Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
When we began our series of sermons on the Gospel of Mark, I told you the story of Dr. E.V. Rieu.
He was a gifted translator who was asked to do a modern translation of the four Gospels from Greek into English. He was not a believer when he began the work, but his son was a minister in the Anglican Church and when he found out what his father was about to do, he said, “It will be very interesting to see what Father makes of the Gospels. It’ll be still more interesting to see what the Gospels make of Father.” And in less than a year, having come, as it were, face to face with Jesus in the Gospels, Dr. Rieu was convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be.
And so, I asked a series of questions as I began that first sermon: How will Mark’s Gospel affect us?
How will it affect what we believe about Jesus?
How will it affect what we know about ourselves?
How will it influence our behaviour?
And my summary prayer then was that Mark’s Gospel would cause each one of us to be better servants of Jesus Christ than we are now.
And I chose that prayer request largely because of the last verse of our passage today. MARK 10:45 says, “For the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” And it is a verse that many have called the hinge of Mark’s Gospel. The three years of Jesus’ public ministry is drawing to a close. He is about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested and tried and murdered. But before that happens, we get this verse that summarizes all He has been teaching and doing in the chapters before and introduces what He will do in the chapters that follow.
So against the background of this conversation between Jesus and His disciples, we want to consider WHAT THE SERVICE OF THE SON OF MAN MEANS FOR US AS HIS DISCIPLES.
And we see this in the four main movements of this passage as we read about four S’s – His SACRIFICE, their SELFISHNESS, His SUBMISSION, and everyone’s SERVICE.
So first of all, from vv32-34, we read of His SACRIFICE.
1. Jesus is once again on the road with His disciples; they are travelling to Jerusalem. And probably the fact that Jesus was leading the way or something about His general demeanour led those with Him to be either astonished or afraid.
2. So Jesus takes the 12 disciples aside and tells them, for the third time, what will soon happen to Him. In 8:31 and 9:31 He has spoken just as plainly. But here He is specific about the physical torments that He will have to endure and the role of the Gentiles in His death.
a. But just as we saw with His first two declarations, the DISCIPLES DO NOT UNDERSTAND what He is telling them. We are told this in the parallel account in Luke 18. After the first, Peter straight away rebuked Jesus for what He had said. After the second, we were told that “the disciples did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it.” And now, from Luke 18, “The disciples did not understand any of this.”
i. And perhaps you wonder why they didn’t understand? I mean, what Jesus says is not complex; it’s not a parable; it’s not a metaphor; He is just stating, in plain language, what will happen to Him in Jerusalem. Why didn’t they get it?
ii. Well, again, listen to what we read in the parallel account in Luke 18, “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what He was talking about.”
A. A few weeks ago we considered the two people on the Road to Emmaus who were kept from recognizing Jesus by the Holy Spirit, until it was time for them to recognize Him. And here the disciples, also, have, as it were, the Holy Spirit’s fingers in their ears. It is not yet time for them to understand what Jesus is saying. That time will come after Jesus has risen. Then the Holy Spirit will ‘remove His fingers’ and ‘switch on the light-bulb’ of understanding.
B. And this is a reminder to each of us that when we are discussing spiritual things with someone, we should be at prayer that the Holy Spirit will give them understanding.
3. But before we move on to consider the selfishness of James and John, note the opening words of v32, “They were on their way up to Jerusalem,” and the opening words of v33, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” For these words should ring an OT bell in our ears!
a. Way back in EXODUS 34 we read these words, “Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.” So the people of Israel would go to the temple in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost (or Weeks), and the Feast of Tabernacles.
i. And Mk. 14:1 tells us that Passover time was drawing close. So Jesus and the disciples are part of the crowd that are “on their way up to Jerusalem.”
ii. And perhaps you have heard before that it was traditional for the people of Israel to sing the so-called PSALMS OF ASCENTS as they made their way to Jerusalem (120-134). Well, we don’t have time to run through each of those Psalms in detail now, but I want to encourage you, perhaps after lunch or this afternoon, privately or with others, to look at Psalms 120-134 and to think of them as the songs Jesus sung as He approached Jerusalem knowing He would die there.
A. And you will see two things, especially:
1) First, how agonizing this time would have been for Him. That He could lead the way knowing that soon He would be betrayed by one of the Twelve, handed over, mocked, spat on, flogged and crucified, not for His own sins, but for yours and mine, speaks volumes about His love for His people.
2) But secondly, you will see how much comfort those Psalms must have been to Him as they speak, for example, of the help that comes from the Lord who watches over the life of His people.
b. But having commanded the men of Israel to appear before the Lord, three times a year, God said, “From what you have, TAKE AN OFFERING FOR THE LORD.” “No one should appear before me empty-handed.” And so, the people of Israel would come to Jerusalem with an offering. And what we read of in vv33-34 is Jesus describing the offering that He brings – Himself. He comes to Jerusalem to offer Himself to the Father as the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin. His body will be broken and His blood will be poured out for the complete forgiveness of all our sins.
Well, to juxtapose is to place two contrasting things side by side. And we see a supreme example of this now as having read about Jesus’ sacrifice, we immediately read next of James’ and John’s SELFISHNESS in vv35-37, as they ask for the right and left seats next to Jesus in His glory.
1. And even James and John knew that what they were asking was wrong because they try and trick Jesus into agreeing to give them what they ask even before they tell Him what it is they want in v35!
a. You will remember that King Herod was so pleased by the dancing of Salome that He foolishly promised her whatever she asked for, only to hear her ask for the head of John the Baptist.
i. But Jesus is no fool. He will not write them a ‘blank cheque,’ as it were (And boys and girls, if you want to know what a blank cheque is, ask your parents or someone with grey hair! They might remember ). So J&J then ask for the right and left seats.
2. And as we think about their request, if you look back to VERSE 28, Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” And Jesus responded by telling them that anyone who left home or family for His sake and the gospels will receive a hundred times as much. But in Matthew’s account of that conversation, we are told that before promising them a hundred times what they leave behind, Jesus said this, “I tell you the truth, 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.”
a. And so, there is AN ASPECT OF LOVE AND FAITH to the request of J&J. They believe that Jesus will enter His glory and that the disciples will sit on twelve thrones. And they want to be with Him in His glory. So there is something commendable in their request.
b. But, their request for the right and left seats is nothing more than NAKED AMBITION. They want the positions of honour. J&J were cousins of the Lord Jesus, and they, together with Peter, were the three that the Lord took with Him when He raised the little girl from death and when He was transfigured. For reasons like this then, they don’t want Peter or the other 9 disciples to enjoy these seats of honour; they want them for themselves.
3. And brothers and sisters and boys and girls, a good rule of thumb when you read the Bible is that when you come across seriously bad behaviour by someone in the Bible, don’t shake your head and wonder how they could do such a thing. Instead, ask yourself how you also are guilty of the same sin.
a. One author did this in the form of a prayer. He prayed, “I am like James and John. Lord, I size up other people in terms of what they can do for me; how they can further my program, feed my ego, satisfy my needs, give me strategic advantage. I exploit people, [seemingly] for your sake, but really for my own. Lord, I turn to you to get the inside track and obtain special favours, your direction for my schemes, your power for my projects, your sanction for my ambitions, your blank cheque for whatever I want. I am like James and John.”
i. And I think we will all recognize our selves in this prayer to one degree or another. Right?
Well, the juxtapositions continue as we next read of His SUBMISSION in vv38-40.
1. The Lord Jesus uses SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE as He asks J&J if they are willing to ‘drink the cup’ and be ‘baptized.’ And both of these phrases describe doing something difficult that has to do with suffering and judgment. The phrase ‘drink the cup’ is used in this way in the Psalms and in Luke 12:50, Jesus says, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” Jesus knew that He had to drink the cup of suffering and be swept under by judgment just as He had been by the waters of His baptism. So His question to J&J is Are you prepared to suffer as I will soon suffer?
2. And with the self-confidence made up of two parts blind bravery and one part ignorance, they reply, “WE CAN.”
3. So Jesus tells them that they will indeed ‘drink the cup’ and ‘be baptized.’
a. And indeed, we know from Acts 12:2 that later James dies a martyr’s death and from Rev. 1:9 that John was banished to the Island of Patmos. So they did indeed suffer like and for Christ.
4. But we see the SUBMISSION of the Son to the Father in that He leaves the right to choose who sits where in His glory to the Father.
a. And here we deal with one of the glorious mysteries of the Trinity. For even though Jesus is co-eternal and co-majestic with the Father, as to His essential being, because He has taken to Himself a human nature, He has assumed a position lower than the Father in the economy of salvation. The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: “Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.”
i. So, though Jesus deserves all majesty and honour, He humbly chooses to submit and to leave the granting of who sits where to the Father.
5. And we have so much to learn from Him in this regard, don’t we people of God. Boys and girls, when the plate goes around with the pieces of cake, do you find it hard not to take the biggest piece or the one with the most chocolate icing on it? Well, whereas you children might just grab the biggest slice, we adults have been taught that it is impolite to do that. So instead, if the plate is going around, some of us will quickly work out which is the best piece and weigh up whether people are too busy too notice and if so, we take it. Or, if the biggest piece is near us on the plate, we are careful just to glance at the plate when it comes by and take the biggest piece so it looks like we didn’t take it on purpose. Or, if the plate is still on the table and has not been passed around yet, we offer to pass it around ourselves in the hope that others might politely not take the biggest piece so that its there for us at the end. Now, in the grand scheme of things, who gets the biggest slice of cake is relatively unimportant. But it is just one small example of the many ways that we try and advance ourselves and look after our own interests. Self-love or self-promotion or self-advancement is deeply ingrained in our nature.
a. And we see this in that when the other disciples heard J&J’s question, they were angry. And why were they angry? Were they angry because what J&J had asked for was inappropriate, do you think? No. They were angry because they wanted those seats themselves.
So lastly, Jesus shows them the way of genuine discipleship by juxtaposing the world’s way with His way as He explains that SERVICE is the attitude that best reflects who He is and what He came to do.
1. You BOYS AND GIRLS will know well the look on your parents’ faces when they are giving you the “How many times do I have to tell you this?” speech, because you have failed to do what they have asked you to do, again! Do you know the look I mean? The double tea-pot. And you ADULTS, how quickly do you get all hot under the collar over someone else’s repeated mistakes? Or does it not even need to be a repeated mistake for you to give them a blast?!
2. Well, THE LORD JESUS, three times now, has told His disciples of the agonies that He must soon endure. And after the first two times, because of what they did straight after, He had to teach them that genuine discipleship is about being selfless and serving. And now, having told them of the agonies to come this third time, what J&J straight away asked for and the reaction of the other disciples demonstrates that they haven’t yet taken His words to heart. So if ever there was a time for Jesus to give them the double tea pot and to just ‘lose His rag’ and launch into a “How many times do I have to…!” broadside, this was it.
3. But that’s not what we see is it. Once again, THE GENTLE SHEPHERD takes the sheep aside and calmly reproves them and instructs them.
a. Mahatma Ghandi once criticized Christianity with these words, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
b. And in this matter of losing our tempers, very often, Ghandi was right; we are so unlike Christ. Oh if we could just learn this gentleness and patience from the Lord Jesus. How much hurt we cause others by jumping on to our high pulpit and just letting rip.
c. And of course, what is even more noteworthy with the Lord Jesus is that in terms of these disciples, He was the sinless One, whereas you and I in our dealings with one another are fellow-sinners.
4. So Jesus POINTS HIS DISCIPLES TO THE RULERS of the Gentiles and their self-serving and heavy-handed rule.
a. And it has been the same with many rulers all through human history. They come to believe that wearing the crown or having the title means they are entitled to rule as they please, to take what they wish, and to squash anyone who opposes them.
b. We looked at injustice in our Bible studies on Wednesday evening and the saying was referred to that many of you will have heard before: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely!”
c. But Jesus say to His disciples and to all who claim to follow Him, “Not so with you.” You serve. You be the slave of all.
5. And then He provides THE ONLY THING THAT TRULY MOTIVATES SUCH SERVICE. He says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
a. And of all the titles He could have used for Himself, like King of kings and Son of God and Lord of creation and Prince of peace, which does He use? The one that is the lowliest of them all – SON OF MAN. Like you and me, He is a flesh and blood human.
i. But note that He is THE Son of man. He is THE human being – the TRUE man – the perfect Image-bearer who truly keeps God’s commandments.
b. And then, in words that will soon be demonstrated by Jesus as He washes the feet of the disciples, He basically says, I am among you as the lowest servant. Despite being, just as a man, so much more than His disciples, He will serve them rather than expect them to serve Him.
c. But after washing their feet, He will then go to the cross and give up His life blood as a ransom for many. He will pay the price that they deserve to pay so that they are set free from the devil to become children of God.
d. So if YOU claim His name, how can you seek yourself?
i. You have probably encountered that moment where two of you head for the same door and you both pause and invite the other to go through first and it becomes a bit of a “after you. No, after you. No, I insist, after you. No please, No. You go.”
ii. Well, Jesus has, as it were, lit the fire to signal the opening of the Olympics of service; He invites and commands believers to outdo each other in going low, in stooping, in serving others. And brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, it doesn’t matter where you are or who you are with at any given time of the day, the possibilities to serve are endless.
The ideal man, the Lord Jesus, came to serve and give Himself as a sacrifice. May the Spirit of God impress this deep in our hearts that we may more and more like our Lord. Amen.