Passage: Mark 10:32-52
Everyone find your seats and your bibles. Turn to Mark chapter 10.
Mark 10:35–45 (ESV)
Human history is filled with aspirations of greatness. From the Garden where Eve was told “you’ll be like God” to the Tower of Babel to the Roman Empire to “Make America Great Again” we are infatuated with the pursuit of greatness, or at least the lust for the glory that comes with it.
And this pursuit of greatness or glory doesn’t have to be experienced at a global scale. We experience at home or at work or on Instagram. It usually involves the simple act of trying to get our own way.
To give an absurd example:
Imagine a home where everyone willingly gave up what they wanted to do in order to serve others.
Just in case you’re wondering, these are not quotes from my kids. They’re great, of course, but plagued with the same sin nature as you and me. We might be more likely to hear something like:
The passage we are discussing this morning contains truths that can significantly impact nearly every area of our lives. If we believe and put into practice what we learn from Jesus in this passage, our family life will be changed, our friendships will change, our workplace will be different, our church or small group or youth group will be different.
There are fundamental doctrines that affect how we read the Bible and how we understand salvation.
There are fundamental principles of discipleship that drastically affect how we approach our day-to-day lives.
Our passage today has both of these. Here is what I want us to get out of the sermon today:
True greatness involves knowing I owe all to Jesus who paid my ransom, and living in service to all out of devotion to him.
We will learn lessons from three different individuals in our passage.
We have already heard one of the prayers in our passage today, that of James and John.
They actually make two requests. Which one do you think is more bold?
Mark 10:35–37 (ESV)
We will look at Jesus’ response to their second question in a few minutes, but first, consider the boldness of their first question. On one hand, I really admire their boldness. They seem to understand, “you have not because you ask not” which was later written by a different James.
I’m just imagining myself as a dad, walking at the park one Monday evening at Cross Country practice, when all of a sudden, two of my daughters look up at me and say, “Dad, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” I’d say I was in trouble.
In fact, I think my son has asked me that very question as I’m driving toward home from town. “Dad, I want you to do what I ask…” I know what he wants—ice cream at Sunni Skies. But, it’s the boldness to ask in this way that catches my attention. He doesn’t merely say, can we get ice cream tonight. He begins, “Dad, I want you to say yes before you know the question.”
Jesus could have rebuked James and John for the presumption in their question, but he hears them out. He asks an amazing question. “What do you want me to do for you?” Now, from you or me, that wouldn’t be an astounding question, but considering who Jesus is, just consider the possibilities!
Because we see what’s coming, we want to tell them, “just say never mind.” But they go on and ask for the most prominent positions of power in Jesus’ Kingdom.
Jesus is so patient in how he responds to them. He doesn’t outright rebuke them. Instead he asks more questions to find out if they really realize what they are asking.
Now let’s compare their posture and request to that of Bartimaeus in vv. 46-52.
Mark 10:46–52 (ESV)
Right off, we notice that instead of “Give us whatever we ask,” Bartimaeus simply says, “have mercy on me.”
Bartimaeus doesn’t enjoy the same familiarity with Jesus of James and John. He is a blind beggar in Jericho. But, evidently he had heard enough about Jesus to call out to him and call him the Son of David, one of Jesus’ Messianic titles.
Clearly, the crowd following Jesus did not want to be bothered or hindered by this blind beggar, but Bartimaeus and Jesus had different plans. The text says that he “cried out all the more” and that Jesus “stood still” and told them to call him.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?”
He humbly asks to recover his sight and Jesus grants this request and he immediately begins following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
We don’t know how far Bartimaeus followed Jesus that day or week. But, just consider that Jesus is at that very moment headed to Jerusalem for his Triumphal Entry, crucifixion, and resurrection from the dead. Imagine what Bartimaeus might have seen.
How would we answer if Jesus asked us what we wanted him to do for us? He still answers prayer.
We’ve looked at the two different requests. Now let’s see the two different paths that Jesus lays out.
Before he describes how the disciples should be pursuing greatness, he spends some time challenging James and John regarding their request. Look back at vs. 38.
Mark 10:38–40 (ESV)
Jesus gives James and John one more chance to reconsider their line of questions. He asks them a question which should clearly be answered in the negative, but they keep on going. “We are able” they say.
In order to grasp a bit more of the context of what Jesus means by his cup and baptism, let’s back up a few verses.
Mark 10:32–34 (ESV)
Mark tells us that Jesus was walking ahead of them, and that they were amazed and afraid. He doesn’t really explain why. I can’t help but wonder if the disciples are hanging back in the back since he just told them in v. 31 that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Was it something in Jesus’ mood that made them afraid? Are they aware of what could await them in Jerusalem? This appears to be the twelve plus a crowd following Jesus. He pulls the twelve aside again to explain what is about to happen to him.
It’s possible that James and John misunderstood the cup and baptism to refer to a celebratory cup and the renewal of baptism. Or, perhaps, they knew that Jesus was referring to his suffering and were optimistic about their ability to endure suffering and condemnation along with Jesus. Eventually, years later, they will both suffer for the name of Christ. James will be martyred in Acts 12 and John will be exiled to the island of Patmos.
Still, this seems a strange opportunity to come up to Jesus and ask to sit on his right and left in his kingdom.
This is the third time that Jesus has explained his upcoming suffering and death in Jerusalem.
First — Mark 8:31-33
Second — Mark 9:30-32
Each time, Mark makes a point of highlighting some aspect of the cost of following Jesus.
But, let’s get back to our point of the two paths to greatness.
Mark 10:41–45 (ESV)
No surprise here, but the other Ten disciples didn’t appreciate James and John trying to demote them to 2nd class. Of course, this just reveals to Jesus (and to us) that in their hearts, they are no better than James and John. They have the same self-seeking attitude.
Jesus then calls a meeting to deal with the conflict. As sad as any historical or modern-day church controversy is, we should remember that the apostles and the early churches had their own share of difficulties due to the human heart.
Jesus diagnosed the issue for them, and his prescription is still effective today.
The disciples were imagining that greatness in God’s Kingdom was achieved through some rank, title, or authority. But, in God’s kingdom, there is only one with real rank, title, or authority—the Lord Jesus Christ. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The rest of us are merely his servants.
This was a particularly stinging rebuke to the twelve because Jesus tells them that they were basically acting the Roman occupiers, which they hated. It would have been bad enough to compare them to the Sanhedrin or the Scribes and Pharisees. But, Jesus, in effect is pointing out that they have taken up the same attitudes and strategies as the godless Romans.
They cannot serve effectively in a heavenly kingdom when they are being so earthly minded.
Jesus points out how the Gentiles pursue greatness. They “lord it over them” or to “exercise authority over them.” This first phrase could also be translated to “gain dominion over” or to “subdue” or to “have mastery over.” The second could be “to tyrannize” or to “rule over.”
This kind of “leadership” has no place in God’s church or among God’s people. We expect this kind of grasping at power and authority from unbelievers or within secular, political power structures. But, it ought not be named among believers.
When we speak of the propriety of godly authority or submission in the home or in the church, we never mean this kind of lording over or domineering. It is forbidden, ungodly, and harmful. Church leaders must not do it. Husbands must not do it. Parents must not do it.
Peter is clear on this point regarding leaders in the church:
1 Peter 5:2–3 (ESV) — shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Paul makes this clear for husbands:
Colossians 3:19 (ESV) — Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) — Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
This does not, of course, mean there should be no exercise of appropriate authority in the church and home. It simply means that godly authority is not exercised through threatening, domineering, or lording over others. We are all made in the image of God.
Jesus shows us a better way.
The first thing we should notice is that Jesus is not forbidding the ambition to lead—to be great or be first. He isn’t saying that everyone should be the same. He is turning this ambition upside down, or right-side up, depending on how you look at it.
According to the Gentile rulers, the path to greatness is ruling over others. According to Jesus, the path to greatness is serving others.
Jesus uses two different words to communicate this service to others. One is a little more comfortable to us than the other.
First, Jesus says we must act as a “servant” to others. This is the Greek διάκονος (29x), or minister, or deacon. This is a person who gets something done at the request of a superior—or acting as someone’s assistant.
The second is δοῦλος (126x), which is translated bondservant or slave. Though it is often translated as “servant” in English versions, this does not quite capture the original meaning. A δοῦλος belongs to and must obey its master. It is not a matter of personal choice or preference.
Instead of translating doulos as “slave,” these translations consistently substitute the word servant in its place. Ironically, the Greek language has at least half a dozen words that can mean servant. The word doulos is not one of them. Whenever it is used, both in the New Testament and in secular Greek literature, it always and only means slave.
- John MacArthur, Slave, p. 16
The ESV does translate δοῦλος as slave in our passage today.
The path to greatness according to Jesus is not to bend other’s wills to yours, but to bend your will to Christ in service of others. This is how Jesus lived and walked. He did not come to do his own will but the will of his Father who sent him.
Philippians 2:7 (ESV) — but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (δοῦλος), being born in the likeness of men.
Jesus gives himself as the example here in vs. 45 as well.
What an amazing statement! Here, we have a purpose statement from the Son of God. The all-powerful King of Kings, who holds the universe together by the word of his power, came to earth in order to serve, not to be served. Oh, church, hear in this the good news. See the heart of God to save lost sinners right here on display.
But, what does it look like for you and me to live this way? Does this mean we always to what others want? That we have no choice in the matter?
Clearly, there is a choice. Jesus emptied himself. He is encouraging (well, commanding) us not to exalt ourselves by using rank or position to domineer over others, but instead to become their minister and slave.
Practically, though, how do we live this out? We tend to think of the big moments—the big decisions. But, this sacrificial service is often lived out in the mundane, normal course of life.
In my experience as a Christian and as a pastor, these decisions to serve others don’t happen automatically. We don’t passively stumble into this kind of discipleship.
We must choose it; embrace it. We must realize that we are not our own. We belong to Christ. We are on his mission. For the sake of his glory and kingdom, we must be ready to sacrifice our comfort, convenience, finances, and preferences in service to others.
We must be willing to take risks relationally, emotionally, with our reputation in our service to Christ.
This kind of greatness can change your life. It’s a two-step process. Our posture and our action.
There are at least two dangers in this.
Jesus speaks of the first in Matthew 6.
Matthew 6:1 (ESV) — “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
The second danger is to believe that living this way can make us right with God. It cannot, which is why we need to look at the last part of verse 45.
We are back to Jesus’ purpose statement. It wasn’t merely to serve our wants, but to serve us in the way we most needed—to die for us.
Though we need to imitate the example of Jesus and obey the commands of Jesus, these are not sufficient to save us.
We have stated several times already that we are not our own, we have been bought. What do we mean by this?
We mean that Jesus gave his life in order to purchase us. He paid our ransom.
Most of our contexts for understanding a ransom come from our modern-day situations. “Ransomware” attacks on our infrastructure or businesses have been in the news. Computer hackers break into a system and inhibit in some way until you pay a ransom, at which time they release their hold on it.
Or perhaps we think of a hostage situation or kidnapping where the bad guys ask for a ransom payment in order to release the innocent party.
Neither of these examples really captures what is happening when Jesus pays our ransom. We are not innocent victims in our debt. We have actively, frequently, and even happily broken God’s commandments and have incurred a debt we could never pay. The wages of sin is death. God’s wrath is rightfully applied to us. We have no way to pay the debt ourselves.
The biblical image of ransom was a payment made to liberate a slave, prisoner or war, or condemned person. The paying of this debt liberated the person and gave them a clean slate. This is what we mean by “redemption.” To be redeemed is to be purchased out of slavery.
Romans 6:17–18 (ESV) — But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
But our freedom was not purchased by our obedience, but by the blood of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18–19 (ESV) — knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
This is the good news that Christianity offers. We, who were justly condemned to eternal judgment in Hell because of our rebellion and sin against God, have been purchased by the death of Christ for God. This is not our own doing. It is the gift of God.
This is why Christ came.
This is the good news.
This is why we sang so much this morning about Christ’s redemption, and this is why we’ll sing about it for all eternity.
Revelation 5:9 (ESV) — And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
Remember that Jesus answers prayer.
Memorize/Meditate on 1 Cor 6:19-20
Practice living as a slave of God.
Look for specific ways to serve God this week
1 John 3:16 (ESV) — By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
Thank God for his gift of Redemption in Christ.
We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.
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