Good morning! Welcome to Christ Lutheran Church and welcome to those listening on the radio!
We continue in our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark-- In the Footsteps of the Master.
Question---Do you ever have to say something more than once to get your point across? Do you ever have to say something more than once to get your point across? Yes, we all do---in the family---at work---in sermons. Because we humans don’t listen very well. And even when we do listen, we often don’t get the full meaning of what someone else says.
Jesus had to deal with this all the time. In this section of Mark 10 that we’re looking at today, Jesus tells the disciples the same thing he told them in Mark 9, which was the same thing he told them in Mark 8.
Mark 10:32-34 “Again Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
This was the 3rd time he told them---It’s obviously not sinking in. Maybe, because Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, they missed the point. And the idea of the Christ, the Messiah, dying was just not what they or anyone in Israel was expecting. They just didn’t get it.
And then to prove they didn’t get it, James and John come to Jesus. You’d think they might be concerned about his suffering or death. But no, they’re worried about their pension plan.
Mark 10:35-38 “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking, Jesus said.”
I can imagine Jesus standing there shaking his head---“Do you guys know what you are asking?” Obviously not! But Jesus doesn’t give up on them. He continues to teach by asking them---
Mark 10:38-40 “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
James and John naively say they can do what Jesus has to do, and Jesus says---“Yes, you will go through some of what I have to. But any talk about sitting next to me in places of honor in the kingdom of heaven is just a wee bit premature. Besides that’s in my Father’s hands to decide.”
And as James and John are trying to secure their future, what about the other disciples?
Mark10:41 “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.”
So Jesus has to call a huddle and pull the team back together.
Mark 10:42-43 “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”
“Boys---things work differently in God’s kingdom!”
Mark 10:43-45 “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.”
Not exactly what James and John were looking for! Or the other ten, I imagine. Or you and me for that matter!
It is a matter of Ambition.
Basically the word means working toward a particular goal or aim, something a person tries to achieve. The concept is neutral. Neither good nor bad by itself. But of course, it can be used either way.
In the New Testament there are 2 Greek words for ambition. One is self-ish, one self-less.
A person can have selfish ambition or selfless ambition. Look at the contrast between the selfish ambition of James and John and the selfless ambition of Jesus. Jesus had selfless ambition---a goal to reunite God and humanity through his new kingdom---to bridge the chasm of sin, through his death and resurrection. That’s what he was trying to tell his followers in Mark 8 and Mark 9 and Mark 10.
They were headed to Jerusalem. He told them he would suffer, die and rise there. But Jesus didn’t have a death wish. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that there could be another way. But Jesus had the selfless ambition to reach his goal no matter the cost.
James and John were a different story. Their requests came from selfish ambition. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” They wanted the positions of honor and power. They are not thinking of being to the right and left of him on the cross. They’re skipping right over that!
“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” The emphasis is on the glory part. Selfish ambition.
Many times when we talk about ambition it’s in the negative sense. I guess because it’s so easy for ambition to go wrong. We talk about blind ambition where a person wants to reach their goal no matter what.
Dare I suggest that there might be a politician or three who have been driven by selfish ambition over the centuries. Or how about the Olympic athletes who are getting ready to compete in Rio? How many are driven by selfish ambition and how many by selfless ambition?
And what about you and me? We all have goals and dreams. But where do they come from? The key question is---“Whose goals are they?
Are we determined to reach goals that come from understanding what God has created us for? Or is our purpose in life more of a do-it-yourself project?
Cameron McAllister is part of Ravi Zacharias’ ministry team that speaks at campuses and other venues in the US and around the world. He recently spoke at the University of Massachusetts and described his conversations with students.
He said that most of the conversations he had were about purpose and meaning in life. He made the observation that “our culture has replaced self-discovery with self-construction.”
Instead of maturing being the process of discovering what God intends for us, the secular view is that you start with nothing and you’ve got to build your own identity.
McAllister says that then “Personal achievement becomes the main means of justifying one’s existence.” An athletic injury, a broken relationship, a letter of rejection from a desired school---these normal events become desperate times for many young people today---Because they can only measure their worth by those outward accomplishments.
McAllister says that contrary to most impressions, young people don’t want to create their own identity. “They are desperate to find a purpose beyond their own meager hopes and wishes.”
Is life a do-it-yourself project or is it a matter of discovering what our almighty God has created us for?
I don’t mean a robotic kind of life as if God controlled our every move.---I don’t mean just accepting whatever comes---much of what comes in life isn’t from the Lord.
But if our ambition is only to fulfill whatever desire or craving we currently have, life becomes pointless all too soon. And even if we can look beyond ourselves and see some needs of others that we can respond to, we are only seeing a narrow slice of life. We need the Lord’s universal perspective.
A selfless Christian ambition distinguishes where we fit in God’s plan for the world. Our true ambition is to discover what place the creator of the universe has for us in his grand design.
And to have a selfless, God-led ambition doesn’t mean that only spiritual kinds of activities qualify.
Gene Veith quotes Martin Luther---“God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” According to Luther, vocation is a "mask of God." …..We see the milkmaid, or the farmer, or the doctor or pastor or artist. But, looming behind this human mask, God is genuinely present and active in what they do for us---because they are fulfilling, with selfless ambition, what God has called them to.
We need to drive carefully when it comes to ambition. James warns---
James 3:16 “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
Ambition is not the problem. The question is what kind of ambition drives you --- self-ish or self-less.
In Romans 15 we hear Paul describe an ambition of his---
Romans 15:20 “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
That might sound like selfish ambition---he wanted to go where nobody else had been. But one of Paul’s God-given gifts was to bring the Good News of Jesus to places that had never heard it. He knew how to make connections with people in those situations and devoted his life to that---selfless ambition in service of the Lord. Selfless ambition inspires us to leap toward our goal in Christ.
In the 1924 Paris Olympics Eric Liddell won a gold medal in the 400 meters run. Many of you know his story. He said--- “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure….It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”
Not long after the Olympics he went to China as a missionary where he had been born of missionary parents.
Liddell combined the use of his God-given speed with his gift for mission. His ambition was selfless. He served in China for 20 years and stayed even when he had a chance to leave during political unrest. He ended up in an internment camp with other missionaries. He died of a brain tumor in 1945. But his selfless ambition lives on in the growing Christian church in China today.
Jesus told his disciples where he was headed and what he would endure. He was headed to Jerusalem to the way of the cross for them and for all people of all time. They didn’t understand at the time. But later, all of them, except for Judas, became great Christian leaders compelled by selfless ambition.
What a gift it is for you and me to know that there is a goal for us. The specifics are different for each of us. The blessings and the trials will be different as well.
And we are called to selfless ambition not because we need to achieve something for God. Jesus has already won the victory. There is nothing we have to do to get right with God. Instead because we are already right with God, he calls us to be selflessly ambitious, to discover our true identity in Christ.
The Lord wants us to work with him in his kingdom by calling us to a life of amazing opportunities that he has prepared. The Lord is calling us not to be served but to serve, living life to the fullest---full of selfless ambition.