by Ray Stedman,
introduced by Jim Denney
from Ray Stedman on Leadership,
new from Discovery House Publishers
Ray Stedman was the pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, for four decades, from 1950 until his retirement in 1990. I began working as Ray’s writing partner in 1992, the final year of his life. He was a faithful expositor of the Scriptures and a leader of character and integrity. For more than twenty-five years, I’ve been privileged to work with transcripts and recordings of his sermons, helping to turn them into books with the help and blessing of Ray’s widow, Elaine Stedman. As we approach Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, I thought it would be helpful and inspiring to read Ray’s thoughts on the days just prior to the death of the greatest Leader who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth. Here’s an excerpt:
“Death of a Leader,” adapted from Ray Stedman on Leadership
In Mark 10, Jesus and His disciples were on the road to Jerusalem, and Jesus began talking to them about death — His own fast-approaching death. They are moving into the final week before the cross. Jesus clearly foresaw all that it would entail, and he was determined to face what was to come:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)
Once again, Jesus told the disciples that He was about to suffer and die — and this time, He provided more details. And again, He also promised His resurrection after three days.
It’s significant that Jesus went in the lead, alone, with no one at His side. His band of disciples walked along behind him — and behind them was the multitude who always waited upon His teaching. Mark tells us that those who followed Jesus “were afraid.” Both the disciples and the crowd felt a sense of approaching crisis.
In this prediction of His death, He included details He had never revealed before: the chief priests and teachers of the law were going to hand Him over to the Gentiles. The Roman oppressors were going to mock him, spit on Him, flog Him, and execute Him. How did Jesus know what was going to happen? He knew the Scriptures — passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 that predicted the suffering and death of the Messiah.
But even after Jesus told them plainly about His death, the disciples didn’t understand — or didn’t want to understand — what awaited Him. They didn’t understand the Old Testament passages about the suffering Messiah. They still expected Jesus to be the triumphant Messiah. With the benefit of hindsight, we understand that the Messiah had to go through the suffering of the cross before He could come into His glory. Because of their lack of understanding, two disciples stepped forward and boldly asked a favor of Jesus:
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:35-37).
Though Jesus spoke of His coming death, James and John were focused on His eventual glory. They asked that Jesus give them each a place at His side. Many Bible teachers have criticized the sons of Zebedee for this request, but I don’t believe they were wrong to ask. Jesus gave them every reason to make this request.
Matthew records an earlier conversation Jesus had with the Twelve, when He said, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). By faith, James and John believed that twelve thrones awaited them.
They didn’t ask for anything wrong. Jesus said to them that what they wanted was right, but they were going about it the wrong way:
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared” (Mark 10:38-40).
He said, in effect, “You are asking for a good thing, but you are asking in ignorance. You don’t know what you will have to go through to sit next to Me in glory.” Jesus knew the price and was ready to pay it. James and John thought they knew the price, but they had no idea what lay before them.
Jesus spoke of the cup He would drink and the baptism He would undergo. He would speak of this same cup in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
The cup spoke of the entire spectrum of events that would soon engulf Him — the violent suffering, the emotional and spiritual agony, the rejection, the mocking and scourging, and ultimately death on the cross. Baptism was a common image in Israelite culture; when the Israelites left Egypt they were “baptized into Moses” in the Red Sea (see 1 Corinthians 10:2). The sea opened up, the people walked between walls of water, and they were surrounded by the sea. It was a symbolic picture of passing through death and rising in resurrection.
The Lord said to James and John, in effect, “This is the price of glory. Are you able to pay it?” In their human over-confidence, they said, “We can.”
What did Jesus mean when he said that James and John would “drink the cup I drink”? He was saying that they would suffer the reproach and anguish of martyrdom. History records that James was the first of the apostles to be martyred (he was beheaded by Herod, as recorded in Acts 22). John was the last of the apostles to die. These two brothers form a “parenthesis of martyrdom.” All the other apostles were martyred for their faith between these two brothers.
History doesn’t tell us how John died. We do know he was exiled to the island of Patmos because of his testimony for the Lord Jesus. There he suffered for the Lord’s sake, and also received the vision that forms the Book of Revelation.
Leadership is the art of accomplishing great things through other people. Jesus started with twelve ordinary men, and through His leadership, He transformed them into the foundation for a global spiritual movement, the church. He taught them and poured His life into them. With the lone exception of Judas the traitor, they all became leaders, living as He lived, teaching as He taught, leading as He led — and finally, dying as He died.
“I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” —Philippians 3:10-11
Note from Jim Denney: While working on Ray Stedman on Leadership, I spent many rewarding hours reading Ray’s other books—Body Life, Adventuring Through the Bible, God’s Unfinished Book, Psalms: Folk Songs of Faith, and more. From them, I distilled Ray’s most practical and penetrating leadership wisdom into forty daily readings. Each entry is followed by a set of discussion and reflection questions, making this an ideal study book for a church board or committee, home Bible study, adult Sunday school class, Christian business, mission team, or any other setting where biblical leadership plays a key role.