MATTHEW 20:17-28 THE KING ON HIS WAY TO THE CROSS 17-19.
And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
Marching up, towards the guilty capital, with resolute and vigorous step, Jesus outwalked the trembling disciples, who forsaw some dire tragedy would transpire. They went with him, and that was something; and showed that, if timid, they were sincere. His words were true and significant: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. ” He thought it wise to tell them yet again of the dark future which was now drawing very near, so he took the twelve disciples apart in the way. That is the best communion when Jesus himself takes us apart. He knows the fittest seasons for fullest revelations.
Possibly, in this, his human soul was seeking fellowship; but how little of it he found among his feeble followers! Lord, when thou cost take me apart, prepare me for full communion, lest I miss a golden opportunity!
The heart of Jesus was full of his sacrifice. Mark how he dwells on the details from the beginning to the end of his sufferings, death, and resurrection. He uses very much the same terms as when they abode in Galilee. We noticed that statement while reading in chapter 17:22, and this is very like a repetition of it. It was a subject too grave to be set forth with variety of expressions. He calls their attention to the fact that they were going up to Jerusalem, the place of sacrifice: the journey of his utmost grief was now beginning: the end was hastening on. What a pang shot through his heart as he said, “The Son of man shall be betrayed ”! This he said in the hearing of the disciple who would act as the traitor: did no compunction visit his base heart? The twelve knew that Jesus had no more cruel foes than “the chief priests and scribes ”, the men of the Sanhedrim: these, by a mock trial, would “condemn him to death ”, but as they could not carry out the sentence themselves, they would “deliver him to the Gentiles. ” How accurately the Lord traces the line of action! He omits none of the shameful details. He says that they would deliver him to the Romans, “to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him .” Here were three sharp swords: one scarcely knows which had the keenest edge Our hearts ought to melt as we think of this threefold sorrow: scorn, cruelty, death.
Our blessed Master, however, added a word which overpowered the bitterness of the death - draught. Here was the bright lining of the black cloud: “The third day he shall rise again. ” This poured a flood of light on what else had been a sevenfold midnight.
Did our Lord thus dwell on his passion, and should not we? Yes, it should be our life-long theme. They say, in this hour of defection: “Think of his life rather than of his death; “but we are not to be duped by them. “We preach Christ crucified.” “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
20, 21. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
While the mind of Jesus was occupied with his humiliation and death, his followers were thinking of their own honor and ease. Alas, poor human nature! The mother of Zebedee’s children only spoke as others felt. She, with a mother’s love, sought eminence, and even pre-eminence, for her sons; but the fact that the other disciples were displeased showed that they were ambitious also. Doubtless, they wanted to fill the positions, that the mother of James and John craved for them. She approached the Savior reverently, worshipping him. Yet there was too much familiarity in her request to be granted an unnamed thing: desiring a certain thing of him.
Our Lord here sets us the example of never promising in the dark. He said unto her, “What wilt thou? ” Know what you promise before you promise.
Great was this woman’s faith in the Lord’s ultimate victory and occasion to the throne, since she regards his enthronement as so certain, that she prays that her two sons should sit in his courts on his right and left hand. Was she aware of what our Lord had told his disciples? We half think so, for the words are,—Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children. If she knew and understood all that wont before, she was willing that her sons should share the lot of Jesus, both as to his cross and his crown; and this sets her petition in a bright light. Still, there was a good deal of a mother’s partiality in the request. See how she speaks of “these my two sons ” with a touch of pride in her action. How grandly she describes the desired situation — “may sit the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom ”! She had evidently very courtly notions of what the kingdom would ultimately become. In any case, her request had in it much of trust, and much of loyal union to Christ, though somewhat. also of self.
We need not censure her; but we may question ourselves as to whether we think as much of our Lord as she did.
22. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
The petition of the mother was that of the sons also; for Jesus answered and said, “Ye know not what ye ask. ” As from the mother, the request was probably of better quality than as from the sons; for our Lord speaks to them rather than to her. They had asked, through the mother, but they may have asked in greater ignorance than she; and had they known what their request included, they might never have presented it. At any rate, our Lord treats the petition as theirs rather than their mother’s; and as it was about themselves, he questions them as to how far they were prepared for the consequences. To be near to the throne of the King would involve fellowship with him in the suffering and self-sacrifice by which he set up his spiritual kingdom: were they ready for this? Had they strength to endure to the end? “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? ” They say unto him, “we are able. ” Perhaps this was too hasty an answer; and yet it may under the aspect have been the best they could give. If they were looking alone to their Lord for strength, they were, through his grace, quite able to bear anything. But, when they thought of his throne, had they remembered the cup , and the baptism, without which there would be no enjoying the kingdom?
23. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
Hearing their professed willingness to have fellowship with himself in all things, our Lord assures them that he does not refuse to be associated with them; but he points them to the immediate and certain result of that fellowship. Our practical present business is not to aim at eminence in the kingdom, but submissively to drink the cup of suffering, and plunge into the deeps of humiliation which our Lord appoints for us. It is a great honor to be allowed to drink of his cup and to be baptized with his baptism: this he grants to his believing disciples. This fellowship is the essence of the spiritual kingdom. If our cup be bitter, it is his cup; if our baptism be overwhelming, it is the baptism that he is baptized with; and this sweetens the one, and prevents the other from being a death-plunge. Indeed that the cup and the baptism are his, makes our share in them to be an honor bestowed by grace.
Other rewards of the kingdom are not arbitrarily granted, but fittingly bestowed. Jesus says that the high places in the kingdom will be given to them for whom they are prepared of his Father. He has no hesitation in speaking of what his Father has “prepared.” Everything about our Lord’s Kingdom is divinely arranged and fixed; nothing is left to chance or fate.
Even Jesus will not interfere with the divine appointment concerning his kingdom. As a friend, he may not be solicited to use a supposed private influence to alter the arrangements of infinite wisdom. Eternal purposes are not to be changed at the request of ill-advised disciples. In a sense, Jesus gives all things; but as Mediator, he comes not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him, and so he correctly says of rank in his kingdom, It is not mine to give. How thoroughly did our Lord take a lowly place for our sakes! In this laying aside of authority, he gives a silent rebuke to our self-seeking. It may be that he intended to reprove, not only the mother of Zebedee’s children, but all the disciples, who were constantly seeking great things for themselves. 24-26. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.
Naturally, the other ten apostles did not relish the attempt of the sons of Zebedee to steal a march upon them. We never hear that they resented our Lord’s preference of Peter, James, and John; but when two of these sought precedence for themselves they could not bear it. Peter was with them in this, for we read, When the ten heard it. Unanimously they were angry with upstarts. That they were moved with indignation, was a proof that they were ambitious themselves, or at least that they were not willing to take the lowest place. Because they were guilty of the same fault, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren Here was a sad division in the little camp; how could it be healed? Jesus called them unto him: he personally dealt with this rising evil, and bade the twelve come aside, and listen to something meant only for their private ear.
They were confounding his kingdom with the ordinary government of men, and therefore they dreamed of being great, and exercising dominion in his name; but he wished them to correct their ideas, and turn their thoughts another way. It was true, that to be his followers was a highly honorable thing, and made them partakers of a kingdom; but it was not like earthly kingdoms. In the great Gentile monarchies, princes ruled by authority force, and pomp; but in his kingdom the rule would be one of love, and the dignity would be that of service. He who could serve most would be the greatest. The lowliest would be the most honored: the most self-sacrificing would have most power. Whenever we see the nobles of earth contending for precedence, we should hear our Master say, “But it shall not be so among you. ” We must for ever quit hunting after honor, office, power, and influence. If we aim at greatness at all, it must be by being great in service, becoming the minister or servant of our brethren.
27. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: To rise in Christ’s kingdom we must descend. He who would be chief, or first, among saints, must be their servant, bondsman, or slave. The lower we have stooped, the higher we have risen In this