Christ is on the track of the company from the north, who are going up to the Passover, that is to be celebrated at the close of the following week. The time, the company, the road, all serve to bring up to the Savior’s thoughts events that are now so near, to Him of such momentous import. A spirit of eager impatience to be baptized with the impending baptism seizes upon Him, and gives a strange quickness and forwardness to His movements. His talk, His gait, His gestures all betoken how absorbed He is; the eye and thought away from the present, from all around, fixed upon some future, the purport of which has wonderfully excited Him. His hasty footsteps carry Him on before His fellow-travelers. “Jesus went before themm” St. Mark tells us, “and they were amazed; and as they followed they were afraid.” There was that in His aspect, attitude and actions that filled them with wonder and with awe. It was not long till an explanation was offered them. He took the twelve aside, and once again, as twice before, but now with still greater minuteness and particularity of detail, told them what was about to happen within a few days at Jerusalem, how He was to be delivered into the hands of the Jewish rulers, and how they were to deliver Him into the hands of the Gentiles, how He was to be mocked and scourged, and spit upon and crucified, till all things that were written by the prophets concerning Him should be accomplished, and how on the third day He was to rise again. Everything was told so plainly that we may well wonder that anyone could have been at any loss as to Christ’s meaning; but the disciples, we are told, “understood none of these things, and the sayings were hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken.” This only proves what a blinding power preconception and misconception have in hiding the simplest things told in the simplest language—a blinding power often exercised over us now as to the written, as it was then exercised over the apostles as to their Master’s spoken words. The truth is that these men were utterly unprepared at the time to take in the real truth as to what was to happen to their Master. They had made up their minds, on the best of evidence, that it was the Messiah. He had Himself lately confirmed them in that faith. But they had their own notions of the Messiahship. With these such sufferings and such a death as were actually before Jesus were utterly inconsistent. They could be but figurative expressions, then, that He had employed, intended, perhaps, to represent some severe struggle with His adversaries through which He had to pass before His kingdom was set up and acknowledged.
One thing alone was clear—that the time so long looked forward to had come at last. This visit to Jerusalem was to witness the erection of the kingdom. All other notions lost in that, the thought of the particular places they were to occupy in that kingdom entered again into the hearts of two of the disciples—that pair of brothers who, from early adherence, and the amount of sacrifice they had made, and the marked attention that on more than one occasion Jesus had paid to them, might naturally enough expect that if special favors were to be dispensed to any, they would not be overlooked. James and John tell their mother Salome, who has met them by the way, all that they have lately noticed in the manner of their Master, and all that He had lately spoken, pointing to the approaching Passover as the season when the manifestation of the kingdom was to be made. Mother and sons agree to go to Jesus with the request that in His kingdom and glory the one brother should sit upon His right hand and the other upon His left, a request that in all likelihood took its particular shape and form from what Jesus had said but a few days before, when, in answer to Peter’s question, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have, therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” What could these thrones, this judgment be? Little wonder that the apostles’ minds were set a-speculating by what still leaves us, after all speculating, about as much in the dark as ever. But while Salome and James and John were proffering their request, and trying to pre-engage the places of highest honor, where was Peter? It had not come into his thoughts to seek a private interview with his Master for such a purpose. He had no mother by His side to fan the flame that was as ready to kindle in His as in any of their breasts. That without any thought of one whose natural claims were as good as theirs, James and John should have gone to Jesus and made the request they did, satisfies us at least of this, that it was not the understanding among the twelve that when the Lord had spoken to Peter as He did after his good confession, He had assigned to him the primacy, or, indeed, any particular pre-eminence over the rest.
“Ye know not what ye ask.” They did it ignorantly, and so far they obtain mercy of the Lord. What it was to be placed on the right and on His left in the scenes that waited Him in Jerusalem, two at least of the three petitioners, John and Salome, shall soon know as they stand gazing upon the central cross of Calvary. “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They say, “We can.” From this reply it would appear that the disciples understood the Lord as asking them whether they are prepared to drink along with Him some cup of sorrow that was about to be put into His hands, to be baptized along with Him in some baptism of fire, to which He was about to be subjected. They are prepared, they think that they can follow him, they are willing to take their part in whatever suffering such following shall entail. Through all the selfishness, and the ambition, and the great ignorance of the future that their request revealed, these shown out in this prompt and no doubt perfectly sincere and honest reply, a true and deep attachment to their Master, a readiness to suffer with Him or for Him. And he is far quicker to recognize the one than to condemn the other. “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.” You James, shall be the first among the twelve that shall seal your testimony with your blood. You John shall have the longest if not the largest experience of what the bearing of the cross shall bring with it. But to sit on my right and on my left in my kingdom and my glory, ask me not for that honor as if it were a thing in the conferring of which I am at liberty to consult my individual will, taste or humor. It is not mine so to dispense. It is mine to give but only to those for whom it was prepared of my Father, and who by the course of discipline through which he shall pass them shall be dually prepared for it.
James and John have to be content with such a reply. Their application though made to Christ when alone, soon after became known to others, and excited no small stir among them. Which indeed may cast the first stone at the two? They all had been quarreling among themselves, as to which of them should be the greatest. And they shall all erelong be doing so again. Christ’s words of rebuke as He hears of this contention is for all as well as for James and John. He tells us that no such kind of authority and power as is practiced in earthy governments—the authority of men, rank or power carrying it dictatorially and tyrannically over subjects and dependents—is to be admitted among the disciples; greatness among them is a thing to be measured not by the amount of power possessed but by the amount of service rendered, by their greatest likeness to the Son of Man,” who came not to be administered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The contention is thus momentarily hushed, to break out again, when it shall receive a still more impressive rebuke.