The Lord had taught the disciples about real greatness, but we see how little they as yet understood it, when on this journey to Jerusalem two of the disciples, James and John, came to Him and asked that they might sit one at His right hand and the other at His left hand in His glory. And this at the very time when the Lord was telling them of His near coming trial and death, and there was such need that the disciples should understand His life's work of loving service and loyally support each other in the great trouble which was so near to them. Again the Lord's infinite patience is so very touching. He said, "Ye know not what ye ask," and asks them if they are able to drink of the cup that He drinks of, or to be baptized with the baptism that He is baptized with; by which the Lord meant to ask them if they were able to undergo the great temptations which He suffered, and overcome by their own strength as He overcame them. But they knew so little of what it all meant that they said, "We are able"; and the Lord said they might drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism, for He would help them as He helps us. But He said only those who were prepared could be with Him on His right hand and on His left as they had asked. We sit at the Lord's right hand and left if we share His power to do good in love to Him and in love to one another.
They came to Jericho on their way up to Jerusalem. Jericho, the city of palm trees, a beautiful city with walls, theaters, and a palace built by Herod and Archaelaus. It is spoken of as the "Eden of Palestine, the fairyland of the old world." A beautiful garden of palms and roses, and plantations of sweet balsam filling the air with sweet fragrance which may have given it its name Jericho, "a fragrant place."
It was customary when a band of pilgrims passed through a town for the people to come out of their houses to welcome them, and the crowd would be greater than usual to see the Lord and His disciples and many followers come. Luke tells us how the crowd was so great that Zacchaeus, who was short, could only see the Lord by climbing a tree by the roadside.
As the Lord and the multitude passed out of the town, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. He heard the great company coming and when he was told that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out to the Lord to have mercy upon him. You will be sure that the Lord did have mercy on him; but I must not tell the story.
A little company of men was journeying along from town to town through the pleasant country east of Jordan. Here they stopped in the shade by some village, and people came to listen, and brought little children for a blessing. Here a young man comes running to them in the way. Who were they? The Lord and His disciples. They had been in Galilee and they were journeying to the great city where the temple was. Yes, Jerusalem. It says (verse 32), "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem." Presently they must cross the river - yes, the Jordan - and must cross the sunny meadows to Jericho, the city here under the hills, and then climb up a steep, rough road. If we listen, we can hear what the Lord was saying as they walked along. And then if we watch we can see something that He did on the way.
They were talking about a kingdom, the Lord's kingdom, and about being great in that kingdom. As we listen we see that the idea of the kingdom which was in the disciples' minds, was very different from the Lord's idea. They thought the Lord was going to make Himself a great earthly king, and that He would make them rulers over different parts of the world. They thought that the Lord was going now up to Jerusalem to do it. But really the Lord's kingdom was to be everywhere where people learned and obeyed His laws; and those would be the greatest in the kingdom, who kept the laws best, the Great Commandments to love the Lord and one another, and the Golden Rule to be kind and useful to everybody. This was really the opposite of the disciples' idea, for they were thinking of having other people their slaves and servants; the Lord was thinking of serving other people as much as possible.
This talk about the kingdom began by two of the disciples asking that they might sit on the Lord's right and left hand in His glory. They were James and John, two brothers who had left their father (what was his name?) in the fishing boat at the Sea of Galilee to follow the Lord. They knew and loved the Lord better than most of the disciples, and yet how little they understood what His kingdom should be like! So the Lord told them about it, and that it is really great to be kind and useful. Read verses 35-45. "Minister" in verse 43 means "servant," and the word in verse 44 means "bond-servant" or "slave."
Now the little company had crossed the Jordan and come through the broad sunny meadows where grain was growing in the hot sunshine, to Jericho, the "fragrant city," where the road begins to climb the hills towards Jerusalem. The Lord was passing through the gardens of the town, where palms and other fruit trees were growing and broad-spreading sycamore figs shaded the paths. There was a beggar by the wayside, where he could ask money of those who passed. He heard the sound of feet and voices, and when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out for help. He was not asking alms, but he had heard how Jesus healed many who were sick; and he was blind. (One Gospel speaks of two blind men.) There were some who rebuked the blind man, as they had tried to keep the little children from the Lord. But if they had remembered what the Lord told them about His kingdom and true greatness, would they have rebuked the poor blind man and wanted to pass him by? What would the Lord say, and what would He do? And what do you think the beggar would do then? Read verses 46-52 and see if you are right.
1. Who were the sons of Zebedee? Where did the Lord call them to be disciples? What did they ask of the Lord?
2. What sort of kingdom did the disciples expect the Lord to establish? What sort of kingdom did He establish?
3. What makes one a citizen of the Lord's kingdom? Who is greatest in that kingdom?
4. Where was Jericho? What road passed through the place? What once happened by the wayside near the city, when the Lord passed that way?
Can you find other places which show that the disciples expected the Lord to establish a great earthly kingdom? They expected it to the very end of the Lord's life on earth, and were very slow to learn what His kingdom really was. (Acts 1:6) Can you think why the Lord let them cling to this idea; why He did not tell them more plainly that there would be no such kingdom? If He had done so at once, the disciples would not have followed Him. He could teach them only gradually a truer idea. It is an example of the Lord's gentleness with all of us, and shows why He does not correct all errors at once. He does not take an imperfect thought rudely away, but makes it a stepping-stone to a truer one. (A. 3417, 3857, 8705)
Is there a sense in which the first disciples, and all the Lord's disciples may be at His right and left hand in His kingdom? What is meant when one is said to be his master's "right hand man"? He helps the master very much in doing his work. And so those who help to do the kind works of the Lord's kingdom are in a sense His hands, and they work with His strength. The right hand means especially those who work in the strength of love to the Lord, the highest of all loves; and the left hand means those who are wise in kind uses to one another. There is a reason why James and John should ask this question. Each of the twelve apostles, like each of the twelve tribes, stands for some quality of a heavenly character. John, whose Gospel and Epistles are so full of love for the Lord (John 15; 1 John 4) and who is called "the disciple whom Jesus loved," stands for this love of the First Great Commandment. James, the brother of John, stands for the love which is like this, and only a little less, love for one another. (James 2; 3) The brothers stand for the two loves which are the strength of heaven. That is another reason for the Lord's answer to them. What they asked might not be granted in the way that they meant it, and yet whoever should live from the loves which John and James represented, would in a deep, true sense be at the Lord's right and left hand in His kingdom. (E. 8, 600, 785)
Read Matthew 26:36-42, and then tell me what you think is meant by the cup in verses 38, 39 of our chapter. It means the Lord's temptations, and the baptism means the purification by temptations. The Lord's disciples must have such experiences too, but how little they are, compared with the Lord's! (E. 893)
When are we spiritually blind? When are we spiritually beggars, or poor in spirit? How can we spiritually arise? How can we follow Jesus in the way? See Psalm 119:18, 35, 59. Why did the Lord ask the blind man, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee"? To know definitely our weaknesses and to confess them to the Lord is the first step in being healed. (N. 162)