I. Seats for Self-Serving Sons
This is Mark’s third passion prediction followed by a blatant request for fame and honor in the mouths of James and John. This is the only time in the Gospel of Mark these two brothers are named apart from the other 12. Their request for self-serving glory and fame match their names: Sons of Thunder (
The brothers wanted Jesus to sign a blank check to be cashed in the new kingdom for seats of honor on either side of Jesus. They believed their journey to Jerusalem was a road leading to fame and honor, and they wanted to elbow their way to the front before the other disciples made their moves.
When Jesus asked them what they wanted Him to do, they wanted Jesus to reserve two seats on either side of Him and let them help Him rule the new kingdom. The Sons of Thunder desired seats of prominence, power and prestige. They were ambitious and knew how to look out for themselves. They completely misunderstood what Jesus said about the kingdom of God and the role of suffering.
II. The Seat of a Serving Son
Jesus responded to this self-serving request in a caring and compassionate manner. He told them they did not know what they were asking and proceeded to clarify their request. He answered the brothers’ request with a question: “Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
Jesus reminded James and John of the Old Testament images of cup and baptism. The cup was a frequent metaphor for suffering and torment (
III. Seats for Jealous Disciples
When the other disciples heard this conversation, they become angry and jealous. Perhaps they harbored the same ambitions or perhaps felt excluded from the inner circle with Jesus, but Jesus used this occasion to call them together to teach a lesson about discipleship.
The world practices a manner of leadership based on power, dominance and forceful authority. Jesus said all you have to do is look around at the Gentiles and ruling tyrants to see worldly leadership in action. However, in the kingdom of God, this is not the model for discipleship and leadership.
In an unprecedented reversal of worldly ethics, Jesus spoke of greatness in service rather than power. Greatness belongs to the one who is not great in the world—a servant. Servanthood is the highest calling in Jesus’ kingdom. Jealous and self-serving disciples are replaced by serving disciples. The desire for power, fame, glory and jealousy lead to loss of love and undue attention to one’s self. Rather, love and service by nature are focused on others and their needs.
What Jesus teaches about service and self-sacrifice is enfleshed in His own life. He told His disciples and us that He has come into this world to serve, not to be served—to give His life for our salvation. This model of ministry and discipleship does not come from this world, but from God’s kingdom. Jesus is the way and the Person to follow because He is the embodiment of giving, serving and loving. The servant is the most important position in the kingdom of God because the sole purpose of a servant is to serve and to give. This is what God ultimately has done and continues to do for us in Christ.
Imagine yourself sitting beside Jesus. Similar to James and John, many of us desire to sit on either side of Jesus. We seek to follow Him without counting the cost or heeding the call. After all, there is only one other place in Scripture where Jesus is in the middle, and there is someone on either side of him: Calvary. May we hold this image in our hearts and minds the next time we desire to have Jesus sit in the middle and we casually answer as we rush to our seats, “We are able.”