For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
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Friday, March 16, 2018

A Mother's Request

It is perfectly natural to want the best for our children. We work hard to see that they get into the best schools and sacrifice in order that they succeed in life. That's why Salome's request is so normal. Her sons were apparently doing well, they seemed to be in the inner core of Jesus's team. Jesus had just spoken of the coming of the kingdom and that the twelve would sit on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel. There was just one possible "improvement" in their situation and she was determined that they succeed. So with her sons in tow, she approached Jesus and knelt before him.

"What do you want?" Jesus asked.

"Say that these two sons of mine are to sit at your left and right hand when you come into your kingdom" (Matt 20:21-22).

It is a bold request and one that was not made without the permission of her sons. In fact, the other gospels record that the sons asked Jesus directly. All three were in on the request. Perhaps they thought a mother's request was more likely to gain a positive response. Often family members work together to obtain what they desire. A parent will ask a coach to give their child more playing time, or a teacher to give their child special attention. The parent and the child want the same thing: advancement.

Jesus told them that they didn't understand what they were asking.

He then looked at the sons and said, "Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?"

Salome looked at her boys, wondering what they would say. Students following a rabbi were learning to live like him, but Jesus was no ordinary rabbi. She wondered if the boys had the courage to say yes to the rest of the training.

Suddenly, her breath caught in her throat. It dawned on her that while Jesus's comments about his disciples being seated on 12 thrones sounded great, the last thing he said was that he was going to mocked, flogged, and crucified. Is that what Jesus was talking about when he referred to the cup? Was Jesus asking her boys if they were able to go through one of the most agonizing deaths ever conceived in the cruel heart of man?

The two men looked at each other and then responded, "We are able."

Jesus looked at them and said, "You will drink my cup, but your request is not mine to grant" (Matt 20:23).

They would indeed drink the cup of suffering that Jesus drank. Within a few short years, Herod would put James to death by the sword (Acts 12:1-2). Tertullian writes that Emperor Domitian ordered John's execution. John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil but like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendigo, John was unharmed (Daniel 3:16-23). Not knowing what else to do with him, Domitian banished John to the island of Patmos.

What was it that Salome was asking? What did James and John want? They wanted to be successful, but they had the wrong conception of what success was. Soon the other disciples would chastise them for their request. I suspect that they were upset because each of them secretly hoped to sit on the thrones closest to Jesus. Jesus would teach them about what it means to be great. His lesson on servant leadership is often discussed as the means to greatness in the kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28).

But let's consider for a moment that graduates of the "school of Jesus" like James and John did not live lives that would be considered successful in the eyes of the world. They were considered to be the scum of the earth (1 Cor 4:13). They suffered intensely for their faith in Jesus. In the world's eyes, they were failures.

Their request of Jesus showed that they had the right heart, but a terrible understanding of what the kingdom was all about. They wanted to excel, but the way of excelling is through humble obedience to Jesus, not seeking positions of power or authority. Success in life is simply walking with Jesus. It is built on meditation on God's Word and obedience to what he says. This obedience will lead us deeper into Jesus and more of his Spirit will flow through us into the lives of others. This, rather than position, power, or possessions is the true success.

The words of Jesus must have caused Salome pain. No one likes to think that their child will suffer, but there is an important lesson here for us who are parents. We need to do our best to raise our children in the ways of the Lord and place the greatest value on the Lord's will rather than our own desires. It may be the Lord's will for our children to join him in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10). Our priority in prayer must be that our children would be faithful to the Lord wherever that leads them.

Consider the example of Mary. She was chosen to be the mother of the Lord. Her obedient heart rejoiced and she sang, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed..."(Luke 1:46-49). Shortly after she gave birth, however, Simeon blessed them and then prophetically said to Mary, "a sword shall pierce through your own soul" (Luke 2:34-35). The most blessed of mothers watched her child die on the cross.

Releasing our children into the will of God for their lives is a hard thing for parents to do. It is made much easier by realizing two things. First, God is not calling us to do something that he himself did not do. He knows what it is like to watch his Son suffer and die. Second, God always has a purpose for the suffering of his children. The death of Jesus opened the door of salvation.

What about James and John?

They learned a lesson that day about the nature of leadership and humble submission to the will of the Lord. Before he died, James was a powerful leader in the church in Jerusalem. John would go on to write five New Testament books. Both received the highest award from the Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant" and will reign with him forever. Now that is true success!

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