to overturn and conquer the rule of the evil powers by wielding a rod of judgment.
18. [They had] a mentality of seeking for a powerful messiah such as this, of demanding deliverance that comes by power. I would think even we can understand that well enough. The stuff that comes with that kind of thinking extends its influence even into the relationships where people are close. What did James and John, who were seeking for a powerful king, do? They requested that they stand higher than the other disciples. In fact, the other disciples' request was the same as well. In this way then, though in many a form, anyone who seeks for a messiah to save the world with power will come to take issue with the bonds of power even amongst the relationships between the people close to them.
19. As I've already touched upon, the gospel account tells us that there was a debate among them about "Who is the greatest?" When I read this passage, I imagine didn't collisions arise all the time among the disciples, which would come from the differences in how they viewed and thought about things? When there are no collisions or opposing sides to something, this matter of "Who is greatest?" doesn't lead into much of a problem. When there are sides, it does become a big deal. -- Because when there is another side, we want to bring it into subjection. To bring it into subjection, we need to obtain power. To bring it into subjection, we need to stand on the side that rules.
20. I repeat. The people looking for a messiah to save the world with power will come to take issue with the bonds of power even amongst the relationships between the people close to them. And they will seek to have greater power and to stand on the side that rules.
21. But, Jesus called his group to him and spoke the following. Please listen carefully. "As you also know, among the Gentiles those looked at as the rulers will rule the people, and their great men will wield the authority. But, among you, it is not that way. Whoever wants to be great among you, let them become a person who serves everyone, whoever wants to become the highest, let them become servants of every person. The son of man came not in order to be served but to serve, and also, in order to offer his own life as a ransom for many people," (verses forty-two through forty-five).
22. In this way, Jesus showed forth a figure of the messiah that was completely different from the one that the disciples had held. Jesus made it clear that he didn't come to become a power wielding king like the disciples and the crowds had expected. Jesus did not come as a messiah who would subjugate the forces of evil by means of power. Instead, he stated that he was the messiah who had come "in order to serve" and "in order to give his own life as a ransom for many people."
23. Why [is that]? To begin with, it is because the first thing that had to be overturned was neither the secular system of government that came through the Romans nor the religious system of government that came through the Jewish authorities. That's right. The first thing that had to be overturned was not some power on the outside, but the structural mindset of the disciples. The Lord said, "Whoever wants to be great among you, let them become a person who serves everyone, whoever wants to become the highest, let them become servants of every person," (verse forty-five). The number one thing that goes in opposition against the kingdom of God is, in fact, not the evil powers of this world. That's not it, rather it is our hearts and minds when we think that unless we rule with power we will not settle anything. It is our own hearts when we think that we are not about to become servants and relinquish power.
24. Jesus certainly is the God anointed king, and he is the One who does sit on the right hand of God the Father. But the figure of this One, whom the people have met on this earth, is that of a servant, that of one who serves. Passion season is that time when we recall that figure of him. The One who is King of kings and Lord of lords relinquished his power, humbled himself, and served us. He bore upon himself our sins. Even still now the Lord has not been willing to change from this servant figure of his. Jesus presents himself to us today as well and says, "I have come in order to serve you. I give myself. I give my life. Eat my body. I give it to you. Drink my blood. I give it to you." We confess to one such as this that "You are the messiah," and we are invited to follow such an One as this.