Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” (Matthew 20:20-22)
We Are Able
The ministry of Jesus was planned before time began. After the garden of Eden, the world needed a Savior to redeem them back to God, and Jesus was the lamb offered to bear the sins of many. The divine plan was settled in Heaven, fulfilled through the promises of a Seed, and realized in the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus embodied the scheme of redemption. His work was laser-focused on the work of the Father. Nothing men could do or say would hinder His plan. Through the teaching of the divine plan, Jesus unfolded all the grace of His Father in the message of a spiritual kingdom, the church. His death would offer the world the blood of God’s Son as the price of salvation. Jesus knew He would die on the cross.
As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He took the twelve apostles aside on the road to tell them what awaited their master. They did not understand the gravity of the work of Jesus. Their hearts were focused on the here and now, unaware of how much their lives would change very shortly. Jesus was going to Jerusalem, and He would be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes. The disciples would have been shocked to know that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. Betraying Jesus would set in motion the events leading up to His death. He would be condemned and delivered to the Romans. Jesus would be scourged and then crucified.
Everyone understood the horrific nature of crucifixion. Scourging was an incredible experience preceding crucifixion. Soldiers would use a small whip to lacerate the back of the victim, stopping short of death before placing the instrument of their own death on the back. Jesus was scourged severely by His tormentors. Then, a cross-piece was placed on His back, and He was led to Golgotha and killed. Jesus took the bitter cup of torture and suffering for the sins of the world. There would be no greater cup a man could drink than that which the Son of God bore. Jesus was innocent and free of guilt, yet He died for the sins of the world.
After Jesus told the twelve what would happen to Him in Jerusalem, the mother of James and John came asking a favor. She wanted Jesus to place James and John to sit, one on His right and the other on His left, in His kingdom. The mother of Jesus, like many mothers, wanted the best for her sons. She was bold to ask Jesus for the favor. Viewing the kingdom as so many others, the wife of Zebedee wanted greatness for her sons. James and John liked the idea as they stood listening to their mother appeal to Jesus for the favor. They knew it might cause disagreement with the other ten men, but they were first to ask.
The heart of Jesus must have sunk when He heard the request. He knew what He had come to do. It was the will of the Father that Jesus would bear the bitterest cup known to man, and here was a beautiful mother seeking the best for her sons, and they had no idea what they were asking. Jesus asked James and John if they could bear the cup He was about to bear. They confidently proclaimed they could bear the cup. Little did they know what those words would mean in a short time and how their lives would change dramatically. There was a cup they would bear, but it would not be to sit on the right and left of Jesus.
James and John thought they knew what cup bearing meant. The divine plan was yet to be revealed to them. There was a greater work they would be a part of, but nothing like what they were asking. It is not uncommon for the people of God to have the boldness to courageously embrace a task of a work, little knowing the trials that face them. Becoming a Christian is filled with joy, but there are difficult days as Satan seeks to recapture what he lost. Temptation becomes more real; difficulties are heightened, and separation from the world is a constant battle. There is a price to be paid to serve the Lord. Bearing the cup of Jesus is not an easy task. A simple request by the mother of James and John highlights the innocence of those who say, “We are able,”; and the harsh realities of what that duty means. The twelve men faced a trial. Judas killed himself. The remaining eleven drank deep of their cup and overcame.