Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask? – Mark 10.35
These words were spoken to Jesus Christ by His apostles, James and John. The words aptly express the sentiment of many nominal Christians today. James and John, along with Peter, already enjoyed very close fellowship with Jesus. The three men made up the inner circle chosen to be with Jesus during special times and landmark occasions during His earthly ministry. Now, they come and and ask Jesus to commit to something without revealing what it is they desire. Any parent knows how that feels! We half expect them to say, “If you really love us, you’ll do this for us.”
It’s hard to see clear evidence of selfishness like this inside of us. But it’s there. Perhaps our conscience is quickened when we behave this way, but we still cajole and manipulate our desirable outcomes in life. We want to make things the way we want them knowing all the while God will refuse us. But still we pray, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask!”
Jesus’ response is surprising to us. We expect Him to point out how selfish these guys are. Instead, He asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (10.36) It really is quite masterful when you think about it. Now these selfish men will actually have to verbalize their spiritual immaturity. They blunder on by replying, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (10.37). I imagine John cringing when think about this as an old man on the Island of Patmos.
The right hand was the most privileged position and the left second-best. At least James and John left it to Jesus as to whom would receive each respective place of honor! Jesus patiently explained that these two men didn’t know what they were asking. The fact that they were asking for themselves indicates they were selfish, but the fact that they didn’t know where their request would lead indicates they were foolish.
Jesus patiently and compassionately used two metaphors to paint the bleak picture that He Himself faced ….that they too would face.
Drink the Cup – Active Participation in Suffering
You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink. – Mark 10.38a
The men will later respond that they are able. Jesus then affirms that they will indeed drink the cup from which He drinks. Draining the cup in the Old Testament (the only Bible these men had) meant drinking from the cup of God’s wrath or indignation against sin. Jesus drained the cup of God’s wrath when He suffered and died upon the cross for us. James and John could never do this, but they would endure great suffering as apostles laying the foundation stones of the early church. Recall that James was murdered by King Herod (cf. Acts 12). John was imprisoned, beaten, and exiled to an island to die. They didn’t understand the cost of being identified as disciples of Christ. They would actively participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ.
Be Baptized – Passive Participation in Suffering
You do not know what you ask. Are you able to …be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? – Mark 10.38b
Again, James and John affirm that they are able. Jesus affirms that they will indeed be baptized with such a baptism. Baptism is a figure that means being fully immersed in something. Here a person is fully immersed in the suffering that comes from external means and not of his own doing. Jesus experienced this baptism culminating in His death. Were James and John able? They believed they were able but didn’t fully comprehend what this meant.
Jesus continues by affirming that the baptism will come upon these men. He then concludes by saying:
But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared. – Mark 10.40
Matthew supplements the thoughts recorded in Mark by saying that these places of honor are actually prepared by God the Father (cf. Matt 20.23). Honor is prepared by the Father for those whom He chooses to honor. Also, the Father will prepare the men and women who take these positions of honor. That should do away with any thoughts of envy or self-seeking. Those on the left and right of Jesus in Heaven will certainly deserve those positions. The character forged upon the anvil of suffering in this life will earn these positions because endurance for them came from the grace and mercy of Almighty God in the first place.
It’s hard to point out when someone is being selfish. Some are overly cautious with selfish people. They worry about speaking too bluntly when it comes to revealing such a character flaw in another person. Others are overbearing and can hardly wait to point out such flaws! Jesus show us the way in this passage of Scripture. He used the selfish orientation of these men to instruct them carefully, compassionately, patiently, and effectively.
Jesus revealed the thinking of these men. I understand that they were thinking of themselves instead of Jesus. They were thinking of a temporal, earthly kingdom. This means that they didn’t understand the yet third prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection stated earlier in this passage. They thought in temporal terms and were emboldened to ask for positions of prestige and power. They were not thinking of the suffering and selflessness that paves the way to such positions. Were they able? Are you able?
I hope you desire position and privilege within God’s Kingdom. I do. But we must remember that such position is won through conflict, trial, and suffering. Don’t look for ambition and privilege in this life. Look instead for suffering, tribulation, persecution, and even martyrdom. The Father is preparing special positions of honor. Jesus is preparing a place in Heaven for us. Our cup and baptism on earth may be difficult and beyond us, but one day a great exchange will take place. We will be compensated beyond comprehension!