We’re going to start today’s entry by going backwards in Mark’s Gospel so that in just a few moments we can go forwards into this week’s story.
Let me explain that.
Last week we talked about the time Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples just before His crucifixion, an event that took place in Mark 14. Today we’re going to talk about a scene from the day of His crucifixion where Mark tells us in chapter 15 that Jesus was crucified in between 2 thieves.
Before we jump into chapter 15 we need to go backwards a bit to chapter 10.
And I’ll tell you why in just a moment.
So, in chapter 10 Mark tells us that the disciples were headed to Jerusalem when James and John came up to Jesus with a rather odd request, “teacher, we want you to grant us whatever we ask for”, to which Jesus responded and said , “what do you want Me to do for you?”
“Grant us,” they said, “that when you’re in all your glory, let one of us sit at your right, and the other at your left.”
Ahhhh, classic. Right?
In other words, “we want power, Jesus.”
... That’s what they were really asking for.
“We’ve had your back for a few years now and we want our piece of the pie.”
“We’re tired of working for free. Now that your startup is off the ground, we want our cut.”
“We’ve sacrificed so much.”
“We’ve been your best disciples.”
“We’ve hung on your every word.”
“We say our prayers each day.”
“We’ve lost family and friends because of our allegiance to you.”
“And now we want what we clearly deserve - some power, some prestige, and some authority in your Kingdom.”
The disciples thought that because they were Jesus’ disciples and because they had followed Him and obeyed His commands and grown and matured and evolved in their understanding of God and faith and their place on earth, and because they took heat from the Pharisees and left family and friends behind to follow Him.
They thought that they deserved places of power and honor and greatness when Jesus came into His glory.
There’s a subtle lie that they bought into there, right? Do you see it? It’s one that we all buy into at some point or another as church people or followers of Jesus, and the lie is this:
Right? Like ...
“I’m better than them because I have stronger faith.”
“I go to church more than he does.”
“I’ve studied more than she has.”
“I’ve gone on missions trips, have volunteered at youth group, sing in the choir, tithe my 10%, meet with my pastor every week. Clearly I have it together and clearly I’m a strong, serious follower ... my crown will most likely be a little bigger and a little brighter than everyone elsees.”
“I’m one of God’s favorites.”
Let one of us sit on your right.
The other sit on your left.
I tell you this story from Mark 10 because in Mark 15 we see Mark referring to the left and right of Jesus again, but this time it’s when He actually comes into His glory, which would be the event that took place on Good Friday, on the cross.
This is what Mark says ...
“Along with Jesus, they crucified two thieves, one on His right and one on His left.”
This is brilliant writing by Mark, isn’t it? Because if you’ve been following the previous blog posts and podcast episodes we’ve seen that no matter what Mark writes or what kind of story he tells, there’s always more going on beneath the surface.
Again, in chapter 10 he referred to Jesus’ left and right when the disciples asked to be present with Him in his glory, holding positions of power and authority in His new Kingdom.
“We want power.”
“We want a slice of the pie.”
“We want to be the generals in your army.”
“We want to be honored, we want the spotlight.”
And then in chapter 15 he refers to Jesus’ left and right again when He comes into His glory on the cross, but here we find 2 thieves occupying the places that the disciples thought would be reserved for them.
On His left and on His right are ...
Not church leaders.
Not super spiritual people.
Not doctoral students.
Not seminary students.
... but, two thieves - the lowest of the low, a couple of guys who messed up big time, 2 men that were considered to be so bad and so evil and so messed up that the Roman government could think of nothing else to do with them, but kill them alongside the rebel Rabbi, Jesus. THEY, says Mark, held the positions of power and authority and honor as Jesus came into His glory ... not the disciples.
So, what’s that mean for you and me?
Well, a few things.
For starters, Jesus’ Kingdom is big enough and grand enough to include even the people that the Empires and powers of the world exclude.
More than that, just as Jesus’ arms extended to those outcasts who wandered the earth ...
The tax collectors.
The demon possessed.
... So His arms continue to extend and bring close to Him those who are outcasted even as they (and He, alike) breath their last breath.
Yes, His Kingdom is that big and that inclusive - no one is ever too far gone, no one is left out, and a seat is forever reserved for everyone.
Secondly, Jesus’ Kingdom is upside down in the sense that the positions of honor aren’t given so much to those who expect it and think they are due or deserving, but to those who don’t expect it and would assume that nothing is due them.
In Jesus’ Kingdom the lowly are raised up, the proud are cast down, those who are on the outside are brought in, and those who think they deserve power and position don’t get much while those who don’t expect it and don’t ask for it get plenty.
In other words, maybe Mark tells us about the disciples wanting to be on Jesus’ left and right in Mark 10 only to show us 2 thieves on His left and His right in Mark 15 because he wants his readers to know that the Jesus in his narrative is one who operates on a different level than the kings of this world and that His Kingdom is one that is unlike any kingdom that the world has ever seen.
And third, there’s a challenge there for you and me. Isn’t there? Because as representatives of Jesus’ upside down Kingdom, you and I are responsible to bring His Kingdom to earth.
His Kingdom isn’t some far away place that will one day come and destroy the earth. His Kingdom, rather, is one that He began to bring to earth some 2,000 years ago when He rose from the dead, one that He will bring with Him in its fullness when He comes again, and one that He has tasked you and me with bringing more and more to earth with every word we speak and move we make.
What are you doing today to bring the outcasts in?
To welcome the outsider?
To spread your arms to include someone who has been pushed away?
Maybe a neighbor who never leaves their house?
Perhaps a friend who has no family around during this holiday season?
That coworker who everyone can’t stand?
What would it look like for you to include them as you follow in the footsteps of the One who includes everyone, everywhere? What would it look like for you to include them in your holiday plans this year? Maybe invite them for dinner? Drop off some Christmas Cookies? Leave a special Christmas Card in their mailbox? Buy them lunch? Bring them coffee? Invite them out for coffee?
May the Divine Spirit of Jesus guide you and speak to you this week as you come into contact with all different kinds of outcasts and may you respond in the same way that He models for us in His upside down Kingdom.
Much love, and Merry Christmas.