Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
This passage of scripture opens with an interesting interchange between Jesus and the mother of James and John. She asks for her sons to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom. These would not only be positions of authority but they would also point to high ranking.
The disciples believed Jesus would overthrow Rome at some point and establish His kingdom. They failed to understand that the first time Christ came was to conquer the curse of sin and death and truly set people free.
But Jesus makes it clear that the one who will make that decision is His Father in Heaven. He speaks of His soon coming baptism that would involve the suffering and the cross at Calvary. But both James and John would suffer greatly for the name of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
But Jesus uses this as an opportunity to correct their wrong understanding of true greatness. When the Lord speaks of the gentiles, He speaks of those outside Israel who lived their lives according to the principles of the world. The way of salvation would eventually be made open to the gentiles.
But the Lord points out that those in positions of authority according to the world’s system Lord it over they rule. They use people and disregard them when they are done with them. But Jesus says it is not so with His kingdom. For those who desire to be great must be willing to serve. That those who desire to be first must be willing to be a slave.
This would have blown the minds of the disciples and challenged their desire for selfish ambition. Jesus told them on multiple occasions that He would be betrayed, would suffer, would be scrounged, and crucified. The Lord fully understood why He came to earth. That it required His laying down His life to set people free.
But Jesus also knew the importance of investing in the lives of the disciples and teaching them the principles upon which His kingdom is built. These ordinary men would be entrusted with taking the gospel forward and building the solid foundation on which the church is built.
Greatness in God’s kingdom is not the result of selfish ambition. It is not the result of popularity or being the most charismatic person behind a pulpit. It is the result of walking closely with Christ that naturally leads to humility. It results from being willing to lay down our lives daily and trusting the Lord each step of the way.
If our desire is greatness then we must desire to be a servant. Be willing to do the things that no one else desires to do. Be willing to simply say yes when the Lord leads and instructs. It requires us to lay down our lives daily.