“But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able’” (Matthew 20:22).
Selfish ambition in spiritual things shows that we are ignorant of the real path to God’s glory.
Yesterday we saw that James and John, with their mother, posed a bold power-play question to the Lord Jesus. Now, as He answers them, they display another attitude at odds with the humble spirit: selfish ambition.
If the brothers’ power-play request was brazen, it was also very foolish. They did not have a clue about what was involved if Jesus granted their request. “The cup that I am about to drink” was His way of referring to His suffering and death. When He asked James and John if they were prepared to drink that cup, Christ was saying that if you are His disciple, you must be prepared for suffering and hardship.
In fact, Jesus’ words “to drink the cup” indicate that something very difficult lay ahead. Not only do those words refer to the Savior’s own painful suffering and death (Matt. 26:39), but they mean we must stay the course to the end, enduring whatever is necessary. James, John, and the other disciples initially did not have such staying power.
James and John, thinking they would always persevere, overconfidently declared, “We are able.” Peter brashly promised never to forsake the Lord, and all the other disciples echoed that pledge. But Peter denied Jesus three times, and the ambitious brothers, along with the rest of the disciples, fled after Jesus’ arrest.
The disciples eventually did finish well and shared in the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). James became the first martyred apostle, and John was exiled to the island of Patmos. But such faithfulness was not attained in their own strength, nor by their ambitious maneuvering, but by the Spirit’s power. This is a strong reminder to us that no position in God’s kingdom is rewarded because of selfish human ambition, but only by His sovereign choice of “those for whom it has been prepared” (Matt. 20:23).