Sunday, October 19, 2003

Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-8
Mark 10:35-45

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

We have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those little address stickers that come from organizations seeking donations. These stickers come with a bill to cover the cost of the stickers, with a request for extra funds to help pay for the work of the organization. Other organizations promise subscriptions or other gifts so that the donor feels like they have gotten something out of the transaction. The charitable organizations know that most people are unwilling to do something for nothing.

In today's Old Testament lesson, Isaiah writes, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." It is almost as if Isaiah was looking right into the future, to our time and place. How many times have we heard, or even asked, the question, "What's in it for me?" We do not want to commit to something unless we know that we will somehow benefit. Even charitable giving is driven by the affect it will have on our lives. We wonder if our gift is tax deductible, we buy raffle tickets in the hopes that we will win. We are more likely to write a check to an organization that will serve our needs or meet our demands. Membership drives are always accompanied by a promise, "Join us and you will receive."

Our lives are self-centered. In our jobs, we work hard to get ahead. In our private activities, we strive to be the best. Even the way we deal with our families, the closest relationships we have in this world, is affected by our desires, wants and needs. We may not consciously be aware of our self-focus, but we are most likely to pursue the options that best serve our lives, no matter what it means for another. Even the most selfless people are concerned about self-preservation or have some self-interest.

There was One who was different. He was truly selfless, to the point of giving of Himself for the sake for another, for many others. He was completely obedient to the will and purpose of His father and willingly died to bring forgiveness and eternal life to the world. Isaiah tells us about this One. He took upon Himself the suffering of the world, He accepted God's wrath for our iniquities. He was oppressed and afflicted. He was judged and killed even though He did nothing to deserve to be slaughtered. He became the ransom for us, to gain our freedom from our self-centered thoughts and deeds and give us the grace to be as He is for us.

We wonder how it is that the Lord could die for our sake. How could He walk into such suffering for someone like me? He did it because of His love for His people, to fulfill the promises He made despite our failure to follow His Law. There is an even greater promise that follows the suffering. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Jesus gave Himself for the sake of others.

No matter what He said to the disciples about this, they did not understand. They saw their Lord as one of power and authority. They saw Him becoming King. They saw their future as one of shared power and authority. They would be the strong, the honored. They would finally be in control of a world that was out of their control. James and John went to Jesus with their wants. They weren't very shy about it, either. "Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee." Just a short time before in the book of Mark, the group of disciples had a similar conversation. They wanted to know who was the greatest among them. Jesus answered this desire to be number one in a strange way. They had to be like children, willing to put others before them.

Now, just a short time later, James and John came to Jesus with the same conversation. He told them that they had no idea what they were asking. To be like Jesus and to serve in His kingdom would not be easy. "Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They thought they could, but they also thought it would be a pleasant experience. Jesus answered that they would drink the cup and be baptized with Him, but they would not sit in places of power.

Once again Jesus takes the opportunity to show them how He came to turn the world upside down. Power and authority in Jesus' kingdom does not come with strength, but with submission. In the world those with power and authority lord it over the weak and helpless. In Jesus' kingdom, those with power and authority are servants to the world so that they might bring forgiveness, peace and hope to all who are dying in their self-centeredness. "For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the high priest is selected and appointed to represent men before God, and to deal gently with those men who are going astray. It was for those to whom Isaiah referred - the sheep who have gone astray - that Jesus became the true High Priest. He not only offered sacrifices, but He was the sacrifice. He was the perfect Lamb, presented by the perfect Priest. He lived a life of perfect obedience and suffered so that all those who suffer with Him will be made perfect for eternity.

Jesus never cared what He would get out of it. He wasn't in it for the glory. So, too, our life in Christ is not something we should do because of any rewards. We follow the Lord, drink the cup of sacrifice and are baptized into His death - not so that we can live in glory. We do so for the sake of the world, to be servants and share the kingdom of God with those who are dying from their own self-centeredness.

Satan used the words of the Psalmist when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. "For he will give his angels charge over thee, To keep thee in all thy ways." Satan wanted Jesus to seek the power and authority of this world, rather than the power that comes from submission and obedience. Jesus refused. We too are persuaded with these words from the world as we seek to be number one. But through faith in Jesus Christ, we need not seek the power that the world offers; we have an even greater power given to us by God. When we make the Most High our dwelling place, He will guard us from the things of this world that seek to destroy, and He will save us from all harm. As we follow our Lord Jesus, we will face suffering, persecution. Yet, we will find such joy in being a servant, such peace in giving ourselves for the sake of others. And God will be with us in whatever we do. Thanks be to God.

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