Perhaps one reason the disciples failed to apprehend what the Lord was saying was because they were still too much under the dominion of that prevalent human vice of pride.   This was manifested by the request of James and John, put to Jesus by their mother.  No doubt they demonstrated a great reverence for Jesus in desiring to sit on His right hand and on His left in His kingdom, yet I fear they demonstrated more pride than anything.  Christ’s reaction to their request would seem to bear out this supposition.

Jesus challenged them by demanding whether they were able to drink of the cup that He would soon drink of, and be baptized with His baptism.  Since His water baptism had taken place long ago at the start of His ministry, the metaphor here would plainly indicate He is asking whether they are able to partake of His sufferings without flinching.  The disciples answered that they were able, too which they ought to have appended “by Thy grace.”  Too much human confidence in the arm of flesh manifested itself in these good men, who had yet to recognize their own weakness apart from the sustaining grace of Christ. 

Rather than directly rebuking their pride, the Lord instead gives them the comforting assurance that they shall indeed drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism.  Perhaps had James and John or their mother known that immense suffering and sacrifice this would involve they would have cringed with horror.  But these good men did prove willing to lay their very necks on the line for the sake of the Lord Jesus.  But the particular reward they asked for, Jesus tells them, is not His to give, but is an award to be conferred by the prerogative of His heavenly Father.

This audacious request sparked indignation among the other ten disciples, who doubtless felt they deserved as much prestige in the kingdom as James and John.  But the Lord Christ gathered them about Him to teach them that the way of His kingdom is not that of seeking personal aggrandizement.  This is how the Gentiles behave in their governments, in their dog-eat-dog world.  Christians are not to think or behave like the heathen world.  He who would seek elevation in Christ’s kingdom must seek it through stooping to serve others.  This requires that the giants in the Lord’s kingdom be those who are willing to sacrifice their time, their money, yea, even their very lives, for the good of their brethren.  The reason that men like Paul and Peter earned a title to greatness in the kingdom of Christ was not because they wielded apostolic authority, but because they risked, and ultimately sacrificed, their lives, for the good of the church.  They set us an excellent example, but even their illustration is but a faint caricature of the Lord Himself.  Christ is the great example after which we must all draw.  He it is Who, though it was no robbery for Him to be equal with God, humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant.  He assumed human nature, lived life as a man of sorrows, and ultimately yielded His life as a ransom for many.  None can ever perfectly imitate this example, but it is the model after which we should forever be striving.