The word “heart” is the most common anthropological term in the Bible. It was mentioned over a thousand times.
The Bible dictionary tells us the heart is a person’s centre for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities. The heart encompasses everything that we think, say and do (Proverbs 4:23). It is the birthplace of our every motive.
Righteousness comes from the heart (Psalm 97:11), and yet, from our heart also comes evil thoughts, wickedness, lies, and all sins (Isaiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19)
As followers of Jesus, we do the will of God from our hearts (Ephesians 6:6). Our submission to God comes from our hearts. Christ lives in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17)
The heart is where God searches and looks at (1 Sam 16:7).
John and James had it in their hearts to be at glorious positions in the kingdom that Jesus would establish. They came to Jesus, and said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
They said, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”. In teaching His disciples, Jesus did teach them to ask God for things. Jesus taught them. Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you…” (Matthew 7:7). In John 14:13, Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13)
James and John did just that.
As far as they knew, Jesus would be setting up His Kingdom in Jerusalem. He would then overthrow the Roman empire. James and John predicted there would be a fight with the Roman authorities but they would surely be loyal to Jesus until the end. So, to them, it was only right to ask for the second and third most important positions in Jesus’ Kingdom.
Jesus replied James and John, “You do not know what you are asking”.
Jesus then used 2 metaphors in His question to them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
The cup Jesus was about to drink is a cup of suffering and pain which Jesus would drink (Mark 14:35-36). It referred to His suffering and death. Moments before His death, Jesus prayed, “Lord, take this cup away from me”. It was such a huge, unbearable weight upon Jesus which caused Jesus to pray until He dripped blood instead of sweat. The medical world tells us this is a rare but very real medical condition that when a person sweats blood, he is under enormous stress, anguish and pain.
Jesus drank the cup to rescue humanity from the anger of God (Romans 2:4-11, 5:9; Revelation 14:10, 16:19). God is holy and He has to punish sins.
The baptism that Jesus was baptised with referred to full immersion in humiliation, pain and suffering through His betrayal, trial and death (Mark 14:43-15:37).
Jesus had to go through an immersion in suffering and then He had victory over sin and death, to save us into God’s Kingdom. Therefore, as His followers, we need to get baptised. We also immersed in water for forgiveness of our sins so that in His name, we will experience a spiritual death and resurrection out of sin into righteousness and the light (Romans 6:1-3, 8:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
After being baptised, we need to partake in the Holy Communion to be reminded of what He had done for us on the Cross. The cup represents the blood of Jesus, shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins (Mark 14:23-25).
Without the Cup and Baptism, there would be no salvation for us. We will perish in eternal death. There will be no Kingdom, if Jesus did not drink from the Cup of Suffering, and be immersed in pain and suffering for us.
Jesus was telling James and John that they too, had to drink the cup He drank and be baptised with His baptism. This goes for everyone who follows Jesus (Acts 14:22, 2 Tim 3:12). There is a cup and a baptism of suffering and pain we have to endure to gain the victory through Jesus (Romans 8:17-18)
What was James and John’s response? They replied, “We are able”.
They said they were able. They were not afraid of the suffering and pain that they had to go through. They were willing to go through them with Jesus. Hearing their response, Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with…”
And that was what they did.
The book of Acts tells us the ending of James. He was the first to be martyred (killed for their religious beliefs). “King Herod had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword” (Acts 12:2). James was put to death by Herod Agrippa 1 just before the day of Passover about 11 years after the death of Jesus.
The Bible and church history also tells us a little about John. Most probably he died a natural death from old age. But still, he had gone through persecutions and exile. John was sent into exile onto the Island of Patmos after having been tortured by the Caesar at the time. At the island of Patmos, he wrote the last book of the New Testament: the Revelation.
Instead of receiving what they asked for, from Jesus, to sit on the left and right in His glory, they received suffering and persecution too, as Jesus did.
This is an important reminder for us about the condition of our hearts. Do not think of having such a “big heart” for ourselves that we feel entitled to certain privileges for serving the Lord.
Many of us craved for recognition and for praises when we do something for the Lord, forgetting what a beautiful privilege it is to serve the Lord—the King of kings and Lord of lords.
I can’t think of anyone, in the past or present, who did not have to give up something for following Jesus.
Jesus also said, “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”. It was not for Jesus to grant where they should sit in His Kingdom. Discipleship is a journey. We do not do it just for the rewards, but it is the best relationship we can have.
We should serve Jesus with all our hearts because we know He is worthy. He is worthy of all of our time, all of our energy, all of our talents, all of our hearts.
Out of our hearts flow our thoughts, words and desire. May our hearts truly flow with joy and gratitude as we serve our Lord.