By J.R. Miller
Jesus was setting out for Jerusalem on His last journey. Did He not know that He was going straight into danger? He was safe in Perea; why did He not stay there? Why did He leave this shelter--and go straight into the den of lions at Jerusalem? He knew all that awaited Him--but He did not shrink from it; He resolutely set His face to go, because it was the way marked out for Him. The picture shows Him hastening on, as Mark tells us, "They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way." (10:32). It were as if He were eager to reach the city and endure what lay before Him there, and could scarcely wait for the slow steps of the disciples.
Why was Jesus so eager to suffer? It was because His time had come, and He was eager to do the Father's will. Besides, it was the receiving up to heaven which He saw, and the cross and darkness were forgotten, in the triumph and glory beyond. "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). There ought to be wondrous inspiration in Christ's example here, for all who are called to suffer and endure affliction for His sake. We should be eager to do God's will, however hard it may be; and we should train ourselves to look beyond the suffering and the trial--to the blessing and joy that will come after.
He took the disciples apart and told them what lay before Him. "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified!" Jesus knew, when no others saw it, that the blackness of the cross was approaching Him and would overwhelm Him, and knew the very moment He would enter it.
One of Holman Hunt's pictures represents Jesus as a boy in the carpenter shop. It is evening, and He is weary. Stretching out His arms, the light of the setting sun, shining in from the west, casts its shadow on the floor of the shop, and lo--it is in the form of a cross fell upon Jesus, that from the beginning He was conscious of the fact that He must die by crucifixion. What a pathos it adds to the life of Christ to remember this: that all the time, in the midst of His human joys, while He was scattering blessings among others, while He was working miracles of mercy; in all the holy peace and calm of His soul--that dark shadow hung over Him continually! He was going at last to be crucified! Yet the consciousness never kept Him from speaking one gentle word, nor from doing one kindly deed, nor from being cheerful and loving. Knowing from the beginning all that lay before Him--He went on with His daily duty quietly and joyfully. This reveals something of His love for us--and His joy in doing the Father's will.
There is a strange contrast between the words of Christ as He spoke to the disciples of His approaching death--and the coming of this mother with her ambitious request: "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." Mothers should be ambitious for their boys, and want them to have high places. They should make sure, however, that the places they desire for them--are really high places. Earth's pinnacles are not always such. Taking out of her request its mistaken worldly thought, no parental ambition for a child can be fitter than hers--that her sons should have places near to Christ. It is to be feared, however, that very many parents think more of getting for their children high positions in this world--than places near to Christ, and high in holiness.
Jesus spoke to the sons in reply, not to the mother: "You do not know what you are asking for." It was an ignorant prayer which they had offered. They did not know what they were asking for. We know that one dark day, two malefactors had the places on the Lord's right and left hand. We all many a time ask for things which we would not dare request--if we knew what they would cost us.
There is a heathen legend which tells that once a man asked for this gift--not to die; and it was granted him by the Fates. He was to live on forever. But he had forgotten to ask that his youth and health and strength might last forever also; and so he lived on until age and its infirmities and weakness were weighing him down and his life grew to be a weariness and a burden to him. Existence (for it could not be called life) was one long torment for him; and then he wished to die and could not. He had asked for a thing which he was totally unfit to enjoy--but he had to take the consequences of it when it was once given. The better way to pray is to let God choose for us--and to give what He sees best for us--and in the way He knows is the best.
"To sit at my right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by My Father." We see here, that there are places in heaven higher and nearer Christ than others. Surely, too, the high places are worth striving for. We see how men scramble after earth's high positions; but heaven's positions are infinitely better. But how can we gain the seats nearest to Christ in glory? We have many hints. A little farther on this passage, we are taught that the path of humble self-forgetful service leads upward in spiritual life. In the book of Revelation, our Lord says that those who overcome in their struggles with sin and trial--shall sit with Him on His throne. In Daniel (12:3) we are told that those who turn many unto righteousness; that is, they who are active and successful in saving souls--shall shine as the stars, forever and ever. We know also that the "pure in heart" (Matthew 5:8) shall see God. These and many other hints show that the more like Christ we are in character and work here on earth--the nearer we shall get to Him both in this world and hereafter.
Jesus was always having difficulty in getting His disciples to understand the spiritual meaning of things. They thought here that rank and official position were the symbols of greatness. "No!" said Jesus; "whoever wants to become great among you--must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first--must be your slave." This seems a strange way of getting on and getting up in the world. According to this, all men's scrambling for place and power--is really scrambling downward rather than upward! The real heights in human life are the heights of self-forgetfulness and service.
Of course, this does not mean that a Christian is never to accept nor hold a position of honor and trust. A king, ruling millions of people, can be the very highest of servants--by ruling only for the glory of God and the good of his subjects. A rich man has an opportunity to get very near to Christ--if he uses his wealth to bless the world. It is not the worldly position which settles this question--but the spirit of the life. A servant in a family may be a great deal farther from it--than the mistress whom she serves. The kind of serving that our Lord means--is that which forgets self, and thinks only and always of the need and interests of others.
The art of photography is now so advanced, that a whole page of a newspaper can be taken in miniature so small--as to be carried on a little button, and yet every letter and point be perfect.
Just so, the whole life of Christ is photographed in this one little phrase, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28.
He did not come to be served--if this had been His aim, He would never have left heaven's glory, where He lacked nothing, where angels praised Him and ministered unto Him. He came to serve. He went about doing good. He altogether forgot Himself. He served all He met, who would receive His service. At last He gave His life in serving--He gave it to save others, to redeem lost souls.
You say that you want to be like Christ? You ask Him to print His own image on your heart. Here then, is the image: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
It is not a vague dream of human greatness which we are to think of, when we ask to be like our Master. The old monks thought that they were becoming like Christ--when they went into the wilderness, away from men, to live in cold cells. But surely, such a dream of uselessness is not the thought which this picture suggests. "To serve--to give our life" that is the Christ-like thing! Instead of fleeing away from people--we are to live with others, to serve them, to live for them, to seek to bless them, to do them good, to give our lives for them--that is the meaning of the prayer for Christ-likeness.