Matthew 20-28 tells the story of James and John (apparently, via their mother) asking Jesus to grant to them the honor of sitting on His right and left hand in His Kingdom. This request was made shortly after Jesus had told the twelve that He would be betrayed, crucified, and raised again. Jesus’ reply was as follows:
But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” (Matthew 20:22)
Jesus confirmed that indeed, they would drink of the same cup, and be baptized with the same baptism, but as for the request, it was not His to give. Those spots have already been prepared for those whom God has prepared them. The other disciples were understandably annoyed, but really, all of the disciples had the same mindset, wanting to be known as “the greatest among them” (See Luke 9:46; 22:24 and Mark 9:33-37). And even today, it is so often the same with us. We want position and power, riches, and honor, and every other good thing we claim we have coming. But what did Jesus say?
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20: 25-28)
Just as… Jesus came to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. The path to greatness in God’s Kingdom is through service. There is no other way. We are to serve others, as if to Him (see Ephesians 6:7, Colossians 3:23). And while God will provide abundantly for us to be able to serve others, we must not forget that it is our position and honor to be servants. Our ambition should not be the abundant provision which enables us to serve – it should be to serve, even if to the point of giving our life as a ransom for the Gospel. We will remember, James was one of the first to be martyred for Christ (Acts 12:2). He did indeed “drink of the same cup.” We may be called to do the same. Conversely, John was not killed, but a study of his life shows he still drank of the cup Jesus did. History tells us that most of the original 12 were killed for their beliefs. They were persecuted greatly. And God was with them. He never failed them.
One of the great deceptions of our times is the idea that if we accept Jesus as our savior, then all will be well, we will be prosperous, everyone will like us, and our great earthly successes will be a light of the Gospel to others.
This is not Christ’s Gospel. It is a gospel of shallow soil, and when negative things happen to new Christians who have been led to believe “all will be well,” they are left hurt and confused, feeling lied to about this “Jesus” they had decided to follow. Many will fall away because of the troubles of life, for which they were very ill-prepared (see the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13). If we want to be fruitful Christians, and if we want to bring others into the forever lasting fruitfulness of the Kingdom, then we need to be sure we are speaking and hearing a gospel that is rooted in good soil – an honest gospel that not only preaches the good, but preaches the good that never leaves us, so that we can get through the bad.