Blog / Book of the Month / Someone’s in My Seat / Mark 10:35–45 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 21st 2021 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Someone’s in My Seat / Mark 10:35–45 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 21st 2021 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Someone’s in My Seat / Mark 10:35–45 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 21st 2021 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 21st 2021: Season of Lent / Mark 10:35–45 "Someone’s in My Seat"

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to [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.” 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 for 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 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. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Few people will turn down the opportunity to be bumped from economy to first class when flying. Or when renting a car, you’d hardly complain if the rental lot said, ‘oh we don’t have the economy two door compact you asked for but we can give you - at the same economy price - an upgrade to a luxury four door model … those are the only ones we have on the lot right now … or a convertible, we do have one of those.’ People generally like a chance at having the best and we all like to think we know what the best is.

When it comes to our Gospel Reading today it looks like the rest of Jesus’ disciples began to be offended with James and John when they thought that Saint James and Saint John were angling to get the best spot next to Jesus, that they would end up getting an upgrade compared to the rest of them - some kind of special status - that the brothers James and John would get the best two seats next to Jesus one brother on the left the other brother on the right. Maybe even the seat that they themselves deserved to have had they only thought to ask Jesus first! And from the sounds of it perhaps James and John were angling at some kind of special treatment … but at that time they didn’t seem know what they were truly asking for ... Jesus on the other hand did know.

We often don’t know what we are asking for when we ask. For the Christian we make our requests of God in our prayers and we know that we, as Children of God, are free and encouraged to ask in our daily bread for whatever we think we need in this life;[1] in fact knowing that God wants us to ask and that He promises to hear our prayers “certainly ought to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight.”[2] In the Lord’s Prayer of course we likewise pray that God the Father’s “will be done” and in such a prayer, which the disciples including James and John were taught, we acknowledge that our will and God’s will might not be in perfect alignment and that “the good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayers.”[3] Keeping this in mind we seek to have a humble heart when we make our requests of God, trusting that He knows best what we need in this life. 

Returning to James and John and their request of Jesus: By this point Jesus had already been teaching James and John and all the disciples about the true nature humility so you’d think these brothers wouldn’t even be asking for what they were asking, then again we all know that “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak,”[4] so a request that brings imagined earthly fame and prestige to a couple of blue-collar fishermen may have certainly been tempting. To help get a better picture of what Jesus had already been teaching them along the way let’s think back then to a lesson Jesus had taught His disciples before James and John came with their request.

“One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, [the Pharisees] were watching Him carefully … Now [at the supper Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[5]

Returning again to James and John and their request a question emerges, ‘might they have considered, might they have thought, that there may already be a seating plan worked out for the day Jesus would come into His glory? A seating plan where they already had a seat prepared for them, just not the one they were asking for?’ Patience here would be the better part of valour; if they were to be seated on Jesus’ left and right then they simply needed to wait to be called up to the higher place, if not those seats would simply be for someone else and they would need to be ok with that.

Another quirk to this whole situation seems to be a rather a short sighted view of what the glory of God truly is.

Now both James and John had been present with Saint Peter at the Transfiguration when the three of them had witnessed Jesus, “transfigured before them, [and saw with their own eyes how] His clothes [had become] radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”[6] And as St. Matthew puts it: Saint Peter, James and John saw how Jesus’ “face shone like the sun,”[7] in His transfiguration. Perhaps this is the kind of glory they were thinking of when they ask to sit one at Jesus’ right hand and one at Jesus’ left, perhaps they imagined that when they all finally arrived again in Jerusalem after the transfiguration that Jesus would do publicly there as He had done privately on the Mount of Transfiguration. That, in the event that that should happen again, that they, James and John, wanted to be right there flanking Jesus as Moses and Elijah had done on the Mount of transfiguration. In our Gospel reading today Jesus is quick to point out that Saint James and Saint John don’t really understand what they are asking for and they don’t really understand what His glory would be revealed to be when that day came. Saint John would later show just how well he learned this lesson about the true nature of the glory of God when he wrote, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his Gospel the Gospel of St. John.

What then is the true nature of the glory of God? How do we understand it as Christians? Remember (in last week’s sermon) when the Greeks that first Holy Week came and asked to see Jesus? Jesus alluding to His fast approaching crucifixion on Good Friday responded, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”[8] For Jesus glory was not going to be a crown of laurel leaves or a crown of gold, His glory would be a crown of thorns. On the surface society often paints a picture of glory being all flash and dazzle accolades and applause but glory is more complex and deeper than all of that.

The first important part of understanding the glory of God is to get past the surface of it. Now being good Jews and having an understanding of the Hebrew language John and his brother James would have understood glory to have two parts: first the Hebrew understood glory to have a kind of weight of authority to it that couldn’t be avoided, and then secondly it had a visual nature that would be inescapable. Here are a couple Old Testament examples to help illustrate this: In Exodus 40 when[9] the glory of the LORD in the form of the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night rested on the tabernacle tent of meeting the Children of Israel had to be patient because while it was there they couldn’t set out. They couldn’t pack up the tent of meeting while the glory of the LORD rested upon the tent and they couldn’t avoid seeing it. The weight and presence of it made it impossible to move and like a sort of eternal paperweight it held the tabernacle tent in place until that Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night moved. Later once the temple was constructed in Jerusalem a similar occurrence took place when the ark of the covenant, previously residing in the tabernacle tent, was placed in the Holy of Holies, “and when the priests came out of the Holy Place,” the writer of 1 Kings tells us, “a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD,”[10] again visible, immovable, unavoidable and full of meaning.

Yes, while on the one hand the World teaches us that glory is a kind of public fame and admiration gained by doing something impressive mainly a feat of valour, or some public display of ability in sports or business or the arts, Jesus on the other hand teaches us that true praiseworthy and godly glory is found in humility and service to others. We may not think of Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night as being an act of humility, or the Cloud that filed the temple in Jerusalem when the temple was being dedicated as an act of humility, it would certainly be something impressive to look upon but stripped of the stunning visuals the more impressive part, and here’s the act of humility part, was that in these examples God making Himself present with His people. These are moments and times where Christ Jesus our Lord the very one through whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made was manifesting Himself before the people to show them that He was with them, that He was their God and they were His people, even though they were sinners and enemies of God and He was Holy an all consuming fire of Righteous without sin of any kind. These moments from the past pointed to the fulfilment of God’s work of descending from on High to be with us.   

Jesus in His incarnation, when He was born of the Virgin Mary, is that fulfilment of this, after that He wasn’t just a passing or temporary manifestation of the presence of God, a Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night, no in His conception and birth Jesus was, is and ever shall be the singular and only incarnation of God. Jesus is God in the flesh, God in the flesh who came to serve His creation, to give His all, even His very life, in service of the whole world and everyone in it. And Jesus had been trying to teach James and John and the other disciples this very thing. In fact prior to James and John making their request Jesus had picked up on a discussion the disciples were having about who was the greatest amongst them so “[Jesus] said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”[11]

This brings us back around again to our Gospel reading for the day. Jesus knew that He would be truly coming into His glory when He was made to be last and least that is when He would truly be the servant of all. Public crucifixion was the last thing any Jewish man of the day wanted to have happen to them. The wood of that seat was the least and most unenviable seat in the land: The very opposite of a throne of gold or a high seat of power. Thousands of Jewish men had be crucified by the Romans during the Roman occupation of Israel and crucifixion was meant to be a shameful punishment intended to humiliate both the man who was crucified, but also their family, along with the people and the nation. It was an instrument of political control and evidence of the domination of foreign law over and against the Jewish laws of the people, and in the minds of the people crucifixion would be an affront to the perfect law of the LORD. It was a bloody and ugly affair; this is why Jesus says to James and John “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?” Jesus knows that the seat He is going to in His crucifixion was no bump from economy to first class, no upgrade on a car rental, this was indeed the lowest seat and the spots to Jesus’ left and right were already determined to be the taken by two criminals that were to be crucified there with Him. Those spots did not belong to Saint James and Saint John. And they didn’t belong to any of the disciples, although as Jesus said “the cup” that He was about to drink they too would eventually drink. Saint James would taste from the cup of martyrdom when in the year 41 AD some time after Jesus’ crucifixion resurrection and ascension James was arrested during Passover in Jerusalem and beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa.[12] And his brother John while not martyred did suffer beatings and imprisonments[13] “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” most notably his imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos where Saint John recorded the Book of Revelation.[14]      

On the day of the crucifixion of our Lord where were James and John? Saint James had run off in fear[15] and Scripture doesn’t tell us what he was doing or where he was seated in those hours. Saint John had a seat near to the crucifixion, but not the one he had asked for. His seat was at the foot of the cross where John was a witness to the events of Jesus’ death and a comfort to Jesus’ mother the Virgin Mary. It was not meant for James and John to die that day with Jesus. It was the will of God that they would live and bear witness to the events leading up to and swirling around Jesus’ crucifixion, and in John’s case to be an eye witness to the death of Jesus for John to see the true glory of God in that crucifixion: The weight of its meaning and the very image of it; to have these things emblazoned upon John’s eyes, to be a witness to a different kind of transfiguration where Jesus in humble service to all mankind transfigured the brutal Roman wooden cross of crucifixion into the very immovable and exalted embodiment of love. For Jesus to show, not just with His words, but with His very life blood that whoever would be great among us must be our servant, and whoever would be first among us must be slave of all. Speaking of Himself and foreshadowing His crucifixion Jesus said to His disciple that day and to you this day, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” At the cross God, in Christ Jesus, is permanently present with us, so much so that all time revolves around the hour of His death. Everything has lead to that moment and life itself flows from it. Our life as a Christian flows from it to us.         

Under normal circumstances we don’t like to find someone in our seat when we expect to sit in it our self. We don’t like to be bumped out of our seat or to have taken from us what we expect to receive. When this happens we see it as unfair. And truth be told mercy is unfair, in mercy you don’t receive what you have earned or deserved, in mercy you receive something better. James and John didn’t receive what they thought they earned or deserved by being disciples of Jesus, they didn’t receive what they asked for. In Christ Jesus they received mercy and an opportunity to share with thanksgiving the love of God to a world in need of mercy, a world in need of forgiveness. Look now at the crucifixion and you’ll find Jesus in your seat and Jesus now in His mercy gives you His seat of honour in heaven.   

When you reflect on your life and on the way your prayers have been answered can you see the wisdom and will of God at work? Not every request is granted the way we ask because not every request we make is aligned with the will of God. If the one thief, that one criminal on the cross, that was seated next to Jesus, had had his spot taken away by James or John he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to call out to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Nor would he have had the chance, if James or John had taken his place, to have heard the sweet words of the Gospel from the lips of the dying Lord Jesus, when Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”[16] And these words, these precious gospel Words, would not then have been passed down to you to hear with your ears of faith by Saint John in his Gospel had that seat been taken from the one for whom it was truly appointed.

‘Dear Lord, provide in us all hearts appreciative of the seat we have been given and a desire to serve others as You, in Christ Jesus, have served us and continue to serve us in Your perfect love and mercy. Amen.’    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Psalm 50:15, Matthew 7:7-8
[2] "Large Catechism," Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions Reader’s Pocket Edition, Concordia Publishing House 2005, pg 582.
[3] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, Concordia Publishing House 2017, pg 20.
[4] Matthew 26:41
[5] Luke 14:1, 7-11
[6] Mark 9:2–3
[7] Matthew 17:2
[8] John 12:23
[9] Exodus 40:34–38, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys."
[10] 1 Kings 8:10–11
[11] Mark 9:35
[12] Acts 12:1–2
[13] Acts 4:1-21, 5:17-42
[14] Revelation1:9-10
[15] Mark 14:50
[16] Luke 23:42–43