Monday, March 30, 2009

Two Religions

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Mark 10:35-45
Bror Erickson

[35] And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." [36] And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" [37] And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." [38] Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" [39] And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, [40] but 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."
[41] And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. [42] And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. [43] But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [44] and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. [45] For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:35-45 (ESV)

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be slave of all, for even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

There are two religions in this world, only two. There is law and there is Gospel. There is the religion of the gentiles that strives for glory. That focuses on earthly glory, and thinks of heaven in those terms. And there is the religion of Jesus who has come in grace and truth, not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

Devotees of pagan religion, Gentiles, all have this in common, they don’t believe the cross. They don’t believe Jesus died for them on the cross. They don’t believe that Jesus came to serve, but to be served. There religion is one of serving their God. Namely, they serve themselves with the pretense of serving God, a god or gods, or even their neighbor. And they don’t know what to make of the Cross, forgiveness, etc.

You know at first I was reading this text, and almost thought it was a lesson in leadership. “Servant leadership” they used to call it at seminary. I suppose there is some validity to that concept. But most didn’t have a clue as to what might be meant by that. All the seminary really wanted to do was to curb the know-it-all-ness of their graduates, and a Herr Pastor attitude prevalent in many. And that of course needed to be curbed, especially as many of us would be graduating in our mid twenties, and still had a lot to learn, if not about books, than about life. Of course that can be said for all of life. If you stop learning you might check your pulse. You might be dead. I really can understand the seminary’s dilemma. But I sometimes fault them a bit as often it just frustrates a congregation that perhaps doesn’t want the pastor to “lord it over them,” but would like a little direction from the guy who went to school for eight years to learn how to be a pastor. But at seminary, they are all but taught not to give direction. The gap then gets filled with a crash course in “Church Growth” material. Which is nothing more than pragmatic secular business models applied to the church. The church though can’t sell out like that. It has a message it has to remain true too. I have read a couple of these books. I learned for instance that the capacity of a church is just as much limited by parking capacity as it is by sitting capacity. And that is for the most part true. But then it will go on to talking about how you need to remove the cross and remove any offense. Now I have to draw the line. I mean I have an abrasive side to my somewhat chauvinistic personality. I can be a bit crude, and am not often known for a high degree of political correctness. I tend to tell you how it is. I love a good debate, but a debate can bring out the worst in me. I have a hard time being polite when I am debating. And I tend to know enough about myself to know that that could be tamed. Believe it or not I even try to tame it. Then I begin to understand Roman’s seven. But ask me to stop preaching law/gospel because it is offensive, and now we have problems. You tell me, how do you preach the word of God without being offensive? Ever read it? You tell me, how to show the self-righteous their sin without being offensive? How do you remove the offense of the cross, and remain Christian? Because the Gospel is offensive. One does well to make sure it is the gospel that is offending, and not one’s personality. But that does not change the fact that the Gospel is offensive.
Yes there is a reason the law is such a popular religion. Men and women sit around dreaming of glory, and the law offers it. The law never gives it. But it offers it. Only one man ever managed to live the law perfectly. He did it for us. And the world crucified him. How is that for glory? The law never gives it out. But it holds it out there, do this and you will live it says. And people don’t get it. The law mocks us with that little carrot stick over the treadmill of life. It is true enough. If you were able to, you would live. If a one legged man could run, he could possibly play running back. The law mocks us. It laughs at us. It watches us get so proud of our little achievements, and laughs at us, a smile gaping with death. And it works because we are most often blind to the fact that we are sinners. Were too busy dreaming about glory with James and John.
Yes, man wants glory. And we think of it in terms of our neighbors. Glory is having more, more than our neighbors. It is a keeping up with the Joneses thing. And it doesn’t just apply to houses, boats and cars. I’ve seen people so poor they could barely afford shoes, bask in their imagined glory, so full of pride in their poverty you couldn’t tell them they were sinners. “You know it is only the rich man that can’t make it through the eye of the needle.” Everyone thinks of that in terms of material wealth. But there are those who are poor in spirit, and those who are rich in spirit. The rich in spirit clutch on to their fools’ gold of self-righteousness with an iron grip. They dream about multiple levels of heaven, jewels in their crowns. They “lord it over” their neighbors with pride, noses stuck in the air, even as they pridefully tell you how nonjudgmental they are, how they love everyone, and invite you to work in their soup kitchen. But of the forgiveness of sins, of the cross they have nothing, of the gospel they will not hear. They don’t think they need it. They can buy their way into heaven with good works. They can drink the cup, they can withstand the baptism and buy their glory. Or so they think. I dare say if that were at all possible Christ would not have died on the cross.
We all drink that cup. We all suffer that baptism. The cup of persecution, the dregs of the world’s sin that crucified our Lord. You drink that cup when you finally realize how poor and miserable a sinner you are. And we suffer that baptism when we are buried with Christ, to rise with Him to new life, a new life under the cross. But the glory is Christ’s. He is the one who conquered sin death and the devil, when you couldn’t get a handle on your own pride. To sit at the right and left of Christ, that was not for Christ to decide. That was for those to whom it had been prepared, a thief and a thief, two criminals that represent us all, both religions, law and gospel.
You see it there. The one mocks Jesus. Doesn’t see his glory. Thinks of glory in earthly terms. The man is facing death, a sinner, a criminal. He laughs at God. He laughs at Jesus. That is our pride. Our pride takes offense at the cross, oblivious to our own impending death, the judgment of our sin. For the wages of sin is death. We are all going to die, because we all stand before God as equals. We all stand before God as nothing, but sinners. And there are only two types of sinners. Sinners who are proud of themselves, who don’t think they need the cross. Who would try to rob God of his glory by pointing at their works. Who dream of lording it over others even in heaven.
Our sin knows no bounds. How evil can we be that we would pretend to love our neighbors and help them out, all the while thinking that in doing so we are doing something for God that will be rewarded? We use our neighbors even when we are helping them? Seriously if we go about good works that way, they are nothing but a mocking of God.
And there are sinners who stand before the cross forgiven. Forgiven sinners who hold on to the promises of God, and realize there is salvation.
For our God, the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and be a ransom for many. And even now He doesn’t expect to be served. What would we serve Him? What can we give to God? And don’t tell me you want to give him your heart. What a disgusting mockery of God that gift would be. Fresh cow manure in a box would be a more fitting gift. Your heart is disgusting; it is full “of murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.” (Matthew 15:19) And you seriously take so much pride in that that you think it is a worthy gift for God? Yet even so, our God came to serve us, and be a ransom for many. Serve you; serve me with the forgiveness of sins, in His blood that washes our hearts. Cleans them of their sin. No we don’t serve God. We never get beyond the fact that He serves us, because we never get beyond the fact that we are sinners. We never stop sinning. We sin doing good! So our Lord, the one that is greatest among us, Jesus Christ, becomes our servant, constantly washing, constantly cleaning, constantly serving with His blood the forgiveness of sins. Because as with that other thief, the other criminal, our only hope is Jesus and His mercy. There are two types of sinners, sinners full of pride, sinners unbroken, sinners that will not acknowledge their sin and mock God as the law mocks us, unforgiven sinners under the law, slaves to sin, slaves to the law acting as jesters for his grin of death. And there are sinners of poor spirit, broken sinners who put their trust in Jesus and His cross, forgiven sinners whom the law can no longer condemn, freed from sin in Christ Jesus, who offers you, YES You, even today, new life in paradise, as he promised the thief.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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