“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." 36 And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 37 They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39 They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared." 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Intro: What if what God wants isn’t what you want?
I once heard the story of a rice farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm he felt the earth quake and saw the distant ocean swiftly withdraw from the shore line. He knew that a tidal wave was coming. In the valley below, he saw his neighbors working low fields that would soon be flooded. They must run quickly to his hilltop or they would all die. His rice barns were dry as tinder. So with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire gong started ringing. His neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to help him. Then from their safe perch they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left. In a flash they knew not only who had saved them but what their salvation had cost their benefactor. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.” This poor farmer finished first in the eyes of his community, but it cost him everything he had. There are not many people in our world like that farmer. He willingly sacrificed himself that others might succeed. Most people do everything they can to better themselves, and think nothing of the people they step on behind as they climb to the top of the heap. This text is designed to teach us the truth that not everyone who finishes first is victorious. Sometimes those who take the last seat, those who willingly finish last, are the real winners in the game of life. I think it is clear from reading the Gospels that our Lord's disciples were anything but humble men. They were always in the business of trying to promote themselves. On several occasions, Jesus sought to combat that mentality, but they never seemed to get the message.
James and John come to Jesus asking for the top seats in His kingdom. Jesus uses this event to teach us all some valuable lessons about leadership, service to others and forgiveness.
Ambition: (Def.) A desire for rank, fame, or power, a desire to achieve.
The Problem of Ambition: Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. This was the visit when the crises of His death and resurrection were to take place. We, who live today, know what Jesus meant by His death and resurrection. He was to die for our sins and be raised again to impart new life to us. But the disciples did not know this. Jesus had not yet died and been raised from the dead. To them He was speaking of an earthly and material kingdom. If He was about to set up His kingdom, now was the time to seize the positions of power in His kingdom. Now was the time to secure the positions of rule and authority. This is what James and John were doing. They were assuring themselves of key positions in Jesus' government.
1. The Deceitfulness of Wrong Ambition: vs. 35
This verse speaks of the deceitfulness of wrong ambition. The ambition that was gripping their heart was not healthy ambition; it was evil ambition. And evil ambition is sneaky. It tries to get an inside track, the upper hand by hook or crook. It uses any means whatsoever, including the use and misuse of people, even loved ones.
2. The Possible Motives for Ambition: vs. 36-37
What needs to be noted is that ambition can be good or bad. The determining factor is motive. One's motive makes ambition either good or bad. The ambition of James and John exposes several possible motives. Each one touches a sensitive spot within every person, and urges every person to examine the motives of his heart. There was the motive of power, position, influence, and authority. This was clearly one of the motives of James and John. They wanted to be right next to Jesus in position and influence, power and authority. It is the very thing they asked. How many seek to be next to the boss, the pastor, the leader, or the teacher, seeking to curry his favor; seeking to be recognized by him or by others as knowing him well and as being favored by him?
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16 (NIV)
3. The Great Price of Ambition: vs. 38-39
Jesus was straightforward, pulling no punches with these two ambitious men. "Ye know not what ye ask. Can you drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Jesus was asking the ambitious believer, "Can you go through the terrible experience I have to suffer? Can you drink the cup of my terrible agony, of my inward agony and pain? Can you bear the baptism of my terrible sufferings?" The two men accepted the Lord's challenge, and they responded immediately, very positively: "We can." Of course, they did not know what they were doing, not fully. Nevertheless, at this particular moment they were willing to die for Christ in Jerusalem if necessary.
The same challenge is issued to every person. We are to drink the Lord's cup and be baptized with His baptism. We are to suffer for His sake, to labor and serve to the point of exhaustion in getting the gospel out and in ministering to a lost world. We are to bear persecution if necessary to fulfill His mission. In essence, we are to deny self, do whatever is necessary.
“Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
We should follow the example of James and John. We should accept the Lord's challenge. Accept it immediately, not hesitating at all. Accept it even though we may not fully understand what it involves. There is a price to pay for ambition. If a person really wants to achieve, they must get to it, and getting to it takes time and work. It involves sacrifice and pain, sweat and tears, isolation and loneliness, and often involves sacrificing their social life. In all honesty, few are willing to pay such a price.
4. The Prerogative of God in Ambition: vs. 40
Look at the exact words of Jesus: "To sit...is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared." Two things are being said. Jesus said that some will sit on His right and some on His left hand. God is preparing to bestow such honor upon some. This points toward degrees of glory in heaven. Jesus said that the right to reign with Him is to be determined by God alone (that is, His absolute justice). He also makes a distinction between the great, who only commit themselves to minister and the chief (greatest), who commit themselves to be bond-slaves.
5. The Potential Conflict Among Men with Ambition: vs. 41
How did the other ten disciples hear what James and John had done? They probably saw the two approach Jesus off in the distance. They knew something unusual was happening. When James and John returned, the ten asked what was going on. Of course, James and John were hesitant to reveal the truth. But, as would be expected, this only aroused the disciples' curiosity and cross-examination more. They pressed and pressed the issue until James and John had to tell their evil and ugly plot. The ten were indignant with James and John. What right did they have to do such a thing? Why did they deserve a higher position than any of them? Jealousy, envy, pride, self-centeredness, and bitterness bred within the heart of each against the two. Perhaps even hatred was being expressed. One thing is certain. The band of disciples was threatened; their cohesiveness and the very work of the Lord was at stake. A divisiveness beyond repair was possible.
6. The Greatness of Good Ambition: vs. 42-44
Jesus did not find fault with ambition on the whole. There is good and true ambition just as there is bad and false ambition. Jesus was quite clear about the difference between the two. One is of the world, the other of God. True ambition, ambition that is good and healthy, is an ambition that does not seek to rule and to exercise authority. True ambition or greatness is not exercising lordship and authority over people. It is not desiring the chief positions. True ambition is not self-centered and selfish, not worldly-minded. The greatness desired must focus upon Christ if it is to be true ambition. True ambition (greatness) seeks to minister, not to be ministered unto. It looks for people to help and for ways to help them, whether at work, home, play, or church. It is always seeking those who need a visit, care, attention, company, food, clothing, shelter, money. It seeks for the sake of ministering; true ambition (greatness) becomes the servant of all. What Jesus was saying is that among His disciples, they who minister are great, but they who are bond-slaves are the chief.
7. The Supreme Act Of Ambition is seen in Jesus Christ. vs. 45
1. The supreme humiliation.
2. The supreme mission.
3. The supreme price.
“He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.” This poor farmer finished first in the eyes of his community, but it cost him everything he had. There are not many people in our world like that farmer. He willingly sacrificed himself that others might succeed. He had Godly ambition, What if we follow that example?
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