Five Great Things
“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)
We have before us a very sad, sad picture. Our Lord Jesus has just taught his disciples again that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die according to the will of God as our Substitute. Once he had satisfied the wrath and justice of God for us, he promised that he would rise from the dead on the third day.
One would think the disciples would have been so overcome by such teaching that they could hardly think of anything else, much less talk about anything else. But that was not the case. James and John, two of the Lord’s most intimate disciples, had something else altogether on their minds. These two brothers asked the Master that he would grant to them the place of highest honor and greatness in his kingdom!
This sad story is recorded here by divine inspiration for our learning and admonition. May God the Holy Spirit be our Teacher as we study it together. If there is anything plainly revealed and taught in these verses of Inspiration it is the fact that the best, noblest, and most highly honored of God’s saints in this world are sinners still, in constant need of grace and forgiveness by the blood of Christ.
A Great Problem
The Holy Spirit holds up these disciples to set before us a very great problem, a problem with which we all struggle all the time. The problem of which I speak is pride, ungodly, disgusting, shameful, sinful, foolish pride.
“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can...And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John” (vv. 35-41).
James and John were true believers. They were born of God. They truly loved the Lord Jesus Christ. But they were terribly ignorant of some very important, basic things, ignorant of some very basic gospel truths. Their ignorance was overshadowed only by their pride. These two brothers asked the Lord to give them the place of pre-eminence in his kingdom! They presumed that they could personally suffer and endure all that the Lord Jesus would have to suffer and endure as the Lamb of God! And they sought a position of superiority over their brethren!
Here are two of the Apostles of Christ seeking great things for themselves. But we must not be too severe in our judgment of them. Their pride was only a fair representation of the pride of our own hearts. It is the pride of our hearts that this passage of Scripture is intended to expose and check. Let me point out two or three things in these verses.
First, let us all learn this fact: — Genuine believers are often ignorant of things which seem elementary to others. Though our Lord plainly instructed them, though they were themselves chosen Apostles, James and John simply did not understand the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom, or the necessity of his substitutionary sacrifice and sin-atoning death. Mary Magdalene understood those things, but they did not, at least not at this time. They truly trusted Christ. They were men whose sins the Lord Jesus had forgiven, men into whose hands he had placed the keys of his kingdom; but they had a lot, an awful lot to learn!
Many assert dogmatically that a person cannot be saved without a specific measure of doctrinal knowledge and understanding. The measure by which they make such judgments is always their own “knowledge and understanding.” What arrogance! What foolishness! The issue is not what we know, but who. Salvation is not in knowing doctrines and facts. Salvation is knowing a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, we see here that God’s saints in this world are sinners still. That includes you and me. We are a people with a vile, sinful, hellish, ungodly nature called “flesh”; and “that which is born of the flesh is flesh!” We are such wretched sinners that we must constantly watch over our souls and guard against pride, self-esteem, and self-confidence. These things are so deeply rooted and ingrained in us that we are seldom truly aware of their presence.
The other disciples were as guilty as James and John. They were displeased with James and John, not because they asked for this place of honor, but because they did not ask first. They were upset because James and John wanted to be exalted above them!
It is not at all unusual for those who truly have come out of the world, taken up the cross, forsaken all, and follow Christ to become envious, jealous, and offended if a brother or sister is promoted above them. We are so proud and fickle that we get our feelings hurt if someone mentions two or three names in public, but fails to mention ours! Such pride is horribly shameful. It causes strife and division. It ought not to be. But it certainly is not unusual.
The fact is, the greatest problem we face, the most dangerous enemy we have to deal with is our own stinking pride. Pride is the oldest of all sins, the most universal, and the most destructive. We all love power, pre-eminence, prestige, position, and property, because we are all terribly proud. It is our pride that causes us to crave attention and to become upset with those who get it instead of us. Pride inspired Lucifer’s fall (Isaiah 14:12-14). Pride brought one third of the heavenly angels down to hell (Jude 6). Pride seduced Eve. Pride destroyed Adam. And it is always pride that causes strife and division among the sons and daughters of Adam (Psalm 10:2). What is it that divides, separates, and distinguishes men and women from one another according to race, rank, and riches? — Pride! What is it that divides brethren? — Pride! What is it that splits up families? — Pride! What is it that causes war? — Pride!
Yes, even among God’s saints, our greatest problems, difficulties, injuries, and troubles are the result of pride. Thomas Hooker once said, “Pride is a vice that cleaveth so fast unto the hearts of men that if we were to strip ourselves of all faults one by one, we would undoubtedly find it the very last and hardest to put off.”
Of all those things named in the Bible which God hates, pride is number one (Proverbs 6.17). It is our pride that makes us weak and vulnerable to temptations. It is pride that keeps sinners from seeking the Lord (Psalm 10:4). Let us pray, day by day, that our God may deliver us from the pride of our hearts.
When our Lord asked James and John if they could endure the baptism he had to endure and drink the cup he had to drink, they did not hesitate to say, “We can.” Did you ever notice in the Word of God that the recorded falls of God’s saints are usually at the very point where they were strongest, not at their weakest point, but at their strongest? Look at Job. What man was ever so patient as Job? Yet, I know of none more impatient. Moses was the meekest of men. Yet, his rash anger kept him out of the promised land. Samson was the strongest man who ever lived. Yet, he was conquered by a woman. Saul never had a friend so loyal as David. Yet, David killed his friend Uriah. Solomon was the wisest of men; but he was also, undoubtedly, one of the most foolish.
My point is this: — We must never be so proud as to trust in our own strength. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, not in our strength. Therefore, Paul said, “When I am weak, then am I strong”. When we foolishly imagine in the pride of our hearts that we are strong, then we are most weak. When we think we are strong, we think we do not need Christ!
A Great Promise
In spite of their ignorance, pride, and sin, the Lord Jesus gave his disciples a great promise.
“Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared” (vv. 39-40).
When the Lord Jesus said to James and John, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized,” perhaps there is some sense in which our Lord was saying, “You, too, shall be persecuted and required to suffer much;” but that is not all that is contained in these two verses. The Savior said that they would drink the very same cup he drank and would be baptized with the very same baptism with which he was baptized.
Certainly, our Savior was here assuring them and us that all the horror of God’s indescribable wrath, which he was about to endure as our Substitute, he would endure voluntarily. He compares his sufferings and death as a baptism, an immersion. He was wholly immersed in the overwhelming wrath of the infinite God for us, in our place, as our Substitute. But by referring to his sufferings as a baptism, he is telling us that they were not forced upon him by the hand of another. Baptism is not something forced upon a man. It is a voluntary act. Yet, it is something done to him by another. The Son of God was voluntarily baptized in the wrath of God by his Father’s own hand. It is written, “It pleased the Lord to bruise him”.
Our all-glorious Christ also refers to his sin-atoning sacrifice and the wrath he experienced and endured as our Substitute as a cup. A cup is something taken voluntarily. The Lord of Glory willingly took the cup of wrath, when he was made to be sin for us. Voluntarily, with one tremendous draught of love, he drank damnation dry for us! He so loved us that he took the cup of God’s wrath as our Substitute as willingly as a thirsty man takes a cup of water!
Still, there is more. The Lord Jesus here promised these sinful, errant disciples that they would indeed be baptized with his baptism and drink his cup. I can only think of one way that is possible. The only way on this earth you and I can be baptized with his baptism and drink his cup is representatively, in him as our Surety and Substitute; and that is exactly what took place at Calvary. Let every redeemed sinner sing with the psalmist, — “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:12-13).
This is exactly what is symbolized and pictured in the ordinances of the gospel. We in our baptism (immersion) have confessed that we were crucified with Christ at Calvary, buried with him, and raised with him representatively. As we take the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, we symbolically take the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation, symbolically eating and drinking the body and blood of our Savior in blessed remembrance of him.
Then, in verse 40 the Lord Jesus assures us that there is a kingdom of glory, a kingdom of heaven, already prepared by our heavenly Father for his elect, which shall be given to those for whom it was prepared. Eternal life, the heavenly glory, is a kingdom prepared by God the Father from the foundation of the world, not for everyone, but for his elect. All for whom that kingdom was prepared shall possess it at last in all its fulness and glory. They shall possess it in its entirety by the gift of God’s free grace in Christ, by the merits of his blood and righteousness.
A Great Precept
“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (vv. 42-44).
Here is a great precept. Oh, may the Spirit of God give us grace to follow it. A life of self-denying kindness and service to others is the secret of true greatness. In the kingdom of God he is truly great who lives for, seeks, and promotes the temporal, spiritual, and eternal welfare of others. J. C. Ryle wrote…
“True greatness consists, not in receiving, but in giving, — not in the selfish absorption of good things, but in imparting good to others, — not in being served, but in serving, — not in sitting still and being ministered to, but in going about and ministering to others.”
If I want true greatness in the kingdom of God, I must find that place in God’s kingdom where I am needed and can be most useful, and there be a “minister,’ a servant. The word translated “minister” is the same word that is commonly translated “deacon.” It refers to a person who does menial labor, house cleaning, serving tables, gardening, etc. It is the least recognized, but often the most needed, and certainly the most basic service.
If I really want to be a truly admirable person in the church and kingdom of God, I must make myself the servant of all, a slave to the people of God. Those who are truly great and admirable in the family of God are those men and women who devote themselves as willing slaves in humble, self-denying, self-abasing, self-sacrificing service to God’s elect. They willingly serve the Lord’s people for Christ’s sake. They are people who have learned that “it (really) is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Truly great people are those who enrich the lives of others. They are the very few men and women of whom it can be truthfully said, “The world is a better place because of them than it would otherwise be”.
Perhaps you think, “That is just too much to expect from anyone. It is unreasonable to expect anyone to stoop so low.” You are absolutely right, unless that person is interested in striving to be like Christ. Look at verse 45.
A Great Pattern
“For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” — Here, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us, uses himself as a great pattern and example for us to follow. Our Savior’s message here is very simple and clear. He is saying, “Strive to be like me.” It is written, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).
Did the Lord Jesus live in this world as the servant of God, to do the will of God (Hebrews 10:5-10)? If I would be like him, I must seek to live in this world as the servant of the Most High God, doing the will of God (Philippians 2:1-9). Did the Son of God live in this world as the servant of men (John 13:4-5, 12-17)? If I would walk in his steps, I must endeavor to spend my life and energy serving the needs (temporal, spiritual, emotional, and eternal needs) of others.
Lord, help me to live from day to day
In such a self forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.
Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true,
And know that all I’d do for You
Must needs be done for others.
Savior, help me in all I do
To magnify and copy You.
That I may ever live like You,
Help me to live for others.
A Great Purchase
Here is the greatest thing of all, the great purchase of our souls, by the sacrifice of God’s dear Son. — “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v. 45). Not only has the Lord Jesus given us a noble example of self-denying love and service by his obedience to God the Father for us, he has by his great, sin-atoning sacrifice and substitutionary death purchased and ransomed us from the curse of God’s Holy law by his precious blood (Romans 8:1-4, 33-34; Galatians 3:13). He has delivered us from the slavery of sin by his blood applied in saving grace (Romans 6:18) into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, redeeming us to himself as his own peculiar people (Titus 2:14). Let us never forget that the ransom price by which we have been redeemed is his precious blood (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18-20); Revelation 5:9).
That precious blood, the ransom price, was paid for “many,” and paid for them in particular, as the objects of his special love and saving purpose. The “many” for whom the Lord Jesus Christ paid this great ransom price are clearly identified in the Book of God as the many God has ordained unto eternal life (Acts 13:48), — the many the Father gave to the Son in the covenant of grace before the worlds were made (John 6:37-40), — the many for whom the Lord Jesus makes intercession (John 17:9, 20), — the many who are called by his Spirit’s effectual, irresistible grace (Revelation 19:9), — the many who are saved by his mercy (John 1:12-13), — the many to whom he gives the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), and — the many for whom his Father has prepared and to whom he shall give the kingdom of Glory (v. 40).
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