Today's verses are Mark 10:38-40: "Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' And they said to him, 'We are able,." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.'" Jesus had prophesied he was going to Jerusalem where he said he would face death and resurrection. James and John, two brothers who were probably cousins and in Jesus' inner circle, asked if they could sit on Jesus' left and right hands when he established his Messianic kingdom. These were the two next best positions of power, after the king's authority.
Jesus answered that there would be a future time of glory for him, but it would come by drinking from the cup of God's wrath, God's judgment poured out on him instead of humanity. Jesus asked James and John if they were ready to face this kind of sacrifice. Also, Jesus said he would be baptized, symbolizing his suffering, which would pour over his life like a flood. Similarly, he asked James and John if they were ready for this kind of sacrifice in following him.
The disciples understood Jesus' question to mean the upcoming fight with the Jewish and Roman authorities. They envisioned themselves fighting alongside Jesus. They bravely answered, "We are able!"
Jesus assured them they will undergo a kind of drinking and baptizing. But only Jesus will bear the pain of substituting his life for our sin. However, trials, pain, suffering and persecution will come to their lives as his followers. Ultimately, however, it will be for their purification and God's glory. They will not bear the cross for the forgiveness of sins. They will bear their own cross as they faithfully follow Jesus.
Interestingly, Jesus then said that the ability to give positions of power is not his to give. Though Jesus is fully God, there are obvious levels of authority within the Trinity, especially in the incarnation. The Son always subjects himself to the authority of the Father in heaven. It will be the Father and the Father alone who will eventually decide who receives what positions of authority.
The implication here is Jesus will be exalted by the Father to greatness through his suffering. Similarly, if his disciples are given positions of honor by the Father it will be through their serving, not power.
In God's eternal kingdom, greatness comes through pain, growth and serving. To be great, you must be the least. The first in God's kingdom must be last. And the last will be first.
It's a consistent message from Jesus. The doorway to greatness in Jesus' kingdom must be entered on one's knees.