“Can you drink the cup I drink?” (Mark 10:38)

It was a strange request.

James and John came to Jesus asking for a special favor. They wanted to be seated next to him when he comes in his glory.

If you’re going to ask, you might as well go for the gold.

The two brothers have been roundly criticized for their request. No wonder the other disciples were indignant when they heard about it (v. 41). But Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for their audacious question. He wants to know if they know what they are asking for.

Sometimes our perspective gets a bit out of whack and we forget our limitations. James and John underestimated the cost of following Christ and they overestimated their own importance. They didn’t ask for work in the coming Kingdom (which would have been a nobler request). They asked only for a place of honor. Seniority was their plea. We’ve been here longer than anyone except Peter! They probably thought the Kingdom was coming soon so they wanted to get their applications in early. To use a phrase from the college admissions process, they wanted “early decision” by Jesus. And perhaps they intended to trade on family ties and friendship to get a high place.

Jesus doesn’t turn them down and he doesn’t put them down. He doesn’t say, “Forget about it. You’ll never have a place of honor at my table.” Not at all. He merely raises the bar. “You want to sit next to me? Fine. Here’s what it will cost you.” Warren Wiersbe reminds us to be careful when we pray because we might get what we ask for. James and John assumed their suffering was over and their work was done. They were wrong on both counts. Their suffering was still ahead of them and their work was just starting.

It’s almost as if he’s saying, “You want to be on my right hand and my left hand? Great! Stay with me for a few days and you’ll see who is on my right hand and my left. A dying thief on one side and a dying thief on the other side. I’m about to be crucified and the Romans have got two empty crosses. You guys want to make a reservation?"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That’s the deal. Do you want in or not?

We can talk about crowns later.

Lord Jesus, forgive us for misguided ambition, small dreams, and selfish plans. Grant us steady hands and stout hearts to follow you even though the road you take always leads to a cross. Amen.

Going Deeper

Read Mark 10:35-45. What was wrong and what was right about the request James and John made to Jesus? Is there such a thing as godly ambition? If so, what does it look like? Which was more important to Jesus–serving or status? Think for a moment about your secret ambitions. If all of them were granted to you, what sort of person would you become? Ask the Lord to give you a servant’s heart today.