Have you ever asked yourself just how important you are? It stands to reason that if you’re important, then special treatment should be shown to you. It might mean receiving special benefits or perks for who you are or what you’ve done. You should receive something for being important, and it stands to reason that the more important you are, the better the perks should be. Should you not receive your benefits and perks for being important, then someone has failed to recognize just how important you are.
As we see in Mark’s Gospel, we read of an encounter between James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus Himself. The disciples begin this encounter by making a request of Jesus: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” We would speak of the mere audacity of going to Jesus and making such a request like this. They haven’t even made the request but they want Jesus to do whatever they ask. Just moments before this, our Lord had described His coming passion in greater detail than before, and yet the disciples still did not understand. They believed Him to be the Messiah but had ears only for the glory connected with being the Messiah, not for the suffering of the Messiah.
In some respects, this exchange was surprising and in others, not so surprising. As part of Jesus’ inner circle, it was surprising that James and John would make such a request like this. Being so close to Jesus as they were, they should have known better. If there were any of the Twelve who should have known better, these were the two. We see that James and John are present with Jesus in some of the most intimate moments of His ministry. However, these two are just like everyone else: sinful. Their human heart won out and they saw themselves as being more important than any of the other disciples. It was for this reason that they thought that they could make any request of Jesus and that He would do it. Their request showed that they believed that Jesus could give them anything they might ask for, and not only could Jesus grant their request, but they believed He would do it. The fact that they first asked Jesus to assure them He would hints that they suspected that Jesus might not approve of their request.
When we look at their request, we wonder how could such thoughts of grandiose glory come to them. But really, is it all that surprising? If they truly are the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, wouldn’t He grant to them whatever they asked? In looking at His initial response to them, “What do you want me to do for you?,” it’s almost as if Jesus is humoring them to an extent. He wants to see where they are going, just what exactly do they think they are worthy of asking Him for. They jump at Jesus’ invitation and they ask Him for just one thing: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” In other words, they wanted to be rulers with Jesus or have some sort of special authority. Basically, they were asking to be number one and number two in Jesus’ kingdom.
Do you see the error of their request? Jesus is the teacher, the master, their Lord, the Christ, the Son of God. James and John should be ready to receive from Jesus, not demand of Him. How could they even think they were worthy of such a request! But before you start chastising James and John, ask yourself this question: have you made a request like them?
When we pray to our heavenly Father, do we come to Him as humble children going to the Father, or do we go in like gangbusters, making requests and demands of God, telling what we want rather than asking Him for what we need and what is God-pleasing? God is the giver of all that is good, but we treat Him as a vending machine, inserting our demands and expecting God to spit out whatever we ask of Him.
Jesus rightfully answers James and John and all of us when He says, “You do not know what you are asking.” The Son of God did not take on the flesh of man in order to become the big boss. The Son of God came to give us what we needed, not what we want. What we needed more than anything is to be forgiven of all of our sins. Anything else that you could think of wanting is only secondary to the forgiveness that God so willingly gives to us, His beloved children.
We may think our wants are God-pleasing, that they are exactly what we need. However, because of our sinful nature, our wants are rarely what we need. James and John thought they knew what was best for them. They thought that since they were so “important” among Jesus’ disciples, they deserved special treatment. When Jesus heard their request, He acknowledged that they didn’t know what it was they were asking. The fact is that most people don’t know what these two brothers were requesting from Jesus.
The problem is with the word “glory.” When we use the word “glory” in its earthly context, we generally mean the power and authority that Jesus meant when He spoke of this world. James and John were probably thinking of this earthly glory. They were operating on the principle that the coming Messiah would restore Jerusalem to its true state and rule over a renewed Israel.
However, there is more to Jesus’ glory than power and authority. His glory would be revealed on the cross when He gave His life for you when He said, “It is finished.” His glory would be revealed on that first Easter morning when the angel told the women, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen.” His glory is seen as He wins salvation for us upon the cross. As Jesus was walking the road to Jerusalem with His disciples, He began to tell them what was to happen to Him. He was telling them how He would bring glory to God by earning salvation for us with His suffering, death, and resurrection.
All too often like James and John, we think that glory is about power, authority, and control. We want that kind of glory. We want to be important. We want honor. We want to be number one. Jesus tells us that the truly great are those who serve, but we are not interested in serving; we want to be served. We aren’t interested in doing things Jesus’ way. We want our way. We want what we want when we want it. We want and we demand, just like James and John.
Instead of glory that lasts only for the here and now, Jesus comes for a different kind of glory. He came to rescue us from this world of sin by submitting to death on a cross. He has a special honor and glory because of the suffering He has faced. For you, He offers salvation, so that you may have glory – glory in His eternal kingdom. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.