Ambition. Some people have a lot of it; some not so much; while others are just content (or not) to just do what they’ve always been doing—just enjoy life, work, family, and all the other stuff. Ambition is defined as: a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. And some people may be hard workers and like to do things, even different types of hobbies, but not necessarily be ambitious. Then we come to the two disciples known as the Zebedee brothers (or sons of Zebedee) James and John we read of in Matthew 20, who may have been ambitious fellows all on their own, who obviously had quite the dream they wanted to come true.
They must have been ambitious or were the type that were okay with living dangerously (like being a stunt-person, a storm chaser or a matador or something along those lines). Or, James and John just didn’t understand what the Lord had just told them: specifically, that what awaited Him in Jerusalem wasn’t pretty: betrayal, falsely accusations and conviction, abuse and then crucifixion at the hands of the religious authorities. At that point we would have thought that maybe James and John and indeed all of the disciples would collectively say: “Okay Jesus, you go this way and we’ll go that way…It was good knowing you. Wouldn’t want to be you and we don’t want to be seen with you.” But no. Interestingly, the mother of James and John comes to Jesus to make a request on behalf of her sons… Let’s pick up at Matthew 20 …
Whenever I read this passage it always has the feel of a parent sitting behind a coach of a hockey team and the hockey mom or dad are just begging the coach to let their kid play centre or to put him on a line with a goal scorer or to give little James or Johnny more ice time. Here in our passage mother Zebedee is asking Jesus to basically let her sons be a part of the Trinity. I can only imagine what was running through Jesus’ mind when the mother asked that her boys be allowed to sit at His right and left side in His Kingdom. Is that ambition or what? Personally, I’m not that ambitious- I don’t know about you…
But note Jesus’ response: First, He first informs the mother of James and John that she fails to grasp the enormity of what she’s asking. We read of someone else like that in the gospels. Remember Peter at the transfiguration? Peter (who happened to accompanied by the same brothers James and John at the time) wanted to stay on the mountain top with the Lord, Moses, and Elijah. That was ambitious! Or a no-brainer. But what did the gospel writer Luke say??— that Peter didn’t know what he was saying!! Secondly, Jesus challenges their ambition on the basis of His ministry as the Lamb of God and Saviour of sin-ridden humanity. Jesus, in affect asks James and John, “Are you too capable of drinking the cup I have to drink?” In other words, are you guys up for dying for the sin of the world when you yourselves are sinful? And what makes you guys exempt from all other sinners? Then the Lord adds that they will in fact have to embrace suffering on His behalf and that their lives would be called to testify to their faith in Him.
So in one sense, they will identify with Jesus’ authority in His Kingdom; but their ambition of being awarded special honour in His Kingdom, such as sitting at His right and left hand – could not be granted by the Lord – but only by His Father in heaven. Lastly, Jesus responds to the mother’s request that J and J sit at His right and left hand in His Kingdom by teaching that in His Kingdom there is a reversal of values. Meaning, for the follower of Christ, if we want to be awarded by God and want to be great in the Kingdom of God, that lowly servanthood is the path, is what we must be ambitious about. That was Jesus’ will for J and J. It’s His will for us. Undoubtedly, it would have been foreign for the disciples to hear such a thing, because in their culture, rulers and authorities were not really considered servants in the same sense that Jesus was used the word – and so Jesus’ response was the pin that surely burst their balloon of ambition. Yet it didn’t need to.
In life some of our ambitions are simply out of our reach to attain. It’s just reality. We don’t have the gifts, the right opportunity, the right timing, the discipline, the amount of money we need perhaps, whatever… The Bible, however, does invite to pray about all sorts of petitions and to inquire of God’s specific place and will for our lives in different seasons. Yet Jesus is saying when we are ambitious to serve His Kingdom that that already makes us great—here, and in heaven…and I’m sure some awards and rewards in the here and now, as well as in eternity, are sure to come our way as well.
Can you disciple this?
Like many youngsters growing up in the 70’s, I too watched the children’s television show Sesame Street. The show included a segment called “Which one of these just doesn’t belong?” And being a kid’s program, it was usually quite easy to spot what colour, shape or number didn’t belong and stood out among the others…
Well- what does Sesame Street have to do with what Jesus was teaching His disciples in John 15?
I think in a round-about way, our Lord was saying that on account of their (the disciples) —and that includes every follower of Christ today—belonging to Him, that they are going to feel like a square peg that just cannot fit into the world’s round hole. Jesus used a word that when translated into English means “hate” or “strongly detest” to describe the feelings that the world often holds towards God’s people. (And by the world I’m referring to the character or realm of the world that is under the influence of and empowered by the devil himself.)
Jesus was saying that because He calls His follower, His disciple, to live by God’s terms and standards–and not the worlds, that the world will inevitably (or ultimately) end-up treating those who follow the Lord with contempt–like they don’t belong! That wasn’t a spiritual stretch on Jesus’ part by any means, and neither was He advocating a doom and gloom outlook on the Christian life. He was simply telling the truth! (See here the terms “strangers,” “aliens,” and “exiles” Peter used to describe the Christian believer’s status as a non resident and even foreigner in the world.) 1 Peter 2:11
Our Lord saw/sees into the future. Passages in Matthew 24 as well as in the book of Revelation reveal just how acutely God’s people will be persecuted by the worldly powers that be before Christ returns. The persecution of the church and Christians—indeed of many religious people of different faiths–has been going on for a very long time. (Even Noah experienced some hedonistic raspberries on account of his faith!) The intense persecution of believers in Christ of course continues today in various parts of the world. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are hated and being put to death simply because they’re known to love and follow Jesus. People are killed for merely worshipping their Saviour. And while we rightfully shake our heads at such a reality, acts of religious intolerance and oppression remind us of our Lord’s portent: “Heads up! If the world hated me, they will hate you (my disciple).” So then, hatred of God’s people is par for the discipleship course in this world. We were forewarned!
Ignatius of Loyola, the 15th century Catholic priest and theologian, said: “If one fears men, much he will never do, anything great for God. But all that one does for God in obedience to Him, arouses persecution.” Charles Spurgeon (the often called prince of preachers) remarked, “If you give a good ring about your witness for Christ, the world will give you up pretty quick.” Peter wrote that we’re not to be surprised if we suffer for doing good but that we can rejoice in the fact we’re sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
And so whether secular society and an increasingly humanistic culture gives God’s people up for hatred and persecution and even martyrdom, we can take spiritual solace in that there is One who walked those hard and lonely roads before us—the same One (Jesus) who walks them with us today. If the world hated and persecuted God in the flesh, who came to us full of love, grace and mercy, those of us who follow Him by faith and live for Him as our Lord can expect a little hardship here and there–maybe even intense persecution along our earthly path to glory…
So let’s keep our eyes fixed upon the author and perfecter of our faith—who endured much hatred and suffering, even the cross of crucifixion for the sake of our salvation. Though we presently reside in a realm that’s often opposed and hostile to people of faith, one day we’ll reign victoriously with Christ in His eternal Kingdom. We read about that throughout the New Testament!
Heaven has an antidote, an answer for the world’s vitriol towards God’s people, and it’s all wrapped up in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ!
Can you disciple this!?
Source: Disciple This! – HopeStreamRadio
“The word became flesh”- Wow! Just think about that… God Almighty; God supreme and majestic; Creator of all we feel, hear, know, see, smell and taste…The LORD, Jehovah, the Great I AM taking on the flesh, bone and blood of human beings?? You know, if the Bible didn’t testify to that reality, we would never believe it. The thought, the very idea of God becoming man is too outrageous. It’s too mind-blowing; too unfathomable and scandalous to imagine possible!!
Would God Almighty, holy and perfect, pure and sinless; all knowing, all powerful and ever present…could He, would He do that?? Yes–in Jesus Christ He did! Because of that fact, none of us can say, “God doesn’t know how I feel!” None of us could contend that God can’t suffer or feel sadness or pain, because Jesus did. In fact, before Christ incarnated into our world, God showed many emotions when dealing with humanity–specifically, with His chosen people of Israel.
Who do we think gave us the ability to experience joy, pain, sadness or happiness?? God did! And if God authored these facets of our humanity–created them–He must therefore know how they feel, because they generated from Him (and He’s made us in His image). John the gospel writer wrote that Jesus came to us “full of grace and truth.” Why did Jesus come to us as a newborn baby in Bethlehem? He came to bring us the grace of God through the truth of God as the Word of God–made flesh. He couldn’t have done that from the safe confines of His heavenly throne. Hardly! Jesus Christ came to us so that our sins could be put to death in His body (flesh) and washed away with His blood. This couldn’t have happened without the Crucifixion!
The Lord didn’t become a human being because He was bored in heaven and wanted to go on some earthly adventure. (That sounds like something out of Greek mythology!) Rather, Jesus came to rescue us from our body of death; to make us new creations, spiritually. And one day He will raise our dead bodies and give us new eternal bodies. Doesn’t that sound terrific!!?? If you awake each morning to new aches and less hair, new bodies (and new hair) sounds like a good idea! The Gospels say that Christ came to seek and the save the spiritually lost and to give His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. That is the only reason why God would have any divine business becoming a human being!
When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, He did so in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” That means that Jesus was fulfilling in His life and ministry exactly what God required for Him to be the Saviour of the world and the messiah of His people (the Jews). In “the flesh,” Jesus accomplished that; now, He extends His hand and He knocks on the door of our hearts. How will we respond? Will we respond by saying, “Yes, Lord. I accept what you’ve done for me (a sinner) at Calvary (on the Cross) and accept Him as our Saviour”? Or, will we shrink back and say, “No!”–or–“I’m not sure”–or–“I don’t believe it”! Listen, whether we choose to believe or not, Jesus came in the flesh to die for you–anyway. It happened!
When we go before God one day, He will ask us, “What did you do with my Son? What did you do with what happened on the cross?”
For those of us who are Christians, this is a powerful reality. We know the difference Jesus makes. When’s the last time you communicated that truth to someone who doesn’t know about Christ? While we’re still in our bodies of flesh, like the apostle Paul, we too have fruitful, Kingdom labour yet ahead of us to accomplish.
Can you disciple that?
Scriptures: John 1:14; Matthew 3:14
The year was 1995 and the city of Toronto was religiously set-aflame by the arrival of arguably the greatest evangelist (even at that time) the world had known: Billy Graham. It was a warm July day and the venue was the once-called Skydome (now Rogers Centre). You’d think the Blue Jays were on the precipice of winning a third World Series by the throngs of people milling around outside and filling seats inside the stadium. For a lack of a better description, it was packed–I mean sardine can city kind of packed; which made the fact that I had secured a seat feel like I was the last body on a raft embarking from a sinking island. I was in awe of just sharing the same air-space as Graham, let alone being in the same building. I had never heard him in person before. His history of attracting precious souls like no other religious figure in the 20th century, and his reputation for integrity and awe-shucks humility (with some chutzpah for the Gospel added in) paved a frenzied road to the Skydome that afternoon for all who came to hear him impart God’s Word.
There I sat along with a friend (and my ride to the event) listening to the worship band set a deeply introspective and meditative tone for Graham’s introduction and message. Rumour had it that Billy was not feeling well during the trip and there was talk that perhaps he’d skip a few of the events he was slated to speak at. Like that was going to happen. I’m sure in Graham’s heart, the Gospel-show was going on–even if he had to preach from a chair, hotel or hospital room.
He didn’t disappoint. In fact, Billy hit it outta the park- um, that is, the Skydome. Should I have expected any less? See here: God is faithful—ho hum. It’s not that Graham’s delivery was uber energized and bating or was demarked by a huge personality and predictable posturing, like how some widely-known evangelical preacher’s seem to carry themselves today. No– Billy’s message was remarkably brilliant for coming from a vessel that was clearly not feeling remarkable.
Just minutes before the lanky, southern-drawled evangelist stepped up to the mic, I had a feeling that Graham was going to begin his message by referring to Abraham and Lot–and the choices of land and direction they were going to take with their families and possessions as documented in the book of Genesis. Low and behold, after some brief comments of thanks to the city and the crowd for coming, didn’t Billy Graham break into his message by stating, “I want to talk to you today about a man named Abraham…!” I began to sink in my seat as my eyes, in uncontrollable fashion, darted across the colourful sightlines of the stadium and the people already hanging off Graham’s every word. It was twilight-zone time—dee dee dee dee–dee dee dee dee. How did I know what Billy’s message content was going to be and was there something in his message that the Holy Spirit was going to show me or teach me? Whatever the case, I knew God wanted me there that day. If I was anywhere other than the Skydome that afternoon, well….
Graham did just as I thought he would. He proceeded to talk about Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah and so on and so forth, and related the biblical account to the choices we make in life and the resultant consequences of our choices. I can still see his long arms stretched out for good animation as he piped: “We can take the road of Lot or we can take the road of Abraham–which will it be?” I’d heard challenges from the pulpit before– but this was Billy issuing it!!
Significantly, I was in Bible College at the time but I’d been fighting God’s call to full-time ministry; doubting His power and promise; walking by sight and not by faith. Like Lot I was contemplating taking a road in life, that from afar, appeared more appealing than the one God had called me to walk down. The point is, I got the Holy Spirit’s drift loud and clear that day… I realized that amidst the hordes of people encased around me, He was speaking as if I were the only person in the stadium: seat 10, row 12 in the 400 section. I had an audience with the Almighty, and His chosen mouthpiece for what Heaven had to say to me at that time-sensitive hour: the late, Rev. Dr. Billy Graham. I’ll never forget that July afternoon; and God will make sure the world will never forget His servant, Billy.