35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’
36 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.
37 They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’
38 ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’
39 ‘We can,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
“James the Elder” or “James the Greater” was given this name by the first Christians for a couple of reasons
- It distinguished him from the other James among the Twelve, “James, son of Alphaeus”.
- It showed his importance among the Twelve.
- James was called by Jesus before the other James.
- It could also be that our James and his brother, John, were first cousins of Jesus. We hear that their mum, Salome, was a sister of Mary, Jesus’ mum (see John 19:25, Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40).
- It may be that James was the older of the two boys. When the two are mentioned in the New Testament, James’ name always appears first.
James’ and John’s family business was fishing. They worked with their dad, Zebedee, up North around the Sea of Galilee. They probably lived in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44). They employed some staff (Mark 1:20).
James’ mum, Salome, was one of the women who supported Jesus’ ministry with her money and time (Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:40; 16:1; Luke 8:2; 23:55–24:1).
James, like his brother, John, probably never went to TAFE or Uni. He probably had little status in the Jewish pecking order of their community. But, they probably had plenty of contact with more than hometown Jewish understanding and culture. They would have known Greek life and language.
Everything changed for James when Jesus came and called him and his brother to switch their work from fishing for fish to fishing for people. They took up that call.
As they did, James got a new name; a nick name. Jesus named James and his brother, “Sons of Thunder”. I wonder why? Why would you name a bloke a “Son of Thunder”? Did they have loud voices? Did they make other loud sounds?! The general belief is that they received this name because they were ‘hot-heads”! They were Galileans, and Galileans did things their own way up north and were not keen on people trying to tell them what to do. Sounds a lot like us Aussies!
James and John, the hot-headed men, were with Peter (another hot-head) in the very inner circle of Jesus. They got to see and hear things the others didn’t.
- They were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51).
- They saw that sight of Jesus transfigured in shiny white with Moses and Elijah up on the hill (Mark 9:1; Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28).
- They saw and heard a struggling Saviour in agony in Gethsemanee (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).
And all the way along they had to learn lots of lessons.
Sometimes their hot-headedness came out. On one occasion they rolled out some thunder against “a certain man casting out demons” in the name of the Jesus. John told this stranger to back off. He obviously thought this guy was just pretending to be one of the chosen few. John was actually one of the chosen few! Jesus brings John down a peg:
“Do not stop him. Whoever is not against you is for you.”(Luke 9: 50)
And we heard just a couple of week’s ago, James and John got most upset when a village of lowly Samaritans refused to welcome them and their Teacher into their lives. Both boys asked Jesus, “Should we command God’s holy fire down on these rude, ignorant “low-life’s”?!” (Luke 9:54, 59). Jesus called them out again on this judgmental impatience.
That stewing argument about who would be the greatest when Jesus began his new reign reared up. We hear it in our gospel text today. In Matthew’s account James and John raised the issue with Jesus through their mum. Salome comes to Jesus as humble as pie, on her knees in front of him (with the consent of her two boys) and asks Jesus,
“Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Jesus replies to her, her boys and the rest, ‘You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’
He knows they can’t. But mum and the boys reckon they are up to it. They say, ‘We can’.
And then Jesus, with great patience and with a whole other long–term vision for these hot-headed men, their mum and their others shares with them what his calling will really mean for them.
‘You will indeed drink from my cup (of suffering), but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.’
The others are cranky at these hot-headed, self-centred brothers and their mum for trying to feather their own nest for the future.
Again, Jesus shares his future for them all and what their calling will mean as they continue walking with him into his future. His new creation will not be based on power and self and controlling people by manipulation or force.
“…Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
Friends, Jesus deals with the lack of understanding, ignorance and self-centredness within them and us by dying for them and us and nailing those destructive things to the tree so those things no longer rule them or us.
He rules in great patience; great careful teaching, challenge, comfort, understanding. He rules in calming love for us hot-headed sinners.
Jesus does not shame them or manipulate these fellows or you into being like him. He dies for it all and takes the right justice of God for us all our place, giving us a long-term opportunity to know him and his grace and his calling.
James, like the others, and like me obviously needed time to live in the glory and the gore, the victory and the loss, the hot-headedness and the long–suffering humility of faith in Jesus – AND JESUS GAVE THEM TIME.
They needed time to learn. He gave them time. They GRADUALLY discovered who he really is and what he has really done and what he is promising to do with their lives.
Friend, Jesus gives you time too. This life in his new baptised kingdom is a long learning journey for the hot-heads, the cool-heads and the clueless heads!
He is the head of all these heads. His voice is the thunder we need to hear and seek and love above all other noise. Let his still small voice roll on like thunder in your heart today!
Jesus stuck with James and the rest of them. He will stick with you. He will get you through the glory and the ecstasy; the pleasure and the pain, the sins and the wins and you will be transformed more and more into his mind, his heart; his preferred future for you and all of us as church.
James must have listened a lot. After that incredible resurrection and ascension, James became one of the prominent leaders in the Jerusalem community of Jesus. Tradition says that James went to Spain to evangelise that country, as Paul has wanted to do (Romans 15:24).
Jesus did say to James that he would indeed drink Jesus’ cup of suffering in his life time. James did just that. Fourteen years after that first martyr of Christianity, Stephen, was stoned to death outside the city walls, Herod Agrippa had James killed by the sword in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-3). James is forever remembered as the first of The Twelve to die for the gospel of Jesus.
Herod, was an old worldly creation man doing what the world does – manipulating, controlling, feathering its nest, feathering his nest, burning up people, relationships, life at any cost to stay in charge.
James and John USED TO BE like that before their lives were resurrected in Jesus’ grace. Grace had to dawn on them day after day in the GRADUAL process of being more Christ-like. Same for you and me.
But you need to receive it. James did not make his life happen. Jesus did.
Which life do you want, friend? Herod or James: control, glory, pleasure or joy beyond it all and in it all with Jesus?
I know which one you and I have been given. I know who has called me and you in our weakness.
Follow him, relying on what he says and what he does and what he promises you for now and the future.