Posts Tagged With: St. John

At Jesus’ Right Hand

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 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 your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:20–28

One might expect that Jesus’ closest friends would be seated at His right and left hands in His kingdom. After all, that is how kingdoms operated in Jesus’ day. The king decided who held the places of honor and influence in His kingdom. He could appoint his best friends to those posts if he so decided. Historians have claimed that the first-century emperor Caligula, who reigned a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, even appointed his horse to a high-ranking office.

Jesus, however, never endorsed the world’s leadership style. He would not award special status for the same reasons many rulers would. His approach opposes the world’s system, mainly because the world itself has been in rebellion against His kingdom since the first humans bit into the forbidden fruit.

Who can claim the place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom? James and John seem like legitimate candidates, from the world’s view. They were among Jesus’ earliest and most loyal followers. Were they able to drink the cup of suffering Jesus would soon face? Perhaps; they believed they could, and James would become the first apostle to be executed for his faith.

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At the Last Supper, John was seated by Jesus’ side (John 13:23). Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper depicts John at Jesus’ right hand, with James at His left.

However, it was not a matter of accomplishments or desire. It would be God’s decision who would sit at Jesus’ right hand in the Kingdom. Scripture tells us that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, which means the Father sits at the Son’s left hand. What can we know about the person who may sit at Jesus’ right hand? Who can it be?

Can it be St. Stephen, the first martyr who saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God? (Acts 7:55–56; maybe Jesus was rising to welcome him home.)

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Icon showing Christ (center) bringing Dismas (left) into Paradise. At the right are the Gates of Paradise, guarded by a seraph (Solovetsky Monastery, 17th century).

Can it be the penitent thief (Luke 23:40–43) who recognized that he deserved his condemnation and that Jesus would soon enter His kingdom? St. Dismas (the name ascribed to the “good thief” according to ancient church tradition) was one of the two thieves hung next to Jesus at the crucifixion. Jesus promised him that he would soon join our Lord in paradise. Thus, St. Dismas can possibly be the first person to enter heaven by grace through faith in Christ. Could his faith, willingness to confess his sinfulness, and ability to see that Jesus was still the King, have earned him that seat of honor? After all, St. Dismas is the last person known to be next to Jesus before His death.

Christians can debate this question until the end of time. Perhaps there are only two people enthroned in the kingdom—God the Father on the left, and Jesus on the right. (This may be the most likely scenario, since if Jesus was in the middle, He would have greater prominence than the Father. This seems unlikely.)

Perhaps the greatest question is not who receives the sat of honor. Jesus does not answer that question. The real question is, “What kind of person receives honor in the Kingdom of God?” In the Church and the Kingdom, honor does not belong to those who boast of their achievements and accomplishments, to those who seek to elevate their power and prestige.  It certainly does not belong to those who try force their own will upon others. Rather, it is the person who claims the role of a servant. The person who is willing to lay down his life for Jesus, take up his cross and follow him, seeking to serve rather than be served. This is the person God honors.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Disciples During Jesus’ Passion

IMG_20160304_173852827Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch, at Graymoor Retreat Center, Garrison, NY, March 2016

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.'” (John 13:36-38, NASB).

My church has an interesting service every year on Good Friday. It is a lengthy service (scheduled to last about three hours). Four people share their personal testimonies, focusing on the theme, “What the cross means to me.”

Church is probably the easiest place to take our stand for Christ. (If it is not, you need to find another church.) But, when the temptations of everyday life strike, we find out how strong we really are.

As I reflect on the cross this year, I wonder which disciple am I most like. Which disciple do you imitate most?

  • Judas Iscariot: He followed Jesus, and was even chosen as one of the twelve disciples. All of them had their issues to deal with. For Judas, a big one was greed: John 12:4-6 tells us that, as the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry team, he would frequently help himself to some of their money. His greed eventually drove him to sell Jesus out for 30 silver pieces.
    By the time he realized the error of his ways, the grief was greater than he could handle. When he could not correct his mistake, he committed suicide.
    I often wonder what would have happened if he had not killed himself: I am sure that, despite his horrible sin, Jesus would have forgiven him and restored him to ministry.
    Do I, like Judas, love the things of this world more than Jesus. Am I willing to sell Him out, to compromise—to risk losing my fellowship with Him—for the things of this world?
  • Peter: Here is a man who could always talk like a spiritual giant. Even until the end, he promised that he would be the last man standing with Jesus, even if it meant dying with him. Anyone with a Sunday school education knows how that story played out. Within a few hours, while Jesus was standing trial before a court that had already rendered its verdict before his arrest, Peter pretended he did not know who Jesus was. He would not testify in His defense. He would not even present himself as a friend offering moral or emotional support during Jesus’ darkest hour.
    Am I like Peter? Can I talk like a holy spiritual giant when I am around other Christians, but then clam up and shy away when surrounded by those who are hostile to the things of God?
  • John and Mary: Only a small handful of Jesus’ disciples stood by Him until the end. John 19:25-27 gives us a brief list. Jesus’ mother was there; so were a few other women who had travelled with His entourage. Only one man remained: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Peter may have been the strongest leader amongst the disciples, but John may very well have been Jesus’ closest friend. When everybody else fled, John stayed with Him.
    The photo at the top of this page depicts a famous image from Christian art. Mary holding the dead body of Jesus immediately after it was removed from the cross. The woman who 33 years earlier held a baby, who she knew would be the Saviour of the world, now grieved as all of her hopes, dreams, and expectations seemed to have been destroyed.
    Jesus’ dying request was that His buddy, John, take care of his widowed mother now. Not only was he to become one of the people assigned to proclaim the Gospel to all the world; John was also entrusted with a task that truly marked him as part of Jesus’ family.
    Am I like Mary and John, willing to follow Jesus, even when it gets hard? Am I willing to stay with Him when my expectations are nailed to the cross? Can Jesus trust me, like He trusted John, with those ministries that lie closest to His heart?

In the midst of the physical sufferings of His scourging and the cross, Jesus must have faced the unbearable pain of emotional and relational turmoil: The friend who betrayed Him; the friend who denied Him; those who abandoned Him. Even the pain of seeing His mother and closest friend grieve must have broken His heart. For the joy set before Him, though, He endured the cross and despised the shame (Hebrews 12:1-2), so that we can be forgiven for those times that we betray, deny, and abandon God.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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