The ministry of Jesus was reaching a crescendo. He had done some amazing things in three years of ministry: healed people, calmed storms, cast out demons, taught with amazing authority, shown compassion to those everyone else had given up on, and even raised people from the dead!
Now, as His closest twelve followers considered the future, they were anticipating the ultimate fulfillment of their dreams. They were hopeful that Jesus was getting close to the time that He would establish an earthly kingdom. They had heard Him speak of death, of burial, and of resurrection, but those thoughts seemed distant in the future. For now, they were ready to reign with Him in glory.
Two of His followers approached Jesus with an unexpected request.
Mark 10:35-37 (HCSB)
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do something for us if we ask You.” 36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them. 37 They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”
Jesus was always a person who welcomed questions. He even liked to ask questions Himself. So when James and John approached Him with a question, He was ready to listen and respond.
In the first-century culture, to sit at the right hand of a ruler was a position of high power and influence. It was literally the ruler’s “right-hand man.” And to sit at the left hand of the ruler was the next in line. They were asking for positions of power, prestige and influence in the kingdom of God.
Mark 10:38-40 (HCSB)
38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We are able,” they told Him. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. 40 But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.”
Jesus knew that His death was coming soon. He knew that He was about to suffer much and to ultimately sacrifice His life for the sins of mankind. He asked James and John if they were ready to “drink the cup” and be “baptized” (immersed) in pain and suffering like He was about to face.
They said that they were ready for this, but I’m not convinced they knew what they were saying. I think they were still thinking earthly-kingdom at this point. They were saying that they were willing to fight and struggle to establish the earthly kingdom.
The other disciples were upset that James and John had asked for positions of prominence. Perhaps they were mad because James and John thought to ask first.
Mark 10:41 (HCSB)
41 When the other 10 disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John.
Jesus knew He needed to take this moment to teach with clarity about what was to be expected of His followers. According to Jesus in this passage, there are three measures of greatness for those that are great in the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is very different than the world.
Mark 10:42-45 (HCSB)
42 Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. 43 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”
Jesus reminds His followers of what they already knew about the rulers of their day. Two measures of greatness in earthly rulers are position and power. Those who aspire to be rulers in earthly kingdoms vie for the top positions in the organization and for the most power and the influence that brings.
The Kingdom of God
But Jesus says it is much different in the kingdom of God. In His kingdom, which is a spiritual kingdom, greatness is seen through suffering, serving and sacrifice. Jesus calls His followers to be willing to sacrifice to follow Him. This may mean sacrificing worldly fame, earthly riches or prideful aspirations.
Jesus also calls us to serve Him by serving others. This is a life of selflessness, looking for the needs that others have and helping to meet those needs in a way that is pleasing to God.
He calls us to be willing to suffer for the sake of His name. For some, this suffering is in the form of name-calling, shunning or ridicule by others because you live by faith in Jesus. For others, the life of suffering that God calls you to is physical suffering due to sickness or injury. For others, God calls you to make the ultimate sacrifice by being willing to suffer as a martyr for your faith.
Are you willing to sacrifice, suffer, and serve others? Or are you only following Christ because you believe that He will give you position or power?
Let’s hear the words of Christ. Greatness in the kingdom of God is reverse of what the world may think. In God’s kingdom, the one who is willing to serve others is the greatest of all.
And Jesus set the example for us. Although He was God-in-the-flesh, He did not demand that people serve Him. Rather, He led the way by serving others. Then, He paid the ultimate sacrifice by suffering on the cross as the ransom for our sins.
Sacrifice. Suffering. Serving. Let’s follow in the way of Christ.