On the heels of Jesus telling His followers for the third time what the road ahead for Him would look like, James and John come to Jesus with a request. They have been walking with Jesus for several years, experiencing Him pour Himself out in humility, compassion, love, and service. They have seen Him heal all manner of disease and illness, teach with authority like none other, and serve with humility.
Walking side by side on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus again describes how He will be delivered to the religious leaders, condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, spit on, flogged and killed... rising three days later.
Their response to this news? With eyes on themselves, they present a request.
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” they ask.
“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus responds.
“We are able.” Rooted in self-elevation, they have no idea what they are saying.
Despite everything they have seen and heard, they are still anticipating a magnificent earthly political kingdom. And they want to ensure a high status in this new political kingdom they are sure is coming. They have a self-centered view of the kingdom to match their self-centered desires. Likely always at the low end of the cultural food chain, they are looking to finally arrive at the top. But they are looking in the wrong places.
We can get a picture stuck in our head, often contrary to facts all around us and even messages from God, about what something will look like. We just can’t let it go. It becomes our reality. We become confident and convinced of something that isn’t truth.
James and John are looking around at the others in their small circle, and they want to make sure they have places of honor. The other ten gets wind of it, and they are indignant. I imagine Peter is especially angry…he is the one Jesus usually set apart and took along with James and John, and now here they are posturing for top dog status. Earlier, Peter basically says to Jesus, “I’ve left everything to follow you…what’s in it for me?” Competition and comparison kick in, everyone clawing and climbing over each other to try to reach the top. These are people they have walked with, eaten with, worked with, learned with, even healed with… and still, ambition, self-promotion, and competition replace love, humility, self-denial, elevation of others. What is wrong with us?
Jesus, in essence, says, “You want greatness? Serve. Give of yourself. Uplift others.” Self-denial over self-promotion. Sacrifice over self-glory.
Why, when we know what produces pure joy, peace, and contentment, do we continue to look around, compare and compete? It does nothing to draw people to God or glorify Him. Instead, it makes us unproductive, ineffective, and miserable. It’s the devil’s most potent weapon… “If I could just get their eyes off of Jesus and on themselves and those around them, I could make some headway,” he contrives. We can’t let the devil have victory over us. We can’t let him dictate where our eyes are focused. We can’t believe his lie that it is all about us and we need to preserve and protect that at all costs.
The anecdote? Seeking God’s glory always over our own. Serving others. Lifting others up. Denying ourselves for the benefit of others. Giving generously. Focusing our eyes above. Embracing our unique calling and running toward it. As Bob Goff says, “we won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.” God, let me be captivated by You and Your plans for me…all for Your glory. Let me not look down at myself or to the side at others, but instead to keep my eyes above and focused on You.
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