At the end of Mark 10, Jesus continues to teach and heal and expand his ministry. The last few posts have looked at how he has dealt with his disciples’ desire to be given positions of prominence and influence in the new Kingdom that Jesus was going to bring. Jesus has placed a child in front of them on two different occasions to contrast their desire for power and authority. The first time he says whoever welcomes those like children welcomes me, and the second time he says we are to receive the Kingdom of God like little children. But the disciples still believed that Jesus was going to launch a rebellion and overthrow the government in order to establish his own Kingdom militarily and politically. They understood Jesus to be the Messiah, but their understanding of Messiah needed fixed. Jesus doesn’t leave them in their ignorance, but he continues to be patient with them and teach them. In last verses of Mark 10 we see yet again, Jesus telling his disciples the kind of Messiah he is.
Jesus tells them what he is going to do for them, but they fail to understand it completely. In Mark 10:32-34, for the third time, Jesus foretells what he will do. This time he says it will happen in Jerusalem and verse 32 says that’s exactly where they are heading. This isn’t some distant someday, Jesus tells them again about his death because it is going to happen very soon. He describes his death more graphically this time as well. He says he will be mocked, and spit upon. He will be beaten and killed. But, it also says he will rise. This goes against everything the average person believed about the Messiah, yet Jesus continues to teach that as the Messiah, he has to die and he has to rise.
The disciples still don’t understand. It’s almost as if they completely ignored what Jesus was saying about what he was going to do. As soon as Jesus tells them this, two of them, James and John, ask Jesus for a favor. Their request is borne out of a misunderstanding of Jesus’ purpose. He wasn’t going to establish an earthly rule, but since they thought he would, The Disciples’ ask Jesus to make them great. Jesus says, I’m going to die and rise, and the disciples respond by asking for positions of prominence and greatness. In Mark 10:35-45, they ask Jesus for a favor and he replies, “What do you want me to do for you?” In Verse 37 they say “When you are in your glory” in other words, “when you become our King, let us sit on your right and left”; “Let us hold the highest positions of power and prestige”. He tells them in verse 38 that they don’t even know what they are asking. Even though he has just explained it to them again, they don’t even realize that he is going to die, so what they are asking is to be killed with him. If they realized that, they certainly wouldn’t have asked it.
In verses 39-40, he asks them if they can drink the same cup and have the same baptism as him. This again is a reference to his death. They say they can, and Jesus says they will. Jesus predicts their deaths. Acts 12:2 says that King Herod put James to death by the sword – this means he was beheaded. Peter was arrested right after this but an angel set him free so he escaped death. John and James were part of the inner circle with Peter. John is not heard of in the book of Acts after chapter 8 so it is assumed he was martyred as well since he was one of the prominent 3 disciples. Jesus told them they would drink the same cup that he drank, and in the book of Acts we see they were killed because they proclaimed Jesus as the Risen Messiah.
But this is far away from Mark 10. Jesus is still teaching them what it means for him to be the Messiah. In verses 41-44, the other disciples are furious that James and John are trying to gain such status so Jesus intervenes and brings perspective. He says that the rulers of this world use their authority for their own purposes, but in the Kingdom of God this will not be the case. The greatest will be the servant and the first will be the slave. Once again, Jesus subverts our understanding of authority, power, and influence. Previously, we talked about the Rich Young Ruler who Jesus told to sell everything because he loved his wealth more than God. The Rich Ruler used his wealth for himself, Jesus says in the Kingdom of God, wealth is for serving others.
Here he says power and influence are demonstrated in humility, sacrifice, and service. Like wealth, power and influence are also to be used for others. Sometimes this is twisted into the idea of a Servant Leader. Some will say that in order to have true influence you have to serve. Jesus isn’t saying this. You don’t serve and act humbly to gain power and influence. Jesus says true power and influence are displayed in humility and service. Where is real power found? In pouring yourself out. A man named Oswald Chambers once said, “The great hindrance in spiritual life is that we will look for big things to do.” Jesus says, receive the Kingdom of God like a child. He put on a towel and washed feet. He doesn’t call us to do great things for God, he calls us to understand the mercy he extends to us as the Messiah. Any greatness achieved individually or as a church will only come from that.
Do you understand what he has done for us and how it affects every aspect of life? If you cry out for his mercy, he will respond. When we understand that mercy it will be translated into a life of humility and service that is powerful enough to change lives, and families, and communities, and even countries. But all of that is secondary. The place we begin, is rightly understanding our Messiah in the way he reveals himself in the Bible, not in any popular misconceptions or personal preferences.
In verse 45, Jesus says one of the greatest statements in the Gospel: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He expressed his power, authority and influence in sacrifice and service. Jesus leveraged his position to gain eternal life for us. Although he is the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, when he walked on earth he didn’t demand service or submission even though they were rightly due to him. Instead, he served and submitted even to the point of dying as a ransom for us. We typically think of “ransom” in terms of kidnapping, but its more appropriately understood in the Bible in reference to prisoners or slaves. Jesus paid the price of our slavery so we could be set free. Jesus paid the price of our penalty so we could be released. In his death, he rescues us from the penalty of our sin and the slavery to our sinfulness. So when James and John ask Jesus for a favor in verse 36 and Jesus says, “What do you want me to do?” they reply by saying “Make us great!” And Jesus says, you don’t know what you are asking. Ratherthan doing what you ask me to do, I’ll do what you need me to do. Jesus died for James and John and for us, to pay our ransom. James and John eventually come to understand properly Jesus as Messiah and he makes them great through martyrdom as James is beheaded and John is never heard from again after a trip to visit another disciple who was preaching the Gospel. In asking Jesus to make them great, they showed they didn’t understand what Jesus was going to do.
Our church is small, we don’t have much influence in our town, and we are praying for God to grow the church and make us great. But when we pray for this, let us fully understand what we are asking. We’ll be made great by sacrifice, service, selflessness, and humility, not through power and influence. This has very little to do with the size or span of our ministry and everything to do with knowing Jesus.
As Jesus and his disciples continue on toward Jerusalem where all of this is going to happen, they go through Jericho. Here, Jesus has someone else ask him for a favor in Mark 10:46-52. This man asks Jesus for a favor to, but this favor is quite different from the one for which the disciples asked. Rather than asking to be made great, this man is asking to be shown mercy.
When he calls out to Jesus, he says calls him “Son of David”. Whether or not the man fully understood what he was saying, the title certainly has Messianic qualities to it. He recognized Jesus’ authority by equating him with David. Instead of asking to be made great, he confesses Jesus’ greatness and asks for mercy. Hearing his cry for mercy, Jesus stops in verse 49. Remember that Jesus is the True King who shows compassion for his people, so even though many people told this guy to be quiet, Jesus hears him. In verse 52, he replies with the same question as in verse 36, “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John wanted power and authority, Bartimaeus wants Mercy.
What do you want me to do? Display your Mercy and make me whole!
The Rich Ruler from verses 17-31 wanted to keep doing his things his own way and also get eternal life. He had everything this world offers and he refused to give it up. Bartimaeus had nothing and he is given everything. Verse 52 says he recovered his sight and followed Jesus. He was a blind beggar, but now he is a friend of the King. The disciples asked to be made great, and Jesus tells them their greatness won’t come in this life. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus asks for mercy and sight, and Jesus gives it to him out of his great compassion. To both his disciples and this beggar, Jesus replies, “What do you want me to do for you?”
What do you want Jesus to do for you? Do you want Jesus to give you the American dream and make you healthy, wealthy, and wise? Do you want everything this world offers and eternal life and a place of authority in the Kingdom? The Rich Ruler, the Disciples, and the blind beggar all wanted different things and Jesus offered them all only one thing: Himself. Are you content with him and the mercy he gives? Do you want Jesus, or only the blessings and prosperity you believe he can give you? Jesus’ compassion is directed toward me and you. His greatest display of his mercy is forgiving people like us and restoring people like us. He is glorified in taking people who have been broken by sin and restoring them. What will Jesus do for you? He will forgive you based on the work he accomplished on the cross. He will make you the person you were created to be and that process will begin now and be completed at the resurrection.
Look at what he has done for you already! Mercy, forgiveness, provision, love, purpose. Who we are and what we have are for his glory and his Kingdom not our own. Be careful of the temptation of thinking of Jesus as existing for our prosperity and pleasure. We exist for his glory and his pleasure. When we live for that end, our lives find their full and true purpose and we experience the peace and joy that comes with it.