Mark ten opens with the Pharisees seeking to create controversy. They do so with the issue of divorce and remarriage, a sad and all too often tragic reality of the human condition. The Pharisees desired to mire Jesus in controversy but as usual Jesus responded with clear declarations, What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
There is then the brief encounter between the disciples and those that were seeking to bring children to Jesus. Jesus’ response was, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: . . . .
Then we move quickly to the rich young ruler's time with Jesus from which he went away grieved and unrepentant, and unforgiven. Jesus then uses the response of the rich young ruler to point out to his disciples that it is hard for rich men to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
These realities bring us to the focus of attention in the passage this morning, The Sacrifice Of A Servant.
We begin in verses 28-31 with the solace of sacrifice.
In verse 28 Peter points out that they had, left all, and followed Christ. It is a significant claim that is not challenged. In fact the inspired record makes it clear these men left all and followed Christ. This, of course, is in contrast to the rich young ruler. Of course in leaving all they had not left what Christ had left. They could not. No one will ever sacrifice to follow Christ what Christ sacrificed to follow the will of God. They had followed him however imperfectly to this point and the rich young ruler had been unwilling to do so.
Peter's claim is followed up by a promise from Christ in verses 29 and 30. Jesus reminds his men that no one has forsaken anything for which they will not be abundantly compensated. It seems to be clear that Jesus does not intend to provide one hundred houses for every one forsaken for his cause and the gospel's. Such an arrangement would cultivate a spirit that Jesus was attempting to correct, a covetous spirit that is unwilling to sacrifice. Of course the promise of compensation is attached to the promise of persecutions and most importantly in the world to come eternal life. Knowing that the issues of the next life are settled provides an unwavering peace for this life.
Then Jesus in verse 31 lays down a spiritual law. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. It is statements like these that give a glimpse into the infinite mind of God. A whole life of observation is turned on its head with these two statements. What appears to be the head of the line is actually the end of the line! What appears to be the back of the line is actually the head of the line! There is little competition for last place! Christianity truly requires the renewing of our minds. We are conditioned by everything around us to be first, acknowledged, applauded, honored, noticed, advanced, etc….. But God says, many that are first shall be last, and the last first.
Do we believe it? And then do we not immediately fight over being last so that we can be first? If we are settling for last so we can be first that is just another method of struggling for the first place. There is a demand here for purity of heart, genuineness of soul, integrity of motive. It is not sacrificing for what we can get out of it. It is not being a servant because of the opportunity for advancement. It is really not caring who gets the credit.
Then in verses 32-34 we are reminded of the supreme sacrifice.
In verse 32 it was a place of appointment: Jerusalem. Jesus had an appointment of sacrifice there. He was not going there to be honored but to be executed. He was not going there to be extolled but to be ridiculed. He was not going there to be exalted but to be reviled. And, he went anyway. It is the sacrifice of a servant.
In verse 33 it was the place of judgment. Three things are mentioned:
they shall condemn him to death
they shall deliver him to the Gentiles
Knowing all of this he continued walking toward Jerusalem!
In verse 34 it was the place of sacrifice. Jesus had a clear understanding of what was before him.
they shall mock him
they shall scourge him
they shall spit upon him
they shall kill him
Knowing the certainty of his destiny he continues to walk toward Jerusalem. Every step brought him closer to mockery. Every step brought him closer to the dreaded Roman scourge. Every step brought him closer to the humiliation of spitting. Every step brought him closer to Calvary. Yet, he took each successive step, making his way to the place of sacrifice.
With his sacrifice there was an accompanying promise, and the third day he shall rise again. No man sacrifices without receiving recompense. He gave himself in death. He would be raised from the dead, a resurrection that was only made possible by his death. He took the last place of a felon's cross; he became the firstfruits of the resurrection!
Then a remarkable thing happens in verses 35-41. James and John the sons of thunder approach and have the audacity to seek a place at his right and left hand. They are seeking a place of prominence, they are lobbying to be first. The truth is they did not even realize what it was they were seeking. Their vision of grandeur had clouded their judgment.
What would you think would be the response of the other ten Apostles? Verse 41 records, And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John.
Why? Because they wanted to sit on his right hand or left hand! James and John's bold lobbying for the position created envy and contempt for the two sons of thunder. The other ten also wanted to be first. Would they have been as jealous had they asked to sit at the feet of Jesus? I think not! It was not the nearness to Jesus but the relation of their position to Jesus.
As long as no one is making an overt play for the head of the line we can feign indifference. But let someone with the audacity of a James and John appear and we easily become incensed at their impropriety, and at the possibility they might actually get the position, honor, advancement, or place we want.
Then in verses 42-45 Jesus sets forth the standard of sacrifice.
He begins by reminding them of the world's standard in verse 42. Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. This is the way of the world. This is the "dog eat dog" mentality. It is vicious and ferocious. It despises humility, meekness, and service.
Then in verse 43 Jesus tears down the old standard to erect a new one. He dismantles the world's standard in one statement, But so shall it not be among you. You must abandon this way of thinking. You must embrace another paradigm, another model. God's kingdom is intended to function on different terms.
Having dismissed the world's standard at the end of verse 43 and moving into verse 44 he erects a new standard. He does so by presenting the standard in two ways.
Whosoever shall be great among you shall be your minster. I love what Gill writes concerning this and its application to the Apostles, " This was just the reverse of what the two disciples were seeking for; they were indeed for being ministers but then they were for being prime ministers of state; and would have had all the rest subject to them and attendants on them to be sent out and employed as they should think fit: . . . .”
Whosoever of you shall be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. Jesus is saying that in my kingdom it is being a servant that renders one glorious. We are set apart by our service rendered on the behalf of others.
Lastly, in verse 45, Jesus steps to the front as the standard bearer! For even the Son of Man, Jesus says. "Even" - if him then certainly you. He who had every reason to expect to be served.
. . .came not to be ministered unto . . . He left a place where he was constantly ministered to by angels. They were at his beckon call. They worshipped him unceasingly. They adored him. He was seated on the right hand of the Father, the place of honor and authority. Yet, he did not come to earth to be served.
. . . but to minster. Do you see the sacrifice of a servant? He left the place of being served by holy angels to serve fallen man! He was not here so men could serve him but so the he could serve men. The creator serving the creature!
We must be looking for ways to use our role to serve God and others. Rather than grasping for a throne let us be seeking a place of service. Let us serve not worrying about whether we are first or last, just serve. When others are honored rejoice in their accomplishments. When we believe we are overlooked let us remember we have a God who does not overlook. Let us be great servants and then we will be truly great!