Be Careful What You Wish For

Someone once said, “Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.” We often think our wishes and desires are all we need to be happy and whole. Why doesn’t God give them to us then? Maybe He knows better. Maybe when God says “No” to a prayer, it is because He knows what is best for us. Do we trust Him?

Be Careful What You Wish For ~ September 22, 2019 ~ Mark 10:35-39

Alright, we are in the gospel of Mark this morning. Jesus has left Capernaum; He is on His way to Jerusalem. It’s about an eighty-five-mile journey. He’s on foot. Anybody here ever walked eighty-five miles? You know how long it takes? It’s a little over four days. So, they’re walking a little over four days. As they get closer to Jerusalem, Jesus takes His disciples aside, and He tells them what is going to happen to Him when they get there. In verse 33, He says:

“Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”
(Mark 10:33-34)

That’s pretty incredible to hear, I would think. Unfortunately, I don’t think everyone was listening, as we will find out in our reading this morning. Would you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God? Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

So, Jesus told them all that stuff is going to happen to Him. This man that they have been following along for three years, whom they are convinced is the Messiah. And what happens?

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

“What is your request?” he asked.

They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering must be baptized with?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Right.

Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.
(Mark 10:35-40)

So, here they are being told what’s going to happen to Jesus; He says, “They’re going to mock me, spit on me, flog me with a whip, and kill me.” And the only thing that comes into their mind, is how do we get positions of influence? How do we get good jobs in Your kingdom? Sometimes what you hope for isn’t always what it seems to be.

For instance, have you ever noticed how much the presidency ages a person? You aspire to the highest office in the land, arguably the world; you achieve your goal; but it takes a toll on you. After you finish your term, you look like your grandfather, in a very short period of time. That job – and I don’t know who the heck would want it – is not always what it seems to be. You think it’s going to be amazing; it’s much more difficult than perhaps even you imagined.

I guess you could say a similar thing, on some level, to professional musicians. I mean, you work hard to be successful as a musician, and finally you make it. You sign that record deal. You’re touring the country. You’re selling out stadiums. You got what you wanted. But before you know it, your marriage is in shambles, you’re drinking like a fish, and you’re hooked on some sort of narcotic. What happened? I mean, have you ever heard of the twenty-seven club? There are some popular musicians, at the height of their popularity – Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, the blues giant Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison – they were at the peak of their popularity and ability. All of them, dead. All of them twenty-seven years old. It’s odd. Maybe it wasn’t what they thought it would be. Someone once said, “Be careful what you wish for… you just may get it.”

James and John wanted positions of leadership in Jesus’ coming kingdom. They wanted to sit in places of honor on His right and His left. Who wouldn’t? To dedicate oneself fulltime to helping Jesus rule? That sounds pretty awesome! Imagine being Secretary of State or Attorney General for the kingdom of Heaven! And James and John were two of the earliest disciples. Remember, it went Andrew, and then Andrew brought Jesus to meet his brother Peter, or Simon; and then James and John, the sons of Zebedee. And they were passionate about their faith! Jesus even gave them a nickname – He called them the “Sons of Thunder!” So now, they’re simply looking for management positions. They figured they’ve earned it. And Jesus replies, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” Be careful what you wish for!

What does He mean by that? Maybe following Jesus, maybe it’s a little different than it seems at times. There are actually a number of jobs, a number of occupations that look different at first. I know, or have known over the years, plenty of young boys who all wanted to be Major League Baseball players or play in the NBA. And they all were convinced they had what it takes; they were singularly focused on this. “I’m going to make it, I’m going to be there one day.” They just dreamed that was what God put them on this earth for. The amount of travel involved in that position, in that job; living out of a suitcase, in a different city every night; the beating that your body takes daily – they weren’t thinking about that then. Sometimes it’s not always what it seems.

Look, there were even parts of this job that surprised me. When I went off to seminary, I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life preaching, and teaching, and praying, and sharing the gospel. It is amazing to me how much of my time I spend not doing any of those things. It was a surprise. Sometimes it’s not always what it seems.

I mean, I know that there are people – dedicated people – who went into medicine, who became pediatric oncologists, because they were passionate about fighting a war against childhood cancer. They wanted to conquer such a wicked disease, and that drive was powerful within them. And when treatment came along and they were able to have a success story, there was reason for celebration! Perhaps what they did not think about at the time was how many times they would actually have to watch a child die as well. Sometimes it’s not always what it seems.

So, Jesus says, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Be careful what you wish for.” When He says that, He’s referring to the reality that following Him isn’t always going to be easy; it isn’t always going to be comfortable. Sometimes it comes at a great cost, a great sacrifice. Jesus knows all about that. Jesus once said,

Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests; but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
(Matthew 8:20)

And that’s the truth. Think about from the moment Jesus left home, when He left Mary in the care of His brothers and sisters, and He went off to meet John at the Jordan River to be baptized, and to begin His three years of public ministry, from that point forward, Jesus never had a home, never had an apartment, never had a mortgage, never had a house. He was homeless for three years. And that is the reality in some parts of the world, even today. When you profess faith in Him, in many predominantly Muslim countries, and in increasingly more Hindu countries, proclaiming to be a Christian can lead to job loss, eviction, homelessness, even persecution – just for saying, “I want to follow You.”

We are blessed that it has not come to that, yet, here in the United States of America. But still, following Christ may come at a cost to you. It may cost you popularity. It may cost you some friends. It may actually cost you some treasured habits that you used to enjoy quite a bit. I want to go to that dance, I want to go to that party, I want to go to that event on Saturday night, but if it leaves me in no shape for church on Sunday morning, then I guess I have a decision to make, don’t I? What’s more important – the dance, the movie, the party, the play – or worshiping the Lord?

Following Jesus isn’t always easy; and it can lead to persecution. Well, for us, first-world persecution anyway, nobody’s throwing us in jail. But you may find yourself excluded from your group, all of a sudden. You may find people talking about you behind your back now that you’re a Jesus freak. I know that since high school, I had a very, very close circle of friends – probably four or five couples that ended up getting married, starting families – and we were tight. In fact, I would venture to say that my relationship – you’ve heard me refer to them as my camping crew – my relationship with my camping crew, on many levels, was closer than that with my own brothers. Sadly, but it’s a fact. We used to go to each other’s homes; we used to have card parties, and New Years Eve parties, and cookouts just for the heck of it; and we used to go camping together every Memorial Day and every Labor Day. Now, I don’t know if it’s the case, I really don’t, but after I went off to seminary, I don’t know. It felt like maybe a lot of invitations didn’t make it our way. It could have been geography – we were a few hours away – but was that it? Now that I was all about Jesus all the time. I don’t know. Following Christ can cost you popularity. It might cost you some friends. Definitely costs you a few treasured habits. It’s not what it seems all the time.

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.”
(Matthew 5:11)

Why on earth would Jesus give us such a warning?

Maybe because He knows His followers will be mocked, and persecuted, and lied about. It’s going to happen. It comes with the territory. “Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

I mean, we all have wishes, we all have desires, we all have wants. We often think that our wishes and our desires are all we need to be happy and whole. I mean, I assume we certainly all thought that on our wedding day, right? And it has been nothing but wedded bliss ever since, am I right? Ask Renée! Better yet, don’t ask Renée. Ask someone else. (She may tell you the truth!)

Look, like James and John, I knew what I wanted in life, right? You all know, I’ve told you a thousand times – I wanted to be a world-famous rock and roll drummer! That’s what I wanted! Look at those guns! And I knew that’s what God had for me; I was just convinced of it! I prayed about it for fifteen years as I worked very hard to accomplish that goal. So, my question is, why didn’t God answer that prayer? I was dedicated to it. I was singular minded about it. I asked for it again and again and again. Why didn’t God answer my prayer? The answer is He did. He said no.

No is an answer. That may not be the one that we want to hear, but it is an answer. And is it possible that He knows better? Is it possible that if I had signed that record deal, if I was traveling the world, if I was selling out stadiums, that I would have ended up in the twenty-seven club? I mean, He knew I wasn’t prepared. I was not walking with the Lord at that time, that’s for sure. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t evil. I wasn’t biting the heads off of live bats or worshiping Satan or anything. I was pretty normal, but I was certainly not walking with the Lord. I’ve always believed, as far back as I can remember. But believing and being born again are two totally different things. So, my guess is that God knew that I would not be able to handle it, so He said, “No.” He knows what’s best for us, and sometimes what’s best for us is no, and if we really trust Him, we should thank Him for the yesses and the nos.

Jesus simply wanted James and John to be fully aware of what may lie ahead – that it isn’t always what it seems to be. So, then the question is, why follow the Lord if it’s going to cost me popularity, if it’s going to cost me friends, if it’s going to cost me some treasured habits, if people will mock me and persecute me and lie about me and say all sorts of evil things against me – why bother? It doesn’t sound like that much fun! Really? Are we asking that question? Because without Christ we will face judgment day on our own! All of our choices, all of our deeds will be reviewed one by one, and we’ll have to answer for them. And please make no mistake about it, there will be a judgment day. I know there are those who would like to think, “Oh, no, God is all love, and He would never send anybody to a place like hell!” That’s not what He says. God says there will be a day of judgment. Philippians 2:10-11: God gave Jesus

… the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians2:9b-11)

That means that everyone will stand before the Lord. Everyone. Believer and unbelievers. And for the believers, we’re going to be “Yay!” For the unbelievers, it’s going to be, “CRAP! It’s true!” But everybody’s going to bend the knee. It’s going to happen.

2 Corinthians 5:10:

For we all must stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
(2 Corinthians 5:10)

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10:

And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. When he comes on that day, he will receive glory from his holy people – praise from all who believe. And this includes you, for you believed what we told you about him.
(2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)

Jesus said to the Pharisees:

“I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.”
(Matthew 12:36)

There will be a day to answer. Now, the Good News is, for those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, you will not be judged on what you did – but rather on what Jesus did for you. That’s what you’ll be judged on. So, while the cost of following Jesus is high, the value of being Christ’s disciple is even higher.

Think about it this way. Very soon – perhaps sooner than some of you would like – we are closing in on Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the time of the year we all celebrate the coming of the pilgrims, right? Everybody knows the pilgrims. The pilgrims were the first Congregationalists who came to these shores. The average age of a pilgrim was late 20s, early 30s. They were young. But they wanted to be free from the oppression of the English church. They wanted to worship as their conscience dictates. They wanted to worship like this, because they were Congregationalists. But they came over, and it’s basically like if you’re taking a walk sometime and you walk by the woods. Just think about it, that’s what greeted you. You came into the woods. And then you’ve got to carve out a town, you’ve got to build a house, you’ve got to plant food, you’ve got to live off the land. That’s hard! Half of them died the first winter as they stayed on the ship while a house was being prepared on land. That’s tough. But it was worth it, because they wanted to be free.

Jesus says in John 8:

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:31-32)

So, if you want to be free, you have to follow Jesus. Free from what? Free from the destruction that will visited upon those who do not believe on judgment day.

But I don’t want you to think that all of this is just about judgment day, because it’s not. It’s not all just about the future. I mean, sure, there are tough parts about being a professional athlete, or a doctor, or a Christian. But there are high points too! Is there anything better than sinking that winning basket as time goes off the clock? Come on, guys, how many times have we been bouncing the ball on our own, when you didn’t think anybody was listening, and you’re going, “There’s ten seconds on the clock. Söderberg’s driving the lane. 5… 4… he pulls up, he shoots… 3… 2… he misses. There was a foul! He gets another chance!” We dream about sinking the winning shot! We dream about… there’s nothing more exciting about hitting that walk-off home run to win the championship. There are high points now! There’s nothing better than hearing a thank you from a mom with tears in her eyes because her five-year-old daughter is now in remission. There’s nothing greater than leading someone to faith in Christ and seeing Jesus transform their lives. You cannot put that into words. So, it is about the now, as well as the then. Following Christ is a reward in itself. The fact that it lasts forever is just an incredible bonus!

So, yeah, I’ll take some loss of popularity. I’ll take some loss of friends. I’ll take giving up some treasured habits. I’ll put up with some mocking, some persecution, some lies said about me. It’s okay. Because I know when my time comes, as Peter wrote:

God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:11)

Ultimately, that is what I wish for. And because of my faith in Christ, that is what I will receive, I have no doubt. How about you? Is that what you want? No, following Christ – it’s not always going to be easy. But it is so worth it. Let’s stand and give God thanks in the spirit of prayer.