Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 14, 2012
 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.”  And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  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?”  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,  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.”  And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  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.  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first 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.”
-- Mark 10:35-45, ESV
One of the most interesting classes I took in seminary was a class on class. It was a communications class on communicating to the classes of society (and each subdivision within each division of class). I never knew before that virtually every citizen in our society can be classified by class, as either lower-lower class, middle-lower class, upper-lower class, lower-middle class, middle-middle class, upper-middle class, lower-upper class, middle-upper class, and upper-upper class. That’s classy, don’t you think?
Classifying people sociologically has been done for years, but what about classifying them theologically? Does Christianity have a class system? Roman Catholicism has a hierarchy that descends from pope to cardinal to bishop to priest to parishioner. Some Protestant denominations have a similar scale with slightly different titles. Low churches, like the Baptists, have a more horizontal plane, yet sometimes the pastors and more often the deacons receive elevated authority.
Are Christians supposed to have class? Are there levels in the church like seating on an airplane? Apparently, among the first Christians, at least James and John thought so. You can read it in their request, and learn from Jesus’ response, in Mark 10:35-45.
The Climb for Class
Whether or not we’d admit it, we all want to climb into the upper class. They get all the glory and live glamorous lives. They get to call the shots in politics, business, even sports (those Yankees are in the playoffs every year simply because they have the biggest payroll). It is human nature to strive for glory and authority in this earthly life, and often it blinds us to the priorities of the Christian life.
James and John wanted the honor and authority of the upper class. Thinking Jesus was an earthly, military Messiah, they wanted the choice seats at the table after Jesus kicked Rome’s backside in Jerusalem. Do you remember when Osama Bin Laden was killed? There is a photograph of President Obama depicting him in a special war room as the event unfolded. On his right hand was the Vice President, a position of symbolic honor and importance. On his left hand was the Joint Chief of Staff, the highest military rank in the country, a position of definite power and authority. So that’s what James and John were asking for, the best seats in the house, the positions of honor and power, the best seats in the upper class.
There is a healthy ambition that can serve to make you and others around you better. Then there is selfish ambition that can make you think you are better than everyone else. James’ and John’s climb for the upper class in this text was selfishly ambitious and it caused great dissention among the disciples. It also earned them a sharp rebuke and dire prophecy from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Drop of the Cup
Those who selfishly seek to climb will inevitably tumble down. James’ and John’s selfish pride was exceeded only by their precipitous fall. After three years of following and imitating the Christ, they arrogantly confessed to Jesus that they could do anything that Jesus could do. While this was not true, Jesus did grant them at least a part of their wish.
The first member of Christ’s band of Apostles to be martyred was James, the same James who wanted to sit on Jesus’ right. The last one to die was John, after years of deprivation, persecution, and torture, a life that in no way resembled a lavish seat on Jesus’ left. They were not petulantly punished by God, nor did their fate deviate one inch from God’s sovereign plan for their lives. But, there is a lesson to be learned for Christians. Selfness will always make you suffer, if you are a true child of God. And, when it comes to positions in God’s church, lets find a way to allow God to do the choosing. After all, it is His church.
By the way, who will sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand in Heaven? In the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared. Abraham and David were Old Testament big shots, too. In the Gospels, James and John, along with Simon Peter, were Christ’s closest friends. And then along came the Apostle Paul. In Christian history, perhaps Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Haddon Spurgeon might be a good fit for those seats. More likely, it will be someone no one has ever heard of before, some quiet, humble, persistent, committed, loving servant of God.
One Class for Christians
I suspect it was James, the eldest, who wanted that seat on the right hand of Jesus, the first class seat. John would have been well content with the left hand seat in second class. Peter and the rest would have to ride in third class.
But Jesus taught them that Christians have no class. We are not to distinguish ourselves with levels of recognition and authority. While the biblical offices of pastor, elder, deacon, and member have different levels of credibility and responsibility, the reality of what Jesus said is this: every Christian rides in the servant class. We are servants, period. We are servants of God, servants of one another, and servants to the lost people in this world. Christ even refers to Christians as slaves.
In Christianity there is a sweetness to slavery. Slavery is a foul word in our age, and rightly so. However, Christ calls all Christians slaves in this text, at least those who would be great Christians in God’s sight. If you have been effectually called by the gospel of Jesus Christ, the path to greatness in your life in Christ is paved with slavery and servitude. But it is not the forced kind of slavery that was perpetrated upon the ancestors of our African American brothers and sisters. It is the free slavery that comes to a child of God when they lose their ambition for recognition and power and embrace the privilege of serving God by serving others with whatever gifts, talents, and treasure God has given to them. At the end of the day it will not matter how much money we made, how many degrees we earned, or how many positions of rank or authority we held, but how many people did we serve in Jesus’ name.
And in serving others, we become like our servant Savior in every way, except one.
Christ in a Class by Himself
Christ came to serve, and He calls His followers to a life of service. Christ came to die, and He bids us to die to self, take up our cross, and follow Him. But there is one thing that Jesus did that no other man can do, one thing that puts Him in a class by Himself.
He is the “ransom for many” (vs. 45).
The death of Jesus Christ is the capstone of the finest example of humanity ever set forth. Ever loving, ever sacrificing, ever serving, the life of Jesus touched so many lives in ways His followers seek to emulate every day. We preach the gospel, we help the poor, we comfort the sick and pray for their cure, we encourage one another, we make room for one more. Scattered throughout history are even Christians who died on mission fields because they were devoutly following Jesus. Jesus’ life and death serves as a supreme example, but an example is not enough.
The death of Jesus Christ is much more than a mere example. It is a ransom, a payment, a price of redemption, a means of release, to the many that have been called by and have called on the name of the Lord. I can serve you, I can even die for you, but my service and death will not satisfy the wrath of a holy God for the sins committed against Him. Only the perfect, spotless, sinless Son of God could offer His perfect, spotless, sinless blood on behalf of others, so that holy God could let them be forgiven and go free.
Have you been forgiven and set free by grace through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? If so, what are such free men to do? We are to become slaves of Christ, for His glory and the good of all people. We are to be without class or distinction, for we are all one in the body of Christ. We are to serve and give our lives for the one who served and gave His life for us. Christians have no class, but we have a great ambition, to be true servants of God by faithfully following our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”