[James and John] 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.”
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?”
“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. 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.”
When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. (Mark 10:37-41)
James and John wanted the highest positions in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus didn’t ridicule James and John for asking, but he denied their request. He told them that true greatness comes in serving others. Peter, one of the disciples who had heard this message, expands the thought in 1 Peter 5:1-4.
The disciples, like most Jews of that day, had the wrong idea of the Messiah’s kingdom as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. They thought Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom that would free Israel from Rome’s oppression. James and John wanted honored places in it. But Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world; it is not centered in palaces and thrones but in the hearts and lives of his followers. The disciples did not understand this until after Jesus’ resurrection.
James and John said they were willing to face any trial for Christ. Both did suffer: James died as a martyr (Acts 12:2), and John was forced to live in exile (Revelation 1:9). It is easy to say we will endure anything for Christ, and yet most of us complain over the most minor problems. If we say we are willing to suffer on a large scale for Christ, we must also be willing to suffer the irritations that come with serving others.
God wants to give us what is best for us, not merely what we want. He denies some requests for our own good. Rather than seeking to have your needs met, prayerfully look for ways you can show God’s compassion toward others.