What do you expect to get from following Jesus? What do you really want from your Christian life? There came a point in His ministry when many of Jesus’s followers realised they weren’t getting what they expected, and they realised that the Christian life was not going to be a bed of roses!
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
There was Jesus leading the way. The apostles were astonished. They had finally realised that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and the Messiah. Peter James and John had seen Jesus’s glory in the transfiguration. The rest of Jesus’s followers were just afraid. They didn’t know what was going on.
So Jesus takes another opportunity to explain privately to his twelve apostles what was waiting for Him in Jerusalem. Betrayal. Condemnation. Mocking. Flogging. Crucifixion. And the promise of resurrection. And that was the very moment when two of the apostles came to Jesus with a strange request.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
In one way their request showed remarkable faith! James and John were confident that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the Son of God. They were confident that despite everything which Jesus said was going to happen, that one day Jesus would be ruling in glory. But their faith was tarnished by terrible selfish ambition. They were already part of the inner circle of apostles, Peter, James and John. Perhaps the two brothers were trying to squeeze Peter out.
But we must not judge James and John too harshly. We need to examine our own motives for following Jesus. Aren’t we all sometimes selfish, following Jesus for what we get out of it? And when the Christian life gets tough, aren’t we all sometimes tempted to give up and pack it all in?
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
What James and John were looking for was glory and power. But all that Jesus offers them is the things He himself would face. The cup of suffering and the baptism of punishment. Jesus was not looking forward to glory. He was facing rejection and torture and an agonizing death. Too often we expect the Christian life to be easy, a nice comfortable ride to heaven. We grumble when life gets tough and believing gets hard and when being a Christian costs more than we expected it would. We complain when Jesus asks us to sip the cup he drinks or dip our toes into the baptism he was going to face just a few weeks later. Hear again what Jesus had just told His disciples. That road to Jerusalem was not an easy one!
33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
How sad Jesus must have been as He walked towards Jerusalem. “Jesus leading the way,” a lone figure ahead of all his followers. His mind must have been full of all he was going to suffer. But all his disciples cared about was what THEY would gain. Weren’t they listening? Didn’t they understand? Didn’t they care? Jesus must have been God. If Jesus had not been God, anybody else would have turned around and run away from Jerusalem as fast as possible! Anybody else would have decided that self-centred ambitious human beings like James and John simply weren’t worth saving!
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
In the years to follow, James and John must have come to regret that rash overconfident answer. “Yes we can”. We can share your cup. We can share your baptism. And they did! Like countless Christians since who have followed their Lord in the way of the cross to suffering and martyrdom. Jesus wasn’t angry with James and John. He was sad for them because He knew what they would face and the price they would pay for being His apostles.
Too often we expect the Christian life to be easy and even enjoyable. We forget the cross and think only of the crown. We have seen Jesus say in
Mark 834 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
As the old Negro spiritual put it, “If you will not bear a cross you can’t wear a crown.” Are WE prepared to share Jesus’s cup and His baptism? They are the only way to glory. But then there is even more to following Jesus.
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 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. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Of course the ten were angry with James and John. They were angry that they hadn’t thought of the idea themselves. James and John had got in first! But Jesus goes on to explain that things are different in the Kingdom of God. In the world, the higher up people are the more other people serve them. But in the Kingdom of God, the higher up people are the more they serve others. It wasn’t just James and John who needed to learn this lesson. All the twelve needed to hear it. And every Christian since. Greatness in the Kingdom of God isn’t measured by knowledge or popularity or fame or success, but by service. How much we have served God and our neighbours.
There is a danger in much of our modern Christian culture that the world has crept in with its cults of popularity and celebrity. I cringe at events where speakers are introduced as “a great servant of God”. I am uncomfortable clapping to applaud a Christian “celebrity”. While all the time those who are truly great in the Kingdom of God continue to serve others sacrificially but unnoticed and unrecognised.
We need to escape from that kind of self-centred ambition which tripped up James and John if we are ever to be of any use to God. We need to get rid of any ideas that we serve God for what we get out of it!
43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
The antidote to self-centredness is that we must become slaves of all.
Slaves of all – in the church. Many people come to church for what they can get out of it. We need to ask not “what can I get?” but “what can I give?” Some people are only happy serving God in the church as long as they get noticed and appreciated. Being a slave is not easy. It can mean being taken for granted or overlooked. But God calls us to be slaves of all.
Slaves of all – in the world. This doesn’t mean Christians have to be doormats. It does mean we should be known for our good deeds. To the world around, the word Christian means somebody who is a good kind person and who loves their neighbour. And that is the example we as Christians should give to the world!
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
What the world around us needs to see in the church is sacrificial love and service. Then many more people will want to know God for themselves. It’s not enough to tell people that Jesus loves them. We need to show people that Jesus loves them by loving them ourselves. Christians have to leave the comfort zones of our churches and stand up for Jesus in the workplace and among our neighbours. One church has as its vision statement, “We find a need and we fill it. We find a hurt and we heal it.” Not a bad aim to have!
The challenge for us as Christians and as a church, and the measure of our spirituality, is to be of service to others. Servants of all. How well we know our Bibles and how well we pray at our prayer meetings do matter. But what matters most is the quality of our sacrificial service to God in the world. Those who are greatest in the Kingdom of God are those who are slaves of all.
When they start following Jesus most people don’t realise that taking up the cross and becoming slaves of all are part of the deal. Not such an attractive proposition, this discipleship. But this is the kind of Christian living which Jesus calls us to. So why on earth would anybody in their right mind want to follow Jesus???
45 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.”
Jesus gives us His example of the kind of life of service we should lead. He did not come to be served. He did not come to be honoured. Jesus did not come for an easy life, for his own joy and happiness. Jesus was not cushioned or immune from sorrow and suffering. The Son of Man came to serve – to serve God and to serve Humanity. He came as the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant. As He walked along that road to Jerusalem, I wonder whether Jesus was mediating on Isaiah 53.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
So Jesus the suffering servant would give His life as a ransom for many. He would die in our place, facing the penalty we should face and paying the price for our sin. He would redeem us. This is the reason why anybody would become a Christian and follow Jesus to suffering and sacrifice in the way of the cross. This is the reason why anybody would follow Jesus’s example and become a slave of all. Because of everything that Jesus has already done for us! Because Jesus has died for us. Because He has paid our ransom. Because we owe Jesus our lives and our souls and so, however much it costs, however hard it gets, we should be grateful to follow Jesus because of all He has done for us!
Mark 10 28 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
There are blessings for those who follow Jesus. Great blessings in this life and in the life to come. But these blessings only come to us as we follow Jesus on the way of the cross. Through suffering, through persecution, as we follow Jesus and become slaves of all. The blessings of the gospel only come to those who leave everything behind to follow Jesus – leaving behind our comfort and our easy lives. We only know the blessings which the Servant King bought for us at Calvary when we share in His cross and His resurrection. When our own self-centred ambitions are crucified and we learn not to expect to be served but rather to serve. And we serve and give and love because of Jesus. For Jesus’s sake. Because He loves us SO MUCH.
Think of how much it cost for Jesus to die for you. How much does it cost you to live for Him?