Doing Whatever is Asked

Doing Whatever is Asked

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and from
our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I suspect that most of you adults here today are
familiar with documents known as “job descriptions.” At some point in your
life, many of you have probably had a position with the responsibilities listed
out in a written document. Some of you may have even been in management
positions where you’ve had to write, edit, or enforce job descriptions.

Even if you’ve never dealt with a formal, written job
description, I’m confident that whoever supervised your work tried to make you
well aware of the duties and expectations, so you’d carry them out
effectively. It’s pretty standard practice to do this in most organizations,
so that there’s some clarity about each position and how its work is to be
carried out.

But, there’s always a little “kicker” in there,
right? You see, most organizations—if they’re on-the-ball—realize that it’s
impossible for a job description to cover every possible situation an employee
might face in the course of working. It’s just too hard to predict. They also
want to have some flexibility to get their employees to be productive in case
of the unexpected, or if business conditions or demands change somewhat. So,
there’s often a very important phrase tucked in to the very end of most good
job descriptions. That phrase is: “and other tasks and duties as directed
by the employee’s supervisor.”

That gives the organization some wiggle room, and also
takes the wind out of any employee’s attempt to say, “That’s not my job.”
Of course, any conscientious employee is going to want to help out where and
when needed and asked. Likewise, no sensible employer is going to abuse the
situation by asking an employee to perform tasks that are well beyond his or
her capabilities, either.

James and John want to impose that little job
description phrase on Jesus, it seems: “Teacher, we want you to do for
us whatever we ask of you.”

Pretty open-ended, isn’t it? That’s perhaps even
worse than that job description catch-all. It’s sort of like the person who
comes up to you and puts you on the spot with: “Hey, can you do me a favor?”
Then they don’t specify what it is they want until you say, “Yes.”

Don’t you just hate that? I want to yell, “C’mon…
just ask me what you want, and let me decide.”
Don’t maneuver me into a
commitment without being forthright with me. That’s manipulative.

Jesus knows what it is they want, of course, and He
handles it pretty well. We could all take a lesson from Him on how to turn the
tables on those open-ended favor-seekers. He replies, “What do you want
me to do for you?”

In other words: You go first, and then
I’ll let you know if it’s feasible or not.

Oh, and did I mention: James and John, the “sons of
thunder,” apparently are also sons of a stage mother? That’s right—Mrs.
Zebedee is part of this scheme to maneuver Jesus into giving her boys
preferential treatment. It’s not recorded here in Mark’s gospel, but Matthew’s
text indicates not only that she’s present, but that she’s the instigator and
spokesperson for the group. Who can say “No,” to a mother in front of her
kids, right? Well, God can, when the request is not in accordance with His

We might have thought from most of the gospel accounts
that it’s Peter who’s the impetuous, often foolish disciple. Yet based on what
we read here in chapter 10 of Mark, James and John have their “DUH!” moments,
too. Think about it: Do you see any indication that maybe—just maybe—James
and John suffer from bad timing?

That’s probably the first thing that jumped off the
page at me when I read this text. Here’s Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem. He’s just told His disciples for the second time that when He arrives there,
He’s going to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. He’ll be
falsely accused, condemned to death, mocked, spit on, flogged and killed. Yes,
He does prophesy His resurrection, it’s true. But do you think that perhaps it
wasn’t the best time for the brothers to approach Jesus, asking if He’ll give
them a tremendous honor?

Either James and John have amazing faith in Jesus at
this point, or they’ve got very little sensitivity. My money’s on a little of
both. I can imagine them thinking and saying to one another: “You know,
pretty soon Jesus isn’t going to be just our Rabbi. He’s going to be the
Messiah. We ought to line up our spots before the others get to Him first.”

You know how that goes. Even as children, we learn pretty
early on just how to catch our parents at exactly the right time. Later in
life, we do it to people at work, or even people at church. We hit them up
when their resistance is likely to be low, or when they’re in a really good
mood, or when they don’t really have much choice.

Maybe our first effort was throwing the fit at the
candy counter by the supermarket check-out line. Later, it’s: “Mom, can
Joey sleep over tonight?”
with Joey standing right there with hopeful
eyes. It moves on to: “Dad, we have to finish our lab report tonight at
Andrea’s house; can I borrow the car?”

And, before you protest, “I never did anything like
think of the times you’ve probably pulled something similar to that
recently on a boss, employee, co-worker, friend, spouse, or child. We all do
it: We work situations to our advantage, hoping to use the circumstances in
such a way that things work out in our favor.

That’s damaging enough when we do it in our human
relationships. When we attempt to do it in our relationship with the Almighty,
however, it’s far more dangerous. Attempting to manipulate God, as James and
John do here, is not only wrong; it’s damnable. It’s blasphemy—setting
ourselves in the place of deciding how God should behave in our relationship
with Him, rather than letting ourselves be directed by Him. It’s forgetting
those important words that James and John had already heard; words which we’ve
spoken ourselves, time and time again: Thy will be done.”

James and John, just like us, need to be put in the
proper place in our relationship with God—and it’s not a place they or we can
put ourselves. First they are humbled with a reality check: “You don’t
know what you’re asking.”
Then they are challenged with a question: “Can
you do what would be necessary to be entitled to sit in an honored place?”

In other words, “Can you, James and John, do
whatever will be asked of you to earn your place in heaven?”
They claim
they can, but like so many before and after them, they really don’t understand
what is required. The granting of heaven comes only to those for whom it has
been prepared, and it comes to them only by the grace of God. The Lord will do
the humbling and the exalting, the crushing and the lifting up, according to
His own purposes, in His own way, and on His own timetable.

Steer well clear then, of those two errors we see
James and John making in this gospel text. First, presuming to ask God to do
what we would have Him do, according to your own will. That’s a recipe for
sin, because anything arising out of your own will and nature is corrupted by
your flesh, the world, and the temptations the devil lays on you, encouraging
you to “be like God.”

Second, don’t presume that you can drink the cup that
Jesus drank, and somehow achieve something toward your own salvation or
exaltation in heaven. As believers in Christ, you will certainly taste the
bitter cup of persecution in this, and you certainly will build up treasure in
heaven by the good works you carry out in faith. But you are persecuted on
account of being bound to Christ in His death and resurrection by your
baptism. And your good works are only good when they are driven by the Holy
Spirit, apart from any expectation of rewards or accolades.

It is only because Jesus did all things asked of Him
by the Father—and not anything asked of Him by you, or James, or
John—that salvation is yours. It is only because the Son humbled Himself—and
set aside the glory and honor and power and might of sitting at the Father’s
right hand—that His life, death, and resurrection assured that you would
receive not what you ask, but what you so desperately need:
Forgiveness of sins. Life and salvation.

All this comes to you by the gift of faith—something
you can’t ask for; can’t earn; can’t keep or strengthen by your own doing. By
faith that Jesus did indeed go up to Jerusalem. By faith that He was in fact
betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and scribes. That He was unjustly
condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, spit upon, flogged,
and crucified.

This is your faith, dear Christian. This is your
creed: That He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was
buried is He who also rose again and ascended into heaven. So that He could
sit at the right hand of God and intercede for you, and take all those
inadequate, inarticulate requests you make to God, and make them His own.

Brothers and sisters: Through faith, your
will becomes aligned with God’s will. Then, when you pray, “Thy
will be done,”
you can be confident and assured that Jesus will convey
to our Father in heaven that which is pleasing to Him. He will steer us to ask
for what we need, not just what we want. You see, Jesus tells His followers
that we may ask for whatever we want or need in His name, and that He and the
Father will grant it.

But He’s not giving us a magic formula, or some sort
of script or recipe for prayer. Rather, in saying the words, “in Jesus’ name,”
we are confessing confidence and trust that He has found favor with the Father
for us, and that favor brings blessing upon us, both now and for eternity. We
are confessing faith in the One who has already done everything the Father has
asked of Him, and more than you could ever have asked or even hoped for.

He came to serve, that you might be freed from
slavery. He came to give His life as a ransom for many; that you would not
remain in bondage.

Pray with me:

Dear Lord, by your Holy Spirit, guide us to pray
rightly, and to implore you not to do whatever we ask of you,
but whatever would be Your will for us. Make us bold to confess
that You are the One who was delivered up to death for our sins, and rose again
victorious. You have given us the baptism which unites us to that saving death
and resurrection, and the cup of salvation which unites us with angels and
archangels, all the company of heaven, and saints triumphant, militant, and yet
to come. We pray in your name, the name you have given us by which we must be
saved: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.