“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “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?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave  of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45 (ESV)
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and gives his life as a ransom for many.”
It wasn’t what the disciples were thinking. James and John, the sons of Zebedee looking for the places of glory in the kingdom of God to be seated at the right hand and the left. It wasn’t for Jesus to give. They didn’t know what they were asking, he says. Those who would be at his right hand and left hand in his glory had already been determined, and they would not be persons anyone would expect to accompany the Son of Man in glory. But then even today Jesus in his glory is too often misunderstood. No, to share in the glory of Jesus is to drink of his cup, the cup before which Jesus sweats blood. To share in the glory of Jesus is to be baptized with the baptism he is baptized with, his death and resurrection. It is there that Jesus pays the ransom for many, it is there that Jesus glorifies the Father and is therefore glorified, the cross, Golgotha. Where those sitting at his right hand and his left would be common thieves, but nonetheless men for whom he died, who he would redeem, pay the price of their ransom with his blood, the blood of the New Testament shed for you for the forgiveness of many.
No, it was not what they were thinking, and it would not be for them. Jesus asks them if they could drink this cup, if they could be baptized with this baptism. They answer the challenge. Whatever it is Lord, we’ll do it. You can hear the enthusiasm, the determination, the loyalty. They meant it, every last word like a band of brothers going into battle. And they were ready for that. They were ready for battle. Swords drawn and ears chopped off, death in a blaze of glory, this they could understand. But glory amidst ignoble death? This they could not see. To see their Lord give himself up? To die amidst criminals, after shameful humiliation? This would be too much. But they would live, they would drink, and they would know the same shameful treatment, the same shameful death and in that death they would come to know the glory of God who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, even as they would live and die to serve the purposes of God who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. That is why they had to live, why they couldn’t go out in a blaze of glory, or even accompany Christ on the cross to die with him amidst the criminals. They had to continue to live that they could proclaim the reconciliation of God in the death of Jesus.
It’s just not always what it would seem. Glory in this world, we revel in this kind of glory. Christians are not immune to it either. And often we read these passages as denigrating to worldly honor and glory, as saying these things should not be sought and should not be given. But there is more here than that. In actual fact, it is God who is in charge of this world, who has ordered this world to work the way it does. And when it comes to things in the world, give honor to those to whom honor is due. It is only right, and honestly, it also shows humility in its own way, also to accept an honor.
Yet, at the same time, we as Christians no longer live for ourselves, but for others, and we, like Jesus find the greatest honor, the highest glory in serving others. It is perhaps counterintuitive, but it is still true, and sometimes it is the living that is the harder thing to do. This is what the disciples would learn. Going out in a blaze of glory would have been easy compared to suffering the guilt and shame of abandoning their Lord, when of course they had no other choice, really. Situations like that you have one of two choices fight or flight, and Jesus took away the option to fight. Now they had to live. To die is gain, to live is Christ, this is what it means to be Christian now. To live is Christ. Every second we live here on earth is a moment we could be sharing Paradise with the thief who sat at the right hand of Jesus in his glory to die with him there in that ignoble death. And by every standard that is better. But then when we live, well then we like Christ suffer this world, not for ourselves, but for our families and friends, coworkers and communities. Here we stay, here we live, here we serve, here we work and toil and labor and love and all to the glory of God who ransomed us from sin and death.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.