I admire James and John, the sons of Zebedee, a.k.a. the sons of thunder. I love their exchange with Jesus from Mark’s gospel, chapter 10. Starting in verse 35:
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
I think the mental picture for James and John was an extravagant, eternal banquet with Jesus at the head of the table and them seated in positions of honor next to Him. As usual, Jesus’ answer speaks to a larger truth than the immediate question. He always addresses the complete situation, not just what we choose to ask. His image of the impending reality was quite different than the one the brothers had in mind. Verse 38 continues:
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
Jesus is of course speaking about the crucifixion as His cup and baptism, although James and John probably did not understand this at the time. He also tells them that they will be martyred (drink the same cup — isn’t it great that Jesus knew their image and used it in His response). I doubt they caught that bit of truth either; maybe for the best.
Here’s the part that struck me while reading Mark 10 this time (you know that God will speak fresh truth to you each time you study His word, right?).
…but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
I suppose I always thought of these right and left positions as some “player-to-be-named-later” super-Christians (certainly not me). I think I was wrong, though. Let’s look ahead to Mark 15. Starting in verse 25:
It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.
I think Jesus was still talking about His crucifixion and the criminals that would accompany Him had already been picked or, rather, they had selected this end for themselves through their own decisions (they prepared their own way to this destination). One for His right and one for His left.
I sit here amazed that these two men grew up in the same time as Jesus, probably not knowing Him, living their lives, making choices, defying authority, only to end up next to the Son of God as He made the ultimate sacrifice for their (and our) sins. Put yourself in that time, in that place. Look at the men in their agony, gaze on Jesus.
Now… keep that focus throughout your day. Today, not tomorrow. Jesus desperately loves you. It’s His charge that you love others the same way. As John (one of those sons of Thunder) recorded in his Gospel, Jesus speaks this to us:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)