Mark 10:35-45

October 18, 2015



A very short boy wanted desperately to play basketball. He even told his dad that he wanted to become a pro when he was older.

Knowing that his son would never be able to play the game, the dad asked the local coach if there was anything that he could recommend to make the boy taller.

“You might take him down to the museum and put him on that old torture stretch rack,” the coach said.

Several weeks later the coach asked the father if putting the boy on the stretch rack had helped. “Well, it didn’t make him any taller,” said the dad, “but he confessed to several things that I never knew he did.”

We all have our dreams, don’t we? To play starting guard on the basketball team. To be the top salesperson in our company. To have the nicest home in the community. To have the perfect family. To retire while we’re young enough to live out some of our dreams. Nothing is more natural than to dream. In fact, most people dream too small.

When Michael Dell was in college, his parents drove up for a surprise visit. They were concerned that Michael’s “hobby”–building computers in his dorm room–was distracting him from his studies. His father demanded that he get more serious about his college work, asking Michael, “What do you want to do with your life?”

And the young college student infuriated his dad by replying, “I want to compete with IBM.” At the time, IBM was the dominant computer company in the world. Not long after that, Michael Dell dropped out of college and raised the capital to start his own computer business. By 1999, 10 years after Michael Dell began his company, Dell Computers overtook IBM as the nation’s largest seller of personal computers.

If you are going to dream, why not dream big? It’s true. Often, our dreams are too small.

That was the problem with James and John. They came to Jesus one day and asked a favor: “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

That’s bold. “Whatever we ask.” But you and I do that with God. “Lord, my lawns looking a little dry. I need for you to send some rain. But not Thursday afternoon. That’s when I play golf. I’d appreciate it if it could be dry then. Wait until Friday morning. Yes, that would be good. Wait, I’ve got that long drive to that big sales meeting. I can’t afford for the roads to be slick so that it slows me down. Could you make it rain just enough to take care of the lawn but not affect the roads?”

Hey! Who’s in charge here? It should be God giving us orders rather than vice versa.

James and John are taking a rather tactless approach to our Lord. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Jesus understands. He knows we are like that.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked, probably with a sigh.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” In other words they wanted to sit at the head table. They wanted the offices with the window on the top floor overlooking the city. They wanted power, influence. They wanted to be connected. That was the least that the Master could do for them.

At least, we can appreciate their faith in Jesus. They knew who he was. They recognized him to be the Messiah, the One sent from God. Forget for a moment that they don’t understand at all the nature of his kingdom. They were still living with the vision of their fathers that the Messiah would come as a conquering hero. Jesus came as a ministering servant. Their understanding didn’t fit at all what Jesus was trying to do. But still it showed their faith in the Master. What it didn’t show was their own commitment.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

I believe James and John were asking for donated dignity. They were asking to move to the head of the line, not on the basis of merit, but on their personal relationship with the Master. They didn’t want to earn their way. They wanted a shortcut, and unfair advantage.

At a T-ball game, a little boy came up to bat. He swatted the ball off the tee and ran as fast as he could to third base. Not first base, as you would expect, but third. The coach went over to the child and said, “Man, you sure hit that ball a long way.”

The little fellow said, “I sure did!”

“Yeah,” said the coach, “and you ran really fast to third base and surprised everybody!”

“I sure did!” the little guy said.

“I just have one question to ask you,” the coach continued, “why did you run to third base instead of to first?”

The little boy replied, “Well, because that’s where I wanted to go and I could get there a lot faster that way.” Well, it does make sense to run to third base, if you don’t want to conform to the silly rules of baseball.

James and John wanted a shortcut based not on what they do or what they earned, but who they knew. I’m sure they felt they deserved this promotion. They just didn’t want to wait in line.

Jesus doesn’t scold them for that. It’s all right to be ambitious if you go about achieving those ambitions in an honorable way. If you are honest and treat people in a decent manner, ambition is a powerful motivating influence in our lives. Nothing happens without a dream. Still, it’s clear that Jesus is disappointed by James’ and John’s request. “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” James and John answered boldly and they were sincere. Jesus said to them, “you will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or my left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Here is where James and John made their mistake. Their dream wasn’t big enough. They were looking for petty positions of power. Jesus was asking them to save the world. They were looking for donated dignity. Jesus was asking them to lay down their lives for the ultimate dream, a kingdom where God reigns in every heart.

In their influential book, Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras coined the term BHAG. BHAG describes a bold, well-nigh impossible vision. BHAG stands for Big Harry Audacious Goal.

Common sense would tell you that a BHAG would intimidate many people and discourage them from trying. But BHAGs are paradoxical, according to Collins and Porras. The idea of attempting the impossible is so exciting and energizing that organizations usually experience an upsurge of motivation when a leader presents a BHAG to his people.

A great example of a BHAG is the vision announced by Pres. John F. Kennedy in a speech on May 25, 1961:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

JFK was challenging our country to put a man on the moon, and we did.

Jesus was trying to get his disciples to forget their petty power games for a moment and focus on the Biggest, Harriest, Most Audacious Goal of all–to join with him in redeeming the world. He was getting ready to lay down his life. He needed them to spread the message that–because of his death and resurrection–the chasm between God and humanity had been forever bridged. He needed them to lay down their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations for that one ultimate goal, the salvation of humanity. He needed them to forget about being Masters, but become servants. He wasn’t distressed with them because they were ambitious; he was distressed with them because they were ambitious for the wrong thing.

Christ has no problem with people who are ambitious. God created us to dream, to aspire, to strive for the best. That is how the world advances, through ambitious people. Christ has no problem with the desire to be CEO, the desire to be recognized among your peers, even the desire to have nice things. The question Christ would ask us is, is that it? Is that the extent of your dreams? After all, these things are fleeting. Who will be living in your nice home a 100 years from now? Who will be leading your company? Your dreams are too small. They are for this world only. And they provide only limited satisfaction, at best. Don’t you want something more? Don’t you want to be part of something that is eternal? Don’t you want to be part of saving the lost and lonely world?

Wouldn’t it be marvelous to know that, because of you, hungry people are being fed? Because of you, little children have a chance at a better life? Because of you, people are finding meaning and purpose for their lives? Isn’t that what life’s really about? Making a difference? Saving a life? Redeeming a world?

Some years ago we saw two of the richest men on earth, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, make a major commitment to using their wealth to serve those unable to help themselves. Why did they do that? Maybe they realized their dreams weren’t big enough.

There are people all around us who have achieved their goals, they have nice things, they’re well known in their communities and beyond. They have power and privilege. But, unknown to their neighbors, they are miserable and unfulfilled. And they know of no earthly reason why. They have it all, and yet, they have nothing. Nothing that matters, nothing that lasts. It isn’t that they had too much ambition. Rather, they had too little. Their dreams were too small. They were for this world only.

In 1989, Chloe Coney left a successful corporate job to move back to her old neighborhood in inner-city Tampa, Florida. A search for greater meaning and purpose had led Chloe back to school to get a counseling degree. What was she going to do with her counseling degree? Chloe didn’t know, but she knew that God was leading her in that direction. Then one day, Chloe ran into an old friend from high school. In high school, this girl had been talented and ambitious. Now she was prematurely aged, addicted to drugs, living in a decaying neighborhood. She had lost all hope for the future. She convinced Chloe to visit her old neighborhood and to witness the devastation caused by poverty, drugs, violence, and urban decay.

As soon as Chloe saw her old neighborhood, she knew that God was calling her back to minister there. She got a job with a community development organization. Today, Chloe Coney makes much less money than she did in the corporate world, but she finds much more satisfaction in her job. She helps to build housing and create jobs in inner-city Tampa, Florida. Chloe states that her former, more comfortable lifestyle, actually insulated her from really knowing and experiencing God. As she says, “Now I know about His goodness because I’ve experienced God’s blessings firsthand.”

Wouldn’t you like to experience God’s blessings firsthand? Maybe the problem is that your dream is too small. Maybe that’s why you feel unfulfilled. Christ wants your help in redeeming the world. James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right-hand and his left when he came into his glory. Jesus wasn’t upset with their dreams. He just wanted them to know their dreams were too small. He wanted them to join him in the Biggest, Hairiest, Most Audacious Goal of all–to join him in bringing salvation to this world. Jesus asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” They didn’t know what that meant at the time, but they soon learned. One tradition maintains that when James was executed, one of the Roman guards who led him to his death was so moved that he confessed to being a follower of Christ, too. Legend has it that James turned to him and said, “Peace be to you, brother,” and kissed him. And the two of them were executed together.

I’m thinking that that was not what James and John had in mind when they came to Jesus that day. They had their dreams. Then they caught Jesus’ dream–the dream of bringing a lost world to God. They saw Jesus lay down his life in order to make his dream a reality. If they were going to drink of his cup, they knew they must be willing to make such a sacrifice themselves. Today over 1 billion people walk under the banner of Christ. Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined…

Friend, what is your dream? Is it a little puny dream? Or, is it God’s dream?