Mark 10:32-45 (NKJV)
32 Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: 33 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; 34 and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 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.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
There are times in every teacher’s life when he wonders if the people in whom he has been investing his energy are even listening. No doubt this was one of those times in Jesus’ life. Here he has just told the disciples for the third and final time that his mission in going to Jerusalem is one of suffering and death, and immediately James and John sidle up to Him and ask Him, “Lord, when you enter into your glory, grant that we might sit one at your right hand and the other at your left.” Grant that we might be your most influential counselors when you finally take charge in Jerusalem. We can imagine Jesus’ furrowed brow.
What lies behind James’ and John’s request is a distinct notion of kingship, a notion shared in common with the scribes and the Pharisees, with the chief priests and the elders, with the Herodians and the Zealots, with Rome and with Egypt. Kingship, they believed, is a display of power, a show of force, an exhibition of authority. True glory, therefore, lies in making others do one’s bidding, in being served by others.
As James and John are heading to Jerusalem with Jesus, therefore, certain that now is the moment when Jesus will enter upon his glory and take power, they ask him this very pointed request – we want to sit with you, one on your right hand and the other on your left, in your glory.
The interesting thing our text reveals, by the way, is that this radical misunderstanding was not unique to James and John. For when the other disciples hear what James and John have requested they do not laugh the request off – My goodness, how could James and John have so misunderstood what Jesus has been teaching us? No, instead, we are told, the ten are indignant. They are incensed that James and John asked the question that all of them have been yearning to ask but afraid to raise. All the disciples share this same mixed up notion of kingship. And so Jesus takes the time to instruct and correct them once again, to teach them.
Jesus’ response to James’ and John’s request is disbelief. “You do not know what you ask,” he declares. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Don’t you remember what I’ve been telling you? I’m heading to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, to be rejected – is this really what you want a share in? But James and John miss the rebuke; they persist in their request – “Oh, yes, we are able. We can do it. we’re going to suffer right alongside you, have no fear. We will fight with you and make sure you get your seat in glory. All we ask is that you let us sit beside you, on your right and your left, once you are there. You know our loyalty.”
And so Jesus, ever the patient teacher, knowing that soon James and John along with the others will receive the rude awakening that will enable them to see their ignorance, replies – “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink and with the baptism that I am baptized with you will be baptized” – you will be made to suffer, James and John – “but,” he continues, “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.”
So James and John, and the other disciples, are left wondering, wrestling with themselves – who will it be? Who will get to sit on his right and his left hand in glory? When he is revealed as the radiant and resplendent king, the long-awaited Son of David, who will be beside him?
So the question for now, in Mark’s Gospel, is left hanging. Who will sit at Jesus’ right hand and his left in his glory? The question has been asked but no answer has been given. Yet.
For Mark does give us the answer to the question. Mark does reveal those for whom it was prepared to sit on Jesus’ right hand and on his left in his glory. When Jesus’ glory as the King of Israel was most fully displayed, Mark tells us who was honored to be on his right hand and on his left.
“Now it was the third hour,” Mark tells us in chapter 15, verse 25, “and they crucified Jesus. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS. With Him they also crucified two revolutionaries, one on His right and the other on His left.”
So here’s the question we pose this evening: where is the glory of Jesus as our King most fully displayed? Mark tells us that Jesus’ glory was on display in the cross.
And it is this very lesson that Jesus endeavors to teach the disciples once again in our text. Your notions of kingship are all messed up. “You know that those who are appointed leaders among the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Jesus’ true glory as King is that He gave His life for His people. And it is this that we celebrate on Good Friday. So let us thank God for our glorious King.
Let us pray:
You are worthy, O Lamb, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God. we adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom of priest to stand and serve before our God; to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever. Amen.