And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to him, saying, Master, we would that you should do for us whatever we shall desire.…
How soon are the Master's words misapprehended! James and John, concerning whom it is recorded that on the call of Jesus "they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him," come now apparently to secure the promised reward. With cautious words, and by the aid of their mother, the demand is urged upon that good Master on whose lips are ever the gracious words, "What would ye that I should do for you?" We would fain "sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory." Ah! the old leaven is not yet wholly purged out. The self-seeking, the love of supremacy, place, and honor still lurk within. The chaff mingles with the pure grain. He who holds the winnowing fan is at hand; and with decisive though gentle words, heavily weighted with their sad import, corrects their error. He had but recently "in the way" told them "the things that were to happen unto him." Direful were the words, "The Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him unto the Gentiles: and they shall mock him, and shall spit upon him, and shall scourge him, and shall kill him; and after three days he shall rise again." But these words could have had little influence, for "they understood none of these things." Perchance then they understood not "the cup that I drink," or "the baptism that I am baptized with," or there had not been so ready a response, "We are able." With prophetic eyes the Master sees the future of these brethren, and declares, "The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized. Doubtless "this saying" also "was hid from them" until the very hour when that cup touched their lips, or the waters of that baptism fell upon them. But even this could not entitle them to the high place they desired; certainly not on the grounds they desired it - that of arbitrary selection. It is given to them "for whom it hath been prepared." Out of all this the lesson arises -
I. THAT THE POSTS OF REAL HONOUR ARE NOT ATTAINED BY MERE FAVOUR OR BY ARBITRARY ALLOTMENT. All such endowment, either in the kingdom of heaven or among men, would instantly rob the distinction of all worthiness and make it a sham. The incident presents an example of that kind of false estimate of honor which supposes that it can be conferred without regard to the fitness of him who seeks it. It is true medals may be placed on the breast of him who has never fought, and the ribbon may adorn him who never did one deed of distinction; but such a decoration is a deceit or an empty title - a mere ribbon which a child might wear. No mere will of the ruler can make a life honorable and worthy. Signs of a sovereign beneficence may be heaped upon favourites, but they add no lustre to the character of him who is adorned or enriched. And the posts of honor in the highest of all kingdoms are not assigned arbitrarily to favored ones. As the kingdom is open to all, so are its seats of honor. Each receives according to his deserts - "according as his work shall be."
II. So is learnt a second lesson like unto the first: ALL TRUE HONOUR LIES IN SERVICE AND MERIT, NOT IN ITS RECOGNITION. HOW often are men attracted by the reward! They esteem the honor which attaches to attainments, to position, to wealth, to learning, or brave deeds. The eye is on the medal. Such seldom do much that is worthy, or make themselves really great. The man who works for praise and prizes is selfish and little, and the world in its deep heart hates both. He has his reward. Others steadily do their duty, undiverted by anxiety respecting honor; these finally achieve true distinction. So is it in all kingdoms.
III. IN THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM HONOUR COMES TO HIM WHO IS MEET FOR IT. Christ has no favourites to lift to emolument and dignity. He who would reach the highest place must climb up to it. But how many truly and wisely desire to stand well in the heavenly kingdom? They desire a happy freedom from evil, a lot among the sanctified! It is well. Yet the words, of the great Lord come back to such, "Ye know not what ye ask." Would you be spiritually great? Would you make high attainments in spiritual knowledge? Would you do good works in the spiritual kingdom? How much of self-denial, of patient labor, of disciplinary correction - "the chastening of the Lord," which we should "regard not lightly" - how much of sacrificial endurance is needed! How many hours of quiet communion must be passed with the Redeemer if we would catch his spirit! How much of fasting and prayer, and diligent self-culture, and patient self, denial! How many strong acts of faith! What baptism of fire, what bitterness of the cup, is needed to make the disciple like his Master! But after all another spirit is to prevail. Christ's disciples are exhorted not to aim at superiority of position, at rank and order. Let the Gentiles "lord it over" one another. "It is not so among you." The greatest is the least truly. The minister, the servant of all, is chief and first. The true lesson being, "In my kingdom there is neither first nor last, highest nor lowest, near and afar off. Dismiss the thought of primacy. Look not for high places. Such there are not in my kingdom. Look for posts of service. Fix your eye on your ministering, and remember that the Lord of all came to give all - even 'his life a ransom for many'" - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.