A MOTHER'S AMBITION FOR HER SONS

By

D. M. PANTON, M. A.

 

Salome, one of the holy band of women-ministrants to the Lord, and a star in the still brighter cluster around the Cross, shared with her sons the noble ambition that they might be Daniels to a new and holier Belshazzar, or Josephs to a mightier PharoahSo crucially, however, is Kingdom glory dependant on attainment, not on gift obtainable by prayer, that Jesus ignores the mother throughout, and addresses Himself solely to the aspirants for heavenly [millennial] fame.

Salome's prayer had been prompted by a revelation the Lord had just made of approaching glory.  Peter, ever the questioning voice of the Church, put a challenge to Jesus which evoked an answer laying bare approaching recompense.  "Lo," he says, "we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have?" (Matt. 19: 27): we have beggared ourselves for God; we have invested our all in the world to come: what, Lord, is the recompense for the great renunciation?  Saducees all down the ages have answered that virtue is its own reward, and that the inward joy of doing good is its only recompense.  Profoundly different is the reply of Christ.  "Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones" - the first mention of plural thrones in the New Testament - "judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  That is, God's royalties and enthronements are no fiction and no dream; and they are the enormous compensations awaiting the dethroned and outcast for Christ.

Now the critical revelation, rousing the noblest of ambitions, and which had already evoked the petition of Salome and her sons, reappears in the last scenes of the upper room.  "And there arose also" - in consequence: thrones had been revealed, but no pre-eminence among the thrones - "a contention among them, which of them is accounted greatest" - accounted so already: which is greatest to be greatest; which seems, appears before men, ranks in official position as greatest (Luke 22: 24)Having just inquired which should be the traitor, they now inquire which should be the prince; believing the Kingdom imminent, in which administrators would of necessity be required, they imagine to allot amongst themselves the sovereignties of the Age to Come.

It is a definite challenge to the Lord to reveal the principles underlying the allotment of Thrones.

To James and John, therefore, absorbed with the same problem, the Lord first unmasks their ignorance and counters with a home-thrust. "Ye know not what ye ask": they had neither pondered their prayer, nor mastered the elements of the principles of reward: "are ye able to drink the cup that I drink" - a draught of internal sorrow - "and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with" - an immersion in external trouble (Mark 10: 38)?  Not sorrow, but His sorrow, not any cup or baptism, but His; can you bear the heartbreak, and stand the intolerable strain, involved in a full-orbed fidelity to your Lord - the tonic cup and anointing baptism which alone consecrate to supreme rank?  Can you bear without flinching, without compromising, without bitterness, without despair?¹

[1. The answer of Zebedee's sons - "We are able" - is met by our Lord's prophetic knowledge - "Ye shall": unable, but enabled: of the two, who both fled from the Cross, one took the Gethsemane-cup at the hand of Herod, and the other his baptism in a caldron of boiling oil.  It is remarkable that they gave the same answer, and rightly (Phil. 4: 13), as that given by the two great victors in the Wilderness type - "We are well able to overcome" (Num. 13: 30).]

So also our Lord enlightens their complete ignorance on the principles of reward.  "To sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give: but it is for them whom it hath been prepared."  It is true that Christ is the donor; for He says: "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne" (Rev. 3: 21): but it is no capricious appointment, or biased favouritism, or unmerited gift, or arbitrary selection: it is not to be had merely for the asking, but is 'prepared' for those preparing.  I cannot give, the Lord implies; I can only adjudge: for a millennial throne is no part of everlasting life, a gift already given to every [regenerate] child of God.  They ask it as a gift: He refuses it as a gift.

So therefore Jesus addresses Himself to elucidate - [i.e., 'explain, illustrate, throw light upon the meaning of'] - this crucial revelation; and He first completely negatives all present worldly principles of rank and power.  He neither rebukes His disciples' ambition, nor casts any doubt on the coming sovereignty; but He completely revolutionises their conception of the path to the Throne.  "The kings of the Gentiles," He says, present royalties, "have lordship over them" - that is, they have their thrones now; "and they that have authority over them are called Benefactors² - saviours of society, or philanthropists  [i.e., 'ones filled with a love of mankind, who spend time, energy and money in helping others, people who make large and frequent gifts to charity.'] - (Luke 22: 25): "not so shall it be among you" (Matt. 20: 26).  That is, the stars and orders and peerages and princedoms - even the applause conferred on scientists and philanthropists and politicians and millionaire [or billionaire] donors of princely benefactions - are, in a Christian, proof that, in this sphere, he has acted on non-Christian principles.*

[2. The word our Lord uses - Euergetes - was actually a title given to Kings in that age; as to Cyrus among the Persians, Antigonus among the Greeks, and Marcus among the Romans: and it is a curious coincidence that the Zionists keep in their central cities, to commemorate the founders of their Colonies, a roll called the Golden Book of Benefactors.]

[* Presbyterian Christians who went ‘cap in hand’ to government, seeking to recover financial loss on invested savings with a bank which compensated them with above average high personal returns, take note: No “greedy” person “will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6: 10). Regenerate believers who are greedy for money, will lose their inheritance in the millennial kingdom of Christ.]

Having thus negatived, for the Church, all royalties in this age - "ye have reigned as kings" is a reproach of Paul to the merchant-princes in the Church of Corinth (1Cor. 4: 8) - there now bursts on us the extraordinary revolution in ambition which our Lord has brought us in His unique teaching, as He now lays bare the pathway to the imminent Thrones.  "But ye" - for the axioms ['self-evident truths' and principles] of Gentiles can be no principles for the Church - "shall not be so; but he that is the greater among you" - greater in the earthly sense: more distinguished in birth, in station, in training, in gifts - "let him become" - of his own free action and choice - "as the younger" - that is, taking the lower place assigned to a junior; "and he that is chief" - head and shoulders above others in attainments and achievements - "as he that doth serve" (Luke 22: 26) - a servant, as Matthew (20: 27) says, not of some, but of all.  So to James and John seeking, not thrones, but supreme thrones, the Lord Jesus puts a still sharper antithesis: "Whosoever would become great among you" - attain royalty beyond the broken tombs - "shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you" - the greatest among the great - "shall be slave of all" - supreme now in self-abasing service (Mark 10: 43).  There is a path, our Lord says, for holy ambition to tread, culminating in thrones; but it is no path leading in this age to high office and official dignities and popular applause: it is the actual reverse of the world's ambition for more wealth, more power, more fame.  "Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not" (Jer. 45: 5).  By achieving great things now, we lose them hereafter; by renouncing them now, we will achieve them then: and it is remarkable that our Lord closes His first revelation of the Thrones by exhibiting the constant crossing and re-crossing of the runners in a race - "but many shall be last that are first; and first that are last" (Matt. 19: 30).

Next, the Lord presents Himself as the embodiment, the type, the first case in the working of the new law.  "For" - as a sharp contrast embodied in Himself - "whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat?" - there is such a thing as rank, dignity, precedence: "but" - how (He asks) do you explain this? - "I" - your CHIEF, your KING, the destined HEIR to the THRONE of all thrones - "am in the midst of you AS HE THAT SERVETH" - and so till death; crownless, throneless, outcast.  And the Lord enforced the lesson, there and then, by a visible act which, whether we take it as an instruction embodied in an ever-recurring ritual, or as a parable in action done once for all, is extraordinarily illuminating.  To teach them the sublime and novel truth that the world-rulers of the future must be the servants of to-day, that self-abasement is the germ of all future greatness, "Jesus took a towel, and girded himself, and began to wash the disciples' feet" (John 13: 4).³  That is, present [humble] service regulates future rank; and the nearer to Christ in grace, the nearer to Christ in glory.

[3 If foot-washing had been maintained as a ritual - Bingham's "Antiquities" records the fact that some fifty per cent. of the sub-apostolic churches practised it - it is certain that the truth our Lord is inculcating would not have been so largely lost.]

But our Lord, setting the example for a crowd of later Scriptures, also reveals the parallel line in the double rail-track leading to the Throne.  "But" - lest you imagine from these new principles that future royalties are a fiction and a dream - "ye are they" - servants singled-out and choice - "which" - unlike Judas, and many other renegade disciples all down the ages - "have continued with me in my temptations."  The Lord lays deep in sorrow and suffering the foundations of coming greatness.  The Saviour's 'testings' - not His temptations in the wilderness, for the Apostles were not with Him then - were life-long: in His reproaches, poverties, afflictions, persecutions they had shown unswerving loyalty: in all His afflictions they were afflicted. "If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us" (2 Tim. 2: 12).  "Everyone that gets to the throne," as Mc Cheyne says, "must put his foot upon the throne: we must taste the gall if we are to taste the glory."

So then we come to the great and closing summary in answer to Peter's question - Lo, we have left all, and followed Thee: what then shall we have? "And" - Jesus says - 'and' as a consequence, as a reward: the inevitable 'and' of our Lord's fidelity to fidelity - "I appoint unto you a kingdom, EVEN AS" - for those who deny reward to disciples, must also deny reward to the Master: Christ and His followers are recompensed on identical grounds - "my Father appointed unto me a kingdom, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" - the Millennial therefore, not the Eternal; the Kingdom which the Lord ultimately gives up to the Father (1 Cor. 15: 24); "and ye" - Twelve Apostles, for your peculiar and personal allotment of honour: our Lord foresaw Matthias replacing Judas - "shall sit ON THRONES" - thrones come at last - "judging the twelve tribes of Israel." *  Supreme in service, the Apostles will be supreme in sphere.  Thus, once for all, the Lord makes manifest the conditions of Millennial Royalty, the grounds on which "I appoint unto you a Kingdom."  The Kingdom is no general inheritance of all who believe, but a special appointment to disciples tried and approved: the Lord grounds the gift prize’] not on faith, but on fidelity: even Apostles are not given it as apostles, and much less because they are among the saved; but it is appointed to them because they have loyally, courageously, unswervingly shared the ministries and sufferings of Christ. "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3: 21).

[* Few will deny that the Apostles are part of the Church (Eph. 2: 20).  Their reign over Israel's tribes, therefore, proves that the Church's Millennial destiny is earthly as well as heavenly, though more heavenly than earthly (2 Tim. 4: 8).]

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