Sunday School Lesson 9 - Mark 10:35-45 - SERVES
LAST WEEK: In Mk. 9:14-27, we covered the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy after He returned from the Mountain of the Transfiguration and discovered that all of the previous efforts of nine of His disciples to help the boy had ended in complete failure. The theme of the lesson centered on what Jesus declared in v. 23b: "All things are possible to him who believes." In saying this, Jesus wasn't implying that we can accomplish anything we want if we have enough faith but that God can do anything He wants according to His sovereign will and purposes. From this, we learned three major points of personal application: (1) Spiritual authority may only be exercised through faith in God and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. In the lesson, the disciple's inability to cast out the demon demonstrated a lack of faith, and rather than relying completely on faith, they took their authority for granted and mistakenly assumed it was always at their disposal. (2) Confession of unbelief can be the first step toward gaining faith in Jesus. The best thing anyone can do when confronted with his or her own lack of faith, is to confess it to God. That's exactly what this frantic father did when Jesus rebuked his doubtful faith, and instead of trying to deny it or justify it, he admitted it. (3) Jesus holds authority over every aspect of the creation. In addition to the physical world, Christ also has the power to stand against any and all spiritual adversaries.
THIS WEEK: In Mk. 10:35-45, we skip the first 34 verses, which I'll summarize: In vv. 1-12 Jesus confronts the Pharisees on the sanctity of marriage and concludes than when God has joined a man and a woman together, their union cannot be voided (i.e., a divorce) by civil or religious authorities; in vv. 13-16, when the disciples tried to turn away a group of small children from Jesus, He rebuked them and said: "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" Mk. 10:14; in vv. 17-31 Jesus encountered the rich young ruler and told him that in order to inherit eternal life, he must sell all he has and give it to the poor, but in the end, the man could not bring himself to part with his wealth; and in vv. 32-34, Jesus foretells His death a third time. We also skip vv. 46-52, which reports Jesus' healing of blind Bartimaeus on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Today's lesson text begins as James and John come up to Jesus and ask Him a question about having positions of power and authority in His coming kingdom.
Read Mark 10:35-40 - YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ASKING
35 James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Jesus, saying to Him, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You." 36 And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 37 They said to Him, "Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 39 They said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
v. 35: "James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Jesus, saying, 'Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.'" - As we know, James and John, along with Peter form an inner-circle among the twelve, and they've just returned from the Transfiguration where they saw Jesus glorified and heard God's audible voice from heaven confirm Him as "My beloved Son." While this request seems presumptuous on its face, we shouldn't judge them too quickly because (1) we don't know the actual time interval between Jesus third prediction of His death and this event; (2) other Scriptures (see Lk. 18:34) make it clear that these two men don't fully comprehend that Jesus is going to die; and (3) their mother either pushed them to make this request or actually made it on their behalf as reported in Mt. 20:20-21.
v. 36: "And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" - James' and John's request isn't entirely without precedent: In Psalm 37:4 David said, "Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart," which could be rephrased to read that "as long as you delight in the Lord, the desires of your heart will match God's heart. God doesn't mind when we ask for things, and sometimes our desires exactly line up with God will in our lives, and at other times, they are within God's plan for us, but the time for us to receive them hasn't come yet.
v. 37: "They said to Him, "Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory" - When James and John make this request, they are imagining Jesus as an earth-type king sitting at a table with His chief advisors at His right hand and left hands. For us, it's hard to understand how James and John could be so thick-headed and seemingly insensitive. In effect, they're asking Jesus to fit events into their grandiose plans rather than His plans. They've not only failed to grasp Jesus' predictions of his forthcoming death, but envisage this journey into Jerusalem as a messianic march into the city where Jesus will assume the Davidic throne in all its splendor and glory. But before we hasten to judge them, we need to remember that with a complete NT, we have a "big picture" understanding of Jesus' mission that they could not see or understand.
v. 38a: "But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking" - Instead of coming back at them with the reprimand they deserved, Jesus asked a question designed to let them know that their request is completely out-of-order and strongly hints that they've gotten themselves into something that's much different than what they were anticipating.
v. 38b: "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" - In the OT, the term "cup" can refer to blessings, judgment, or death. In Jesus' context, it's a metaphor for God's wrath against human sin and rebellion (Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15-28). The image of baptism is parallel to that of the cup-Christ will suffer and die as a baptism, which would be poured out on Him like a flood.
v. 39a: "They said to Him, 'We are able'" - This was an unthinking, macho response on their part. They really don't appreciate the consequences of their bold answer. Later, when Jesus is arrested, they will take flight like scared birds (see Mk. 14:50).
v. 39b: "And Jesus said to them, The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized'" - While James and John were thinking of this "cup" in terms of great blessings to come, Jesus was warning them to expect pain, sacrifice, and death for the sake of the gospel. James was martyred in 44 A.D. by Herod Agrippa and John, though he is thought to have died if old age ca. 98-99 A.D., endured much persecution from the Roman authorities and was exiled to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation.
v. 40: "But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared" - Jesus replies rightly here. While Jesus is fully God, there are different ranks of authority within the Trinity, and throughout Scripture, the Son is always subject to the authority and direction of the Father, who will ultimately determine exactly who receives positions of honor.
Read Mark 10:41-44 - WHOEVER WANTS TO BECOME PROMINENT
41 Hearing this, the other ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them; and their people in high position exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become prominent among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wants to be first among you shall be slave of all.
v. 41: "Hearing this, the other ten began to feel indignant with James and John" - Scholars assume that the other ten are "indignant" (i.e., I just can't believe you actually ask Him that!) because James and John (and their mother) had the nerve to ask for something they all wanted, too. This might be considered the first case of church politics. Unlike civil governments with the power to enforce strict obedience to laws, God expect church members to treat each other with love, selflessness, and mature judgment, but even so, church politics can test the patience of the greatest saint. Amen?
v. 42: "Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them; and their people in high position exercise authority over them" - Just as Jesus refrained from rebuking James and John, he exercises similar restraint toward the other ten and uses their behavior as a opening for teaching. We can be sure that by now he has their full attention. While James and John are probably embarrassed, the other ten, who are still indignant, will listen carefully to make sure their concerns are met. Instead, He starts by comparing their attitudes to those of the Gentiles whose rule over the Jews is characterized by injustice and violence. (Note: though the Herods had some Jewish ancestry, they ruled Judea as Romans).
v. 43: "But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become prominent among you shall be your servant" - (Note: the word used here for "servant" [Gk. diakanos] is the same one from which we derive the term "deacon".) As usual, Jesus turns the world upside-down as He introduces the "rules-of-the-road" for the kingdom of God. Leadership among God's people should be characterized by serving the people with humility and love and acting for their best interests.
v. 44: "and whoever wants to be first among you shall be slave of all" - Typically, a slave only serves one master. But at the same time, at the behest of his master, the slave would be commanded to serve everyone else in the house, and by doing so, only serves one master. Jesus calls Christians to serve all-to, in effect, become the slaves of all. And when we do this, we have one master-Christ. Before we judge these disciples for their failure to understand, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. We have the advantage of a complete Bible and all types of ministry resources in our churches that should teach us to honor service rather than power, but we often fail to do so. We sometimes idolize people in entertainment and sports who often lead sordid lifestyles. We envy corporate magnates who amass great fortunes at the expense of others. We elect politicians who spend their lives shading the truth to serve their own personal interests. And when I say "we," I'm not pointing the finger at anyone in particular, but the fact that Christians have become a minority in our society and have far less influence over public morals and ethics than we did even 50 years ago seems speak for itself; and "we," as individual Christians and churches, have allowed it to happen. Do you agree? Yes/no.
Read Mark 10:45 - GAVE HIS LIFE AS RANSOM FOR MANY
"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."
v. 45a: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" - As His present-day disciples, Jesus does not require more of us than He is willing to give. He forms the model of service and sacrifice for all of us, as demonstrated from the very beginning His ministry all the way to His sacrifice and death on the cross. Our attitudes about everything in life should mirror His, literally and functionally, in order to serve the will of God, not ourselves. For us to usher-in and be a part of the kingdom of God, we must learn to live with the understanding that we are ultimately powerless because only God has real power, regardless of our position in life. Even if we are blessed to be recognized as leaders in our church, our role is still essentially that of a servant.
v. 45b: "and to give His life as a ransom for many" - Earlier, Jesus told his disciples that He must die (Mk. 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), and now He tells they why. The word for "ransom" (Gk lutron) literally means to pay the purchase price required to buy the freedom of a prisoner or a slave. While Jesus models service and sacrifice for His disciples (includes us), He accomplished something that disciples can't do-only Jesus can serve as the ransom in God's unique plan of salvation.
APPLICATION: Three weeks ago in Mk. 6:7-13, 30-21, we learned that any person who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ is by definition His disciple. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we follow a leadership model based upon the kingdom of God, which is upside-down in comparison to the world's definition of power. In the world's model, people serve human leaders who possess the actual real power, even in democratic societies where the leaders are elected. In this lesson, Jesus clearly defines Kingdom leadership as "servant" leadership. As servants in the kingdom of God, we must learn to live with the understanding that we are ultimately powerless because only God-with sovereign authority over all things-has real power. Even if we are blessed to be recognized as leaders in our churches, our role is still essentially that of a servant.
APPLICATION-Rules-of-the-Road for the Kingdom of God:
1. Kingdom power is not ruling over others but placing yourself under others as a self-sacrificial servant.
2. Kingdom power obligates the leaders to serve the people, as opposed to the people serving the leaders.
3. Kingdom greatness is measured by a person's willingness to deny himself or herself for the benefit of others.
4. Kingdom definitions of greatness and power will always be in conflict with the world's secular human definitions.
PRAYER: Lord God, Father, and Almighty Creator, we come before You this morning with in humility, thanking You for the love, mercy, and underserved grace You have granted us. We thank you for giving us this good church where we are free to gather together and worship You in Spirit and in Trust. We thank you for this great nation of ours and how you have shepherded it through the crisis of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And Lord, I thank you above all things for allowing Your only Son, Jesus, to suffer and die on a cross for us, so that we may forgiven of our sins and be allowed to spend eternity in heaven with You. We thank you, Lord Jesus, for this wonderful lesson today about the Kingdom of God. Please help each one of us apply these important truths to our work here in this church-to willingly place ourselves under the interests of others as sacrificial servant. Please grant us these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, AMEN.