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The Son of Man Came to Serve

Date: Jan. 5, 2020

Author: Michael Mark

Mark 10:32-45

Key Verse: Mark 10:45

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “minister?”  What is a minister?  Typically people think of a pastor or a member of a clergy in a church, which is the top definition of the word.  The second definition is a head of a government department, for example, you may have heard of the term “Prime Minister.”  The word minister comes from Latin, and it means servant.  The root of the word is “mini,” which means small, so the word minister referred to a lowly, inferior servant.  Despite that, when we think of someone like a Prime Minister, they are some of the most powerful people of a nation.  We call government officials “public servants,” and that is what they should be.  They are given a good measure of power and authority, but they are to use that in the best interests of the country they represent.  The title of Prime Minister as we understand it today didn’t come into use until the 18th century, but now most of the countries in the world designate their head of government as “Prime Minister.”  This echoes a truth going all the way back to the teachings of Jesus, that those greatest among us should be our servants – not in an inferior sense, but in a helpful sense, and Jesus himself will show that he is the greatest Master, the greatest Lord, the greatest King of all, because he was the greatest servant of all.

We are coming back to the book of Mark after a 7 week Thanksgiving/Advent/New Year break, and we are following Jesus on his last journey to Jerusalem where he will complete his work here on earth and establish his eternal kingdom.  We are on the last leg of this journey, where Jesus is in the region of Judea, but not yet at Jerusalem.  In our last study of Mark, we learned about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, and Jesus taught this recurring theme: Many who are first will be last, and the last first, meaning, those who are first in this world, in money or status, will be last, and the last, those like the disciples, without much wealth or rank, will be first in the life to come.  The values in the kingdom of God are unlike those of this world, and virtues such as humility, childlike faith and service characterize those who are of that kingdom.

Let’s continue now where we left off.  Look at v.32, “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.”  Jesus was a man on a mission.  See again in v.32 how Jesus led the way.  Picture this: there were three groups of people here on the road.  The first is Jesus, who is alone by himself, leading the way.  His heart was dead set on going to Jerusalem, and his face set like a stone determined at all costs to reach his destination.  Then, a second group consisted of the Twelve disciples, who were astonished.  Jesus was like a horse on its way, mobilized and emboldened.  The disciples hearts must have grown anxious with anticipation.  Is the kingdom about to come near?  Will they see Jesus soon in all his glory with the angels, as he taught on the way in Mark 8:38?  Then there was the third group, not the Twelve, but likely other disciples of Jesus who followed.  They were afraid.  There was something stirring, something different in the air, and their spider tingles/spider senses/senses were signaling danger the closer they approached Jerusalem.  Why was their master so determined, despite the danger? 

Jesus broke the silence, and the tension in the air, at least with his Twelve disciples.  He took them aside and told them what was going to happen to him.  Perhaps he knew their anticipation, their minds both afraid and excited, perhaps he knew they did not fully understand what must happen first before the advent of the glorious kingdom.  Before they fill their heads with lofty dreams of majesty and grandeur, Jesus stopped for a reality checkpoint.  Look at v.33, “’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 flog him and kill him.  Three days later he will rise.’” 

This was the third time Jesus predicted his death, and this time in much more stunning detail.  The first two times he mentioned that he will be rejected and killed, and here we see that he will be handed over to the Gentiles, which completes the rejection of the Messiah.  His own people did not want their Messiah, and cast him out of their nation.  The Gentiles will then proceed to mock him, flog him and kill him, adding insult and shame to injury, and finally death.  But he also never failed to tell them that after three days, he will rise again.  Could you imagine being Jesus?  Let’s say your whole extended family is in Springfield, IL, and you are going there, knowing full well they will reject you and kick you out of the city.  Then the state police will mock you, flog you and kill you in the most humiliating and painful way possible.  Would you go?  But for the joy set before him, his kingdom, and his rising again, he would go and endure the cross, scorning its shame.  The Son of Man was on a mission.

How much of this would his disciples understand this third clear and plain prediction of his death?  Let’s take a look starting at v.35, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him, ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’”  Wow, what a bold request!  Who was Lord and Master here?  They didn’t even ask, “Can you kindly consider our request?”  No, it was more like a demand, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  And what is whatever?  It’s anything.  They were asking Jesus for a blank check.  Jesus, ever the servant, asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  This seems like a gracious reply, but also a strong one.  It might seem scary for James and John, known as the Sons of Thunder, come privately to Jesus and make a demand.  Matthew tells us that even their mother got involved.  But Jesus wasn’t scared.  He asked them now to be more specific and reveal what they wanted.

Look at v.37, “They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’”  James and John were asking Jesus to give them the two highest places in the kingdom after Jesus.  They were trying to secure for themselves seats that would put them above everyone else, and they were maneuvering quickly and secretly to get past all of the other disciples.  They were acting out of self interest and selfish motives.  What made them think they could come to Jesus with such a request?  Perhaps they figured they could ask because they were a part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, even among the Twelve – only three were chosen to go up with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and that included Peter, James and John.  But what this also reveals is the depth of their bondage to sin and their inability to break free from it. 

This was the third time Jesus plainly spoke of his death, and they still did not understand.  Remember, after the second time Jesus predicted his death, the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest.  Jesus corrected them, saying, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  He taught the same thing in the lesson of the rich man.  Still they did not get it, and this time, two of the top disciples skipped all argumentation, went directly to Jesus and demanded to top spots.  What didn’t they understand about Jesus’ death?  They might have thought that he was just exaggerating about being killed, or thought that somehow he might disappear for three days, like going to heaven, and then come back down with his angels.  Their sinful hearts full of greed and selfish ambition blinded them to the truth and gravity of Jesus’ mission.  Instead of showing any concern for the sufferings of their Teacher or giving any thought to the gravity of his words, their minds were puffed up and filled with notions of glory, power and grandeur.  When Jesus spoke about his death, they said give us whatever we ask.

If you were Jesus, wouldn’t you be totally offended?  If you had unlimited power, what would you do to someone who said that to you?  It’s surprising that Jesus’ godly blood didn’t boil, you would think – but see here how Jesus bears with our weaknesses and selfishness with immeasurable gentleness and patience.  Jesus tenderly guides them into the truth.  Look at v.38, “’You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus replied, ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’”  There’s the truth.  The disciples did not know what they are asking.  They thought they could zipline to glory, but there is only one path to glory and that is through the same cup and baptism Jesus would go through.  This is part of the work Jesus came to do – to drink the cup God would give him, and to undergo the baptism.  Often in the Bible the cup is depicted as God’s wrath.  Ps 75:8 says “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.”  Jesus would drink this cup for us, but for us to drink it, to share in it, is not to experience God’s wrath, but to know and endure suffering because of sin, whether ours or others.  Baptism referred to being dipped into a cold water or stream, and in the Psalms and Old Testament the idea of being in distress and suffering was to be lost deep into the ocean, like Jonah being hurled into the sea.  Both the cup and the baptism refer to Jesus’ suffering.

James and John, still not fully comprehending, answered Jesus, “We can.”  They would have understood the cup and baptism meant suffering, but their selfish ambition made them ignorant of the true depth of the suffering, or overconfident that they could handle it.  When I was a kid, I used to think I was invincible, and that I could withstand anything, so one day I jumped from the end of a second floor ledge directly to the first floor, about a 15 foot (5 meter) height, and let me just say my knees have not been the same ever since.  Now Jesus did not say they were wrong.  In fact he said in v.39, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.”  It did turn out after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the establishment of the church, that James would be the first apostolic martyr.  He was put to death by the sword by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2).  John was never killed but suffered his whole life under persecution, and was one time boiled in oil (deep fried) and survived.  So they did eventually take the same cup and baptism as Jesus, but the final word was in v.40, “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.”  Matthew tells us God the Father was the final authority on this, and Jesus submitted to his Father’s will.

Jesus denied their request, and in v.41, “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.”  This reveals that every single one of the disciples had the same selfish ambition to be the first over one another.  Not one of them was satisfied when James and John’s request was denied, but there arose anger, jealousy, envy and strife.  This is the foolishness of selfish ambition – it does not consider the other, only the self, and it causes fighting, division and disunity.  James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  and in James 4:1 - “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”  If any one of them were truly humble, and willing to offer that top seat to any other, they would be satisfied and relieved that James and John were denied and humbled.  Let God have that final word according to his will and good pleasure, and be happy with that and whoever he chooses.  But none were satisfied because they all wanted those top spots.

Selfishness and envy threatened to break up the band of disciples who had followed Jesus up to this point.  Jesus sensed the problem and took action to resolve it.  Look at v.42, “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.’”  The proper exercise of authority is to wield it to serve the public, providing services, infrastructure and security to enable a people to prosper, but more often than not rulers abuse their power, and that is what Jesus is talking about.  Their aim is not to serve, but to be served.  We learned about how Herod the Great ordered the execution of all boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2 when he became paranoid about Jesus’ birth.  Herod Agrippa I saw that killing James and persecution Christians made him popular, so he sought to lay his hands on Peter too.  In modern times, we see these in our governors.  In Illinois, 3 of the last 8 governors went to prison for corruption.  There are numerous other examples of despots and tyrants all over the world and throughout history, even today.  They abuse the authority they have been given for their own personal gain.  The disciples were competing for the same positions of authority under the same principles of the flesh – it was for their own glory and interests, because Jesus had to teach them again the true principles of greatness and public service.

Look at v. 43-44, “Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”  Jesus said, “Not so with you.”  This was a gentle rebuke and correction.  They were not to be like the rulers of this world.  Then he reiterated that which he taught several times, the path to greatness is through serving others, to look out for the interests of others above your own.  He even goes a step farther and says that the one in first place is a slave of all.  There are no shortcuts to glory, to get there we have to follow the same path Jesus did.  He doesn’t just tell us to take the path of service, but he walked it himself.

Can we all please read v.45, the key verse: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  What a beautiful statement!  All of Jesus’ teaching on suffering, humility and serving come down to this.  This is considered a key verse in Mark’s gospel, and exemplifies our theme – the “Man of Action.”  This is the greatest claim Jesus makes about himself and his ministry, and this is the meaning of his life, his mission and his death – to give his life as a ransom for many.  A ransom is a price paid for the liberation of a captive or prisoner.  Like if someone was kidnapped, or taken prisoner – the ransom would be the purchase to free the individual.  Jesus willingly laid down his life – he gave it as a ransom to buy our freedom.  We were in bondage to sin, and could not escape.  We saw that even those closest to Jesus, his Twelve disciples, were trapped in sin which often revealed itself in their selfishness and lack of understanding.  Jesus came to drink the bitter cup of wrath for us down to its dregs, and was baptized, plunged into the coldest deepest most violent waters, to bear our suffering and guilt, and to die in our place for our sin.  We were the ones held captive by sin and death, but Jesus offered himself to set us free.  That is the meaning of the ransom sacrifice.  2 Cor 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Many are saved – such is the power and worth of his precious blood.  A ransom is usually one for one, one life in exchange for another.  Perhaps someone of greater worth, say, an army general or a vice president, might be taken as ransom for multiple people, like 5 or 10 people.  But Jesus’ blood is worthy enough to ransom all who believe in Him without limit, and everyone who put their faith in Jesus will be saved.

When Jesus came to serve, he really came to serve.  He did not just come for one week, die for us, and then ascend to heaven.  No, He who was there at the foundations of the earth, He who was with God from eternity past, He was shared equally in God’s glory and majesty reigning over the heaven, set aside his glory for a time being, and came to earth being born in the flesh as a baby boy.  He came to serve for a full life sentence, 33 years, dwelling among us.  He experienced our weaknesses and our temptations.  He bore with us, patiently teaching us, and loved without fail to the very end.  How could he be so tender, gentle and patient with his own disciples who seemed to never understand what he was teaching them?  Because he saw how they were enslaved to sin and he had compassion, and the very reason he was here was to set them free.  And what a joy it brought to his heart to know that one day, because of what he has done, they would truly be free.

Jesus continues to serve, as he has risen from the dead, just as he said, and has ascended to the right hand of God.  He lives forever to make intercession for us, and he prays unceasingly for you and me.  Jesus knows you.  He loves you.  He is God.  When he prayed for his disciples in John 17, he also prayed for all believers.  He said, “My prayer is not for [my disciples] alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20)”  Jesus came to serve in order to set us free, so how shall we live?  Paul tells us in Gal 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”  The greatest public servants knew this principle of service.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, considered one of the top 3 presidents of the United States, said, “Our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”  President John F. Kennedy said this famous quote remembered through the years: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  And our Lord Jesus Christ, our King, worthy of all glory, honor and praise because he gave his life to serve, gave us this example: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”  (John 13:14).  What he means is, in a spirit of love and humility, let us seek to serve and do good to one another, just as he came to serve and do good to us.  This is practice as we will one day be able to love and serve each other perfectly in love forever in the kingdom of God.

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