In this lesson you will discover not only the suffering Jesus was called to, but also the suffering you are called to as one of His followers.
What have you intentionally sacrificed for Jesus and His kingdom? What intentional decision have you made that cost you something for the sake of Christ? As a result of that decision, what did you lose? What did you suffer?
I don’t ask that question to embarrass you, to make you feel guilty, or to belittle any sacrifices you have made for Jesus. I ask that question in order to help you evaluate your commitment to Christ? Your relationship to Jesus as one of His followers.
Jesus and God’s Word repeatedly tells us that His people will sacrifice for Him, will suffer for Him, and will give up their life for Him. What have you given up? What have you let go of? Was it a dream? Was it a relationship? Was it money? Was it health? Was is your retirement?
Today, Jesus is going to talk to us about the cup of suffering and a baptism of suffering that His followers will experience. Let’s see what God has to say to us today. Let’s take a look at Mark 10:35.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.” 36 “What is your request?” he asked. 37 They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” 39 “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. 40 But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.” (NLT)
Let’s walk through this verse by verse and let the Holy Spirit talk to our hearts.
Verse 35 says, Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”
Circle that word Then, because that connects what just happened to what is about to happen. What just happened? Jesus just finished explaining to the disciples that when He gets to Jerusalem He would be betrayed, sentenced to die, mocked, spat on, whipped, killed and then rise on the third day (Mark 10:33-34). That’s when James and John wanted to bring up their request for the two most important seats in Jesus’ coming kingdom and they wanted to sit in them. It’s like James and John are saying, “Yeah, yeah Jesus we know you think it’s going to go bad in Jerusalem, but we don’t believe it’s going to happen like that. So, when we get there and you establish your throne we would like to have the two best seats.” At this moment, James and John are not hearing what Jesus is saying, understanding what Jesus is saying, nor do they believe what He is saying. Part of the reason is they have already decided what is going to happen and they are thinking more about themselves than what Jesus is teaching them.
How many times do we do the same thing with God’s Word? We read God’s Word and it says something but we aren’t really hearing it, nor are we trying to understand it, and as a result we don’t believe it. We have already decided how things are going to be and we are more interested in what we want rather than what God’s Word says. Before we go off judging and condemning James and John, let’s make sure we see ourselves in them.
Mark goes on to tells us that James and John are the sons of Zebedee.[i] However, Jesus gave them a nickname back in Mark 3. He called them the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). That nickname fits their personality. They were aggressive and bold men. Luke gives us some insight into their personalities when he wrote in Luke 9, “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. 53 But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54 When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, ‘Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 So they went on to another village” (Luke 9:51-56, NLT). Even though their boldness and aggressiveness was immature it would come in handy later as they matured in their faith after the resurrection. But right now in Mark 10 their boldness and aggressiveness (even asking Jesus for the two highest positions in His kingdom) can be seen as a weakness, God is going to take that and turn it into a strength to spread the gospel, start churches, and make new disciples. For some of you, your weakness right now God is going to turn into a strength that He will use to reach people through you, bless people through you, and make disciples of people through you. He was not through working on them and He is not through working on you.
Notice they address Jesus as Teacher. At this point, I think I would be calling Jesus something else than a teacher. I understand this is a title of respect, but after everything James and John have witnessed Jesus do He deserves a title greater than teacher. At this point, James and John, have seen Jesus command the wind and the waves and they obeyed. They have seen Jesus walk on water, miraculously feed thousands with a sack lunch, cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead back to life. The title teacher seems to be way below who Jesus actually is.
I’m convinced that in spite of everything Jesus has done and said they still see Jesus as more human than God. They see Jesus as a man with God-like power. Their request of Jesus reveals they are still thinking earthly kingdom, not heavenly kingdom. They are still seeing Jesus, His kingdom, and their involvement as earthly and from a human perspective, not a spiritual or divine perspective. How they addressed Jesus revealed their view of Jesus.
I’m also convinced that’s how we describe Jesus or address Jesus is an indication of who we think He really is. James and John described Jesus as a teacher because that is who Jesus is to them. He is not Lord or God to them yet. They will eventually see Him for who He is after the resurrection, but they are not there yet.
- If you describe God as the “Man upstairs” or simply as a “higher power” that says a lot about your view of God.
- But if you describe Him as creator, master, Lord, or Savior then that says a lot about your view of God. There is a big difference between calling God your Heavenly Father and the man upstairs.
What you call God reveals your view of God and is an indication of where you are spiritually.
James and John approached Jesus, address Him as Teacher, and then they say, “We want you to do us a favor.” Some translations word their statement as, “We want You to do for us whatever we ask of You” (NASB) or “We have something we want you to do for us” (MSG). This reminds me of children who are trying to manipulate a parent by asking them to promise to do something before telling them what it is they want. The sad thing is Jesus barely had time to inhale after explaining the horror to come for Him when James and John came up beside him to ask Him for a favor.[ii]
The favor they are about to ask for deals with position and power in His kingdom. They are thinking earthly kingdom, not heavenly kingdom. This reminds me of us. God tells us something significant through His word about Himself and His kingdom and it goes in one ear and out the other and all we can think about is asking Jesus to do us a favor. “Lord, can you do me a favor? Can you give me a great position? An easier life? A better this or a better that? Lord, can you do me a favor?” Based on what Jesus just told them they should have approached Jesus and said, “Lord, how can we help you? How can we serve you? What do you want us to do?” It should have been about Him, not them.
In verse 36, Jesus responds by asking, “What is your request?”[iii] They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”[iv] The questions we ask reveal a lot about us and this request by James and John reveals some things about them and maybe us as well.
- First of all, it reveals faith. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus told the disciples, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28, NLT). James and John’s request was actually based on a promise that Jesus had made to them. They weren’t asking about something they had made up. It took some faith on their part to claim the promise, especially since Jesus had just reminded them of His impending death. Even though they were asking in faith, they were asking selfishly. Their request was not about God’s plans, but their plans. Even though they misunderstood what Jesus had just said about His crucifixion and about His resurrection they did believe that He would be a king of some type. They had a long ways to go, but their faith was growing and they believed He would be king, eventually they would understand that it would be about a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly kingdom.
There are things about Jesus you believe that are not true, but He is working on your faith and developing your faith. Keep following, keep learning, keep growing, keep trusting and He will become more clear to you.
- Secondly, it reveals confidence. Even though they have been confused and ignorant of what was really going on and what was about to actually happen there is an amazing confidence and loyalty seen here. Even though they were misguided in their thinking, their hearts were in the right place. They never doubted Jesus’ ultimate triumph. They were convinced He was going to be king. Even though they were thinking an earthly king and Jesus was thinking a heavenly king. Their request revealed their confidence in Jesus. They believed that Jesus would go to Jerusalem and somehow the people would make Him king because of all the wonderful things Jesus had done over the past couple of years. They were confident in Jesus.
- Third, it reveals pride. Here lies the real problem. Their specific request dealt with the seats to the left and right of Jesus, the places of honor when sitting next to a king. To sit on the Lord’s right and left referred to the respective ranks of second and third in command. They were going to leave it up to Jesus regarding which one of them would be in second command and which one would be in third command. Where did this request come from? It starts back in Mark 9 where we are told, “After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, ‘What were you discussing out on the road?’34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34, NLT). Their request to be #2 and #3 with Jesus being #1 reveals they believed they were the greatest among the disciples. Their prideful request revealed that, for all the time they had been with Jesus, the two had not learned humility, even after observing Jesus, the flawless model of it. Even after Jesus had taught them about the first shall be last and the last first and whoever wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all (Mark 9:35).
James and John were intentionally depreciating the other disciples as being beneath them and unworthy of the honor they are requesting for themselves. They were being manipulative, deceptive, self-promoting, and filled with selfish ambition all of which revealed the ugly condition of their hearts. Jesus had addressed the issue their hearts back in Mark 7 when He told the disciples, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23, NLT). Their request revealed their pride and it revealed they still needed a lot of work on their heart. Jesus was not done with them yet. He would eventually give them a new heart and a new mind, but they had a long ways to go.
Before we become too harsh on the disciples, let’s make sure we see ourselves within them. The disciples represent us in so many ways. How often have we had faith and confidence in Jesus, yet our request of him is prideful, selfish, and based on envy or greed.
So let me ask you, if you are walking along the road with Jesus and you said, “Jesus, could you do me a favor?” And Jesus responds, “What is your request?” What one thing would you ask Him for? Be careful, because what you ask Him for will reveal a lot about you.
James and John asked for the two highest seats under Jesus in His kingdom. What was Jesus’ response to their request? Mark tells us in verse 38, Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! He didn’t get mad at them. He didn’t yell at them in disappointment. He simply stated, “You don’t know what you are asking!” He knew they didn’t understand. He knew they were confused about His coming kingdom. Even when our requests to Him may be based on ignorance, confusion, pride, and selfishness Jesus is going to take that opportunity to teach us something and to bring us closer to where we need to be in our understanding of His kingdom.[v] Even when you ask Jesus for the wrong thing, He will take that opportunity to teach the right thing.
Jesus decides to answer their request with a question in verse 38, Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with? What is Jesus talking about? Jesus mentions two things: a cup of suffering and a baptism of suffering.
- The cup of suffering refers to the internal and spiritual suffering that Jesus would encounter on the cross. According to Mark 14, before Jesus would be arrested and crucified He would spend some time in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Ironically, Jesus would take Peter, James, and John with him and while there Jesus would become “deeply troubled and distressed” (v. 33) and would tell Peter, James, and John “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (v. 34). Then we are told, “He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he cried out, ‘everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’” (vs. 35-36). This “cup of suffering” was filled with the ingredients of being made sin for you and I (2 Cor. 5:21), and being abandoned by God for our sin (Matt. 27:46), along with taking the full force of God’s wrath on our behalf. Jesus knew what was in His cup of suffering and this is why Luke tells us that while praying about this cup of suffering, Jesus “was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). This cup of suffering dealt with Jesus internal pain that would come with His cross.
- Not only did Jesus mention the cup of suffering, but He also mentioned a baptism of suffering. During the time of Jesus the word baptism was often used to refer to being overwhelmed or immersed in something. This is similar to the modern statement of being “baptized by fire” to mean when we are overwhelmed or immersed in many challenges. When Jesus refers to His baptism of suffering He is referring to being baptized or immersed into our sins and God’s wrath on the cross (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21). While on the cross Jesus would become sin for us and take the full force of God’s wrath on our behalf. As this object of God’s wrath and as sin substitute Jesus would go through a gauntlet of horror by those around Him. He would be baptized into suffering physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and mental pain.
The cup refers to Jesus’ inward sufferings, while the baptism referred to His outward sufferings painting a picture of complete suffering.
Let’s return to the question Jesus asked James and John, Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with? At some point in your life as a follower of Jesus, He will ask you the same question. Are you able to drink the cup of suffering that I drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I was baptized with? According to Acts 14:22 believers “must suffer many hardships” as they follow Jesus. Later Paul would say in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” If you are pursuing Christ likeness you will experience suffering, hardship, and difficulties at the hands of sinful and selfish people. Your suffering will not be to the depths and degree of the Lord’s suffering, but you will be called upon by Jesus to follow in His footsteps for His sake and His kingdom. Every believer is called upon to suffer for Jesus in many ways throughout their lives.
After Jesus asked James and John the question we are told in verse 39, “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. Remember that James and John had asked for two places of honor around the Lord’s throne, but Jesus changed the subject from honor to suffering. He told them they did not know what they were asking for. When asked about drinking the cup of suffering and being baptized in suffering they said we are able.[vi]
- At this moment they were not able. When the suffering started for Jesus in Jerusalem they would flee and hide like all the rest of the disciples. They weren’t ready then, but the Lord would make them ready later. Like these disciples we all have to go through some growth and maturing before we get to the point where we are able and willing to suffering for Christ, sacrifice for His kingdom, and leave things behind for His glory.
- Eventually, James and John, because of what the Holy Spirit had done in them and how they had grown spiritually throughout the years would suffering greatly for the cause of Christ. James would become the first disciples to be killed for the sake of the gospel (Acts 12:1-2). John would live to see all of his friends and other disciples be baptized in persecution and then drink the bitter cup of martyrdom. John himself would be tortured, then later exiled to the barren island of Patmos for years.
When Jesus calls you to follow Him, He is inviting you to come and die. Back in Mark 8 Jesus told us, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NLT). That is an invitation to die to self and sacrifice your life for His sake, His kingdom, and His glory.
So Jesus says to James and John, You will indeed drink from my bitter cup.[vii] Jesus looks into the future and knows what coming for both of them. Jesus also says to them and us that we will be baptized with my baptism of suffering. They both and us as His followers will suffer inwardly and outwardly for Christ.
In verse 40 Jesus returns to their original question by saying, But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen. This was His reflection of His humanity and a demonstration of His submission to the Heavenly Father.
Has Jesus revealed to you yet how you must suffering and sacrifice for His kingdom? For His people? To make disciples? It’s in that sacrifice and by going through that suffering you will discover the abundant life you seek? You will never experience the true life God wants for you until you die to the life you are hanging on to.
[i] James and John, especially John, were also part of Jesus’ inner circle. James and John were able to witness Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:1), raise Jairus’ daughter back to life (Luke 8:51) and will get to witness the Lord’s agonizing time of prayer in inside the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).
[ii] We learn from Matthew that their mother was behind the request that they were about to make. Salome, their mother, seems to have been a sister of Mary, the Lord’s mother. On the human level, then, she was His aunt, and they were His cousins.
[iii] This is a similar question that Jesus will ask blind Bartimaeus later in this chapter (10:51). Bartimaeus will respond by asking Jesus to restore his sight, which Jesus will do. Bartimaeus will then follow Jesus “on the way” (10:52). Bartimaeus’ restored vision contrasts dramatically with the unseeing eyes of the disciples who have been following all along.
[iv] This question comes on the heals of Jesus describing His horrible death and resurrection (Mark 10:33-34). It’s almost like the disciples simply ignored Jesus’ statements. Peter had already rebuked Jesus for saying such things earlier (Mark 8:31-33). I think the disciples ignored Jesus’ statements about his death and crucifixion because they were convinced He would be an earthly king and that on this point Jesus was wrong. The Lord’s doom and gloom approach about His future the disciples simply ignored. They saw Jesus rising to power and the people loving Him, not crucifying Him. This selective hearing of the disciples may explain why Peter would rebuke Jesus and James and John requested seats of honor next to Jesus. I’m convinced something similar happens with many believers today. We hear how God wants to bless us, empower us, and provide for us and do miraculous things through us; yet we ignore His statements about taking up our cross, dying to ourselves, and leaving everything behind.
[v] This was James and John’s version of Peter’s mistake when he had taken the Lord aside to urge Him not to speak out more about a cross (Mark 8:31-34).
[vi] Displaying the same overconfidence that Peter would when he adamantly insisted that he would not deny Jesus (both in the upper room [Luke 22:33; John 13:37], and in Gethsemane [Matt. 26:33; Mark 14:31]), James and John insisted, “We are able.”
[vii] Another thought regarding the “cup of suffering” is the voluntary act of taking the cup and drinking it. The person has to make a decision to pick up the cup, put it to his lips, and drink it willingly. This causes me to ask the question, “What cup of suffering for Christ have you intentionally picked up and drank? What sacrifices have you made for Christ as a follower?”