When I was a kid, before I had a driver’s license, I would compete with my friends to be first to call shotgun – to get to sit in front – with whoever was giving us a ride that day. No one wanted to sit in the back seat – that’s where the ‘kids’ sat. Maybe you did the same kinds of things when you were young.
In a sense, this is what brothers James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, were doing. “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory.” (Mark 10:37). At the end of this gospel, we’ll see that it is Jesus who sits at the right side of God. (Mark 16:19).
Unlike our childhood games, where the outcome of such a game meant “glory” or disappointment for only a brief time, there was real consequence to what James and John were asking – they had no idea how they would suffer for Christ’s name:
- James was first of the two to drink the cup when he was put to death with the sword, as commanded by King Herod (Acts 12:1-2).
- John survived the persecution and deaths of all the other disciples before he died – the only disciple to escape a violent death. John miraculously survived being cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, and banishment to Patmos (Foxe’s book of Martyrs, Ch. 1).
At the time of Christ’s suffering on the cross, was anyone truly prepared to drink the cup or be baptized with the baptism Jesus was? Doubtful. They had to experience suffering – of the loss of their Lord, of humiliation, of fear of persecution, of witnessing Christ in His glory, and experiencing all they experienced afterward to gain the maturity necessary to proclaim the Gospel even at the cost of their own lives.
For centuries since these disciples and many others died, we have benefited from their suffering. Nothing today compares to the persecution they suffered except in some Muslim countries – and we must continue in prayer for them! But just because we do not live under constant threat of martyrdom as these first Christians did does not mean we should think it’s our birthright to live in peace. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Corinthians 12:26).