Our world is fast becoming a madhouse, and the inmates are trying to run the asylum. It is a strange time when the patients are writing the prescriptions, the students are threatening to run the schools, the children to manage the homes, and church members—not the Holy Spirit—to direct the churches
The descriptive phrase has long caught my attention: Sons of Thunder. It is the signature title given to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, two of Jesus’ apostles.
They were in the fishing business so they knew what it meant to work long hours. They were able to stay up late, concentrate on a given task, and certainly usually had dirty hands.
They were quick to follow our Lord when He called them. They were among the inner three (along with Peter), And they were faithful to their calling, dying for the cause of Christ after denying self and living for him in their life.
They revealed their ambition and were taught a valuable lesson following a request likely presented on their behalf by their loving and devoted mother (Matthew 20:17-28): “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
The incident recorded in this section happened while Jesus and His disciples were going up to Jerusalem for the last time, journeying via Jericho, from Ephraim in the wilderness.
The ambitious request for the chief places of honor in the kingdom was therefore made little more than a week before their Lord was crucified. How little must they have dreamed what was coming!
Jesus spoke about a cross, but they were interested in a crown. They wanted reserved seats on special thrones! There were several things wrong with their request. To begin with, it was born in ignorance. “Ye know not what ye ask,” Jesus replied. Little did Salome realize that the path to the throne is a difficult one. James was the first of the disciples to be martyred, and John had to endure hard days on the Isle of Patmos. These three believers wanted their will, not God’s will, and they wanted it their way.
Another factor was their lack of heavenly direction. They were thinking like the world: James and John wanted to “lord it over” the other disciples the way the unsaved Gentile rulers lorded it over their subjects. Their request was fleshly (sensual), because they were selfishly asking for glory for themselves, not for the Lord. No doubt they felt relieved that they had gotten to Jesus with this request before Peter did!
Finally, the request was not only of the world and the flesh, but it was of the devil. It was motivated by pride. Satan had sought a throne (Isa. 14:12-15) and had been cast down. Satan had offered Jesus a throne and had been refused (Matt. 4:8-11).
Satan magnifies the end (a throne) but not the means to that end. Jesus warned Salome and her sons that the special thrones were available to those who were worthy of them. There are no shortcuts in the kingdom of God.
The result of this request was “indignation” on the part of the other disciples—probably because they had not thought of it first! The wisdom from above always leads to peace; the wisdom of this world leads to war (James 3:13-4:3). Selfishness will only result in dissension and division.
This disagreement gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a practical lesson on leadership. In His kingdom, we must not follow the examples of the world. Our example is Jesus, not some corporation president or wealthy celebrity. Jesus came as a servant; therefore, we should serve one another. He came to give His life; therefore, we should give our lives in service to Him and others.
William Barclay offers a three-fold observation. It sheds light in three directions. First, it sheds a light on the disciples. It tells us three things about them. It tells us of their ambition. They were still thinking in terms of personal reward and personal distinction; and they were thinking of personal success without personal sacrifice. They wanted Jesus with a royal command to ensure for them a princely life. Every man has to learn that true greatness lies, not in dominance, but in service; and that in every sphere the price of greatness must be paid.
That is on the debit side of the account of the disciples; but there is much on the credit side. There is no incident which so demonstrates their invincible faith in Jesus. Think of when this request was made. It was made after a series of announcements by Jesus that ahead of him lay an inescapable Cross; it was made at a moment when the air was heavy with the atmosphere of tragedy and the sense of foreboding. And yet in spite of that the disciples are thinking of a Kingdom.
It is of immense significance to see that, even in a world in which the dark was coming down, the disciples would not abandon the conviction that the victory belonged to Jesus. In Christianity there must always be this invincible optimism in the moment when things are conspiring to drive a man to despair.
Still further, here is demonstrated the unshakable loyalty of the disciples. Even when they were bluntly told that there lay ahead a bitter cup, it never struck them to turn back; they were determined to drink it. If to conquer with Christ meant to suffer with Christ, they were perfectly willing to face that suffering.
It is easy to condemn the disciples, but the faith and the loyalty which lay behind the ambition must never be forgotten.
Out in the world, said Jesus, it is quite true that the great man is the man who controls others; the man to whose word of command others must leap; the man who with a wave of his hand can have his slightest need supplied. Out in the world there was the Roman governor with his retinue and the eastern potentate with his slaves. The world counts them great. But among my followers service alone is the badge of greatness.
Greatness does not consist in commanding others to do things for you; it consists in doing things for others; and the greater the service, the greater the honor. Jesus uses a kind of gradation. “If you wish to be great,” he says, “be a servant; if you wish to be first of all be a slave.” Here is the Christian revolution; here is the complete reversal of all the world’s standards. A complete new set of values has been brought into life.
The strange thing is that instinctively the world itself has accepted these standards. The world knows quite well that a good man is a man who serves his fellow-men. The world will respect, and admire, and sometimes fear, the man of power; but it will love the man of love. The doctor who will come out at any time of the day or night to serve and save his patients; the parson who is always on the road amongst his people; the employer who takes an active interest in the lives and troubles of his employees; the person to whom we can go and never be made to feel a nuisance-these are the people whom all men love, and in whom instinctively they see Jesus Christ.
John Fletcher recounted a situation worthy of our consideration, teaching an obvious lesson: One day having offended his father who threatened to correct him, he did not dare to come into his presence but retired into the garden. When he saw him coming toward him, he ran away with all speed. But he was presently struck with deep remorse, and said to himself: “What! Do I run away from my father? Perhaps I shall live to have a son that will run away from me!” And it was several years before the impression which he then received was worn off.
You may have read about the Ohio college graduate who placed a contraceptive on his mortar board as he went forward to get his degree – and had a stuffed parrot on his shoulder.
Now I know a lot of people get a kick out of graduation. But the following Monday this graduate was to report to the Great American Insurance Company in Cincinnati for a $35,000-a-year job as an internal auditor. The following Monday he was summoned to the office and fired for showing “a total disrespect for authority.” Out of control. 
When Toyohiko Kagawa first came into contact with Christ-ianity, he felt its fascination, until one day the cry burst from him: “O God, make me like Christ.” To be like Christ he went to live in the slums, even though he himself was suffering from tuberculosis. It seemed the last place on earth to which a man in his condition should have gone.
Cecil Northcott in Famous Life Decisions tells of what Kagawa did. He went to live in a six foot by six hut in a Tokyo slum. “On his first night he was asked to share his bed with a man suffering from contagious itch. That was a test of his faith. Would he go back on his point of no return? No. He welcomed his bed-fellow. Then a beggar asked for his shirt and got it. Next day he was back for Kagawa’s coat and trousers, and got them too. Kagawa was left standing in a ragged old kimono. The slum dwellers of Tokyo laughed at him, but they came to respect him. He stood in the driving rain to preach, coughing all the time. ‘God is love,’ he shouted. ‘God is love. Where love is, there is God.’ He often fell down exhausted, and the rough men of the slums carried him gently back to his hut.”
Kagawa himself wrote: “God dwells among the lowliest of men. He sits on the dust heap among the prison convicts. He stands with the juvenile delinquents. He is there with the beggars. He is among the sick, he stands with the unemployed. Therefore let him who would meet God visit the prison cell before going to the temple. Before he goes to Church let him visit the hospital. Before he reads his Bible let him help the beggar.”
Therein is greatness. The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant. His assessment is quite simply-how many people has he helped? 
Colin Urquhart understood that if you accept the authority of Jesus in your life, then you accept the authority of his words.
Self-chosen authority is an impertinence. Jesus said that the great ones in this world exercise authority but that in his kingdom it is not so; no one exercises authority over another because in his kingdom the king is servant of all. If a saint tries to exercise authority, it is a proof that he is not rightly related to Jesus Christ. 
 Warren Wiersbe, Be Series…Matthew.
 Ben Haden, Changed Lives
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew.
 Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)