James and John were known as the “Sons of Thunder” on account of their impulsive behavior. The two often act and speak, without thought or discernment. In Mark 10, they live up to their name. As Jesus leads the disciples towards Jerusalem, and his upcoming crucifixion, the brothers approach their Lord with an outlandish request. “Rabbi,” they say, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35). The statement is brash and audacious. It smacks of self-interest and manipulation.
The Sons of Thunder, however, are not finished. They follow up this statement with an equally bold request, “Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other on your left hand in your glory” (10:37). Make no mistake, while they reference Christ’s glory the pair have their hearts set upon positions of honor and prestige.
They seek divine favor and status. James and John believed that the Lord’s blessing was equivalent to exaltation and privilege. To be blessed was to be honored over others. To the pair, this request makes perfect sense.
After all, except for Peter, they were the first people called to follow Jesus. Didn’t this give them more seniority than the others? Why shouldn’t the two brothers have a privileged spot in Christ’s kingdom? Why shouldn’t God’s blessing display their favored position?
Jesus turns everything around. Divine blessing is never for our own enjoyment. In fact, Jesus says that the blessing of God moves us toward service and sacrifice. This is the very thing that Jesus himself incarnated in his life. Christ’s glory is revealed on the cross, not on the triumphant thrones of worldly power.
Jesus, therefore, responds to the request by calling the brothers to a life of loving service. Instead of resting in their own blessedness, they were challenged to be a blessing for others. This same charge is given to all Christians. The question we ponder is not whether we are blessed ourselves, but whether we live out the Lord’s blessings to those in our midst.
We should not be too quick to disparage the impulsive brothers. After all, we all want to enter the blessings of our Lord. We sing hymns such as “Count your many Blessings” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
All of us long to be feel the blessing of God pour into our lives. In fact, the Bible testifies that Jesus longs for us to uncover the richness of the Father’s blessing (Matthew 25:34). It is good and natural to search out the blessing of God in our lives.
This means that as audacious as their request was, the two brothers did not err in asking this of Jesus. It is not a sin to long for God’s blessing in our life. The fact that Jesus does not reprimand the brothers proves that we are able to bring even the most outlandish requests before God.
Still, the fault in their request was their motivation. James and John were focused on maximizing their own greatness. Their request was rooted in a desire for respect, clout, and influence. Sitting to the right and left of a King was to share the responsibility of rule.
These were the prominent places within any kingdom. James and John essentially request to be the two most important people in God’s kingdom. In their eyes, the Holy Trinity would consist of Jesus and themselves.
It can be easy to equate God’s blessing with tangible expressions of riches and greatness. This, however, is antithetical to the gospel.
God’s blessing will not necessarily unlock privileges and extravagancies in our lives. “Largeness” and “muchness” are not the currency of blessing. To believe this is to twist God’s blessings into noting more than status symbols, commodities to be enjoyed by the privileged.
This is not the way that Scripture speaks of God’s blessings upon our lives. Jesus was not financially stable, nor did he live a trouble-free life. He did not have a large house, nor did he win the favor of all around him.
Yet we would never assume that Jesus was not the blessed one. In Jesus, we see that being blessed by God is not about rising above the troubles of life. Instead, blessedness is rooted in humility, lowliness, and service.
Mary sings, “All generations will call me blessed” due to her submission to God’s divine plan (Luke 1:48). She lives in complete openness before the Lord. Similarly, Jesus announced that the poor, the hungry, the meek, the crying, and the rejected, were “blessed” (Matthew 5:3-11). Jesus contravenes worldly assumptions regarding blessedness and divine favor.
Becoming a Blessing
James and John fundamentally misunderstood the nature of God’s blessing. God’s blessing on our lives is different than the way of earthly power. The way of Jesus is the way of self-offering; it is the way of the cross. Jesus responds to the request by stating that the brothers “do not know what they are asking” (Mark 10:38).
The brothers simply never considered that God’s blessing comes by way of love and sacrifice. Jesus challenges the brothers to consider how they may give themselves as a blessing for others.
Jesus states, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servants and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). Service, not status, amounts to blessedness.
Earthly rulers lord their blessedness over others. It is equated with power and dominance. Jesus rejected this way of living. Jesus never gloried in His own blessings or divine status. Never once did he consider his divinity as something to be wielded for his own benefit (Philippians 2:6-11).
He even resisted the temptation to use his divine power to conjure up a meal in the desert (Matthew 4:3). Time and again, Jesus gave himself to others in loving service. “The son of man,” Jesus says, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give himself for the life of others” (Mark 10:4).
To walk in the way of Christ, therefore, is to follow the Lord’s example and embrace the call to service and sacrifice. The Christian life is one where we act as instruments of divine blessing.
What Does This Mean?
The Lord calls each of us to seek out ways where we might manifest God’s blessing. Being a blessing to others demands that refuse to absorb our blessings in an air of self-satisfaction. Our blessedness, as the people of God, is to be lived out in sacrifice and service.
Thus, instead of asking, “How might we obtain God’s blessing?” we ask ourselves, “How might we provide a blessing to others?” Rather than demanding that Jesus do for us whatever we ask, we place ourselves before Him in humble service.
Being a blessing to others can make us uncomfortable, which is why James and John tried to skip it. Doing so, however, sidesteps the very life that Jesus lived, and the life that Jesus calls us to live.
Being a blessing to others demands our time and our effort. It demands prayerful focus. It demands a willingness to step outside the places of our own comfort to be a source of nourishment and encouragement for others.
When we live in this way, we uncover the richness of the gospel and the power of the Spirit. What is more, it is in being a blessing to others that we find ourselves truly blessed.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Ridofranz
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
So when sin is not being confronted, or even viewed as sin at all, it’s time to address it with the hope of gently helping to restore believers caught in its web. Here are 10 sins that often go overlooked in Christian community.
Stock Footage & Music Courtesy of Soundstripe.com Thumbnail by Getty Images