Our dear Lord Jesus Christ has come to serve you (and all people) by giving His life as a Ransom for the many, and by sharing His life with you by the ways and the means of His Cross. What is more, this self-sacrificing love and humble service of Jesus, the Christ, even unto death upon the Cross, is the true greatness of His divine glory. For He chooses, in His grace and mercy, for the sake of His divine and holy love, to give Himself for you, to forgive you all your sins, and to give you life and salvation with Himself forever.
In turn, for you to receive all of this great divine service of His — by His grace alone, through faith in His Word — that is your true greatness and your glory as a Christian disciple of Christ Jesus; which is, for now, paradoxically hidden under the Cross and suffering in this poor life of labor.
To be sure, none of this makes any sense to the world, which measures everything by its standards of power and might, of popularity, position, and prestige, and by the criteria of wealth and fame. The world, therefore, simply cannot understand this Lord Jesus and His glory: It does not think as He thinks, nor does it perceive or know what is the divine truth of the matter. And, that is likewise your predicament, as well; for your thoughts are not His thoughts, nor are your ways His ways.
Ask yourself: What is it that you want from Jesus? What do you want Him to do for you? What sort of Savior are you looking for? One who forgives your sins and gives you life, by and with the Cross? Or one who makes your life on earth happier, easier, and more carefree and comfortable?
In your heart of hearts, what is it that you’re really after? And what do you presume to deserve?
If you are not bold enough to ask for it straight up, then think about how jealous and resentful you become of your neighbor and of the gifts that he or she has received (but which you have not).
How often are you driven by pride, by selfishness and greed, by envy and jealousy, by covetous lust for what you have not been given (though such coveting is really nothing less than idolatry)?
How quickly do you put yourself forward and reach out your hand to take this or that for yourself? Or do you, instead, harbor bitterness against those others, those neighbors of yours who do take that sort of initiative, for fear that someone else is getting something that you’re missing out on?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it should not be so among you. Such desires and such impulses in you, are not the fruits of faith and love, but of sin. Indeed, they are destructive of faith and love.
Do not suppose yourself to be cheated or ill-treated, and do not listen to the lies of the devil, who would have you despair of God’s love and favor toward you. Nor regard God’s love so lightly. For His great heart of Love is fully opened to you in the Cross of Christ, the incarnate Son. That is where you find and know the greatness and glory of God, which He shares with you by grace.
Consider, then, the example of St. James, the son of Zebedee, even though you do not find him at his best in this particular Holy Gospel: From a human point of view, you can surely understand his (and his brother’s) request. Depending on your own personality and sinful tendencies, you may be tempted either to sympathize with him, or to be indignant toward him (like the other disciples).
But, for all his faults and flaws and weaknesses, and even in the face of his martyrdom — indeed, precisely there, in his suffering and death for the sake of the Gospel — St. James has been glorified by and with His Crucified and Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
He was cut down in the prime of life, not only the first of the Twelve to be martyred, but the only one of the Apostles to be martyred within the record of the New Testament; yet, this was his glory, and part of his own particular calling as an Apostle, that is, to serve in the Name of Christ Jesus, and finally to suffer and die for Him Who died for us all and was raised again for our justification.
Not every Christian is called to such a martyrdom; it belongs only to those for whom it has been prepared. Take comfort in this, that not one of His dear children suffers and dies, nor even a single hair falls to the ground, without your Father’s knowledge, perfect wisdom, and gracious care.
Whether you will finally be put to the sword, or crucified, or burned at the stake, or shot to death for the Name of Christ that you bear — or if you live a hundred years on earth before you depart — you are given the vocation of discipleship, that is, to carry the Cross of Christ in your own place and position (whether you be great or small in the eyes of the world, or in your own eyes).
Whatever your stats may be, your real greatness and true glory are not to be found in yourself, in what you acquire, accomplish, or achieve in this world. No, your greatness and your glory are Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, who gives Himself to you in love, by His grace alone. It is in Him, therefore, by faith in His Word, by the wisdom and the working of His Holy Spirit, that you walk in the way that is set before you; whether for life or death, come hell or high water against you.
If you are not called to the martyrdom of bodily suffering and death for the Name of Jesus Christ, be sure of this, that you are in fact called to the daily martyrdom of repentance — whereby you are returned to your Holy Baptism into the one Lord, Jesus Christ: into His Cross and Resurrection.
It is by your Baptism that you are His, and that you live with Him in His Kingdom; even now by grace through faith in Him, and hereafter in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting.
Likewise, in the new and better Passover of the Holy Communion, you are given to eat the Body of Christ Jesus, which He sacrificed for you upon the Cross; and you do drink His Cup:
For Him, it was the Cup of God’s wrath, the bearing of God’s holy anger and righteous judgment against the sins of the whole world, and the suffering of the due punishment for all of your sins.
But, as He has drained that Cup to the dregs in His Passion, He has filled it for you with His holy and precious Blood; which He now pours out for you (and for the many), for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for life and salvation with Him in the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever.
It is the administration of this Divine Service, the Ministry of the Gospel-Word and Sacraments, that St. James was privileged to serve in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus for a little while — until his faithful service was filled up and completed in the witness of his death and bloodshed.
The same Divine Service of the same Lord Jesus Christ still continues: as it did back then, by and for the Twelve Apostles, so also here and now for you. Because the Son of Man, who lived and died and rose again, continues to come, not to be served but to serve, to give Himself, to give life, for you and for the many. To Him be all the glory, honor and praise, both now and forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.