The throne of Jesus

Reading
Mark 10.35–45

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.… 

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock. 

It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, DBW 4, Kindle ed’n, pp.44–45

______________________

Has anyone ever said to you, ‘Be careful what you wish for?’

A couple had been married for thirty five years and was celebrating the wife’s sixtieth birthday. 

During the party, a fairy appeared and said that because they had been such a loving couple all those years, she would give them one wish each. 

The wife said, ‘We’ve been so poor all these years, and I’ve never seen the world. 

‘I wish we could travel all over the world.’ 

The fairy waved her wand and ZAP! The wife had the tickets in her hand. 

Next, it was the husband’s turn. 

He paused for a moment and then said, ‘Well, I’d like to be married to a woman thirty years younger than me.’

The fairy waved her wand and ZAP! Now, the husband was ninety years old.

Be very careful what you wish for.

Jesus said something very like that to James and John. They had a question for him, a favour to be granted:

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

That’s nice, eh? You can imagine sitting on either side of Jesus when his true glory is revealed. I wonder what the two Zebedee brothers thought it would be like, sitting one either side of Jesus on his throne?

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This photo is of an image of Christ in his glory. You can find it in the cathedral in Monreale, Sicily. I’ve been there, and I can tell you that it’s a truly beautiful place to visit. The cathedral is a World Heritage Site, and a wonderful place to worship God. It’s probably what James and John saw themselves doing, sitting on thrones either side of Jesus.

But it’s not what Jesus had in mind when he replied to the two brothers. He said,

You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?

The ‘cup’ that Jesus drinks is not a celebratory tipple, it’s the cup of suffering he was to drain. The coming suffering which he had been telling them about.

And the baptism he was to be baptised with wasn’t a cute event with a baby. The baptism Jesus was baptised with was only begun with John the Baptiser; it was continued on the cross. There, Jesus had a full immersion into death. 

So when he tells James and John that they must be baptised with the baptism that he is baptised with, he is speaking of baptism as going down into the waters of death. 

And when he says 

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,

he means it. Literally.

Have you guessed who ‘sits’ beside him in his glory? You already know. In your mind, picture Jesus on the cross.

Mark tells us (15.27):

with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.

This is the Lord Jesus in his glory. This is the Lord Jesus on his throne. These two ‘bandits’ were drinking the cup of suffering and undergoing the baptism of death alongside the Saviour.

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

The Gospel of Jesus is deeply ironic. The last shall be first. Prostitutes and tax collectors are streaming into the kingdom of God ahead of respectable and worthy folk.

The throne of Jesus is a rough-cut, splintered piece of wood; there is nothing here made of gold. He hangs rather than sits. He is not clothed in purple silk; he is naked. The jewels that adorn his body are drops of blood and sweat. The crown he wears is made of thorns that cut into his flesh. The glory of Jesus is seen in the way he gave his life for us forgiving those who crucified him.

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

I’d like to finish by making two simple and brief points.

Jesus came to serve; so, the people of Jesus are here to serve. Lately, we’ve been hearing about religious discrimination in Australia (which, I have to say, barely exists). We do need to protect people of all faiths and none from being discriminated against. That much is clear. 

The problem arises when religious groups try to assert their rights over others. In the terms of this passage, they are wanting to be served, not to serve. 

There are Christian voices raised in support of schools expelling LGBTIQ students or sacking LGBTIQ staff. This is not serving in the name of Jesus. It’s more like lording it over others.

Servants don’t discriminate. Religious freedom means ‘dignity, justice and caring for all’. (Rev Jo Inkpin, Twitter)

The Moderator, Rev. David Baker, has made a statement about this. In part it says:

The church acknowledges and celebrates the significant role schools play in the holistic formation of children and young people and recognises the professionalism, commitment and skill of the staff who make this possible. We [the Uniting Church] will not impose any requirement on our schools to exclude students or staff based on gender identity.

The second point is this. Jesus descended to the utter depths of human experience in his baptism of death.

Everyone who looked on him saw his story coming to a sad and ignoble end. Simply put, he was a loser.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. 

God raised him from death.

Jesus was no loser; Jesus conquered death. And he offers a share in that eternal life to everyone.

No matter how low we sink in life; whatever we experience in terms of illness, hardship, grief, or homelessness, Jesus is with us. No one is a loser with Jesus. He will raise us up from death too; neither the gutter nor the grave is our destiny.

This is a hope to hold on to, as we are serve others. We are at the side of Jesus when we serve.

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Filed under RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

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