We have been on a valuable journey through the Gospel of Mark on these Sunday mornings. Today we come to Mark 10:32-45 and following and we finish up what is probably the most important and wonderful verse in Mark’s Gospel which is chapter 10 verse 45.
Mark is divided very neatly into two parts; Chapters 1-8 He is asking the question, Who is Jesus? And he finishes up – He is the Messiah, the Christ. The second half of Mark we are in at the moment, He is asking the question, What has he come to do? And the conclusion, of course, is that he has come to die.
Jesus actually in Mark chapters 8, 9, and 10 says three times to the disciples that he is going to die. And every time he announces that he is going to die, there is a strange response or reaction. The first time in chapter 8 he says he is going to die – Peter says we will make sure this never happens and has to be corrected.
Then in chapter 9 when Jesus said he is going to be crucified. There is a bizarre discussion among the disciples about who is the greatest. In chapter 10 when he says here that he is also going to die, there is this shameful response from James and John who come up to ask him for special seats.
I want you to notice that Jesus is focused on his death and James and John in this section are focused on their success. There are two forces at work in the world. I cannot tell you how important this is. One is the force of men, the force of humankind, and the force of humanity which is to promote self which of course means eliminating Christ. If you don’t believe this, just watch Christmas. Just watch the absolutely wonder of Christmas is being blotted out.
Then there is another force that is going on in the world which is the force of God, the force of God’s Son who has a great passion to see people illumined, rescued, blessed, benefitted for eternity even at the cost of Jesus’ life. And if you don’t believe that, read the Bible account of Christmas.
I think it would be hard to see these two forces that are in the world. One – self-promoting and one from God – saving.
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It would be hard to see these more clearly than in the 14 verses we are looking at this morning. I want to put it in two sections. The first part I am calling Opposites in Mission and the second section Opposites in Motive.
Opposites in Mission
So opposites in Mission (verses 32-34) and here is Jesus, he is coming to the world, he is marching to Jerusalem (10:32), and he is doing so with great determination, and he is doing so with great ability. They were on their way up to Jerusalem (verse 32) with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished while those who followed were afraid. Jesus is out in front, he is not looking to escape, he is not hiding, he is not expecting the disciples to lead, he is leading himself, and he is so serious about what he is doing – it has the effect on the disciples of making them astonished. It’s like ‘what is going on?’ – ‘why is he so serious?’ – why is he so gripped?’ – why is there so much gravitas?’
And the people around are afraid. I presume because they are looking at something which just completely puzzles and bewilders them.
I have often reflected on what it would be like to watch a believer who was a beloved friend or pastor or spouse be taken out and killed for their faith. What must it be like for wife and kids to watch a Christian leader (as is happening in the world today) be martyred for their faith? As you watch a good person be led and then killed – what is it like to watch that? It must be full of grief, and here as Jesus is leading the way, he is effectively going to his funeral. They don’t understand the details, but they can feel the weight of what he is doing.
He teaches them for the third time as they say about his death – he is very clear, and he is very explicit in this third telling in chapter 10. Note the shock. He says “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed” I don’t know if you know what that title means, Son of Man? But it isn’t just the son of a man although there is a sense in which that’s a very human simple undramatic definition that Jesus is adopting for himself.
But “Son of Man” is actually from the Old Testament and has to do with a heavenly figure who has given all authority, responsibility in glory. And as Jesus borrows the title “Son of Man” for himself, it has the effect of explaining who he is to those who are listening carefully but also appearing to be quite ordinary and humble to those who are more antagonistic.
And Jesus says “The Son of Man” , the one who deserves all the honour is going to be betrayed, that’s how terrible this is. It’s also going to be the religious leaders who will eventually hand the Messiah over, they are going to hand their Messiah over to the pagans, to the Romans because of course, the Jewish people couldn’t enact the death penalty. They could say he is guilty, but they then depended on the Romans to carry it out.
So here is this double shock. You see its “The Son of Man” who is going to be betrayed and he is going to be handed over to the Gentiles. Then explains that he will be treated very shamefully and they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.
I wonder why he sets it out so explicitly and in such detail. I presume so that they won’t be shocked when it happens. They will be able to say ‘he told us’. Unfortunately, they are not listening. And it’s important for us to realise that this is something that we know very well and that is that the death of Jesus was the key to his plans even while the disciples of Jesus were not getting it at all.
Jesus planned to go to Jerusalem, and at the cross, he is going to face the consequence of our sin. And he is going to provide the consequences of his faithfulness. He is going to do an exchange at the cross, a swap and take what we deserve to offer what he deserves.
One writer has pointed out that many good men have been killed, many good men have been assassinated. You think of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King but the writer says it was not in their plan to be killed whereas it was IN THE PLAN of Jesus to be killed and his mission is to die to pay, to forgive and to save. So that’s his mission, self-sacrifice.
The polar opposite of this in the world is the mission to do away with him. And of course, these two work beautifully together. The plan of Jesus and the plan of man work together.
Today we seek to do away with Jesus more politely, more sweetly but there are parts of the world, and there are times in history where the very name of Jesus has been eradicated aggressively or violently. And I don’t think you will ever really understand yourself, your heart or the world in which you live unless you understand what you are told here in Mark chapter 10 and that is – that in the human heart is the desire to do away with Jesus. And if it is given full expression and full opportunity, it will rise so to speak, to what took place at Calvary.
This is my heart and yours. The seeds of Jesus removing sin are in my heart, and it’s only when God by his grace makes a new heart that we have a Jesus believing, Jesus following, Jesus trusting heart. And if we don’t understand this “sin concept” we will never really understand ourselves, the church or the world.
Charles Colson, author and founder of Prison Fellowship has had a number of his final articles brought together in a book called “My Final Word” because he died a couple of years ago, and he tells us in the book that he visited a Prison in Norway on one occasion and in Norway, the Justice System rejects the idea of sin and evil. People don’t do bad things, but people have bad problems. And so people are needing a cure or a help and Colson says the Prison was kind of amazing because it was set up like a laboratory with everybody in white coats.
The inmates, patients, were drugged quite considerably, and he says it was the most unresponsive group that he ever preached to. But he did his best to explain sin and salvation, and afterwards, he told a very pretty Correctional Officer came up to him to say that she had never, ever heard this before. And she said this Christian faith makes so much sense and everybody in this hospital in this Prison needs Christ if their heart is to be changed – not just medicine.
Colson goes on to say that this Officer he heard later, had been given the job of accompanying an inmate to the theatre as part of their recovery programme and that on the way either to or from the theatre, this inmate, this prisoner had killed the Correction Officer, but the Prison had no way of explaining this except that “it had been sad – it had not been a sin”.
Colson goes on to say by refusing to recognise sin we make worse; we increase the dangers of evil because we won’t hold people accountable. Of course, he says, it’s unpopular to speak of sin, but it is irresponsible to deny sin. The so-called enlightenment of 18th Century decided that we do away with God, elevate self and build utopia. Now, says Colson, because we believe people are deprived – not depraved – we remove the moral responsibility, and we are increasing social chaos.
And those, friends are the two forces at work with two different Missions. One an eradicating of Christianity, either violently or sweetly and one is the great work of God changing people and saving people going on every hour of every day of every year. Those two forces continue to work in the world. Praise God for the second.
Opposites in Motives
In verses 35-45, this is where the veil gets pulled back and we begin to see what’s in the heart of James and John or what is in the human heart. Because James and John (chapter 10 verse 35) come up and if you ask yourself the question ‘what’s going on inside their hearts?’ The answer we are told (verse 35) is they come up, and they say ‘teacher, do what we ask’ – what a nice way to begin a prayer! ‘And could we please have the seats on the left and the right to your glory?’
Aren’t you thankful that we don’t get all our prayers answered? Aren’t you thankful that we lift up our prayers to somebody who is perfect in wisdom, perfect in love, perfect in sovereignty and will sometimes say – it was good you asked, but you don’t know what you are talking about?
This is an amazing request. Notice there is no Peter in the equation. We have seen a number of times in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus takes James, John and Peter to various places like the Mount of Transfiguration. But Peter doesn’t seem to come into the plans of James and John. Notice how authentic this text obviously is because if the Gospel writers were wanting to put their case forward for being great men, then they would have put themselves in the best possible light, but here they are recording the clear, plain truth.
If Peter (who traditionally helped Mark write this Gospel) quite enjoyed putting this story in, it’s not going to be too many chapters before Peter is being told of his own denying of Jesus. So it’s a remarkable section, and I think great proof of the authenticity of the New Testament documents.
But notice especially how humiliating this is because somehow all the serious information from Jesus about him going to the cross has been forgotten and completely ignored. This is like telling a child that someone in the family has just died and having the child say “could I please have some money for an ice cream!” It’s that kind of immature response. And how incredibly lonely for Jesus that he has to work with this kind of material. But that’s the kind of material that Jesus works with as he builds his church which I think we should find very reassuring and fills us with even greater admiration for him.
Why are James and John coming and asking for the best seats? To put the best spin on it, it could be that they are thinking ‘ultimately you will rise, ultimately you will be in glory and when you are in glory could we, please have the best seats.
And it could be, to put again the best spin on it, that they are say, we would like to be near you. You know we perhaps sat near you at The Last Supper, and we would like to sit near you, or close to you – that could be the best spin you could put on this.
But given that Jesus (verse 38) says to them “You don’t know what you are asking” , it does sound if they are sneaking up to Jesus, forgetting all talk of suffering and they are thinking only of glory (that’s their word in verse 37), and they are wanting prime position.
I must say to you I was reading this and thinking, “I’m better than that”, but I am not better than that.
Am I capable of a prayer which is asking God as cleverly as I can to do things in order that I would be comfortable? Yes, I am.
Am I capable of asking God will work so that there is some steam? Yes, I am capable.
Am I capable of asking him for working so that there is recognition? Yes, I am capable, and I think you are as well.
I think we are capable of this kind of self-focused request.
The colossal irony of their request is that the glory of Jesus is about to be seen in his sacrificial death and there will be men on his left and right as he dies. There will be a criminal on one side, and there will be a criminal on the other side, and the question is whether James and John like those positions? Would they like to be with Jesus then in his glory? Or do they just want to be near him in the splendour and are not willing to be with him in the suffering?
Well, Jesus asks them “Can you drink the cup I drink?” and “Can you share the baptism that I experience?” I hope you know that THE CUP is a loaded word from the Old Testament for judgment. The Old Testament speaks (Psalm 75) of how the wicked will drink THE CUP of God’s wrath or (Isaiah 41) says ‘there will be THE CUP of God’s wrath’.
So when Jesus says he is about to ‘drink the cup’, he knows that he is about to drink the judgment of the Father on him for our sins. When he says he is about ‘to be BAPTISED’ – again this is a loaded word for being immersed or emerged or plunged or overwhelmed, and Psalm 69 speaks of ‘deep waters engulfing’, and Isaiah 43 speaks of ‘going through deep waters’. And Jesus, you see is to be plunged into the appropriate punishment for our sins. That’s what he is to be plunged into.
So his question ‘can you drink the cup and can you be baptised with my baptism?’ is designed to sober them so that they will say ‘I am terribly sorry, we don’t know what we are talking about’, ‘we are certainly not capable of that’. But they don’t. They are not thinking. They say ‘yes, we can’.
So Jesus comes back to them, and he says ‘well you will suffer, there will be a cup for you, and there will be a baptism for you. It won’t be the judgment cup, and it won’t be the judgment baptism – it will be the persecution cup and the persecution baptism because Jesus is going to take that judgment away from them, but he is not going to take away from them the role of being a disciple where they will experience the cup of persecution and trouble and the baptism of persecution and trouble.
Is it too much for us to think that Jesus actually looking even further down the track transforms baptism and cup so that they become actual blessings. The baptism being that kind of welcome and the cup being that kind of remembrance.
Is it possible that the work of Jesus is so wonderful that he will not only take away the judgment and the danger and the death but that he will leave them within the short term trouble and persecution and also great, great blessings?
Well, this is not empty talk this morning, I want to assure you.
Jesus turns the embarrassing question from James and John into a magnificent teaching moment and especially (verse 41) as the other disciples come up very annoyed at James and John because James and John got in first. And Jesus begins to teach them in these closing verses of chapter 10 that if you push for positions or seats of power or prestige, you will just be typical of secular leadership.
That’s what secular leadership does – it wants positions or seats of power and prestige. That’s why he says in verse 42 “Gentile Rulers lord it over, and love authority”. Notice incidentally (verse 42) “they are regarded as rulers”. That is slightly gentle mockery. He is saying they seem to be leaders – they are for a short time – they seem to be leaders – they appear to be rulers.
But then he says (verse 43) to the disciples “you are different because you have a new motive and your new motive is to serve not to be a star”. Again (verse 43) he doesn’t say to the disciples “I am giving you an imperative you must go out and serve – go and serve, go and serve, go and serve”. He doesn’t do that. He says “not this way with you because you are new because you have been changed”. He is speaking to them as if they had been transformed which they haven’t really been transformed at this stage. But he is speaking to them as brand new people inside his Kingdom who have a brand new spirit in their heart. Which spirit? The spirit of God is going to cause them to be serving.
I might echo this today and say to you here in North Sydney – you people – I don’t need to say to you “go and serve, go and serve, go and serve” because the new people of Jesus Christ do go and serve – that’s what’s so wonderful.
And you serve because you don’t need a throne to secure your identity or your safety. Your identity and your safety come as soon as you belong to Jesus. And therefore you can go out on a limb and serve. And Jesus himself didn’t need earthly glory because he says (verse 45) the Son of Man already has glory – he is the Son of Man. He doesn’t need our service; he doesn’t even want our service in order to achieve his atonement, he’s going to do that entirely on his own. No, he says “the Son of Man didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.
This must be I think one of the greatest New Testament sentences and if you are here this morning and you have never understood Christianity and you read Mark chapter 10 verse 45 – write it on a piece of paper and learn it off by heart – you’ve got Christianity in a nutshell – it’s an absolutely wonderful verse.
But Jesus says in this verse that he is The Son of Man, he is the heavenly King, and he’s not looking for people who will do good things in order that they will make it – he is not looking for that at all. He himself is going to do the serving and the dying and give his life as a ransom.
I think we do understand the word “ransom” today because we know of people who are kidnapped – either adults or children – and a ransom is requested. There are a whole lot of stressful movies around I think of this particular subject. But the Bible tells us that the human race is captive. It doesn’t look like it to your eyes – the human race looks wonderfully free – in so many parts of this city.
But the Bible says that the human race is captive because the humans in the city will die and they will face the judgment, and then they will be separated from God forever. But God has paid the inexpressible cost of sending his Son who has bled out his life in order that the ransom would be paid and the believer would be immediately delivered, and you would emerge from that spiritual death, and you would emerge from that judgment, and you will emerge from that separation, and you will be free.
Do you see how there are two polars which are opposite in mission?
Jesus is seeking rescue and People are looking to obliterate him.
And then there are two different polar motives, People are looking for themselves and their own promotion. Jesus is looking to serve and save even at great cost.
These two directions are running through our world, and they explain our world.
Let me just close by suggesting a few things you might take away from this because as you go from this building, these are some things you might remind yourself.
First, do you notice that although Jesus is under every single pressure, not to go ahead to Jerusalem and he could with his own power get out of it – but he goes ahead, and he walks steadily to the cross for you? I hope you will remind yourself (and I am going to try to do this as well to remind myself) that although there may be a lot of things against us, there is one in Jesus Christ who walks steadfastly to the cross for us because he is for us. And in the midst of a world that has lots of things coming against you, you want to remind yourself – picture him walking to the cross, remember him going to the cross because he is for you.
Secondly, don’t fall for those power struggles in the world which are so cunning and deceptive as though the key to life is getting great power. Jesus has shown us as he pursues service that that is really where break through and victory comes and greatness. He is now on the throne and rules forever never to be removed from his throne.
I have never seen “Games of Thrones” – I have never seen an episode of “Games of Thrones”, but it is a good slogan in this that the thrones of the world are games. I mean we respect our leaders, pray for our leaders, we respond to our leaders, but in the end, they play the game, don’t they, of just being on the throne and then being off – being on the throne and then being off.
Thirdly, remember that your ransom is today and forever. That God through Jesus has brought you out of spiritual blindness so that you can see the spiritual realities that many people are still blind to. Remember that Jesus brings you out of slavery to sin and death so that you are no longer a slave to sin and you are certainly no longer a slave to death.
Remember that he has written ‘FORGIVEN’ across your case and you must continually remind yourself that you are a forgiven person. And remind yourself too that you have become part of the new creation – the circle of the Kingdom has intersected circle of the world, and as this Kingdom has come into the world, one day to come completely over the world, you are in the incredibly privileged position of being in the intersection in the world with all its difficulties and in the Kingdom with all its future. Because Jesus has not come into the world to drop a little torch on the ground so that you will walk around and basically find your way and solve all your problems, Jesus has caused the sun to rise, and every believer is part of that.
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for this very wonderful truth that in the middle of the world which is marked by great hostility to you there is great love from you. And we thank you too that in the middle of a world which is marked by a great amount of self-promotion and self-seeking there is one who came to give his life as a ransom.
And there are so many of us listening to the Word this morning who want to thank you for doing that work of mercy and grace and bringing us into the very company, blessing, future and joy of Jesus. We pray that you would help us to live for him, by his grace and for his honour this week.
In Jesus’ Name – Amen.