Jesus has been teaching quite a bit to the disciples about humility. He has already told them that He will suffer and die and that they too must pick up their cross (Matt 16:21-25). He also told them that the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven is to become as a little child (Matt 18:1-1-4).
But their ambition for a place in the kingdom is aggressive. They are struggling to see past all the royal promises and rewards that they hope to gain from following Jesus (Matt 19:27).
Right after informing them again that He is going to be betrayed, condemned, mocked, scourged, and crucified, two of his closest disciples, James and John, get their mother to ask Jesus if they can be on His right and His left in the kingdom (Matt 20:1-21)! The more Jesus talks about the cross, the more they want to focus on the crown.
Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they are asking. To be great in His kingdom, they must go through similar things to what Jesus will go through – the baptism of the cross (v.22). Also, greatness is not about gaining something, it is about simply serving and trusting the Lord to reward (v.23).
James and John were not the only ones clamouring for greatness. The others wanted it as well, they just didn’t have the audacity to get their mother to ask for it! That’s why they were so angry in v.24.
I see the same desire for greatness in my own heart and life. I feel the pull to expect something big for anything I’ve done for Jesus. I am convicted by my own aggressive ambition, and I know that I need to die to all of that and just live to serve Jesus. If He, the Son of God came to minister and to give His life a ransom for many (v.24-28), then I too need to take the form of a servant and give my life to serve and bless others as well.