MARK 10:35-45 ESV
“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””
We hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as Pastor Derek and I have enjoyed preaching it. Our GET IN THE GAME series started with DRAFT DAY, understanding that God has drafted us onto His team; then we learned about TEAM DEVELOPMENT, about how God is equipping us for His redeeming work; then last week we talked about COMPLETING THE PASS, how we are to use our discipleship for disciple-making.
Today, we look at SECOND STRINGERS, and to just go ahead and give it away, we’re going to take a look at how we are not the star players in this game of bringing salvation to the world.
Our text for today is extremely interesting. We find the disciples walking with Jesus, as He is making His way to Jerusalem. He has just told them what is to happen to Him, that He is to be betrayed, handed over to the enemy, tortured, killed, and then resurrect on the third day. This was a lot of information to process all at one time and the disciples just didn’t quite it.
So, two of the disciples, the brothers James and John, ask something of Jesus that seems strange and comes off as awkward. They ask Jesus if they can sit in the places of honor, to His left and His right, at the end of days, after all is said and done. When I read this text, my first response was, “Here they are, walking with Jesus, the One who has come to bring forgiveness of sins; the One who is making room for the outcasts, the unloved, and the forgotten, and His disciples—in the midst of ministry, this ongoing rescue mission—have forgotten about the very ones they’ve been sent to serve, and then have the audacity to ask for honored seats!!!”
I mean, they’ve witnessed things we would give anything to see. They’ve seen miracles, exorcisms, resurrections and then they ask for honor?! How does this happen? Are they ungrateful? Are they blind? Are they selfish? Only after exhausting some of these questions can we come to the truth that, even though they’ve been with Jesus, they still don’t get it. They don’t really understand what they’re doing or know what they’re asking.
Many of us live our Christians lives, praying and giving, serving and singing, reading and studying, and we find ourselves falling short or losing perspective. Its not hard, actually. But our falling short is typically a result of one misplaced idea, that we are somehow doing the work that changes minds and transforms heart.
The truth of the matter is that we are not the star players in God’s game of redemption. Let me illustrate. In football, there is a term for the different classifications of players called “strings.” If you are one of the best players on the team, you are considered to be on the “first string.” These are the players that the coach depends on the most because they get the job done. The substitutes or next best players are called the “second string.” These are the players who go in to relieve the first string if they are tired, hurt, or the score is really high and they don’t want to risk injury to the star players.
One common function of the second string players is to practice with the first string, as they line up against the star players in order to run plays and give the best players the chance to hone their skills. In high school, I was a second stringer. Every single practice, my job was to give the first string my best, so that they could practice and grow in their gifts and abilities. I found out pretty quickly, though, that it was just something the coaches said in order to let the first string beat the snot out of the underclassmen. I’m kidding.
But seriously, it was my job to open up the first string players abilities by giving them opportunities to succeed. The second string served the first string. In ministry, we are not the first string. Jesus is. It is Jesus Christ who came in order to do the work that no on else could. It is the Son of God who has saved the sinner, transformed the heart, and rescued the soul. We are the second string, in service to God’s first string, Jesus Christ.
But when we try and take the limelight, when we exercise our discipleship for the wrong reasons or try to be the star, we act in our imperfections or our pride. What we should want is for Jesus to work, to touch the heart of the sinner and so bring them salvation and glory. As second stringers, we know that glory. We’ve tasted it because we serve God’s best, Jesus Christ, and we open up opportunities for Jesus to have His saving influence in people’s lives.
I love this passage in Luke, as it helps us understand the service of the second string disciple. Luke 14:
“Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 14:7-11 ESV)
There’s at least one very important thing we need to take away from this, and that is that James and John then, and now us today, should want others to have the glory that we’ve tasted. All of our work and all of our worship should so direct us to introduce others to the saving truth and love of Jesus Christ. We should want this for them. And that means that we should take the lower chair, the furthest spot, so that they can be close to Jesus. For those of us who know God’s love, we should want it for others and so give them a chance to experience it.
We are the second stringers, the one’s who’ve been drafted, developed, and completed for the sake of serving others. We serve and love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we serve and love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). This is the mission of God, the ministry of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, summed up for us as we play second string to God’s best, Jesus Christ, the First String star–player in God’s game of salvation. Amen.