Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and declared, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask."
sons, first asking for an unconditional promise - such as a Herod might give, but our Lord never. The Old Testament counterpart of this scene is the coming of Rebekah, with her son Jacob, to win the blessing of the firstborn.
I. THE REQUEST OF THE DISCIPLES.
1. It was the offspring of ignorance. They littleknew what it would be to stand on the right hand and on the left of their Lord in the day when the word would be fulfilled, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." Well might he say, "Ye know not what ye ask." We often set our desires on some object which is vain or wrong. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought;" and sometimes we learn by a bitter experience that it is best to put ourselves trustfully in God's hands. Lot found it so. Of the Israelites, too, it is said, "God gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul."
2. It was the dictate of ambition. Ambition is a wholesome stimulus, if only it is free from selfishness. A teacher can do little with a child who is always satisfied with the lowest position in the class. If your ambition be a lawful one it will not allow you to shirk difficulties, or to get over an obstacle by a doubtful expedient, but it will lead you to a patient and faithful doing of what your hand finds to do. You will go higher, as you faithfully fulfill the duties of the lower sphere. Ask yourself whether the object you are aiming at is worthy of a Christian man; whether the time spent in its pursuit could be better employed; whether God or self is supreme in the motives which are prompting effort, etc. Ambition can be and ought to be tested. Some people are like precious stones, glittering, but non-productive; others are like the plainer millstones, which, by steadfast work, minister food to the hungry and wealth to the nation.
3. It was the outcome of selfishness. One of the best tests we have of the lawfulness of ambition is this question - How does it affect my feelings towards others? There is reason to fear that the idea of these disciples was that the chief places in the kingdom should be allotted to them, regardless of the claims of their brethren. No wonder, then, that they were rebuked by their Lord, and that when the ten heard it they had great indignation. Self-seeking ever tends to separate friends, and to arouse discord in the Christian Church. Selfishness is the root of the indolence that dishonors the disciples of Christ; it is the cause of civil dissensions; it is the spring of the bloody wars that desolate the world; and when it asserts itself in sectarianism it checks the advance of Christ's kingdom, and brings upon the Church paralysis and death. Against it Christ Jesus declared ruthless war. He declared that men must deny themselves if they would follow him; he taught us to love our enemies, and still more our neighbors, and said that if a man would be really great, he must minister to others for his sake.
II. THE REPLY OF OUR LORD. He pointed out the distinction between real greatness and seeming greatness, and declared that dignity in his kingdom was bestowed according to a certain law - the law of moral fitness. A similar law asserts itself everywhere in God's economy. Each plant and animal have their own habitat, and for their well-being we are compelled to study those conditions which the Creator designed for them. The disciples supposed that honor was at the arbitrary disposal of the Lord on the ground of personal favor. It was so with the positions held under the Roman government. The favor of an emperor might appoint a Pontius Pilate Procurator of Judaea, in complete disregard of character and suitability. It was not to be so in Christ's Church, whether on earth or in heaven. There would be distinctions of rank and honor, but they would be given by God to those worthy of dignity, and fit for it. In the kingdom of righteousness nothing would be arbitrary, or dependent upon caprice. To some extent this is so in the attainment of knowledge. Knowledge cannot be given by a teacher because a pupil is a favourite, or because a pupil wishes to be first among competitors; but it is the reward of individual work and consequent fitness. And greatness in heaven will not consist in so many pleasures or dignities, but in the enjoyment of so much life, in the developments of power and in the possibilities of service. These, then, are some of the principles laid down in our Lord's reply:
1. Prepared places are for prepared people. (Ver. 40.)
2. Humble ministry is the source of highest exaltation. (Vers. 43, 44.)
3. Christ's mission is the pattern of Christian service. (Ver. 45.) - A.R.
Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shalt desire.I. SELF-SEEKING. It is a plausible maxim of this world which says: "Every man for himself." Prominent places are secured by those who seek them diligently, with shrewd management and artful manoeuvering. Why should not this principle be extended into the next world, and our prudence take merely a little longer range in looking out for the main chance? Many people seem to have convinced themselves that in striving to outdo one another they are simply obeying a necessary law — the law of emulation; and have much to say about the wholesomeness of competition. In this narrative we see what effect self-seeking had on the disciples.
1. It blinded their eyes to the glory of the Son of God. Men seeking conspicuous places cannot understand the mind which was in Christ Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation, and humbled Himself to the cross. What could they know of His going up to Jerusalem? They saw only thrones and kingdoms. A self-seeking spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
2. It plunged the disciples into a quarrel on the eve of a great occasion. It converts the world into a place of violence.
3. It put the disciples into a false attitude off presumption, undertaking more than they were able to. "They say unto Him, We are able." In a strength greater than their own they were indeed to drink of His cup; but only after learning their own weakness.
4. The spirit of self-seeking confused their notions of dominion. They had adopted the maxims of the Gentiles, and were in danger of believing that a man was great simply because he exercised authority. Position does not make the man.
II. SELF-SACRIFICE — "Whosoever will be great among you," etc.
1. The courage of self-sacrifice — "We go up to Jerusalem." It shrinks from no danger.
2. The universality of self-sacrifice. Each man is to become like the Man Christ Jesus.
3. The reward of self-sacrifice.
4. The kingdom of self-sacrifice. Power to bless and rule.
(E. B. Mason.)Matthew 20:25-28).
I. What they knew was this: in all the forms of government around them, ecclesiastical or political, with which they were acquainted, the principle of "lordship" held sway.
1. In those times the prominent matter of notice was a tremendous hierarchy in the Jewish Church, and a domineering aristocracy in the Roman government. The ancient people of God had travestied His word, and perverted His ordinances, and forfeited His favour. The "rulers" usurped authority everywhere in matters of faith and conscience. They destroyed the revelation from heaven by overlaying of human traditions. And as they continued to grow unrighteous, they began to grow oppressive. And surely, those Jewish disciples needed only to be reminded of the hateful superciliousness of the Roman empire that was holding their nation in captivity. They did indeed know that their "great ones exercised authority upon them."
2. In our times the picture is quite like the old one in every point. Leave men to themselves, and the systems they are sure to construct will be centralized and monarchical. The common people will be dominated by lords, and the lords will have dukes, and the dukes will be put under a king. The one principle of organization is, that each one will try to monopolize position and power, and, by crowding down all he can beneath him, will seek to elevate himself into rule over the masses. Louis of France only uttered the universal sentiment when he gave his word to history: he was reminded that there was a State which ought to be considered: "L'etat! c'est moi!" was his answer: "The State! I am the State!" Look at the Papal Church, or the Greek Church. There are the poor worshippers that pray and pay and obey their leaders. Over these are the priests, then the prelates, then the archbishops, and ecclesiastics without number, narrowing in and rising up till they reach the patriarch or the pope. And even the tiara has its triple crown, running straight up to one point.
3. In all times this is almost inevitably the same. For unregenerate human nature is selfish and domineering. This is what "ye know." The best figure of this is a pyramid. Builders construct these masses of solid stone out of blocks. They place the lowest layer on almost a half acre of land. After a base is made, they draw in a step on every side, then rise for a new layer; then narrow in, and rise again. So the structure lifts itself aloft till the apex crowns it with a single stone. The people are at the bottom; the artisans, the paupers, the slaves, the great wrestling toilers, whom everybody proposes to live upon and domineer over, if he can. Then there come landholders and monopolists and capitalists. After this, we expect to find some aristocrats, with titles, and entails of primogeniture. So we reach what are called nobles; and so on indefinitely, all working towards a pinnacle at the top.
II. This, Christ says, "ye know;" and now He adds to it a counsel of His own: "so it shall not be among you" (Mark 5:43).
1. He surprised His followers by relinquishing the "lordship "and disclaiming the "authority." We must be careful to notice that He did not forbid ambition as a motive; He sought only to direct it into a new exercise (Mark 10:44). He did not say it was wrong to wish to be "chiefest," but told them that a Christian should desire to be chief servant to all.
2. He suggested that the humblest service constituted the highest dignity (Mark 10:44).
3. Thus He completely reverses the whole notion of those who looked for lordship. Let us come back to the figure which we just left. The "chief" should be at the base, the "servant" of all those above.
III. Now we are ready to notice the argument with which Jesus enforces His extraordinary counsel: He offers Himself as an example for absolute imitation (Mark 10:45). Consider the plain fact in this case. Let us turn to a passage in one of Paul's Epistles (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
(A. H. Powell, M. A.)I. "THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE MINISTERED UNTO." This should teach us —
1. The emptiness of earthly greatness.
2. Contentment in our situation.
II. The Son of Man came "TO MINISTER" From this we learn —
1. To be diligent in doing good.
2. To condescend to the meanest acts of kindness.
III. The Son of Man came "TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY." It teaches —
1. The deplorable condition of sinners.
2. The amazing compassion of the Saviour.
3. The subject encourages our application to Him, and dependence on Him as the Saviour.
4. The subject stimulates us to seek diligently the salvation of others.
(M. D. Hoge, D. D.)
(M. D. Hoge, D. D.)
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