Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent

Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent

(Transcribed by machine 04/07/2024)

In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Dear Saints, Jesus and his disciples are not on the same page.
In fact, in the Gospel reading, they’re headed in opposite directions.
Their minds are on opposite things.
Jesus is leading them into Jerusalem, but it even says that the disciples are hanging back and they’re afraid.
They know what’s waiting in Jerusalem. Opposition. Enemies.
And yet, and yet, they still have in their mind the idea that Jesus is coming to set
up an earthly kingdom.
Jesus is trying to convince them otherwise.
He’s preaching to them.
Now, this is his third sermon that he’s said explicitly that he’s going to Jerusalem and
that he’s going to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes.
That they’re going to condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.
Because that the Gentiles are going to mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him,
and then on the third day He will rise.
And we wonder if this time the disciples have got it, if the light has come on, if they
understand and if for a moment we think maybe they did, that is proved to not be true by
the conversation that happens right after this.
Can you imagine, so here Jesus is talking about, hey, we’re going to Jerusalem so that
I can suffer and die, and on the third day I’ll be raised, and John and James come to
Jesus and it’s almost like, well, okay, yeah, but we got a more important question to ask
you.
And they kind of set it up in a funny way.
It reminds me of the kids who say, hey, will you do one thing, Dad, for me?
And I said, well, it depends on the thing.
The disciples come to Jesus and they said,
will you give us whatever we ask?
And Jesus says, well, you better ask first.
And then I’ll tell you.
So then James and John say to Jesus,
can we sit on your right hand and your left hand
when you come into your glory?
Now this is what their mind is on, glory, power.
The kingdom of the Messiah, which the idea was, remember, that the Messiah was supposed
to come and overthrow the Romans, get rid of Pontius Pilate and all these centurions
and Roman soldiers wandering around.
He’s supposed to reestablish the kingdom.
He’s supposed to be a soldier and a fighter, a man of might, and obviously he’s going to
need a right-hand man and a left-hand man, and James and John think, well, it might as
well be us.
Because their mom was hoping for it too.
Jesus turns to them and it’s pretty amazing because, and this is the point, while we are
laughing at James and John and the disciples who were always trying to figure out who’s
the best, we realize that this is exactly what we do too.
So Jesus is trying to change their minds about what He is like and what His kingdom is like
and what his church is like, and he’s trying to change our minds about the same thing.
So he says to them, look, can you be, can you drink the cup I’m going to drink from?
Can you be baptized with the baptism that I’m going to have?
In other words, I’m going to Jerusalem not to conquer, but to be conquered.
I’m going to Jerusalem not to rule, but to die.
Can you do that too?
And they say, yes, we can.
And Jesus says, well, you will.
You’ll drink from the same cup.
You’ll be baptized with the same baptism.
James was killed by Herod, John dies after being exiled on Patmos, he’s the only one
that lives to kind of outlive the martyrdom of all the other ones, but they also were
going to have a cup of suffering, they also were going to be afflicted.
Jesus says, you will, you will also drink from the cup, you also will be baptized, but
to sit at my right hand and to sit at my left, that’s not for me to decide, it’s for the
ones for whom it was appointed.
It turns out God the Father had arranged that on Jesus’ right hand and on his left would
not be James and John, but rather two criminals who would be crucified with him a few days
from the text that we’re reading about.
So John and James are put back in their place, but the other disciples are now upset.
They’re back there listening and watching James and John kind of plead their case for
the right hand and the left hand of Jesus, and they are, the text says,
indignant. Who do these guys think they are? Sons of thunder? Why should they get
the right hand and the left hand positions? You imagine, even Jesus says,
look, he says, guys, I’m going to die. I’m going to suffer. I’m going to die. My
kingdom is not of this world. This is something different that Christ must
suffer before He enters into His glory, we’re not going to conquer Jerusalem, and they’re
mad that James and John wanted the best spots.
So Jesus turns to them.
He turns to us, and He says, look, the Gentiles act like this.
The pagans act like this.
Their concern is who has the power, who has the glory, who has the position, who has the
strength, who’s in charge.
That’s how the flesh thinks.
That’s how the Gentiles lead, but it will not be so among you.
If you want to be the greatest in my kingdom, Jesus says, you will serve.
If you want to be at the head, you will be the servant of all.
And then these words, and if you want to see how the mind of God is different than our
mind and how Jesus’ kingdom is different than ours, there’s no better words.
Jesus says, “‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give
His life as a ransom for many.'”
This is hard for us to even imagine, to fathom.
It’s one of those texts that you, if I was just preaching it to you, if I just said it
to you, you wouldn’t believe it unless I could show you where it’s written down in the text.
Jesus did not come to be served.
heart.
God is not here so that we would serve Him.
He comes to serve us.
This is astonishing.
And it’s completely different.
It’s completely different than the way the disciples are thinking.
Remember, they’re thinking about glory and power.
But it’s also completely different than the way that we think.
The old theologians had a phrase for it.
They called it the opinio legis, the opinion of the law.
The idea is that if God is mad at us because of our sin, then He’ll be happy with us
because of our good works.
That God deals with us, not according to grace, but according to law and command and requirement.
That to be in God’s good graces, we have to act right and do the right thing and be
obedient to His commandment.
In other words, his kingdom is not a kingdom of grace, but a kingdom of power, a kingdom
of might.
And this idea clings to us, it clings to me, it’s like the default operating system of
our sinful flesh.
And so we have to work hard to make sure that this opinion of the law is removed from us.
It’s why Jesus has to preach the same sermon three times to his disciples, and still they
don’t get it.
I must suffer. I came to serve. And we have to hear it ourselves over and
over. This is one of the reasons why Lutherans are so grumpy. One of the
reasons. That’s a long list. Or maybe I shouldn’t say grumpy. It’s one of the
reasons why we take our theology and our doctrine so serious. It’s because this
opinion of power and requirement and law is always seeping in.
It’s always coming up to the floor.
It’s always there in our imagination.
It’s always running in the background, and it’s always threatening to take over this
idea that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
We think, well, maybe a little bit He came to be served.
Maybe a little bit I should serve Him.
Maybe a little bit He shouldn’t serve me.
Maybe, maybe a little bit I’ve got to do something, no, we have to fight and be on
our guard constantly that this gospel is not confused or mixed up with some other doctrine
of the law.
I’ll give you a couple of examples, I remember one time, this was years ago, I was planning
a conference in Colorado, and this conference was going to be on the differences between
Christianity and Islam.
And we had a professor coming from the seminary to present the Christianity part, and I was
working with Mohammed, who was the… who has worked with the Colorado Muslim Society.
He was the imam at the mosque there.
And so to prepare for the conference, Mohammed and I went and got a cup of coffee.
We were just kind of meeting each other and chatting about what we were going to talk
about.
And I remember he almost starts out the conversation by saying,
Well, you know, Brian, Islam and Christianity aren’t that different.
In my mind, they’re pretty close.
I said, Really?
You know, this is what you don’t know what to say.
He said, Well, tell me more about that.
He says, Well, we both believe that God created the world and everything in the universe.
We both believe that God has rules and He has standards by which we live and live a
good life.
And that we believe that after you die, you can be raised and go to heaven and paradise.
I said, well, okay, that’s true, I agree on that, but how about this?
We believe, we Christians believe, that God, the eternal Son of God, came down from heaven
and took on our flesh and blood, you believe that everything in the universe
exists to please and serve Allah. We believe that God came to serve us and
Jesus says it like this, I didn’t come to be served but to serve. Muhammad said to
me. Yeah, that’s different. I mean, Islam means service or submission to Allah. The
goal in life is that we would serve God. That’s the purpose. But we believe this astonishing
thing that God comes to serve us. I remember when I was learning about the Lutheran doctrine
of worship.
We were in catechism class, and Carrie and I were dating at the time and the pastor was
teaching us.
They said, you know, most people think that worship is our service to God, but we have
this astonishing difference that we believe that when we come to worship, we come not
to serve God, but to be served by him.
And I remember being so astonished by this, I went out and I did a survey.
I was always doing these surveys at the Calvary Chapel just to make sure I was right about
what people were believing.
And I was going around and I was asking people, what is worship?
And they would give the pretty standard answer, well, worship is our adoring God for who He
is and what He’s done, thanking God for who He is and what He’s done, serving God for
who He is and what He’s done.
We gather to serve the Lord.
And I said, well, what if I told you that we gather, the Lutheran church gathers to
worship not to serve God, but to be served by Him?
That’s different. It’s different. And it’s usually, it’s not, it’s that idea is
not just different from from every other confession that’s out there. It’s also
different from the confession of your own sinful flesh. It goes against
every instinct that we have. That the Creator would serve the creation? That
That the Almighty God would serve us sinners?
Jesus says it like this when He’s talking to His disciples at the Lord’s Supper.
He says, who’s greater, the one that sits at the table or the one who serves?
Now that’s easy.
The one who sits at the table is greater.
The one who sits at the table is the boss.
The one who serves is the one who’s least.
He’s there to give you what you want.
I remember when I was waiting tables, this is the thing, the one thing you have to know
about waiting tables is that the customer is always right.
It didn’t matter what I thought about something.
If I’m there serving, the one who sits at the table is greater.
Who’s greater?
The one who sits at the table or the one who serves?
And yet Jesus says, but I am among you as the one who serves.
And it’s still the case.
Jesus comes today, the Son of Man, not to be served but to serve.
He has given His life as a ransom for many, as a ransom for you, so that He can
serve you with the forgiveness of sins, so that He can serve you with a clean
conscience, so that He can serve you with His blood and death and resurrection and
open up for you eternal life so that you can have the confidence that you’ll
stand before him forever, still this is who Jesus is and still it astonishes us
and surprises us. But against all of the pharisaical confessions of our
own sinful flesh and against all of our reason and all of our thinking and all
of our native theology and against this opinio legis that is just always
acting inside of us, Jesus comes to us this morning and he says this to you and
to me, I am among you as the one who serves. In the absolution, Jesus is serving
you. In the Word and in the preaching of the Word, Jesus is serving us. And in the
supper. He is not only the host and the meal but also the server who feeds you
his own body and blood and gives you the promise that your sins are forgiven. Now
we are like the disciples and we’re just always kind of defaulting on this
question of glory and the right hand and the left hand and who’s the greatest and
all this other stuff, but Jesus cuts through it with this promise, I came to
serve and to give my life as a ransom. May God grant us by the Holy Spirit the
miracle of faith to believe these words, to hold on to them, to rejoice in the
confidence that Jesus wants to have as he serves and blesses us. May God grant
and for Christ’s sake, amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding,
guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.