Boanerges. It means sons of thunder. Jesus gave that nickname to James and John in Matthew 3. This is just speculation, but I think He chose that name for a reason. I think James and John were energetic and loud. I think they were the kind of guys that were the life of the party. They brought the boom and the noise with them wherever they went. They were used to the spotlight. They craved the spotlight. That's what I think at least.
James and John believed rightly that one day Jesus would be King and they wanted to be the number two people in the whole kingdom. They desired greatness for themselves. They wanted the glory. They wanted the fame. They wanted the attention. They wanted the position of power. They wanted the position of privilege.
We all do from time to time don't we? We call shotgun to ride in the nice seat up front. We walk quickly to get the first place in line or the best seats in the theater. We let Facebook know that we had a bad day so that the world will pay attention to us. We all desire greatness for ourselves in one way or another like James and John. But look where their desire for greatness takes them.
In Luke 9, Jesus and his disciples are planning a trip to Samaria. The Jews and Samaritans hate each other like cats and dogs, Cubs fans and Sox fans, and the Westboro Baptist Church and the rest of the world. But Jesus loved the Samaritans and often went against the cultural norm to visit them and teach them. This time, the Samaritans tell the group that they are not welcome and they should go elsewhere. I imagine that would sting. Some of us might have wanted to give them a piece of our mind or get expressive with one of our fingers but James and John... well, they're the sons of thunder!
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" -- Luke 9:54
Hey, they disrespected us, let's burn them to death! In the words of Ron Burgundy, "That escalated quickly." You don't mess with the sons of thunder and you don't mess with Jesus. James and John get so caught up in their own greatness that they think anyone who doesn't recognize it should be burned. And they entirely miss the heart of Jesus. He rebukes them.
When was the last time someone offended you? Did you want to pay them back for failing to recognize your greatness? He called me a name, how dare he disrespect my greatness. They lied to me, how dare they disrespect my greatness. In the past, I've had a teen who would constantly speak rudely and patronizingly to me. This exact feeling rose up inside of me. How dare he speak to ME like that! I'm PASTOR Mark. It's an ugly selfishness in all of us.
On another occasion in Mark 9, James and John tell Jesus about a man they met.
"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." -- Mark 9:38Hey Jesus, we met this guy who was casting out demons. Sick people were getting better. Oppressed people were freed. He was doing all of this in your name. But don't worry Jesus, we told him to knock it off. You know, cause he isn't one of us awesome 12 of yours. Who does he think he is? Am I right Jesus?
Obviously, Jesus wasn't very happy with them this time either. Again, James and John get so caught up in their own greatness, that it bothers them that other people would succeed. No one but me and my team should get the spotlight.
When was the last time someone around you succeeded? Maybe it was a promotion at work or they got praised by mom and dad for getting good grades. Did your greatness rise up and grow envious of the spotlight? Did you wish they would just stop already and people would turn their attention back on you? I've grown jealous of my fellow Moody students sometimes who catch the praise of professors for doing well in ministry. I've thought to myself, well you should see my ministry and hear me preach. Ugly, ugly, selfishness.
It all comes to a head when James and John ask Jesus to make them the greatest in the Kingdom at His left and right sides.
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. -- Mark 10:41
Ever get into trouble when your friends hear about how great you think you are? Didn't invite so and so to the party because they are just lame, not cool enough to be around you. You told the boss all the reasons you deserve the promotion and all the reasons your coworkers don't... and then they find out what you said.
So Jesus tells them what true greatness looks like.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." -- Mark 10: 42-45
Jesus does greatness differently than the world and James and John. The greatness of James and John demanded the condemnation of the Samaritans for their offense. The greatness of Jesus demanded compassion for them. The greatness of James and John attacks the spotlight of others. The greatness of Jesus can rejoice in the successes of others. The greatness of James and John makes others feel less important and stirs up anger and jealousy. The greatness of Jesus makes others feel more important and stirs up love and gratitude.
The world has it wrong. The world says that if you want to be great, you focus on yourself. Jesus says that if you want to be great, you focus on others. True greatness doesn't lift itself up. True greatness stoops down low to serve. The quest for worldly greatness leads each of us to chase selfish and hurtful ends. True greatness led Jesus to die on the cross and give His very life for us that we might live.
So how are you chasing worldly greatness like James and John? What opportunities is Jesus placing before you to serve others and truly be great?