When they were come into the house, Jesus asked, "What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?" Mark 9:33. The presence of Jesus, and His question, put the matter in an entirely different light from that in which it had appeared to them while they were contending by the way, and they held their peace. They could now see that selfishness and pride of heart were at the foundation of their desire for the pre-eminence. It is no wonder that shame and self-condemnation kept them silent. But a little while before, Jesus had told them that He was to die for their sakes, and their selfish ambition was in painful contrast to His unselfish love.
When Jesus told them that He was to be put to death, and rise again the third day, He designed to awaken their interest, and draw them out to converse with Him on this subject; but, wholly engrossed in their own selfish and ambitious hopes and plans, they failed to comprehend Him, and they let this golden opportunity to obtain definite knowledge concerning the great test of faith which awaited them, pass unimproved. Had this important truth deeply impressed their minds, they would have been saved much anguish and despair. Jesus would have spoken to them words that would have afforded consolation and hope in their hour of bereavement and keen disappointment.
There was a radical defect in the characters of the chosen twelve, which must be pointed out and remedied. And Jesus "sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me." Verses 35-37. Those who possess the spirit of Christ will have no desire to occupy a position above their brethren; and those who are small in their own eyes are the ones who will be accounted great in the sight of God.
This lesson was not lost upon John. He saw his character in a new light. An act was brought to his mind which he had supposed was right, but which he now began to question. "Master," said he, "we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbad him." Verse 38. James and John had thought that in forbidding this man to work miracles in the name of Christ, they had had their Lord's honour in view; but they began to see that they had been influenced by wrong apprehensions and a jealous desire for self-preferment. They acknowledged their mistake, and meekly accepted the mild reproof of Jesus: "Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part." Verses 39-40.
But though so willing to make a personal application of the lessons of Jesus, James and John were by no means ready to abandon their ambitious designs. Soon after this, accompanied by their mother, they came to Jesus with the petition that they might be permitted to occupy the position of greatest honour in His kingdom. Jesus answered them, "Ye know not what ye ask." Matthew 20:22. He knew the infinite sacrifice that awaited Him; that before the kingly throne there was to be humiliation and shame, and the agonising death of the cross. And yet He would willingly endure the terrible ordeal for the sake of seeing souls saved in His kingdom to enjoy untold bliss throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.
This was the joy that was set before Christ, the glory that He was to receive, and that the two disciples had unwittingly requested to share. Jesus asked them, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?" Ibid. Little did they comprehend the bitter cup of which their Lord spoke, or realise the fiery baptism; but they fearlessly responded, "We are able." Ibid. Jesus said unto them, "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised 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.
"And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren." Verses 23-24. They were not less anxious than James and John to secure the chief places in the kingdom of Christ; they were therefore angry with the two brothers for taking, as they thought, an undue advantage. Aware of their ambition and their resentment, Jesus reasoned with them. "Ye know," he said, "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; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Verses 25-27. There was to be a difference between His kingdom and the kingdoms of the world. "The princes of the Gentiles" were ambitious, and sought for place and power; but their course in this respect resulted from false ideas of greatness and the pride of the human heart. Among the disciples of Christ an entirely different state of things was to exist. One was not to aspire to dominion over his brethren, and to seek to be lord over God's heritage.
"Even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Verse 28. He, their Master, had set them an example of unselfish care for others. He was Lord of Heaven, and angels obeyed His word; yet He condescended to take upon Himself the weaknesses and infirmities of human nature, to live man's example and to die his sacrifice. He did not, while upon earth, choose for Himself wealth and honour and pleasant associations; but His life was spent among humble peasants in ministering to the wants of the needy and the afflicted. He did not shrink from contact with the most degraded and sinful; He preached the good news of pardon and peace to all who would accept it on Heaven's gracious and liberal terms. And in their ministry the disciples were to follow His example.
The great lesson which Jesus taught on these occasions is thus expressed by the apostle Paul: "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another." Romans 12:10. The disciples were in a school in which Christ was Teacher; and those who were willing to see their own defects, and were anxious to improve in character, had ample opportunity. They were constantly receiving line upon line, precept upon precept, showing them that meekness, humility, and love were essential to growth in grace, and to a fitness for the work upon which they were soon to enter.
The instruction that Christ gave was not designed merely for the little group that listened to His words, but was recorded for the benefit of all His followers to the close of time. The truths He unfolded are of universal application, and should deeply impress our hearts; for they were never more needed than at the present time. The desire for place and power was never stronger; and there are many who think of others only to plan to advantage themselves at their neighbour's expense.
The people of God should be firmly united in love, strengthening one another against temptations and trials; but how often Satan diverts the mind to selfish objects. He knows our wrong traits of character, and he takes advantage of every opportunity to arouse them to activity. He excites contention, and leads professed Christians to seek for the supremacy, while through pride and self-esteem he blinds their eyes to their own defects of character. While the disciples were contending among themselves as to which of them should be greatest, they little thought that Jesus heard them; but He read their hearts, and understood their ambitious desires. Just so it is at the present time. Jesus is weighing the character of every individual. If our motives are not pure, if our desire to please self is stronger than our desire for righteousness or to glorify God, we may rest assured that nothing is hidden from His eye, and that the desires of our hearts, as well as the acts of our lives, will be considered in the Judgement.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:37-39.
Signs of the Times, January 15, 1885.