We all have questions about our lives, about the world. We have concerns about our future and the future of those we love. The Christian Church has pointed people to Jesus – he has the answers to our questions!
From what I see, this is the predominate presentation of Christianity these days: You have some need, perhaps a need for peace in a troubled life, the need for greater hope and confidence in the future. Well, Jesus has the answer.
This is called "evangelism," the attempt to lure people toward the gospel, the effort to win people to Christ, by putting forth all the benefits of following Jesus. Looking for meaning in life? Jesus has got it for you. A sense of peace and hope in an often difficult and demanding world? Jesus has it covered.
Many of the books on church growth that I have read all say the same thing..... “First find where people itch; then find a way for the church to scratch that itch. The church is here to meet people's felt needs.
Our scripture is from Mark's gospel, the earliest of the gospels. Mark certainly wants to reach people with the message of Christ. Mark's gospel begins with "Here is the good news of Jesus Christ." Here in Mark is the good news about Jesus.
Yet when compared with the way we talk about Jesus, Mark has little to say about our felt needs, our struggles and our difficulties. Mark mainly talks just about Jesus. And when he talks about Jesus, it's not Jesus as the answer to our problems that Mark stresses but, rather, Jesus as strange and demanding Lord.
Take today's scripture. As the disciples walk along with Jesus, a couple of the disciples say, "Lord, grant us to sit at your right and your left when you come into your kingdom." Those who sit next to the chief are those who share power with the chief. In other words, "Lord, when we get you elected Messiah and your Kingdom is come, grant us to sit on your Cabinet!"
It is an understandable request for the disciples to make of Jesus. After all, here are the ones who have left everything and they've come to follow Jesus, to walk with Jesus along his way. Why did they commit to Jesus? Well, unlike a lot of people, they believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the great leader who would come in, raise an army, kick out the Romans out of Judea, set up Israel again as the most powerful nation in the world.
It had not been easy trooping around behind Jesus through Judea. Their request is quite understandable: "Lord, when you finally get everything together and win your kingdom, let us sit beside you in ruling your realm."
Lord, when you at last bring peace on earth, let that peace first be in my heart, in my marriage, in my family. Lord, when you at last lift up the poor and set things right in the world, be sure that I am one of the major beneficiaries.
And Jesus replies to this perfectly understandable request by saying: "You don't know what you're asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? Are you able to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?"
We know what the disciples don't know. The road that Jesus is walking is a road that leads to torture, to death on a cross. The "cup" that Jesus is to drink is the cup of his horrible death. The "baptism" that will drown him is the baptism of his death as he suffocates to death on a cross.
The disciples show that they are clueless when they respond, "Sure! We can do that! We are able to drink your cup and be baptised with your baptism! No problem!"
"'Are you able,” said the master, “to be crucified with me?” Yes!” they answered, “to the death we'll follow you! Lord we are able!'"
What about us? Are you able to receive the peace, the benefits, the joy, the sense of deeper meaning, the reassurance or whatever it is that Jesus is giving out this week? "Oh, sure! We are able!" we answer.
"Are you able to be crucified like I am to be crucified, to suffer, to be rejected and disappointed like I am to suffer and be rejected?" Jesus asks. And these disciples reply, "Sure! We are able!"
And you expect Jesus to say, "You idiots! Here it is, deep in the Gospel of Mark and you are still clueless? You show by your response that you don't have the foggiest idea of what I've been talking about all along the road, do you?"
And maybe Jesus was thinking that. But what Jesus actually said was, "You will drink the cup that I drink, you will be baptised with my baptism."
Jesus promises his disciples not that they shall be in glory with him, rewarded and happy. He promises that if they will follow him they shall share with him in his sufferings and challenges.
Two disciples ask to sit next to Jesus in his glory, one on his right, one on his left. When Jesus came into his "glory," it was not on a throne. It was on a cross, with two thieves, one on his right and one on his left.
This is the message that followers of Jesus today have been reluctant to proclaim to the world, perhaps because we're reluctant to hear this message ourselves! Jesus is not a technique for getting what we want out of God; Jesus is God's way of getting what God wants out of us. God wants a world, a world redeemed, restored to God. And the way God gets that is with ordinary people like us who are willing to walk like Jesus, talk like Jesus, yes, and even if need be to suffer like Jesus.
I've always thought it would have been enough of a challenge if Jesus had only said, "Even though I am the Messiah, the Son of God, Saviour of the world, I am going to be nailed to a cross." Unfortunately for lots of our ideas about religion, Jesus said, "There's a cross for you too. Come, take up your cross and follow."
Passed by a church the other day that had a sign out front that proclaimed, "Celebrate Faith!" Come, celebrate faith, redemption, joy with us! Ever seen a church with a sign out front that read, "Come! Be Crucified! We've Got a Cross that Fits Your Back Too!" And yet, Jesus was upfront. Can't accuse Jesus of false advertising. "You will drink the cup that I drink; you will be baptised with my baptism."
I know a man, who became an active Christian in high school. He was going through a turbulent period in his life. In an emotional youth worship service, he gave his life to Christ. He said of his conversion, "I have found what I've always been looking for."
He now runs a ministry for street kids in the Campbelltown area. What he does is dangerous, he shares the lot of the kids who come to his ministry. He has been the victim of crime on a number of occasions. I marvel at his faith and his faithfulness.
"Well, it's sort of what you sometimes get when you get Jesus," he says with a smile. "I thought I 'found Christ' when in reality, Christ found me. I thought he wanted to give me something. Well he has given me many good gifts, but mostly what Jesus gave me was a job to do for him rather than to do what I wanted to do for myself." And I thought of today's scripture: "You will drink out of the same cup that I drink."
When you think about it, its amazing that so many people respond to the message of the gospel – to Jesus. Most people are smart enough to figure out that if they gave their lives to Christ, he would only make their lives more difficult! Jesus said, "You will drink my cup, you will be baptised with my baptism."
And that's the Good News.
Let us pray.
Jesus, help us to hear you. Help us to hear your challenging--sometimes bad--news as our good news. Help us to hear your voice as our summons. Help us to take up your cross daily and walk where you lead. Amen.