In tonight’s Gospel Jesus takes His disciples aside to let them know what is going to happen to Him. This is the third time He has told them, and it is also the most detailed of the Passion predictions. For the first time Jesus mentions that He will be handed over to the Gentiles and crucified. How exactly the disciples responded we do not know. But we know from the previous two times, they were shocked and saddened, but also perplexed. How could this happen to the long-awaited Messiah? How could their own leaders do this to their Savior? They did not yet understand that Jesus would enter into His glory through rejection, suffering, and death.
And as we see from Salome, the mother of James and John, they all have a lot left to learn. Salome approaches Jesus with a request for her boys. Let them sit at Your right and Your left, Jesus. Let them rule with You in Your kingdom. Of course, she, like the rest of the disciples and many of the Jews, assume this will be an earthly kingdom, that Jesus will restore Israel and bring a stunning military defeat of the Romans. So Jesus asks them, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Of course, they respond in confidence: “We are able!” Of course, they’re expecting to go to war, to get a chance to be heroes who can brag about their accomplishments later.
Naturally, this aggravates the other ten. They see the tactics James and John used, sending in mommy to bribe the teacher. But all it shows is that none of them understand yet. They think Jesus will be a political prisoner, someone whose banner they can take up and fight for the cause, should He be captured by the Romans. They’re waiting for their Esther and Mordecai the Jew moment—a royal decree giving the Jews power, authority to kill anyone who gets in their way, a decree sent to every person in the Roman empire, sealed with the king’s signet ring. Some day they’ll be great, the stuff of legends.
Jesus, the patient teacher, corrects them. No, it’s not about power or authority or position. That’s what Gentiles worry about, that’s what the world worries about. In the Kingdom, the true Kingdom, it’s different. In God’s Kingdom it’s about service. It’s about reversal—the first becoming the last, God stooping low to heal, Jesus taking on the form of a servant and giving His life as a ransom for many.
They all come to understand this in time. Shortly after this Gospel Reading they followed Jesus into Jerusalem as He rode on in lowly pomp to die. They watched Him give Himself as a ransom, the price paid to liberate the world from sin and death. Then their eyes were opened. Then they understood that this life is about more than position, about more than royal decrees that have only earthly influence. They understood what it was to serve. They witnessed love so amazing, so divine.
Now, who cares about sitting at the right and left of an earthly monarch? They were Baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, given the cup of His Blood to share. They were given homes in the Kingdom of Heaven, the enduring Kingdom. They were recipients of a different royal decree. They were stamped with the signet ring of Jesus’ Blood, His broken Body, His death and resurrection that declares them free from sin and death, a decree that no one, not even the devil Himself, can alter.
They were used then by Jesus, by His Holy Spirit, to proclaim the King’s decree to every people in their own language. At Pentecost they declared that this Jesus, who went uncomplaining forth, who gave His life as a ransom, had sent them to give than ransoming life to all. Thousands heard the message of Jesus Christ and His salvation because of them.
Then, ten of those twelve drank the cup Jesus drank as they died at the hands of those who hated them and the Gospel they preached. They laid down their lives because they knew they stood for the Truth, the Way, the Life. They were received at Jesus’ right hand, given a place before His eternal throne, where they now worship day and night with that host no one can number. They learned that the earthly is not all there is.
Now these foolish disciples are examples for us. Though Sunday they tried to send away the woman who clung ferociously to the Word, they teach us to cling to it with the same tenacity she did. They teach us to repent of our sins, our ambition and pride, our self-reliance. They teach us to cling to the only thing that can give us hope in this life: “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” So we join with them and the whole company of heaven in Holy Communion. We drink the Cup Jesus blessed and drank. The Son of Man serves us with His Body and Blood. He unites us to Himself and to those on His right and on His left. He repeats to us the promise He has spoken since Genesis. The devil is defeated. I have made a place for you in My Kingdom, and I will take you there.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.