Walking the road to Jerusalem, Jesus explained to His disciples where they were going, and exactly what was going to happen once they got there: “We’re going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn Him… mock Him, and spit on Him… and kill Him; and after three days He will rise again.”
That’s the plan; the most important thing Jesus will do: Die for the Life of the world…
But what do you suppose James and John were concerned with? Their Lord’s suffering and Death? His betrayal and suffering? No. They’re arguing over positions of power in Jesus’ new kingdom. They’re making sure that, when Jesus takes over, they’ll have the two top spots, and so they bounce up to Jesus, demanding: “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask… Grant us to sit at your right and at your left, in your glory.”
This is most presumptuous, even offensive. Here Jesus is telling His disciples about His impending death, when out of nowhere, James and John blurt out this new topic of conversation: Their glorious positions in Our Lord's coming kingdom.
Now, some might admire this boldness. James and John went for it. No guts, no glory. They "got while the gettin’ was good".
But how does Jesus answer James and John? He plays along. He says, “What do you want me to do for you? Ask and you shall receive.”
“Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your glory.” Okay, Jesus? Are You getting this? We are, here and now, claiming the top spots when you come into your glory. After all, we left everything we had to follow You. That should count for something, right?
Wrong. Jesus tells them, “You don’t know what you’re asking." James and John want to be with Jesus in “glory”, but they don’t get Jesus’ kind of glory. They’re thinking, it’s going to be great - the easy life, all the earthly comforts and benefits! But glory for Jesus means betrayal, suffering, and death on a cross. Jesus calls all of this His hour of glory. It’s His glory to die for the sins of the world. It’s His glory to defeat sin, death, and devil – in weakness, to lay down His life as a sacrifice pleasing to His Father.
Jesus has a cup to drink - a bitter cup, the sour wine of our sin and rebellion against God, our lies and murders, and our attempts to be God in place of God.
The Cup Jesus is speaking of here is our sinful misery – our self-centered, fear-driven greed, and our short-sighted felt-need to control others and to damn them with our accusations when we don’t get our way…
And only Jesus can take this cup and be baptized into Death. There is no one else who can be baptized into our death – and then rise up out of it to life. Only Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, can stand in our place and do what we can’t do for ourselves.
Jesus has a baptism awaiting Him. It's His immersion into our death, and the grave that is rightfully ours. On His Cross, Jesus was baptized into our death, so that we would be baptized into His life.
Are James and John able to drink this cup, or able to be baptized with Jesus’ Baptism? They seem to think they are, they’re so sure of themselves, so confident and motivated.
But Jesus reprimands this kind of ambition. This is how bullies, cowards and tyrants behave. This is how the world exercises authority – with manipulation and control kill or be killed, climbing up to the top on the backs of others. This is the world of business and politics… But Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.”
“It shall not be so among you,” Jesus says. Not you who I died for – whom I’ve baptized to be new creations – new creations out of this world and its ways; new creations who no longer fear and hurt others just to survive. You don’t need to do that anymore; that’s not who you are now…
It shall not be so among you. No power games in Jesus’ kingdom. No lording authority over others. No trying to control… If you want to be great in the kingdom of Christ the Crucified, you must become servant of everyone. To be first, you must be a slave of all.
That’s what greatness looks like in the kingdom of Christ. The last are first, the humbled are exalted, and best of all: Sinners are justified before God, and the dead are raised to life. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
So if you desire the greatest, highest position in all the kingdom of Christ, then simply receive these, His Words to you: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
And in this forgiveness, you will drink His Cup, and you will know and live the fullness of His Baptism through the Cross - and thus be great in His kingdom, even to Life Everlasting. Amen.