Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.
Right now there is an extremist Islamic militant group called ISIS that has been wreaking havoc on innocent civilians around the world. Just last week they attacked Paris, killing 129 people and wounding even more.
This particular terrorist group is motivated by establishing a kingdom on earth. In simple terms, the aim of these people is to bring the world under the authority of Islam, and to eliminate those who won’t submit. This means fighting, taking, killing.
In the middle of all this death and destruction, I’m reminded that Jesus came to bring a kingdom, too, and as his followers we’re called to be agents of this kingdom. But what is his kingdom like?
In the story above, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus with a request: “Can my boys rule with you in your coming kingdom? Can they be your number 2 and number 3 guys? Can they be at your right and at your left?”
Underneath this mother’s request is an assumption about Jesus’ kingdom—that it will be like other kingdoms of the day, established through power and might, secured by “making your enemies a footstool under your feet.” Jesus’ kingdom is about influence and control and strength and dominance. It’s about winning. It’s about thrones.
I don’t think it’s by accident, then, that a few chapters later Matthew mentions Mary, the mother of James and John, being present at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:56). She sees the King, but instead of thrones on his right and on his left, she sees crosses.
This is the way Jesus is leading? This is how his Kingdom comes?
While we are assured that thrones will someday be the reality, that Jesus will rule as King and his brothers and sisters will rule with him, we can’t forget that losing comes before winning, that death precedes resurrection, that the cross is the way to the throne.
Many Christians today seem preoccupied with winning. Winning debates, arguments, elections, culture wars. I understand this, and who am I to say whether these things are good or bad? What I do know is the path that Jesus set for his disciples:
Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the least, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
In many ways, Jesus’ Kingdom was surprising because it was an upside down kingdom. This wasn’t what the people were expecting. We use this picture in class to contrast Kingdom expectations with the way Jesus’ shocking behavior…
This is still how Jesus’ Kingdom comes today. To be citizens of this Kingdom means service, sacrifice, humility, death to self in response to the love of God—in sharp contrast to ISIS’ kingdom of violence. Peter learned this after drawing his sword to attack those coming to arrest his master.
And though this might appear like weakness to the world, in truth it is a supernatural strength that conquers even death in the end. I am convinced that what makes Christianity so powerful and unique, is also what makes it so challenging—that those who would accept the call must deny themselves, take up a cross and follow a crucified King.
This is an Upside Down Kingdom. May it come in your life today in the things you think, the things you say, the way you treat other people; your attitude, your work, your play, your everything.