20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons,
worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 21 And he said unto
her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may
sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to
drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism
that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. 23 And he saith
unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism
that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is
not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared
of my Father. 24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation
against the two brethren. 25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said,
Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and
they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be
so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even
as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and
to give his life a ransom for many.
Here, is first, the request of the two disciples to Christ, and the
rectifying of the mistake upon which that was grounded, v. 20-23. The sons
of Zebedee were James and John, two of the first three of Christ's disciples;
Peter and they were his favourites; John was the disciple whom Jesus loved;
yet none were so often reproved as they; whom Christ loves best he reproves
most, Rev. iii. 19.
I. Here is the ambitious address they made to Christ--that they might
sit, the one on his right hand, and the other on his left, in his kingdom,
v. 20, 21. It was a great degree of faith, that they were confident of
his kingdom, though now he appeared in meanness; but a great degree of
ignorance, that they still expected a temporal kingdom, with worldly pomp
and power, when Christ had so often told them of sufferings and self-denial.
In this they expected to be grandees. They ask not for employment in this
kingdom, but for honour only; and no place would serve them in this imaginary
kingdom, but the highest, next to Christ, and above every body else. It
is probable that the last word in Christ's foregoing discourse gave occasion
to this request, that the third day he should rise again. They concluded
that his resurrection would be his entrance upon his kingdom, and therefore
were resolved to put in betimes for the best place; nor would they lose
it for want of speaking early. What Christ said to comfort them, they thus
abused, and were puffed up with. Some cannot bear comforts, but they turn
them to a wrong purpose; as sweetmeats in a foul stomach produce bile.
1. There was policy in the management of this address, that they put
their mother on to present it, that it might be looked upon as her request,
and not theirs. Though proud people think well of themselves, they would
not be thought to do so, and therefore affect nothing more than a show
of humility (Col. ii. 18), and others must be put on to court that honour
for them, which they are ashamed to court for themselves. The mother of
James and John was Salome, as appears by comparing ch. xxvii. 61, with
Mark xv. 40. Some think she was daughter of Cleophas or Alpheus, and sister
or cousin german to Mary the mother of our Lord. She was one of those women
that attended Christ, and ministered to him; and they thought she had such
an interest in him, that he could deny her nothing, and therefore they
made her their advocate. Thus when Adonijah had reasonable request to make
to Solomon, he put Bathsheba on to speak for him. It was their mother's
weakness thus to become that tool of their ambition, which she should have
given a check to. Those that are wise and good, would not be seen in an
ill-favoured thing. In gracious requests, we should learn this wisdom,
to desire the prayers of those that have an interest at the throne of grace;
we should beg of our praying friends to pray for us, and reckon it a real
It was likewise policy to ask first for a general grant, that he would
do a certain thing for them, not in faith, but in presumption, upon that
general promise; Ask, and it shall be given you; in which is implied this
qualification of our request, that it be according to the revealed will
of God, otherwise we ask and have not, if we ask to consume it upon our
lusts, Jam. iv. 3.
2. There was pride at the bottom of it, a proud conceit of their own
merit, a proud contempt of their brethren, and a proud desire of honour
and preferment; pride is a sin that most easily besets us, and which it
is hard to get clear of. It is a holy ambition to strive to excel others
in grace and holiness; but it is a sinful ambition to covet to exceed others
in pomp and grandeur. Seekest thou great things for thyself, when thou
hast just now heard of thy Master's being mocked, and scourged, and crucified?
For shame! Seek them not, Jer. xlv. 5.
II. Christ's answer to this address (v. 22, 23), directed not to the
mother, but to the sons that set her on. Though others be our mouth in
prayer, the answer will be given to us according as we stand effected.
Christ's answer is very mild; they were overtaken in the fault of ambition,
but Christ restored them with the spirit of meekness. Observe,
1. How he reproved the ignorance and error of their petition; Ye know
not what ye ask. (1.) They were much in the dark concerning the kingdom
they had their eye upon; they dreamed of a temporal kingdom, whereas Christ's
kingdom is not of this world. They knew not what it was to sit on his right
hand, and on his left; they talked of it as blind men do of colours. Our
apprehensions of that glory which is yet to be revealed, are like the apprehensions
which a child has of the preferments of grown men. If at length, through
grace, we arrive at perfection, we shall then put away such childish fancies:
when we come to see face to face, we shall know what we enjoy; but now,
alas, we know not what we ask; we can but ask for the good as it lies in
the promise, Tit. i. 2. What it will be in the performance, eye has not
seen, nor ear heard. (2.) They were much in the dark concerning the way
to that kingdom. They know not what they ask, who ask for the end, but
overlook the means, and so put asunder what God has joined together. The
disciples thought, when they had left what little all they had for Christ,
and had gone about the country awhile preaching the gospel of the kingdom,
all their service and sufferings were over, and it was now time to ask,
What shall we have? As if nothing were now to be looked for but crowns
and garlands; whereas there were far greater hardships and difficulties
before them than they had yet met with. They imagined their warfare was
accomplished when it was scarcely begun, and they had yet but run with
the footmen. They dream of being in Canaan presently, and consider not
what they shall do in the swellings of Jordan. Note, [1.] We are all apt,
when we are but girding on the harness, to boast as though we had put it
off. [2.] We know not what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing
the crown, and ask not for grace to bear the cross in our way to it.
2. How he repressed the vanity and ambition of their request. They were
pleasing themselves with the fancy of sitting on his right hand, and on
his left, in great state; now, to check this, he leads them to the thoughts
of their sufferings, and leaves them in the dark about their glory.
(1.) He leads them to the thoughts of their sufferings, which they were
not so mindful of as they ought to have been. They looked so earnestly
upon the crown, the prize, that they were ready to plunge headlong and
unprepared into the foul way that led to it; and therefore he thinks it
necessary to put them in mind of the hardships that were before them, that
they might be no surprise or terror to them.
Observe, [1.] How fairly he puts the matter to them, concerning these
difficulties (v. 22); "You would stand candidates for the first post of
honour in the kingdom; but are you able to drink of the cup that I shall
drink of? You talk of what great things you must have when you have done
your work; but are you able to hold out to the end of it?" Put the matter
seriously to yourselves. These same two disciples once knew not what manner
of spirit they were of, when they were disturbed with anger, Luke ix. 55;
and now they were not aware what was amiss in their spirits when they were
lifted up with ambition. Christ sees that pride in us which we discern
not in ourselves.
Note, First, That to suffer for Christ is to drink of a cup, and to
be baptized with a baptism. In this description of sufferings, 1. It is
true, that affliction doth abound. It is supposed to be a bitter cup, that
is drunk of, wormwood and gall, those waters of a full cup, that are wrung
out to God's people (Ps. xliii. 10); a cup of trembling indeed, but not
of fire and brimstone, the portion of the cup of wicked men, Ps. xi. 6.
It is supposed to be a baptism, a washing with the waters of affliction;
some are dipped in them; the waters compass them about even to the soul
(Jonah ii. 5); others have but a sprinkling of them; both are baptism,
some are overwhelmed in them, as in a deluge, others ill wet, as in a sharp
shower. But, 2. Even in this, consolation doth more abound. It is but a
cup, not an ocean; it is but a draught, bitter perhaps, but we shall see
the bottom of it; it is a cup in the hand of a Father (John xviii. 11);
and it is full of mixture, Ps. lxxv. 8. It is but a baptism; if dipped,
that is the worst of it, not drowned; perplexed, but not in despair. Baptism
is an ordinance by which we join ourselves to the Lord in covenant and
communion; and so is suffering for Christ, Ezek. xx. 37; Isa. xlviii. 10.
Baptism is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace;"
and so is suffering for Christ, for unto us it is given, Phil. i. 29.
Secondly, It is to drink of the same cup that Christ drank of, and to
be baptized with the same baptism that he was baptized with. Christ is
beforehand with us in suffering, and in that as in other things left us
an example. 1. It bespeaks the condescension of a suffering Christ, that
he would drink of such a cup (John xviii. 11), nay, and such a brook (Ps.
cx. 7), and drink so deep, and yet so cheerfully; that he would be baptized
with such a baptism, and was so forward to it, Luke xii. 50. It was much
that he would be baptized with water as a common sinner, much more with
blood as an uncommon malefactor. But in all this he was made in the likeness
of sinful flesh, and was made sin for us. 2. It bespeaks the consolation
of suffering Christians, that they do but pledge Christ in the bitter cup,
are partakers of his sufferings, and fill up that which is behind of them;
we must therefore arm ourselves with the same mind, and go to him without
Thirdly, It is good for us to be often putting it to ourselves, whether
we are able to drink of this cup, and to be baptized with this baptism.
We must expect suffering, and not look upon it as a hard thing to suffer
well and as becomes us. Are we able to suffer cheerfully, and in the worst
of times still to hold fast our integrity? What can we afford to part with
for Christ? How far will we give him credit? Could I find in my heart to
drink of a bitter cup, and to be baptized with a bloody baptism, rather
than let go my hold of Christ? The truth is, Religion, if it be worth any
thing, is worth every thing; but it is worth little, if it be not worth
suffering for. Now let us sit down, and count the cost of dying for Christ
rather than denying him, and ask, Can we take him upon these terms?
[2.] See how boldly they engage for themselves; they said, We are able,
in hopes of sitting on his right hand, and on his left; but at the same
time they fondly hoped that they should never be tried. As before they
knew not what they asked, so now they knew not what they answered. We are
able; they would have done well to put in, "Lord, by thy strength, and
in thy grace, we are able, otherwise we are not." But the same that was
Peter's temptation, to be confident of his own sufficiency, and presume
upon his own strength, was here the temptation of James and John; and it
is a sin we are all prone to. They knew not what Christ's cup was, nor
what his baptism, and therefore they were thus bold in promising for themselves.
But those are commonly most confident, that are least acquainted with the
[3.] See how plainly and positively their sufferings are here foretold
(v. 23); Ye shall drink of my cup. Sufferings foreseen will be the more
easily borne, especially if looked upon under a right notion, as drinking
of his cup, and being baptized with his baptism. Christ began in suffering
for us, and expects we should pledge him in suffering for him. Christ will
have us know the worst, that we may make the best of our way to heaven;
Ye shall drink; that is, ye shall suffer. James drank the bloody cup first
of all the apostles, Acts xii. 2. John, though at last he died in his bed,
if we may credit the ecclesiastical historians, yet often drank of this
bitter cup, as when he was banished into the isle of Patmos (Rev. i. 9),
and when (as they say) at Ephesus he was put into a caldron of boiling
oil, but was miraculously preserved. He was, as the rest of the apostles,
in deaths often. He took the cup, offered himself to the baptism, and it
(2.) He leaves them in the dark about the degrees of their glory. To
carry them cheerfully through their sufferings, it was enough to be assured
that they should have a place in his kingdom. The lowest seat in heaven
is an abundant recompence for the greatest sufferings on earth. But as
to the preferments there, it was not fit there should be any intimation
given for whom they were intended; for the infirmity of their present state
could not bear such a discovery with any evenness; "To sit on my right
hand and on my left is not mine to give, and therefore it is not for you
to ask it or to know it; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared
of my Father." Note, [1.] It is very probable that there are degrees of
glory in heaven; for our Saviour seems to allow that there are some that
shall sit on his right hand and on his left, in the highest places. [2.]
As the future glory itself, so the degrees of it, are purposed and prepared
in the eternal counsel of God; as the common salvation, so the more peculiar
honours, are appointed, the whole affair is long since settled, and there
is a certain measure of the stature, both in grace and glory, Eph. iv.
13. [3.] Christ, in dispensing the fruits of his own purchase, goes exactly
by the measures of his Father's purpose; It is not mine to give, save to
them (so it may be read) for whom it is prepared. Christ has the sole power
of giving eternal life, but then it is to as many as were given him, John
xvii. 2. It is not mine to give, that is, to promise now; that matter is
already settled and concerted, and the Father and Son understand one another
perfectly well in this matter. "It is not mine to give to those that seek
and are ambitious of it, but to those that by great humility and self-denial
are prepared for it."
III. Here are the reproof and instruction which Christ gave to the other
ten disciples for their displeasure at the request of James and John. He
had much to bear with in them all, they were so weak in knowledge and grace,
yet he bore their manners.
1. The fret that the ten disciples were in (v. 24). They were moved
with indignation against the two brethren; not because they were desirous
to be preferred, which was their sin, and for which Christ was displeased
with them, but because they were desirous to be preferred before them,
which was a reflection upon them. Many seem to have indignation at sin;
but it is not because it is sin, but because it touches them. They will
inform against a man that swears; but it is only if he swear at them, and
affront them, not because he dishonours God. These disciples were angry
at their brethren's ambition, though they themselves, bay because they
themselves, were as ambitious. Note, It is common for people to be angry
at those sins in others which they allow of and indulge in themselves.
Those that are proud and covetous themselves do not care to see others
so. Nothing makes more mischief among brethren, or is the cause of more
indignation and contention, than ambition, and desire of greatness. We
never find Christ's disciples quarreling, but something of this was at
the bottom of it.
2. The check that Christ gave them, which was very gentle, rather by
way of instruction what they should be, than by way of reprehension for
what they were. He had reproved this very sin before (ch. xviii. 3), and
told them they must be humble as little children; yet they relapsed into
it, and yet he reproved them for it thus mildly.
He called them unto him, which intimates great tenderness and familiarity.
He did not, in anger, bid them get out of his presence, but called them,
in love, to come into his presence: for therefore he is fit to teach, and
we are invited to learn of him, because he is meek and lowly in heart.
What he had to say concerned both the two disciples and the ten, and therefore
he will have them all together. And he tells them, that, whereas they were
asking which of them should have dominion a temporal kingdom, there was
really no such dominion reserved for any of them. For,
(1.) They must not be like the princes of the Gentiles. Christ's disciples
must not be like Gentiles, no not like princes of the Gentiles. Principality
doth no more become ministers than Gentilism doth Christians.
Observe, [1.] What is the way of the princes of the Gentiles (v. 25);
to exercise dominion and authority over their subjects, and (if they can
but win the upper hand with a strong hand) over one another too. That which
bears them up in it is, that they are great, and great men think they may
do any thing. Dominion and authority are the great things which the princes
of the Gentiles pursue, and pride themselves in; they would bear sway,
would carry all before them, have every body truckle to them, and every
sheaf bow to theirs. They would have it cried before them, Bow the knee;
like Nebuchadnezzar, who slew, and kept alive, at pleasure.
[2.] What is the will of Christ concerning his apostles and ministers,
in this matter.
First, "It shall not be so among you. The constitution of the spiritual
kingdom is quite different from this. You are to teach the subjects of
this kingdom, to instruct and beseech them, to counsel and comfort them,
to take pains with them, and suffer with them, not to exercise dominion
or authority over them; you are not to lord it over God's heritage (1 Pet.
v. 3), but to labour in it." This forbids not only tyranny, and abuse of
power, but the claim or use of any such secular authority as the princes
of the Gentiles lawfully exercise. So hard is it for vain men, even good
men, to have such authority, and not to be puffed up with it, and do more
hurt than good with it, that our Lord Jesus saw fit wholly to banish it
out of his church. Paul himself disowns dominion over the faith of any,
2 Cor. i. 24. The pomp and grandeur of the princes of the Gentiles ill
become Christ's disciples. Now, if there were no such power and honour
intended to be in the church, it was nonsense for them to be striving who
should have it. They knew not what they asked.
Secondly, How then shall it be among the disciples of Christ? Something
of greatness among them Christ himself had intimated, and here he explains
it; "He that will be great among you, that will be chief, that would really
be so, and would be found to be so at last, let him be your minister, your
servant," v. 26, 27. Here observe, 1. That it is the duty of Christ's disciples
to serve one another, for mutual edification. This includes both humility
and usefulness. The followers of Christ must be ready to stoop to the meanest
offices of love for the good one of another, must submit one to another
(1 Pet. v. 5; Eph. v. 21), and edify one another (Rom. xiv. 19), please
one another for good, Rom. xv. 2. The great apostle made himself every
one's servant; see 1 Cor. ix. 19. 2. It is the dignity of Christ's disciples
faithfully to discharge this duty. The way to be great and chief is to
be humble and serviceable. Those are to be best accounted of, and most
respected, in the church, and will be so by all that understand things
aright; not those that are dignified with high and mighty names, like the
names of the great ones of the earth, that appear in pomp, and assume to
themselves a power proportionable, but those that are most humble and self-denying,
and lay out themselves most to do good, though to the diminishing of themselves.
These honour God most, and those he will honour. As he must become a fool
that would be wise, so he must become a servant that would be chief. St.
Paul was a great example of this; he laboured more abundantly than they
all, made himself (as some would call it) a drudge to his work; and is
not he chief? Do we not by consent call him the great apostle, though he
called himself less than the least? And perhaps our Lord Jesus had an eye
to him, when he said, There were last that should be first; for Paul was
one born out of due time (1 Cor. xv. 8); not only the youngest child of
the family of the apostles, but a posthumous one, yet he became greatest.
And perhaps he it was for whom the first post of honour in Christ's kingdom
was reserved and prepared of his Father, not for James who sought it; and
therefore just before Paul began to be famous as an apostle, Providence
ordered it so that James was cut off (Acts xii. 2), that in the college
of the twelve Paul might be substituted in his room.
(2.) They must be like the Master himself; and it is very fit that they
should, that, while they were in the world, they should be as he was when
he was in the world; for to both the present state is a state of humiliation,
the crown and glory were reserved for both in the future state. Let them
consider that the Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister,
and to give his life a ransom for many, v. 28. Our Lord Jesus here sets
himself before his disciples as a pattern of those two things before recommended,
humility, and usefulness.
[1.] Never was there such an example of humility and condescension as
there was in the life of Christ, who came not to be ministered unto, but
to minister. When the Son of God came into the world, his Ambassador to
the children of men, one would think he should have been ministered to,
should have appeared in an equipage agreeable to his person and character;
but he did not so; he made no figure, had no pompous train of state-servants
to attend him, nor was he clad in robes of honour, for he took upon him
the form of a servant. He was indeed ministered to as a poor man, which
was a part of his humiliation; there were those that ministered to him
of their substance (Luke viii. 2, 3); but he was never ministered to as
a great man; he never took state upon him, was not waited on at table;
he once washed his disciples' feet, but we never read that they washed
his feet. He came to minister help to all that were in distress; he made
himself a servant to the sick and diseased; was as ready to their requests
as ever any servant was at the beck of his master, and took as much pains
to serve them; he attended continually to this very thing, and denied himself
both food and rest to attend to it.
[2.] Never was there such an example of beneficence and usefulness as
there was in the death of Christ, who gave his life a ransom for many.
He lived as a servant, and went about doing good; but he died as a sacrifice,
and in that he did the greatest good of all. He came into the world on
purpose to give his life a ransom; it was first in his intention. The aspiring
princes of the Gentiles make the lives of many a ransom for their own honour,
and perhaps a sacrifice to their own humour. Christ doth not do so; his
subjects' blood is precious to him, and he is not prodigal of it (Ps. lxxii.
14); but on the contrary, he gives his honour and life too ransom for his
subjects. Note, First, Jesus Christ laid down his life for a ransom. Our
lives were forfeited into the hands of divine justice by sin. Christ, by
parting with his life, made atonement for sin, and so rescued ours; he
was made sin, and a curse for us, and died, not only for our good, but
in our stead, Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. i. 18, 19. Secondly, It was a ransom
for many, sufficient for all, effectual for many; and, if for many, then,
saith the poor doubting soul, "Why not for me?" It was for many, that by
him many may be made righteous. These many were his seed, for which his
soul travailed (Isa. liii. 10, 11); for many, so they will be when they
come all together, though now they appear but a little flock.
Now this is a good reason why we should not strive for precedency, because
the cross is our banner, and our Master's death is our life. It is a good
reason why we should study to do good, and, in consideration of the love
of Christ in dying for us, not hesitate to lay down our lives for the brethren,
1 John iii. 16. Ministers should be more forward than others to serve and
suffer for the good of souls, as blessed Paul was, Acts xx. 24; Phil. ii.
17. The nearer we are all concerned in, and the more we are advantaged
by, the humility and humiliation of Christ, the more ready and careful
we should be to imitate it.