Summary: James and John wanted to to sit at Christ's side in His kingdom - is this raw ambition? or is there something else here we can learn from?
Today we see two of Jesus' closest disciple being ambitious, the request to sit at Christ's side in His kingdom.
Ironically in Mark’s gospel it is James and John who actually come to Jesus with this request.
In Matthew, today's gospel, it is their mother… ambition.
They were still thinking of things in terms of personal prominence and personal reward and distinction; and they were thinking of personal success without personal sacrifice.
They wanted Jesus with a royal command and a wave of His hand to ensure for them a princely life.
Everyone has to learn that true greatness lies, not in dominance, but in service; and everyone has to learn that in every sphere the price of greatness must be paid.
That is the negative side for the disciples in this story; but there is much more on the positive side.
There is no incident which so demonstrates their invincible faith in Jesus.
Think of when this request was made, it was made after a series of announcements by Jesus that ahead of Him there lay an inescapable Cross.
It was made at a moment when the air was heavy with the atmosphere of tragedy and the sense of foreboding.
And yet in spite of all that the disciples are thinking of a Kingdom.
It is of immense significance to see that, even in a world in which the dark was coming down, the disciples were incapable of thinking of Jesus in terms of ultimate defeat...such was their faith.
Somehow, when everything seemed to deny it and to prove it impossible, they would not abandon the conviction that the victory belonged to this Jesus.
In Christianity there must always be this invincible and eternal optimism in the moment when all things are conspiring to drive you to despair.
And still further, here is demonstrated the unshakeable loyalty of the disciples.
Even when they were bluntly told that there lay ahead a bitter cup, it never struck them to turn back; they were determined to drink it.
If to conquer with Christ meant to suffer with Christ, they were perfectly willing to face that suffering.
It is easy to condemn them and say they were ambitious, but the faith and the loyalty which lay behind their ambition must never be forgotten.
This passage has a message for us and its all about the Christian Life.
Jesus said that those who would share His triumph must drink His cup.
But what is this cup? ..It was to James and to John that Jesus spoke and life treated James and John very differently.
James was the first of the apostles to die a martyr's death at the hands of king Herod (Acts 12: 2).
For him the cup was martyrdom.
On the other hand, by far the greater weight of tradition goes to show that John lived on to a great old age and died a natural death.
For him the cup was the constant discipline and struggle of the Christian life throughout the years.
It is quite wrong to think that for the Christian that the cup must always mean the short, sharp, bitter, agonising struggle of martyrdom.
The cup may well be the long routine of the Christian life, with all its daily sacrifice, its daily struggle and its heartbreaks and its disappointments and its tears.
A Roman coin was once found with the picture of an ox on it; the ox was facing two things; an altar and a plough; and the inscription read: " Ready for either".
The ox had to be ready either for the supreme moment of sacrifice on the altar, or the long labour of the plough on the farm.
There is no one cup for the Christian to drink.
The cup may be drunk in one great moment; the cup may be drunk throughout a lifetime of Christian living.
To drink the cup simply means to follow Christ, wherever Christ may lead, and to be like Christ in any situation that life may bring.
This short passage also shows us Jesus' reaction, His kindness.
The amazing thing about Jesus is that He never lost His patience and became irritated with those who came to Him.
In spite of all He had said, here were these 2 men and their mother still chattering about posts in an earthly government and kingdom.
But Jesus does not explode at their obtuseness or blaze at their blindness, or despair at their lack of understanding.
In gentleness, in sympathy and in love, with never an impatient word, Jesus seeks to lead them to the truth.
The most amazing thing about Jesus is that He never despaired of those He met.
It shows us Jesus' honesty, He was quite clear that there was a bitter cup to be drunk, and that He did not hesitate to say so.