The best seat in the house

I suppose most of us like sitting in the good seats.

In his back yard a little boy pretends that he just threw the winning touchdown while the “crowd goes wild.”

A little girl dreams of thousands of adoring fans screaming her name.

The dreams change over time, of course, but they never disappear.

The young executive longs for the promotion that will bring him the recognition he deserves.

The artist hopes desperately that her work will draw praise from peers and critics.

Who doesn’t want to sit in the VIP suite?

Who doesn’t want a seat at the table where important people make big decisions?

Who doesn’t want the world to think he’s important, that she matters, that his contributions are unique?

It’s a difficult topic, because there’s nothing wrong with ambition. A healthy desire to achieve has led to world-changing accomplishments.

But there’s a fine line between ambition and self-promotion, which is what Jesus warns us about here.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45).

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so critical of James and John, but their question is incredibly off-base.

They just don’t get it. At all.

They dreamed of an earthly kingdom with Jesus on his throne and themselves in the next two seats.

They could taste the power.

Little kids today dream of draining the winning shot or becoming rich and famous, while first-century Jewish children dreamed of chasing the despised Romans out of their homeland. In their back yards they saw themselves riding the white stallion at the front of the cavalry.

James and John had been thinking about this day for years.

And now it’s almost within their grasp.

If they can only convince Jesus that they’re worthy to sit in those seats of honor, they’ll get what they want.

Power. Recognition. Influence. Control.

What does the Lord think about their ambition?

He responds by returning to something he had said often: it’s not about getting glory and honor and power.

It’s about serving.

It’s about not needing, not wanting, the limelight and recognition.

Why hadn’t the disciples gotten this lesson by now?

Or better yet, why haven’t we?

Why do we fight and scratch and claw our way to the top of the pile, only to realize that true greatness is found in serving, not ruling?

It’s an incredibly tough lesson to learn, and the disciples didn’t really get it until they saw Jesus demonstrate the ultimate act of servanthood.

After the cross their attitudes changed remarkably, and they spent the rest of their lives teaching and modeling what it meant to serve.

That’s another reason why Jesus kept pointing to the cross, saying he would “give his life as a ransom for many.”

His giving up all his rights and privileges for our sake motivates us to do the same.

Feeling underappreciated? Unfulfilled?

Find someone to serve today.

True greatness wears an apron more than it wears a suit.