James and John, in Mark 10:35-45, asked for chief places in Christ’s kingdom and were asked in return, “Are you asked to drink the cup that I drink?” (v. 38). The disciples, indignant with the Zebedees, were told, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43).
Privilege and special requests are not the way of the Son of Man. In seminary at the Perkins School of Theology, we sang Charles Wesley’s hymn “A Charge To Keep.” This hymn had a wonder message, “To serve the present age my calling to fulfill, O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will.” There is no doubt in my mind, as there was no doubt in the minds of the Wesleys, that God is calling us to serve. It is up to us to accept that call to serve.
In the scriptures, we discover that our primary calling as disciples, or followers of Jesus Christ, is to be servants and not celebrities. That was a difficult lesson for the early disciples to learn, and it is a difficult lesson for us to learn too.
Jesus was heading to Jerusalem while the disciples were lagging behind (v. 32). In a short while, he would be handed over to the authorities, condemned to death and crucified upon a cross. James and John, two brothers nicknamed “the sons of thunder,” make an unusual request to Jesus: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 37). These two disciples had no idea what they were asking. Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Still unable to comprehend that Jesus was speaking about his fast approaching death, they answer quickly, “We are able.” In spite of their enthusiasm, Jesus declines their request, saying, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at left is not mine to grant, but is for those whom it has been prepared” (vv. 39-40).
When the other 10 disciples heard of James and John’s request, they became angry. They were angry because James and John had beaten them to the punch. They were ticked off because the “sons of thunder” might get the glory they wanted. There was no way they were going to give up those top spots without a fight. Jesus calls the disciples together and points out the sharp contrast between his philosophy and the philosophy of the world. Let us not fall into the same trap these disciples did by looking too intently on the things in our future, lest we miss the wonderful things that lie before us today.
Servanthood is one of the key messages Jesus tried to instill in his disciples. We can learn a great lesson from these scriptures. We need to be honest with ourselves and allow Jesus Christ to be in charge.