The Servant King
Some years ago, I did a three-day walk, with friends, from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Pamplona in Spain, over the Pyrenees mountains. It was absolutely gruelling and there were occasional times when I moved to the front of the group, in an effort to forge ahead and bring the end of that day’s hike just that little bit closer. I wanted to get it over and done with. Of course, the end for me meant eating a hearty meal and resting in a comfy bed.
When we hear of Jesus striding beyond the group in today’s passage, it is clear that He is thinking about the end of His mortal life. He is absorbed in His own thoughts about the cruel death He is about to face and is stepping ahead in that lonely place where only He truly understands what is about to happen. Focused on the trials to come, He shares again the details with the disciples – “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (v.33-34). The end of Jesus’ earthly road is not a place of restoration and replenishment, as mine was, but of suffering and shame. Nevertheless, He doesn’t shrink from it, but moves forward with purpose and determination.
It seems very insensitive, then, that after Jesus has bared His heart about the barbarous death He is to suffer, James and John ask Him for favour in Heaven – to sit on His right and left! It’s almost as if they are saying ‘Enough of you and your problems, let’s talk about us!’ James and John were two of the three disciples closest to Jesus. Maybe they were trying to ‘cash in’ on their friendship and looking for status over the others? It doesn’t sit well with us, does it? I like to think that it is more a case that their love for Jesus was so great that they didn’t want to be separated from Him. They wanted to stay close and had no idea what their request actually involved. Jesus asks them if they are able to take His cup and His baptism, in other words, to be martyred like Him; and when they reply affirmatively, He tells them this indeed is possible but that the heavenly seating plan is outside His authority. This conversation then leads on to a fuller explanation, with the wider group, of the concept of servant leadership. Contrary to every society and religion in existence, the Kingdom of Heaven is based on the power of service to others, not on the power of making others serve. Jesus is the Servant King, who died in service to mankind. He was crucified in our place and took all our sins on himself, so we can be free. We should not be looking for ways to gain glory for ourselves, as James and John may have been, but for ways to serve our God and King, through serving others.
One thing I do really like about the story of James and John, though, is that they felt confident enough to say to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Is this presumptuous? Not at all! In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” James and John are simply practising what Jesus had taught them! I love the boldness of their faith in His word!
Matthew 7:7 is also the theme for the story of Blind Bartimaeus. The Amplified Bible translates the Greek present imperative verbs, in their continuous form, so don’t just ask once, keep on asking: “Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you”. Bartimaeus was certainly persistent with his request for Jesus to have mercy on him! The crowd told him to ‘shut up’, but he cried out all the more! He kept on shouting out until Jesus called him, at which point he ‘threw off his cloak and sprang up’. He got rid of anything that could hold him back and leapt forward to be healed by Jesus. “And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” (v.51–52). The power of persistence in prayer!
I pray that as we think about the examples we have seen today, we have faith to come boldly before the throne of God to present our requests, knowing that they will be fulfilled according to God’s perfect will and timing and to remember that our calling as Christians is to be servant leaders.