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“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘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 10:35–40 (NIV)
Have you ever asked for something you didn’t fully understand? In today’s passage, two disciples ask Jesus for something they didn’t really understand. Actually, in Matthew 20, we’re told it wasn’t even James and John who asked, but their mother! Yup . . . the “sons of thunder” brought mommy with them to ask Jesus to sit at His right and left hand. Why was this a big deal? These were the places of highest honor in any kingdom.
Some context: Most masters took on teenage apprentices. Why? Because their 13–16 was our 18–23. John is believed to be the youngest disciple, somewhere between 14 and 16 years old, while James was likely late teens to early twenties. They weren’t 35-year-olds, but having mommy step in also wasn’t the best look.
The request came only days before they arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. So, not having understood the kingdom Jesus was actually establishing, the disciples likely anticipated their journey to Jerusalem would result in His ascension to King, overthrow of Rome, and establishment of Israel over the earth. James and John wanted to get Jesus to promise the best seat in the kingdom before it all went down.
Jesus responds by asking if they really know what they’re asking. Again, His disciples didn’t understand the spiritual kingdom He was establishing with His first coming. His prediction of His death and warnings of suffering and persecution hadn’t registered. So, He asks, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” He was referring to the cup of suffering and the baptismal waters of affliction.
As we’ve seen for weeks, Jesus repeatedly states that to be His disciple is to sacrifice all and follow Him. Consider John 15:20–21 (NIV) when Jesus says, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. . . . They will treat you this way because of my name.”
Are you ready to forsake the comforts, pleasures, and attachments of this world for the sake of a greater kingdom and be subjected to the cup of suffering and the waters of affliction as you wait for His return? James and John answered, “We can,” not fully understanding. And as Jesus points out, they did experience it—James was beheaded and John persecuted and exiled.
After the resurrection, all His disciples would come to understand the true kingdom. Today, we still live in that tension of the here but yet not kingdom. By the power of the Spirit, not only can we endure the cup and baptism that comes with being His disciples, but we can also experience and enjoy the hope, peace, joy, and strength of being His disciples, and one day share in the glory of His fully realized kingdom!
Pause: Why did Jesus ask James and John if they really knew what they were asking for? Have you ever prayed for something from God without fully understanding what would come with it?
Practice: All around the world, there are believers suffering very real persecution right now. While we in the western world believe we understand persecution because the cultural narrative is not in our favor, in other parts of the world, there is still early Church level persecution going on. This week, do some research on the persecution of believers worldwide and spend time praying for those who are drinking deeply of the cup and immersed fully in the baptism of suffering and affliction Jesus spoke of here in Mark 10.
Pray: Father, as I read Your Word and understand more and more the cost of being Jesus’ disciple, as I understand the cup and the baptism, I am moved by the fact that Jesus suffered it first for me, on my behalf, and bore the full brunt and weight of it and of my sins. I thank You for the privilege of drinking from the same cup as my Savior. I thank You for the honor of being immersed in the same baptism as my King and my brothers and sisters around the world, both now and since the establishment of the Church. I now understand the cost a little better and also understand as Paul said in Romans 8:18 (NIV) that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Whatever persecution, suffering, and affliction that may befall me, it is nothing compared with the joy, peace, comfort, purpose, security, love, acceptance, and glory of being Yours, of being a beloved child in Your kingdom. Strengthen and comfort me when I encounter persecution and suffering for the name of Jesus, and strengthen and comfort those around the world currently suffering. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.