Mark 10:32-45 (ESV)
32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
James and John approached Jesus privately to ask for the highest places of honor and authority in his coming kingdom. One brother wanted to sit at his right, and one wanted to sit at his left. Jesus asked if they were able to drink the cup of suffering and be baptized with the agony he was about to be immersed in. In one sense, this was impossible. Only Jesus could satisfy the rightful wrath of God against the sins of mankind. But, a seat at his right and left is a place reserved for those who have experienced great pain as a result of obedience to God in a hostile world. They still didn’t get it. In verse 39, they responded, “We are able.” When the other disciples learned about this conversation, they were extremely angry at what they perceived to be a selfish request by the brothers. Clearly, they wanted the seats too! Jesus called them all together and taught them the key to greatness and honor in his kingdom. If the disciples wanted to be first in the next life, they must voluntarily and sacrificially serve other people. This was exactly what Jesus did, even dying for others. In God’s kingdom, we go up when we willingly move down.
The way Mark recorded the brothers’ request sounds bold as they said to Jesus, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” But we do the same thing, don’t we? We approach Jesus and ask him to do whatever we request. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t correct the two brothers for their desire. In fact, Jesus responded with, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 36). But Jesus let them know they had no idea what they were asking for. An honor like this came with a huge price tag, and James and John were clueless about what lay in store for them, or who could occupy the seats they longed for. But they thought they knew best, so claimed they were able to do whatever was necessary to get those spots. Have you made requests of God to which the answer seems to be “no?” If so, don’t get discouraged. Instead, thank Jesus for not always giving us what we want. He knows what we can and can’t handle.