An Exhortation by Pastor Brian Phillips to Holy Trinity Church on October 18, 2015
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
James and John approach Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” That sounds absolutely outlandish to us, not because we haven’t thought the exact same thing, but because most of us would never be honest enough to say it out loud.
Jesus plays along, asking them what they want, to which James and John reply, “Grant to us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” The other disciples are angered by this, perhaps because they didn’t think to ask first. Their angry reaction was just a sin of a different kind and Jesus uses the opportunity to tell them that they have no idea what they are asking for – “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus is using sacramental language of baptism and communion, but He is referring to His own suffering and death.
James and John would participate in that baptism and communion, as we do, but they did not realize that it was an act of dying to self, not exalting self. We need to take two reminders from this passage. First, Christ came to serve, not to be served and we are to walk as He walked – serving others, not seeking to be served. Second, serving Christ means dying to self. When we are baptized, the old man is washed away and we are called to walk as new men in Christ. When we take communion, we are communing with Christ in His body and blood, which were given in death. When we take the bread and wine, we are reminding ourselves of the need to die to self and live for Christ.