On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:38-40)
It’s clear — James and John don’t have a clue. When they ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands, they do not know that the thorn of suffering first awaits them before the throne of glory.
When Jesus asks them if they are ready to drink His cup and be baptized with His baptism, they blithely and too quickly answer, “Yes.”
Their grandiose request for places of prominence teaches us a valuable lesson about praying for things we want. You may not know what you are asking for. The whole idea may seem good to you and that is why you bring it to the Lord. But your request, if fulfilled, may have some unintended consequences. To get where you want to go may involve some great suffering, stress or distress.
Jesus connects their request for the prominent positions at His right and left hands to the fact that one only gets there after passing through great adversity. Heroes are never made in circumstances where no difficulty presents itself. So Jesus asks them if they can stand to drink the cup and be baptized with His baptism (of suffering).
It’s so true in life — anything really worthy of questing after involves suffering and sacrifice of some kind. High goals are never attained by people who are unwilling to pay the price to get there.
Jesus chooses to answer the question of James and John with a question of His own. He refocuses them from the next life to this life. They have no idea at the moment that their “baptism” will mean that James will be the first of the Eleven to die (Acts 12:2) and John, the last (John 21:23).
When Jesus first called them, they could have remained home and escaped the destiny of a life cut short or a long life marked in the end by exile on the island of Patmos. But when you start out to follow Christ, when you heed the invitation to “come and see” (John 1:39), you will also ultimately hear Jesus invite you to lay down everything to follow Him (Mark 8:34).
But if He does not call us to a life of glamour, we know that ultimately He invites us to a life of glory. Jesus clearly reveals there is a future after this life. There will be places at His right and left. They’re just not His to give.
The places of prominence are still open. Who will sit next to Him? The seats are still reserved — until He comes. Anyone may still qualify to sit on His right or left; or perhaps the Father will rotate and give each of us a chance. However, I suspect on the other side we won’t even care about that. Sinful human pride and striving for position will all be gone then. The fact is this: We shall reign with Him!
A prayer of response
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
On Your Mark