Jeremy discusses other-centeredness and how our worldly definition of success differs from the Kingdom definition. He starts by examining the moment of clarity that we get when we “see fire,” or when emergencies arise – do we put on our own oxygen mask first, or do we take care of those around us first, at our own possible peril? The world (and airline safety speeches) tell us to take care of ourselves first, and only after that to worry about those around you. But Jesus tells us something different.
Today’s story begins with Matthew 19:16, when a rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do in order to enter the kingdom. Jesus tells him to sell all of his possessions and join him. In hearing this, the disciples ask about themselves, since they have already done this.
Jesus answers them and says that they will be seated on their own thrones in the new creation, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Two brothers, John and James, want that for themselves. They wanted to be in a seat of authority and judge others. So they have their mother ask Jesus if they could be seated there with him on his right and his left. But Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they are asking.
Jesus’s life is an example of how being seated with him means serving others (as he came to serve) not to be served. He shows us that kingdom success is giving your life for others. The point that Jesus was making when he said “you don’t know what you are asking” is made most clearly and gravely in Matthew 27:55 when Jesus is in the cross, and the people “seated” on his right and left are two rebels who were crucified alongside him. This is truly what it means to be seated next to him in the kingdom.
It is all too easy to lose sight of what it means to follow Jesus, because we get wrapped up in pursuing success in worldly terms. The world admires a successful person, but this story serves as a reminder that the truly successful person is the one who sacrifices himself for the sake of others. Suffering is a part of life – part of the meaning of being Christian is to lean into that suffering, particularly when it is to serve another.
Jeremy finishes this sermon by telling us the story of a young chess master who was brilliant and successful and admired by everyone, and contrasting it with the story of a girl he met at an orphanage in Nepal when he was on a mission trip. She was poor and owned nothing but the dress she was wearing. He had been playing with them and was sweaty and smelly, but she came and wiped his sweaty face with the hem of her dress – the only dress she owned. This was a beautiful example of how self-sacrifice is the definitive display of success in the kingdom.
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