Pristine Grace

Four Lessons From a Terrible Presumption
by Don Fortner
Four Lessons From a Terrible Presumption

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. (36) And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? (37) They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. (38) But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? (39) And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: (40) But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. (41) And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. (42) But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. (43) But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister(44) And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (45) For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.  - Mark 10:35-45, (KJV)

   The event that is recorded in Mark 10:35-45 is one of the saddest, most lamentable events recorded upon the pages of Inspiration involving true believers. James and John were true believers. They were born of God. They truly loved the Lord Jesus Christ. But they were terribly ignorant of some very important, basic gospel truths. Their ignorance on the one hand and their pride on the other made them very ambitious. They prayed for a position of pre-eminence in the Lord's kingdom! They proudly presumed that they could both drink the cup of woe and be baptized with the baptism of sorrow that Christ himself had to be baptized with! And they sought for themselves a position of superiority over the other apostles!

    What a sad picture this is! Two of the apostles of Christ were seeking great things for themselves. Yet, what we read in those verses should not astonish us at all. Their pride was only a reflection of the pride that is in us all. It is the pride of our hearts that this passage is designed to expose and check. It contains four obvious lessons. Wise are they who learn them.

  1. GENUINE BELIEVERS ARE OFTEN IGNORANT OF THINGS THAT SEEM TO BE ELEMENTARY TO OTHERS. Though our Lord had plainly instructed James and John, though they were apostles, though on the mount of transfiguration they heard Moses and Elijah talking to the Lord about the death he must accomplish at Jerusalem, they understood neither the fact that he was about to die and ascend to heaven again, nor the spiritual nature of his kingdom. It is utter folly for anyone to try to determine what or how much a person must know before he can be saved. The question is not what but who (John 17:3). "I know whom I have believed!"
  2. GENUINE BELIEVERS ARE ALSO PEOPLE WITH SINFUL NATURES WHO MUST CONSTANTLY GUARD AGAINST PRIDE AND SELF-ADULATION. These things are deeply rooted in our hearts. It is not a rare thing for those who have come out of the world, taken up their cross, forsaken their own righteousness, and  truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be irritated and annoyed when a brother or sister is promoted and honored above them. It is both shameful and sinful, but not rare. These things ought not to be, but they are. Blessed is that man or woman who can rejoice with a sincere heart when others are exalted, though they are overlooked and passed by (Phi. 3:3-5).
  3. THE RULE, THE INSPIRATION, THE PATTERN FOR ALL TRUE GODLINESS IS THE SUBSTITUTIONARY, SIN-ATONING SACRIFICE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Verse 45 not only asserts that Christ's death was a ransom paid to the offended justice of God for his elect, it also shows us that his death is the rule of life for his people. In all things, we are to follow his self-abasing, self-denying, self-sacrificing example (John 13:15; I Pet. 2:21). Our motive, our rule of life is not the Mosaic law but the gospel (Gal. 6:14-15).
  4. THERE IS AN AMBITION FOR GREATNESS TO BE SHUNNED AND AN AMBITION FOR GREATNESS THAT IS TO BE NURTURED AND CULTIVATED (Compare vv. 35-38 and vv. 43-44). Ambition is not necessarily carnal (II Pet. 1:5-7). We should never be satisfied with mediocrity in anything, especially in spiritual things (Phi. 3:7-14). It is not wrong for any to desire greatness; but that which the world applauds and calls "greatness" is not greatness at all. Greatness is not measured by clothes and grandeur, but by character and goodness. The world measures greatness by property, possessions, and power. Fools imagine that fame and fortune equal greatness. "Among the children of God, he is reckoned the greatest who does the most to promote the spiritual and temporal happiness of his fellow creatures. True greatness consists not in receiving, but in giving, - not in selfish absorption of good things, but in imparting good to others, - not in being served, but in serving, - not in sitting still and being ministered to, but in going about and ministering to others" (J. C. Ryle). There is an infinite mine of profound wisdom in that saying of our Lord's, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Truly great people are those who enrich the lives of others and thus leave their place in this world better than they found it. Let us be ambitious for that Christlike greatness of character that causes us to serve one another and be gracious to one another (Eph. 4:32-5:1).