Print This Page Print This Page


Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on June 26, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, June 26, 2016 from Mark 10:35-40

Theme: We can want the worthiest of all things (greatness in Jesus’ kingdom), and yet pursue it in the wrong ways.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

Listen to this sermon online!

We turn this morning to the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Mark—and to a story about something that is on the minds of many of us nowadays. It’s a story about ‘the pursuit of greatness’.

First, let’s set the context. As we learned from our time together last week, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem—and the disciples were following along behind. Along the way, He drew them to Himself and told them;

Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).

This, then, was a very important journey that Jesus was taking them on. He—the Son of Man; the divine Head of humanity—was going to the place where He would lay down His life as our Savior a short time later. It was His final ‘earthly’ journey to Jerusalem; and He was going there in order to serve us and meet our greatest of all needs.

But even though He had explained to His disciples a few times before what it was that was about to happen, they didn’t understand. They believed that He was going to Jerusalem to—then and there—cast out the enemies of His people, and to initiate His kingdom reign. And that’s when we come to the incident that we find in verses 35-40. Mark tells us;

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” 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?” 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; 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” (vv. 35-40).

You may know that this wasn’t the first time that this kind of thing had come up. Not long ago—in the story of another of Jesus’ journeys—we read about how He asked the disciples what it was that they were talking about as they traveled. They were all embarrassed; because they were arguing over which of them was the ‘greatest’. It seemed to be a real problem among the disciples back then. (But let’s not judge them too harshly. It’s a real problem among Jesus’ followers today too.)

In fact; did you know that every time in this Gospel that Jesus took His disciples aside to tell them about what it was that He was going to do in Jerusalem, they ended up getting into a debate over which of them was the greatest? This was the last of those arguments. And did poor James and John end up walking back to the other ten disciples with egg on their faces! Mark tells us in verse 41;

And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John (v. 41).

Things had the potential of becoming real ugly! But that’s when Jesus stepped in and defused the situation. (I believe He does that often for us today in the Body of Christ—if we will let Him.) It all became a teachable moment for His disciples; and Jesus—the Master Teacher—took immediate advantage of the opportunity. Mark writes;

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. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (vv. 41-45).

So; this passage comes to us in two, very important divisions. The first is in verses 35-40; where we read of the incident of this wrongful pursuit of ‘greatness’. And the second is in verses 41-45; were the Lord Jesus gives us an important lesson on the right way to pursue ‘greatness’ in His kingdom. Over our next few Sunday’s together—Lord willing!—I ask that we give a Sunday morning’s attention to each of those two sections. And then, I ask that we devote a whole Sunday morning’s time to just verse 45. It’s the key verse to the Gospel of Mark; where Jesus declares,

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (v. 45).

What a great picture that one verse gives us of our Redeemer and His saving work for us! But first—this morning—let’s just concentrate on what we can learn from the error of the disciples; and of their wrong way of going about the pursuit of greatness in Jesus’ kingdom.

* * * * * * * * * *

When you take in this passage as a whole, I believe you make an important discovery: that it’s not wrong to want to be ‘great’ in God’s kingdom. Do you notice that Jesus doesn’t go on to rebuke James and John for wanting to be ‘great’? Do you notice that He doesn’t tell the others not to pursue ‘greatness’? Instead, it seems to me that He tells them that they were going about it all wrong; and then shows them how to do it right—even setting Himself before them as the great example.

I believe that’s a very important point to notice when it comes to our spiritual lives in Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll listen patiently as I seek to explain. There are some Christians who—very mistakenly, I believe—give off the idea that it is somehow ‘un-Christian’ to want to be great in the kingdom of Jesus; that it is somehow more ‘virtuous’ to shun the pursuit of greatness in His kingdom, and to prefer to ‘barely squeeze in’ to heavenly glory without drawing much attention to the fact. But that seems to me to be contrary to how the Lord Jesus feels about it. He once taught about the reward of those who faithfully serve His cause; and spoke of how He will turn to them on that great Day and say,

‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’” (Matthew 25:21).

Do you notice what He said at the end? The reward for faithful service wont be just for the blessedness of the servant himself or herself alone. It will also be—and even ultimately be—for the joy of the One they served! Jesus has given His ‘all’ to redeem us from our sins, and to wash us clean, and to unite us to Himself—and all so that we will bring eternal joy to Him! Our ‘greatness’ in His kingdom—when it is rightly pursued—is to the eternal praise of His name and to the delight of His heart; because it will be His own sacrifice for us that elevated us and made us great! It will be the thrill of His heart to see us rewarded greatly because of what we did with what He did for us!

And so; I would say that it’s not at all wrong to want to be ‘great’ in Jesus’ kingdom. The highest and most honorable and most worthy pursuit of all is to pursue greatness in His kingdom! It is a pursuit more worthy than any other pursuit human beings can ever strive for on this earth! In fact, if I may dare to come right out and say it, it would be a horrible dishonor and insult to loving sacrifice of our Lord and Savior if, after all He has done for us and after all He has given for us, we did NOT pursue—with all our being—the greatness in His kingdom that He has sought to make it possible for us to pursue!

I suspect—and here again, I ask that you carefully consider what I say—that whenever people think that such a pursuit is somehow ‘wrong’, it’s because they’re thinking not so much of the pursuit of greatness in Jesus kingdom itself, but rather of it being pursued in the wrong ways or with the wrong motives. And that’s why I believe this morning’s passage is so important to us. Verses 35-40 show us that we can rightly want the worthiest of all things (greatness in Jesus’ kingdom), and yet end up pursue it in the wrong ways.

I like to call these “wrong turns” in the path to true greatness. May God help us to look back again at what these disciples did wrong; and learn from them to, instead, pursue greatness in a way that pleases our Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; the first thing I believe we can see—their first “wrong turn”, if you will—is that they pursued ‘greatness’ in Jesus’ kingdom …


Look at how they approached the Lord Jesus. In verse 35, Mark tells us, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’” They certainly approached Him respectfully, didn’t they? They called Him “Teacher”. But they came with their own concerns in mind—their own agenda. They wanted Jesus do do for them whatever they asked.

By the way; before we begin to judge them too harshly for this, let’s remember that what these disciples did is something that a lot of folks seem to do to Jesus. They come to Him with their wants and their wishes, and expect that Jesus will instantly say “yes” to whatever they ask. In fact, there are whole movements and whole ministries that have been built around boldly approaching Jesus in this way. But I believe that the way Jesus responded to James and John shows that that’s a mistake. He doesn’t say, “Of course, Fellas! Whatever you want, you’ve got it!” Instead, His answer was to simply ask them to clarify what it was they wanted—without necessarily committing to do as they asked. “What do you want Me to do for you?” He says in verse 36.

I think that John would learned his lesson later in life. He would have remembered that Jesus had once said “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14); but he would have grown to understand that that’s not a blank check—and that ‘in His name’ means asking in accord with His own will and purposes. Many years later, John wrote;

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15).

So; I believe that one of the ‘wrong-turns’ we can make in our pursuit of true greatness in Jesus’ kingdom is when we pursue it through a ‘self-willed’ approach. It’s those occasions when we seek ‘greatness’ in His kingdom, but on our own terms and according to our own agenda—and perhaps even with our own definition of what ‘greatness’ in His kingdom might mean.

Here’s a thought. What would have happened if, in our pursuit of greatness, we come to Jesus instead and simply said, “Teacher, we want You to do with us whatever You want.” That would be the opposite of a ‘self-willed’ approach; don’t you think? I believe Jesus would say an immediate “Yes!” to that request, don’t you? And I believe He would then lead us to true greatness in His kingdom!

* * * * * * * * * *

A second ‘wrong-turn’ that James and John made in their pursuit of greatness in Jesus’ kingdom was when they sought it …


When Jesus asked them what it was that they wanted, we’re told, “They said to Him, ‘Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory’” (v. 37). Do the math. Note that there were only two of them. And they asked for a place for only “one” on the right hand, and only “one” on the left. That’s important to notice; because there weren’t just two of them. There were twelve. They didn’t even mention any ‘up-close’ spots for the others in their request.

Now; what were they thinking? It’s interesting to engage in a little ‘sanctified speculation’ about it. It may be that they were remembering that—not long before—Jesus had told them something that was recorded for us in Matthew’s Gospel. When Jesus spoke to them about the rewards of those who have given up all for Him, He had told them,

Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

And these two brothers were a part of the inner-circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples. You often read of Jesus’ very personal interactions with Peter, James, and John all together. And what’s more; do you remember how Peter had really blown it not long before this? He had dared to rebuke the Lord for talking about going to the cross; and Jesus rebuked him in return, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Perhaps James and John had thought that Peter—who had, at one time, held a position of importance amongst the twelve—had lost his privileged position in the inner-circle; and that it was now appropriate for them to go to Jesus and ask for two seats right next to Him.

And there may even be more! In Matthew’s telling of the story, it’s interesting to notice that it was the mother of James and John who made the initial approach to Jesus about this. Do you remember that? They of course were in the background—perhaps pushing Mom forward to make this request for them; but it was clear, from Matthew 20, that she was making the request on their behalf. And do you know who their mother was? When you put all the pieces together of her other appearances in the Gospels, it turns out that her name was Salome; and she was the sister of our Lord’s mother Mary.1 That means that, humanly speaking, she was Jesus’ ‘Auntie Salome’! And that means that James and John were Jesus’ earthly cousins! It could be that these two brothers thought that the kingdom was about to be commenced; and that this was their opportunity to request that it be made into mainly a ‘family affair’.

Whatever their motivation might have been, it was a terribly misguided request. And it went over very badly—as is made clear by the fact that the others were a little ticked-off with them after their conversation with the Lord was brought to an end. And may we learn a lesson from it? It’s a very clear sign that we have made a serious ‘wrong-turn’ in our pursuit of greatness in Jesus’ kingdom when we seek that greatness to the exclusion of our other brothers and sisters in Christ. When we think that we have to climb over one another’s heads to get to ‘first place’ in Jesus’ kingdom, then we’ve wandered very far off the path.

That’s never the way to greatness in our Lord’s kingdom. When I think of this, I think of something that the apostle Paul wrote—in a somewhat different context—in Galatians 5;

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:14-15).

* * * * * * * * * *

A third “wrong-turn” that they made is that they pursued greatness in Jesus’ kingdom …


They had asked to be given the greatest privilege that any human being could have—to have a permanent seat at the right and left hand of our Lord in His glory! And so, in verses 38-39, Jesus told 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?’ And in verse 39, they said to Him, ‘We are able.’”

What did Jesus mean by these two symbols?—the “cup” that He was about to drink, and the baptism that He was about to be baptized with? Well; a “cup”, in the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures, referred to the outpouring of God’s righteous wrath for sin. In Psalm 75:8, it says;

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup,

And the wine is red;

It is fully mixed, and He pours it out;

Surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth

Drain and drink down (Psalm 75:8).

Jesus drank that cup for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He suffered in agony and prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

And then, there was the baptism. “Baptism”, in Scripture, sometimes means more than the ceremony we observe in a church. It is figure of speech used to describe a decisive, life-changing, once-for-all-time experience. In 1 Corinthians 10:2, the apostle Paul wrote about the ancient people of Israel who followed Moses. God led them behind Moses through the pillar of cloud through the Red Sea; and thus they “were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”. They were, thus, forever identified with God’s man Moses.

Similarly, Jesus underwent a ‘baptism’ in this figurative sense—a decisive, life-changing experience that forever changed things for those who follow Him. He underwent the shame of the arrest, and the trial, and the mocking and the spitting, and finally the cross. In Luke 12:50, He said, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!”

The disciples didn’t understand any of this. If they had, then when Jesus asked them if they—who wanted to sit at His right hand and left—could drink the cup He was about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that He would be baptized with, they never would have said, “We are able.” The fact of the matter is that, when Jesus took that cup to drink from it, and underwent that baptism that He would be baptized with, they all fled from Him.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I would say that whenever we dare to boast in ourselves, or in our own abilities, or in any sufficiency of ourselves in our pursuit of greatness in the kingdom of God, we are making a terrible wrong-turn in the path! The truly great ones are those who—like Paul—can say, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

* * * * * * * * * *

And there’s one more ‘wrong-turn’ we can learn from these two disciples. That’s when we pursue ‘greatness’ in Jesus’ kingdom …


Do you notice that Jesus says to James and John that they, in fact, would—one day—suffer for Jesus in the ways that He described? In verse 39, He told them, ““You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized …”

Did you know that James was the first of the apostles to be martyred? In Acts 12:2 we’re told that King Herod Agrippa stretched out his hand to harass some of the followers of Jesus in his day; “Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” James was killed by Agrippa—beheaded as tradition has it—for following Jesus. His brother John lived many years later; but he also suffered for his devotion to Jesus—spending most of his later years laboring in exile in the mines of Patmos. Both, in their ways, tasted of that cup and shared in that baptism.

But even with all that they would undergo for Jesus later on their lives, that still did not mean that Jesus could give them the privilege of sitting where they sought to sit. Jesus goes on to tell them in verse 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.”

May I pause and invite you to ponder a profound mystery with me? Here, we see the wonder of the distinctions of Persons in the triune Godhead. Jesus is one with the Father; but Jesus does not make the decisions that are only for the Father to make. Jesus respects and submits to the will of His Father. Do you remember how Jesus once said that He Himself did not know the hour of His return to this earth, “but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). This is a similar thing. It is the prerogative of the Father only—and not of the Son—to place at the right and left hand of Jesus whoever it is that He has prepared for that honor. It is the duty of James and John to submit to the will of the Father for their lives—and not to covet the place God has prepared for someone else.

And here, again, is an important lesson for you and me. We wander from the path of true greatness in Jesus’ kingdom—and take a serious ‘wrong-turn’ from the way—whenever we fuss about the place that God has given us, and wish for the place that God the Father has given to someone else.

* * * * * * * * * *

And may I close with a simple observation? All of these ‘wrong-turns’ in the path to true greatness have one outstanding thing in common. They all constitute the opposite of a spirit of humble “service”. If I am self-willed, if I am excluding others and pushing my way over them, if I am arrogant about my own self-sufficiencies, and if I am not subordinated to my own proper place in God’s call for me, then I have—to that degree—ceased to be the Lord Jesus’ servant toward others. And Jesus made it very clear; “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

May we then, by His grace, avoid these ‘wrong-turns’, and learn to be truly “great” in His kingdom.

See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25.

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.