5th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #857
Text – Mark 10:42
And Jesus called them to Him & said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, & their great ones exercise authority over them.”
LORDING IT OVER THEM
A well-dressed European woman was on safari in Africa. The group stopped briefly at a hospital for lepers. The heat was intense, the flies buzzing & she noticed a nurse kneeling in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper. With disdain the woman remarked, “Why, I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” The nurse quietly replied, “Neither would I.”
That opening paragraph gets right to the heart of the Gospel reading from Mark. It cuts a very definite line through the middle of human beings across the world. The opening paragraph demonstrates, through a story from life already here on earth, what Jesus was talking about concerning Judgment Day in this reading from the Gospel of Matthew:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, & all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, & He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (25:31-32 ESV) On the Last Day Jesus will draw a line through the middle of humanity across the world & throughout time.
But the story about the European woman & the nurse & the leper drew that line already in the here & now. Men, women & children who follow Jesus are called to lead others through serving them, not through lording it over them. By the comment of the woman on safari it seems that she’s more comfortable in the role of lording it over people.
If that’s true, she would fit in well with James & John as they approach Jesus with these words, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mark 10:35b ESV) God’s Son had just finished telling the disciples how He, their Lord & Master, was going to serve all of humanity through His suffering & death. James & John respond by saying, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand & one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37 ESV) That response is pretty much along the same lines as seeing the nurse treating the leper’s pus-filled sores, but then remarking, “Why, I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!”
Both responses are totally out of place. They reveal a blindness to God’s kingdom that hopefully is stunning for you to hear, because that same blindness exists in your heart & in mine. If we don’t recognize that we are in a world of hurt. Most people do not enjoy doctor appointments. They only go if they are certain they need help.
The same is true with repenting of our sins. None of us enjoys doing it & we only do so if we’re certain that we need help. At this point in Jesus’ ministry His disciples were seeking glory instead of repentance. They sought glory without suffering. This attitude revealed their ignorance of Jesus’ mission even when He explained it to them:
“He began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, & the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests & the scribes, & they will condemn Him to death & deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him & spit on Him, & flog Him & kill Him. And after three days He will rise.’” (Mark 10:32c-34 ESV)
Almost that entire paragraph deals with Jesus’ suffering & death, so that the last six words slip by all but unnoticed, “…after three days He will rise.” The point – suffering comes first, then comes glory. Along with the Disciples, you & I are inherently blind to that reality. Our emotions want nothing to do with it.
Years later, after Jesus’ resurrection, when the apostle Paul is teaching, he demonstrates his understanding of that reality. He & Barnabas, on one of their missionary journeys, recorded in the book of Acts, traveled through various cities to strengthen the believers: “They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (14:22b NLT) And yet, when the going gets tough, so many Christians seem to think that isn’t how it’s supposed to be. If your life is filled with struggle, even fellow children of God are drawn into questioning your faith. The friends of Job questioned his faith.
It’s not easy to preach suffering & hardship, self-sacrifice & service. It runs against the grain of your very heart & soul to faithfully receive that message. How many politicians campaign on what they, & the government, are going to do for you? Then consider how many politicians campaign on what you should do to serve the needs of others?
“And Jesus called them to Him & said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, & 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, & whoever would be 1st among you must be slave of all.’” (Mark 10:42-44 ESV)
Don’t you agree the world would be a better place if more politicians & world leaders considered themselves as slaves of all? The struggle we have is that Jesus is not only preaching to them. He’s preaching to you & to me as well. We’ve been studying the theology of the cross in the Sunday morning Bible class. Listen to the words of the prophet Ezekiel:
“This is what the Lord God says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, & I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches & producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down & makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither & gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, & I will do what I said!” (17:22-24 NLT)
In Jewish thought it is precisely the lowly whom God chooses. Ezekiel gives vivid & poetic expression to the theology of the cross, the way of the Gospel, the administration of the Kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world. The 1st shall be last & the last shall be 1st. Jesus had this to say in Luke chapter 9: “And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross daily & follow me.’” (9:23 ESV) That does not sound like a glorious path to follow. It is anything but, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand & one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37 ESV) Even then, the Son of God, who was present & involved in creating the entire universe, responds with humility:
“…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.” (Mark 10:40 ESV) In verse 37 James & John said: “Give to us...” In verse 40 Jesus said: “It is not mine to give.” They ask on the basis of presumption & pride. His answer – humility – is the very antithesis of that.
The Son of God does not assign places to His servants in the Kingdom of God. The Father, to whom Jesus willingly submits, has chosen them from eternity by grace, & He will give them their portion with the Son of God in the coming glory. Participation in Jesus’ future glory comes only by participation in His suffering.
The measure of all greatness, by God’s definition, is the self-giving greatness of the Son of Man who serves to the utmost, to the giving of His life for the ransoming of the many. This runs totally contrary to our sinful nature & to the way of the broken world in which we live. That’s why St. Paul wrote this in his letter to the church at Rome:
“Don’t copy the behavior & customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good & pleasing & perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)
On earth, we are to be shaped & formed by the suffering, death & resurrection of Jesus that He accomplished for us. In Heaven we’ll enjoy His glory, & be shaped by it, for all of eternity. All human beings are powerless to do any of this on their own. Our efforts to ‘lord’ it over others are an expression of our brokenness. ‘Lording’ it over others is also an effort to gain glory for myself apart from God’s will. That effort on my part is neither good, nor pleasing, nor perfect. That sort of ‘self-confidence’ does not proceed from faith, but rather from rebellion. And, it is doomed to eternal failure.
There is a time & a place for power to rule here on earth. It is needed to protect the citizens of our country from evil men & women who would ‘lord’ it over others. Our Father in heaven has given the government which He establishes the authority to make laws & put people in prison if they are unwilling or unable to restrain themselves from evil.
In this life, earthly rulers in the kingdom of power have the responsibility to rule over others. Jesus is not condemning them. It is a fact of life, but in the kingdom of God on earth, whoever wishes to be great or 1st must be servant & slave.
God sent His Son to be a servant & His greatest service was giving His life as payment for the sins of humanity across the world & throughout time. As the OT reading from Jeremiah stated, “For I will forgive their iniquity, & I will remember their sin no more.” (31:34b ESV)
The nurse, in the opening illustration, was demonstrating the heart of Jesus, because she was not tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper for all the money in the world. She was doing it out of love for Jesus Christ, & the fact that He died on the cross to take away her leprosy of sin.
The Gospel reading from Mark is appropriate in this season of Lent because it helps us to recall our sins, & sinfulness, which caused the Lord to willingly suffer & die that we might be set free. What great love He must have for us. Amen.
Lord, help us walk Your servant way wherever love may lead & bending low, forgetting self, each serve the other’s need. You came to earth, O Christ, as Lord, but power You laid aside. You lived Your years in servanthood: in lowliness You died. No golden scepter but a towel You place within the hands of those who seek to follow You & live by Your commands. Amen. LSB 857:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet