Discipleship

Mark 10v32-45, Walking with Jesus on the Way to the Cross

Santo road

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngSometimes Christians fantasize about what it would have been like to walk the roads of Israel with Jesus. What would it have been like to hear him teach? to witness the miraculous healings? to hand out the loaves and the fish to the crowd of 5,000 plus? What would it have been like to walk with Jesus? In Mark 10, we get a glimpse into what it was like to walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

In Mark 10, Jesus is making his last trip to Jerusalem. What awaited him in Jerusalem? Was it a Triumphal Entry of the King? Or would the King of the Jews be nailed to a cross? Both would happen. Jesus makes this final voyage to Jerusalem in the shadow of the cross. We read in…

Mark 10:32 NLT They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear…

Opposition against Jesus had been building. From the beginning of his ministry, the religious authorities had increasingly opposed him…

  • They opposed him when he forgave sins (Mk. 2:7).
  • They opposed him when he ate with sinners and tax collectors (Mk. 2:16).
  • They opposed him because his disciples did not fast (Mk. 2:18).
  • They opposed him because his disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (Mk. 2:24).
  • They opposed him when he healed on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:2).
  • They accused him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mk. 3:22).
  • They opposed him because his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders (Mk. 7:5).

The opposition had become so intense that for a while, Jesus went into Gentile territory. There he healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, unstopped the ears and loosened the tongue of a deaf mute, opened the eyes of a blind man, and fed a crowd of 4,000 plus. The gospel was for the Jew first, but not for the Jews alone.

But now, Jesus had left Gentile territory. He had returned to Jewish territory and was, in fact…

1.      On the Road Again… to Jerusalem

Mark 10:32 ESV …they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid…

Jesus is walking head on to Jerusalem, the seat of the opposition. Jerusalem was the not only the seat of opposition; it was also the seat of political power. And Jesus is walking ahead of them, leading the way.

Luke 9:51 ESV …he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

He set his “face like a flint” to fulfill the purpose for which he came (Isaiah 50:7).

The Third Announcement of His Death

Mark 10:32-34 ESV …And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him…”

This is the third time that Jesus has told the Twelve that he would be killed and after three days, rise from the dead.

1.1.     The death of Christ was not an accident.

Jesus’ foreknowledge of his death shows that it was no accident. The death of Christ on the cross was not a tragedy. It was not a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus tells his disciples in detail exactly what is going to happen to him:

Mark 10:33-34 ESV saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

This is the third time that Jesus tells his disciples about his imminent death, but it is the first time that Jesus announces the place of his death. It would take place in Jerusalem.

He calls himself the Son of Man: “the Son of Man will be delivered…” “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title. It refers to his incarnation and his mission. He is the Word that became flesh. He is the God in the flesh. He is the God-man.

Hebrews 10 tells us that the Son of God became a man in order to offer his own blood as a sacrifice for our sin.

1.2.     The Son of Man will be delivered.

Several times in the Gospels, the religious authorities tried to arrest him. They even tried to kill him, but it was not his time. On one hand, he would give his life:

John 10:17-18 ESV For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

On the other hand, he would be delivered: “the Son of Man will be delivered.” He would be delivered by God the Father. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached

Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This is what we mean when we quote John 3:16,

John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God gave his only Son. He delivered him up for us.

Romans 4:25 ESV who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 8:32 ESV He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave himself.

1.3.     Jesus has exact knowledge of what awaits him.

This third announcement of his death is the most detailed. Jesus announces that two groups of people will be involved in his death: the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities:

  1. The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and
  2. they will condemn him to death and
  3. deliver him over to the Gentiles.
  4. And they will mock him and
  5. spit on him, and
  6. flog him and
  7. kill him.
  8. And after three days he will rise

“Jesus’s prophecy concerning ‘the things [that] were about to happen to him’… is not portrayed by Mark as coming via a revelation from God.”[1] No, Jesus has direct and precise knowledge of the various details of his death. Mark wants us to know that…

Jesus’s death was neither a tragedy nor an unfortunate turn of events. Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing full well that he would be put to death. He knew the precise details of what would be involved, but he nevertheless went because this was a divine necessity (8:31; cf. 14:21a), and he desired to fulfill his Father’s will (14:36).[2]

Mark 8:31 ESV …the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 14:21 ESV For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him…

He will pray in the garden,

Mark 14:36 ESV …”Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The prophet Isaiah had said of Christ, 700 years before,

Isaiah 53:10 ESV Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

 

2.      The Jesus Holdup: Give Us What We Want!

The disciples still understand none of this. On the one hand, they follow Jesus with great fear and trepidation, not understanding what he is talking about. They are blinded by their own misunderstanding of what they expect and hope the Messiah to do, and by their own ambitions. They are blinded by their lust for power.

In Mark 9:31, when Jesus teaches the disciples a second time about his death and resurrection,

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Then Jesus asked them what they had been discussing on the way,

Mark 9:34 ESV But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

Arguing about who was the greatest? They are not arguing about theology or the best methods of healing. They are arguing about who is number one![3]

Who is the greatest? The answer is obvious. Jesus is the greatest. Now he must show them true greatness.

Mark 9:35 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

What do they know about greatness?

We fast-forward back to chapter 10 where Jesus has just told his disciples that he will be delivered in Jerusalem to be killed.

Mark 10:35 ESV And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s quite a request! They want a guarantee from Jesus that he will give them whatever they ask. They are asking Jesus for a blank check.

Mark 10:36-37 ESV And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

James and John are asking for positions of power along side Jesus in his coming kingdom. They want to be number two and number three in the line of authority. They are asking for the best seats in the house.

Where was Peter in all this? You will remember that Peter and James and John were the closest of the 12 disciples. Those three disciples had accompanied Jesus when he raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. Jesus had taken Peter and James and John with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. But Peter is not mentioned in their request. Where they trying to shut him out? Where they afraid that he might get in line before them?

It is no wonder that we fail to understand suffering and rejection and the cross when we are carried along by blind ambition, trying to be number one. We want to get ahead of everyone else in line. We want first place. Jesus’ determination to go to the cross is totally incomprehensible to us, and yet, he said,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus told James and John,

Mark 10:38 ESV … ”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?”

2.1.     Leadership involves suffering.

“Are you able to drink the cup?” Jesus is not asking if they will become his wine-tasters. “Nor is the cup the cup of victory (Pss 23:5; 116:13), though the disciples might hope that it were so. They will not be drinking from a silver chalice.”[4]

In Scripture, the “cup” almost always refers to suffering. Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Closeness to Jesus means sharing his suffering and death, just as he has said that anyone who follows him must deny himself and take up his cross.

James and John gave a quick and easy response:

Mark 10:39 ESV And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,

Suffer, they would. James would be beheaded (Acts 12:2), and John would be exiled.

Leadership involves suffering.

2.2.     Leadership involves a divine assignment.

Mark 10:40 ESV but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

We do not choose our positions or the conditions of our service. We deny ourselves and submit to the will of God.

We can and should prepare ourselves and offer ourselves for service.

Abraham Lincoln was the sixteen president of the United States of America. Over 150 years ago, before Lincoln became president, slavery was lawful in the United States.

Long before Abraham Lincoln was in public life, he saw a slave being traded at a public market in New Orleans. The sight, he said, went like “steel into my soul,” and he told himself that if he ever had a chance to do something about it he would. “I will prepare myself,” he resolved, “and some day my change will come.” And his time did come.[5]

It is one thing to prepare for service; it is another thing to seek for promotion.

Mark 10:41 NET Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John.

Who did James and John think they were? Did they think that they were better than the other disciples? Self-promotion breeds division. When people begin to grab power for themselves, trouble begins. But the reaction of the other 10 disciples was no better. They were upset “because James and John thought of the idea and got to Jesus first!”[6] They are “still clinging to the same values of the world in terms of power-seeking and self-assertion.”[7]

It is interesting to note that Jesus said that it was not his place to assign those positions. Though he was God, he was not the Father. He distinguishes between his position as Son and his Father’s position. The Scriptures everywhere affirm three things about God:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
  3. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons within the one true God.

It is mystery, but it is not contradictory.

2.3.     Leadership involves servanthood.

Mark 10:42-44 ESV And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Jesus describes leadership principles according to the world’s standards. The rulers of this world use power and authority to lord it over others. The so-called “great ones exercise authority over” others.

We do not force our views upon others. We do not force or coerce faith. That is actually impossible, for faith comes from the heart. We do not take up the sword to convince people to convert. When Peter took up his sword to defend Jesus, Jesus rebuked him, told him to put up his sword, warned him that those who take up the sword will die by the sword, and then Jesus healed the man that Peter had injured.

Sinful man exalts himself to the place of God. The serpent in the Garden of Eden promised that we could be like God. Man has displaced God and wants to be his own god and to lord it over others. We have turned everything upside down, so Jesus has come to turn things right side up.

There are great problems when we bring worldly methods into the church, when we run the church following the methods of the world. But when that happens, we are no longer the church! Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you.” Jesus is not encouraging us to behave in a certain way. He is not telling us that his kingdom does not operate according to the world’s methods of leadership. Those who operate according to the world’s methods are not part of his kingdom; they are not following Jesus: “It shall not be so among you.”

Now, there are many who claim to follow Jesus but who lord it over others and exercise authority over others. The Apostle Peter tells us that pastors are not to lord it over the people assigned to their care but to lead them be their own good example (1 Peter 5:3).

James Edwards comments on this verse,

Thus, to fail in being a servant is not simply to fall short of an ideal condition but to stand outside of an existing condition that corresponds to the kingdom of God.[8]

The highest virtue in God’s kingdom is not power. It is not even freedom. The highest virtue in the kingdom of God is service. “Greatness belongs to the one who is not great.”[9] Greatness belongs to the one who serves.

This is not about me, and it is not about you. It’s about Christ in us serving others through us. “Service is love made tangible.”[10] Service is love in action.

The church does not exist for the benefit of the ministers and leaders. Pastors and congregational leaders exist for the sake of the people. The Christian leader is not above the congregation; he is part of it. “The congregation does not belong to him; rather he belongs to it.”[11]

3.      Why Jesus Came

Jesus has now told the disciples for the third time that he must die. Now, for the first time, he tells them why he must die.

Mark 10:45 ESV For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

First, Jesus came to serve. Those who follow Christ will not be driven by lust for power and authority. Rather, they will follow him to the cross, as Jesus explains: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”

The Apostle Paul explains…

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Again,

2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Those who follow Christ will seek to serve.

Second, Jesus explains that he came to give his life as a ransom for man. He did not come to grab power. He came to give his life.

John 10:11 ESV I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Romans 8:3-4 NLT The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Jesus offered his life as the ransom price for all.

As God’s own delegate, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus freely and obediently offers his life as a substitute in behalf of humanity. Jesus is supremely conscious of offering a payment to God that can be offered by no one else… The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice of obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and a full satisfaction of God’s justice.[12]

The Justice of God

God is a God of justice. As the Judge of all the earth, he cannot finally allow sin to go unpunished. There is a penalty for sin. A great price was paid for you to be set free from sin. God himself bore the penalty and paid the price for your freedom. Will you not walk with Him on the road to the cross?

[1] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427-12433). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ford, Leighton. Transforming Leadership. 145.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 424.

[5] Ford, Leighton. Transforming Leadership. 150.

[6] Op. cit.

[7] Garland, David E. quoting Lee-Pollard in A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 424

[8] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5973-5974). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). Mark (Kindle Locations 5976-5981).

[10] Op. cit.

[11] Op. cit.

[12] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). Mark (Kindle Locations 6008-6015).


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

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Mark 10v17-31, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You lack

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHave you ever felt like something was missing?

  • Let’s say that you are working on a project such fixing the engine on your truck, but one of the bolts that holds it together is missing?
  • Or you are reading a story in a book, and suddenly the story does not make sense — because a page is missing?

Life is like that. Most people live with the feeling that something is missing. They feel that there is a void, an emptiness. They keep trying to find the missing piece of their life, but just cannot seem to find it.

That’s why the nightclubs are full. That’s why people turn to alcohol. That’s why drug abuse is on the increase. People are looking for that missing something.

But this is true, not only of non religious people; it is also true of many religious people. Many religious people still feel that there is a void in their lives. They may be looking for

  • significance or
  • meaning or
  • peace or
  • assurance of salvation.

Sometimes people begin following a false religion because they feel that something is missing. They may begin following a false Christian cult out of fear. Or they may simply keep changing churches because there is a hole in their lives that has not yet been filled.

Others are the kind of people that we would say are “good.” They are good people. They follow all the rules. They obey the commandments. But still, they feel that something is lacking. Something is missing.

What is missing?

In the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 10, we read about a young man who has everything going for him, but he is desperate to find the answer to life’s most important question:

Mark 10:17 ESV And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

1.      He Asked the Right Question (10:17).

Here was a young man in the prime of life (Matthew 19:22). Everything seemed to be going his way. He had all the money that he needed (Luke 18:23; Mark 10:22). He no doubt had a good standing in the community. But something was missing. And he did not know the answer to life’s greatest question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This is the most important question that you and I could possibly ask. What must we do to inherit eternal life? In our heart of hearts, we know that there is something more.

  • We know that something does not come from nothing.
  • We know that the universe did not create itself.
  • We know that order does not come out of chaos.
  • We know that life is not produced by non-life.
  • We know that the DNA of the human genome and of every other living creature did not produce itself.
  • We know that there is a Creator.
  • We know that there is meaning to life.
  • We know that there is more to this life than living and ***dying and trying to make it through the day.

 

2.      He came to the right person (10:17).

This young man came to the right person. He came to Jesus.

We want answers to life’s most important questions, but we must be careful where we get our answers. There are many voices in the world giving many different answers to life’s questions. There are people who have thought a lot about the meaning of life. They have meditated on life’s profoundest questions. Some claim to have had revelations. They have seen visions or heard voices. Some have claimed to be enlightened. These men and women have founded new religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism and Islam. Others have founded new cults and sects based on their teachings.

Where should we turn to get the answers to life’s most important question? We should turn to the one who came from heaven.

  • Only Jesus came down from heaven (John 3:13; 6:38, 41-42, 51; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 1:6; 10:5; 1 John 4:9; etc.).
  • Jesus was the only one whose birth was announced centuries before it happened (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; etc.).
  • Only Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:23).
  • Only Jesus lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • Only Jesus died on the cross for our sins as the Scriptures had prophesied (1 Corinthians 15:3).
  • Only Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4).
  • Only Jesus ascended bodily into heaven 40 days after his resurrection to be seated at the right hand of God (Acts 1:11; 2:33; 5:31; etc.).

This rich young man came to the right person. He came to Jesus with his question. Jesus alone is qualified to answer life’s most important question: What must I do to inherit eternal life.”

This man is desperate for an answer. He runs up to Jesus. He kneels before him. He asks him,

Mark 10:17 ESV …”Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus’ answer is a bit surprising.

Mark 10:18 ESV And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

What is Jesus saying? Is he saying that he himself is not good? No. The Scriptures are clear that “in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Jesus is doing at least two things with this question.

  1. He is asking why the man called him good. Does the man understand who Jesus is? Does he understand that God alone is good? It is entirely correct to call Jesus “good,” because he is God.
  2. Jesus is telling him that he uses the term “good” much too freely. The young man no doubt thinks that he himself is a good man, that he is good. Ask someone how they are today, and instead of responding, “Fine!” they will likely tell you that they are “Good!” But the Bible tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 12).

This man no doubt thinks that he is good, but there he has a nagging feeling that something is missing.

3.      He Got the Right Answers (10:18-21)

Mark 10:19 ESV You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

We tend to think of ourselves as pretty good people. We compare ourselves with others, and some of these commandments on the surface make us feel pretty good about ourselves. We don’t murder. We don’t commit adultery. Yeah, we’re pretty good.

Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever lied? Do you always honor your father and mother? Have you ever coveted something that was not yours?

These are probing questions. But Jesus reveals to us that lust is adultery. Hatred and anger are sinful. He tells us that external obedience to his commandments is not enough if there is evil in our hearts:

Mark 7:21-23 ESV For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

When Jesus reminds the young man about the commandments, he is not saying that we are saved by keeping the commandments. Rather, he is saying that keeping the commandments follows salvation.

Do you remember when the Law was given? Was it given before or after God delivered the Israelites from Egypt? The Law was given after God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt. God had brought the ten plagues upon Egypt. Before the tenth plague, the Israelites sacrificed lambs and painted the doorways of their houses with the blood of the lamb. The angel of death passed over them and spared the firstborn of every home where the blood of the lamb had been applied. The Israelites marched out of Egypt and miraculously crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground. God delivered them from Egypt. God had saved them, but the Law had not yet been given. They had not yet reached Mount Sinai. It was not until after their salvation and deliverance from Egypt that the Law was given. The Law was not given to save them. They had already been delivered. The Law was given to show the Israelites how they were to live under that covenant.

Now Jesus reminds this man of the commandments: “You know the commandments…”

Mark 10:20 ESV And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Here is a remarkable young man! From his youth, he has kept the commandments.

We must not think that he is exaggerating or lying. The Apostle Paul spoke of his life before coming to Christ. He said that…

Philippians 3:6 ESV …as to righteousness under the law, [he was] blameless.

Without arrogance or hypocrisy, this man gives his moral report card to Jesus: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…

Jesus looked at this man intently. He examined him. He read his heart. Jesus saw something “rare and admirable in the man, for of no one else in the Gospel does Mark say that Jesus ‘loved him.’”[1]

Jesus accepts the man’s self-evaluation. This man had kept the Law. Jesus did not challenge that. But something is missing. The young man knows that something is missing. That is why he is kneeling before Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life.

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing…”

He had kept the commandments! What more did he need?

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

What was this? Was this a call to poverty? Is Jesus telling us that we must take a vow of poverty in order to inherit eternal life?

No, not at all. The one thing that was missing from the man’s life was Jesus. “Come, follow me,” Jesus told him. Jesus said to him, in effect:

Right now God is your boss; but God is not your Savior, and here’s how you can see it: I want you to imagine life without money. I want you to imagine all of it gone. No inheritance, no inventory, no servants, no mansions— all of that is gone. All you have is me. Can you live like that?”[2]

Mark 10:22 CSB But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Money was the center of this man’s identity.[3] Jesus is what was missing.

You can obey the commandments, live a righteous life, be an example to others, and still be an idolater. Jesus loved this man, but he was lost.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? The answer is simple: We must follow Jesus.

  1. He Asked the Right Question (10:17).
  2. He came to the right person (10:17).
  3. He Got the Right Answers (10:18-21), BUT

4.      He made the wrong decision (7:22).

This rich man went away grieving. Jesus tells him to sell all that he had, give to the poor, and to follow him. He would have treasure in heaven, but the man preferred his treasure on earth to eternal life in heaven.

The Wrong Decision and the Unchanging Gospel

Jesus does not go running after the man. “Hey, come back! Don’t go! Let’s talk about this. I need people like you. You are very influential. The church needs you.”

No. Jesus could not build his church on people like him. How often the message of the gospel has been compromised. We have made false promises. We have preached a false gospel. We have told people that if they come to Jesus, they will never lack for anything. Life will always be sweet.

But Jesus says,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. “You lack one thing… you are not following me.”

The Peril of Riches

Mark 10:23-24 ESV And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Jesus now turns his attention to his disciples. He looks around and warns them, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”

They are astonished. The Jews thought that if you were rich, it was because God was blessing you. Rich in this life, rich in the next!

Jesus tells them again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Today we have false preachers telling people that the gospel is all about getting financial blessings. Faith is all about claiming your rights as King’s kids. This is what the sinful heart wants to hear. The so-called prosperity gospel appeals to our greed. It does not take a work of the Spirit of God to accept and embrace a teaching which appeals to our sinful greedy nature. But it does take a work of the Holy Spirit to enable me to deny myself, and take up my cross, and follow Christ.

It is the characteristic of cults to take the focus off of the center of Christ. We preach Christ and him crucified (2 Corinthians 4:5). The Apostle Paul said, “I determined not to know anything among you but Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2).

The Bible has so many warnings about the deceitfulness of riches.

1 Timothy 6:6-11 ESV But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things…

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea:

Revelation 3:17 ESV For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They were financially rich but spiritually poor. Contrast that with his message to the church at Smyrna,

Revelation 2:9 ESV “’I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…

It is not a sin to be rich, but those who are rich must be rich in good works:

1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

The disciples are astonished for Jesus’ teaching about riches has turned their worldview upside down. He emphasizes the point with a famous illustration:

Mark 10:25-26 ESV It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”

Some have tried to explain away what Jesus said, but he is clearly pointing to the impossibility.

Mark 10:27 ESV Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

It is impossible with man, but not with God. When we understand that it is impossible for us to do anything to save ourselves, we look beyond ourselves to the God for whom all things are possible. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9).

The Promise of Life Now and Forever

So what does this look like, this Christian life? Is this simply a life of self-denial, a life of asceticism, a life of poverty, a life of doing without?

Peter wants to know.

Mark 10:28 ESV Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus assures his disciples that following him “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Mark 10:29-30 ESV Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means complete allegiance to him and his will. Sometimes it means leaving house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands — for his sake and for the gospel. Following Christ so that others may know him. Leaving the comfort of your home and the security of your family so that others may be saved. When Christ calls you to leave your island and go to another place that has no biblical witness, you are leaving home and family for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

But there is great reward, both now and in eternity. Jesus says that no one who does this will not receive a hundred times as much in this present age. Putting it another way, Jesus tells Peter that everyone who leaves home and family will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age. In serving Christ we inherit a huge spiritual family: brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus also speaks of houses and lands. The houses and lands are also to be understood in a spiritual sense:

“The new homes and fields are those that God’s people share with those in need.”[4]

Jesus said that we receive this with persecutions. There is a cross, but there is the joy of belonging to the great family of God. We have brothers and sisters and mothers and children without number!

[T]o conceive of discipleship solely in terms of its costs and sacrifices is to conceive of it wrongly — as though in marrying a beautiful bride a young man would think only of what he was giving up.[5]

Today my 15 year old son is traveling from Manila, Philippines to Port Vila. He has a long layover in Brisbane. But we have brothers and sisters in Brisbane who are going to pick him up at the airport and take him home and take care of him before putting him back on the plane to Port Vila. We have left home and family in the United States, but we have family here in Vanuatu, in Australia, in New Caledonia, in Fiji, in French Polynesia, in Europe, and in Africa. When you follow Jesus, you become part of the incredible family of God!

Something Missing?

So how is it with you? Do you feel like something is missing? Perhaps you have reached your goals and found out that they did not give you the satisfaction that you longed for. The signs around Port Vila tell us that happiness is a Facebook account. Or happiness is free SMS texting. That only lasts so long.

You will never fill that empty spot in your life with money or position or fame or success. You can follow all the rules and be as good as is humanly possible, but there will still be that nagging question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You only lack one thing: You must follow Christ.


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5747-5748). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 129-130). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 129-130). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, A Biblical Theology of Possessions, IVP, 1999. p. 140

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5827-5829). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 10v01-12, “God’s Plan for Marriage”

divorce-crieket

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be a Christian? And what does a Christian marriage look like?

We’ve been walking with Jesus through the Gospel According to Mark.

  • We’ve seen him heal every sickness and disease among the people.
  • We’ve seen him restore hearing to the deaf and open the eyes of the blind.
  • We’ve witnessed his authority over demonic spirits as he set people free.
  • We’ve seen him feed the multitudes and command the winds and the waves.
  • We entered the room with him and Peter and James and John to witness his power over death as he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead.
  • We’ve heard him teach with authority as no man ever had.
  • We have also accompanied the disciples as Jesus taught them what it means to be a disciple — what it means to be a Christian — denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him.

Now as we come to Mark 10, we are confronted with the question of how being a disciple impacts our interpersonal relationships, specifically, relationships between husband and wife, and God’s will for marriage.

The Christian life is not simply about believing in God or believing that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Even the demons believe that (James 2:19). The Christian life is all of that, but it is also a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. That means that the Christian is a person who has been so changed by the power of Christ, that he delights to do the will of God. He not only says that Jesus is Lord; he demonstrates that Jesus is his Lord by the way that he lives. This is of utmost importance because over and over again, the Word of God tells us that we are to obey his commands and pursue holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

In Mark 10, Jesus declares the will of God concerning marriage. What he says is astounding in its impact. What he teaches in this passage cuts right across cultural norms and expectations. What Jesus taught about marriage and divorce is as astonishing to us today as it was to the Jews. So I invite your careful consideration of this most important passage.

1.      The Question: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (10:1-2)

Mark 10:1-2 ESV And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

1.1.     The Question (10:2)

That is a question that we might never ask. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”[1]

In Jewish culture, as in much of the world today, it was assumed that a man had the right to divorce his wife. The only question was upon what basis a man could divorce his wife. What were the legitimate grounds for putting away one’s wife?

This was a debate in Jewish society. Some argued that adultery alone was sufficient grounds for divorce. If a wife committed adultery, the man had every right to send her away. Others argued that adultery was not necessary: a man could divorce his wife for any and every reason. This is how the question is put in Matthew:

Matthew 19:3 NIVO Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

There is a famous passage in the Mishnah which explains many of the Jewish beliefs. It speaks of two schools of interpretation, the School of Shammai, and the School of Hillel:

The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” R. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, “And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes” (m. Git. 9: 10)[2]

The Jews and Jewish law agreed that divorce was allowed. It was only a question of what allowed a man to divorce his wife. There were different opinions based on one phrase in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase “because he has found some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). One school defined indecency as unchastity, some sexual impurity. Another school of interpretation said that it referred to anything that the husband might consider indecent. And then there was another rabbi who picked up on the phrase “if then she finds no favor in his eyes” to allow a man to divorce his wife because he found someone prettier! Three reasons for divorce: sexual impurity, a spoiled dinner, or a prettier woman in the neighborhood!

1.2.     The Context (10:1)

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that the Pharisees asked Jesus this question about divorce “in order to test him.” They did not ask Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife because they seriously wanted to know the will of God concerning the matter. No, they already had their minds made up and were not interested in seriously considering the issue. They knew what they wanted to believe and simply wanted to trap Jesus with the question.

It is interesting that Mark tells us that this question took place in “the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan” (Mark 10:1). This is the region ruled by Herod Antipas. Herod had seduced his brother’s wife and convinced her to divorce her husband Philip. John the Baptist had denounced this marriage between Herod and Herodias, declaring that it was not lawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). John had lost his head over this question. You could get your head chopped off for answering this question the wrong way!

What would Jesus say? Perhaps the Pharisees thought that the question concerning divorce would take care of the Jesus problem once and for all.

In any case, it is certain that the Pharisees suspected Jesus of holding a position on marriage that was different from their own. The Pharisees held to a man’s right to divorce his wife, whether for adultery or other reasons, and they believed that their position had basis in the Law of Moses. Their purpose was to trap Jesus, to put him into a position where he would compromise the authority of the Torah, the Law of Moses. They intended to “maintain a permissive divorce polity — and the more permissive the better.”[3]

Schürer summarizes the Jewish position on divorce thus: “divorce was relatively easy in those days and the Pharisees and rabbis intended to keep it so.”[4]

For the Pharisees, marriage was “a disposable contractual arrangement.” It was a temporary arrangement so long as it was convenient for the man.

The attitude of the Pharisees…

reminds us of a person who has just been granted a bank loan and then asks under what conditions he might be absolved from repaying it.[5]

Wives had little rights in Jewish society. Marriage was not for the mutual benefit of both the husband and the wife. Marriage was for the man, providing him the woman that he needed to have children and maintain the family line.

Jesus overturns the male-dominated view of marriage, showing the importance of the marital union, harmony, and love as part of the new creation in the kingdom of God.

1.3.     Answer a Question with a Question (10:3-5)

The Pharisees have laid a trap for Jesus, so they think, and Jesus does what he frequently does when confronted by his enemies. He turns the tables on them. They asked him a question, so he answered by asking them a question. They asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.

Mark 10:3 ESV He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

They came to put Jesus on the spot. Now they are on the spot. Jesus asks them a simply Bible question. They are the Pharisees. Surely they should know the answer. But no. They do not answer the right question. Jesus asked them what Moses commanded them. They answer not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses allowed:

Mark 10:4 ESV They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

Wrong answer! Jesus will give the right answer in the following verses, but first he responds to their incorrect answer.

Notice the hardness of their heart that is expressed in their very answer: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

They are making reference to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Deuteronomy 24 was all about damage control. It was about limiting the sin and making a man think twice before dismissing his wife.

  • A husband had to give a reason for divorcing his wife, and that was the debate among the Jews, whether any reason was sufficient or “unchastity” was the only valid reason for divorce.
  • The husband had to give his wife a certificate of divorce showing that she was free from her husband.
  • However, the woman was “defiled” if she remarried.
  • The first husband could never under any circumstances take back his first wife after having married another.

Deuteronomy 24:4 clearly states,

Deuteronomy 24:4 ESV then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

The original intention of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was not to encourage divorce, but to limit the damage done by hard unforgiving hearts. But the Jews had flipped the intention of the passage and were using it as a pretext for divorce: “If a man finds some indecency in her…”

Jesus confronts the Pharisees with their sin:

Mark 10:5 ESV And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.”[6]


“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.” 
Divorce is the result of cardiosclerosis, the hardening of the heart. God is a God of forgiveness and he calls us to forgive one another. Not only does he call us to forgive; he requires it. At the conclusion of what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, we read,

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We are not to be hardhearted and unforgiving:

Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:33). We are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). Surely husbands and wives can obey the command to love each other (Ephesians 5:25, 28).

Colossians 3:13 ESV bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

2.      God’s Plan for Marriage (10:6-9)

Jesus had asked the Pharisees what Moses had commanded them. The Pharisees gave the wrong answer. They told not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses has permitted them because of the hardness of their hearts.

Now Jesus gives the Pharisees the correct answer to his question by taking them back to the beginning of creation and revealing God’s plan for marriage.

Mark 10:6-9 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus takes the Pharisees back to the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, chapter 2. Genesis was one of the five books that were written by Moses. We find in Genesis 2 what Moses commanded concerning marriage, and what he commanded reveals God’s intention for marriage.

2.1.     The Foundation

Mark 10:6 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

2.1.1.  Marriage Has Its Foundation in Creation

We can learn so much from this one sentence: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” When did God make us male and female? In the beginning of creation. That tells us that man is not the result of millions of years of evolution. God created man in his own image on the sixth day of creation: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”

We were created in the image of God. We are created for fellowship, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been in eternal fellowship, loving one another through all eternity. God created us with a sense of morality, a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. He created us with the ability to communicate through the spoken and written word, and he has communicated his will for us through the prophets in the holy Scriptures. And in Genesis 2, we find God’s will for marriage.

2.1.2.  Marriage Is a Male-Female Relationship

God made us male and female. Male and female is God’s idea.

Genesis 2:18 NET The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

In defining the nature of marriage, Jesus takes us back to the original design: God made us male and female. There is a correspondence between male and female. In taking woman from the side of man, God made man “a helper fit for him” (ESV). Male and female fit each other.

In Matthew’s account in Matthew 19, Jesus says to the Pharisees,

Matthew 19:4 ESV … “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

“Have you not read?” Do you not know the Scriptures? Is it not clear to you? Is it not obvious that God has made us male and female? Is it not obvious that marriage is between a male and a female?

Marriage is the very first institution. The first man and the first woman were married. Before there was any church, before there were any employers, before there was any government, there was marriage. Marriage was not defined by the church, or by employers, or be the government. None of those institutions existence when the first marriage took place. God gave us marriage and God himself defined marriage.

Were Adam and Eve really married? Yes, they certainly were, for we read in

Genesis 2:25 ESV And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Seven times in the first four chapters of Genesis, Eve is called Adam’s wife (Genesis 2:24-25; 3:8, 17, 20-21; 4:1). And twice, Adam is called Eve’s “husband” (Genesis 3:6, 16).

Marriage is one of God’s gifts to mankind.

2.1.3.  Marriage Changes Our Orientation

Jesus said that since God made us male and female, there is something we must do:

Mark 10:6-7 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,

First, Marriage Is the Time to Leave

There is a new orientation. There is a new direction. The man is no longer oriented toward his father and mother. He grows up. He leaves home. Yes, he leaves his mommy and daddy!

The Fifth Commandment was that we are to honor our father and our mother. This is second only to honoring God, but Jesus here declares that the husband’s “allegiance to his wife in the union of marriage surpasses his allegiance to father and mother, making marriage second only to obedience to God in sacredness.”[7]

The commandment from the beginning was that a man is to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. You are not married to your parents. Many marriages fail at this point. Instead of obeying the Word of God and leaving his parents, the man brings his wife into his parents’ home. Rather than trying to please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:33), he seeks to please his parents. The wife never gets the respect and consideration that she is supposed to have as the man’s wife because the man is torn between his parents and his wife. God commands the man to leave his parents and to establish a new home. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to be man. It’s time to leave home.

Second, Marriage Is the Time to Cleave — Hold Fast

In holding fast to his wife, the husband orients himself to his wife. Marriage is not about me. It is not about my fulfillment. Marriage orients me toward my spouse. Marriage teaches us how to love. The Apostle Paul quotes this very verse in Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:31 ESVTherefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Three times in this passage of Ephesians, Paul tells us that as husbands, we are to love our wives.

  1. We are to love our wives as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
  2. We are to love our wives as our own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them (Ephesians 5:28).
  3. We are to love our wives as ourselves (Ephesians 5:33).

How does love behave? A man who loves his wife, how does he behave?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Romans 13:10 tells us that “Love does no wrong.” Love is not violent. Love does not mistreat. There is no room for wife abuse in the Christian home. The wife is not the husband’s child for him to discipline. The wife is not the husband’s property for him to mistreat or do as he pleases.

1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Beware, husband! If you mistreat your wife, God will take her side!

Third, Marriage Is a New Creation

Mark 10:8 ESV and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.

The two become one. They are no longer two, but one. This is God’s idea, not man’s. God made us male and female, and it was God’s plan that in the context of holy matrimony the two become one. It is a new creation and is an image of Christ and the Church, the Bride of Christ.

What About Polygamy?

Notice again that God says that the two shall become one flesh. Some will argue for polygamy, that a man can have more than one wife. They will argue for polygamy on the basis of the Old Testament patriarchs like Jacob. They will even say that we need to restore the practice of the patriarchs because some of them had several wives. Since the patriarchs set the precedence of polygamy and had several wives, they say that men today should be able to have several wives.

If we looked to the lives of the patriarchs to establish a precedent for how we live today, we would also

  • take concubines like Abraham (Genesis 25:6) and Jacob (Genesis 35:22),
  • frequent prostitutes like Judah (Genesis 38:15-16),
  • deceive our parents like Jacob (Genesis 27:24), and
  • kill our enemies like Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5).

The Bible records what happened. But sinful men — even the patriarchs — did many things that were not the will of God.

As we read through the accounts of polygamous marriages in the Bible, it is clear that they were characterized by jealousy and conflict, every single one of them. Let the reader understand!

Jesus does not take us back to the patriarchs; he takes us back to the beginning. We do not look to the patriarchs to find God’s plan for marriage; we do not look to the example of fallen men to get our direction; we do as Jesus said, we go back to the beginning.

2.1.4.  God Is the Lord of Marriage

Here in Mark 10:9, we find the greatest difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jewish culture gave man the right to divorce his wife. Man was the lord of the marital relationship. He controlled it and could divorce his wife if he were not pleased.

But Jesus shows us that it is neither the man nor the woman who controls marriage. Rather, it is “God, who is the lord of marriage.”[8]

Mark 10:9 ESV What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is not some contractual agreement between a man and a woman. It is not even an arrangement that is determined by the society or the culture at large. It is God himself who has instituted marriage and who joins a man and woman together in marriage. The man has no right to separate it. The woman has no right to separate it. And no external force has the right to separate what God has joined together.

3.      Jesus Summarizes His Teaching

The Jews assumed that divorce and remarriage was permitted in certain cases. Some thought that it was permitted in the case of adultery. Others thought that divorce and remarriage was allowed if the husband was no longer pleased with his wife.

Who did Jesus agree with? Neither. Jesus tells us that marriage is for life. One man. One woman. For life.

Mark 10:10-12 ESV And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus tells us that divorce and remarriage is adultery, regardless of whether it is initiated by the man or the woman.

3.1.     Counsel to Those in Difficulty

  1. If you are separated, the Apostle Paul summarizes the Lord’s teaching with two options: (1) stay single, or (2) be reconciled to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
  2. If you have been through the pain of a divorce and are now remarried, you need to know that there is forgiveness with God. Jesus tells us in Mark 3:28 that all manner of sins will be forgiven.

1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Make the best of your present marriage (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

3.2.     Counsel to Singles

  1. Only marry someone who loves God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Make sure that you have God’s approval and blessing.
  2. Don’t expect too much from your spouse. Remember that marriage is the union of two sinners, not two angels.
  3. Let holiness be the goal of your marriage.

3.3.     Final word to parents and families

Do not make it difficult for committed Christian young people to get married. Do not put terrible financial burdens on them. Do not put obstacles in their way. Do not sell your daughters like property. You give your Christian daughter to a Christian man who is worthy, who will lay his life down for her.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 


[1] In Mark we simply read, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” but this is surely an abbreviation for “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every cause?” just as we speak of the Second Coming (of Jesus) or civil rights (for minorities) or equal rights (for women). Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5542-5543). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5529-5532).

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).

[4] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5553-5554).

[6] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5593-5594).

[8] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

Mark 09v30-50, Defining Greatness on the Way to the Cross

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHow do you define greatness? Being at the top of your game? Being number one? The world is looking for greatness and defines it from the top down. Jesus says that we’ve got it upside down. He defines greatness from the bottom up. Do you want to be great?

1.      Looking for Greatness in All the Wrong Places

The desire for greatness can be found in most every one of us, in one way or another. We may define greatness and success in different ways, but we have a deep need for greatness, for significance. We seek meaning and purpose in life. It is often suggested that we may pursue greatness in trying to find something bigger and greater than ourselves.

Historically, the rulers of Europe were often given the attribute “the Great.” There was Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”, d. 814), Frederic the Great of Prussia (1712–1786), Catherine the Great of Russia (1729–1796), and Napoleon the Great (1769-1821), as well as many others.

In Bible times there was Cyrus the Great (c. 600–530 B.C.), kind of Persia; the Syrian ruler, Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.), and Herod the Great (73/74-4 B.C.).

Jesus spoke of these “great ones” when he said,

Mark 10:42 ESV … “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

1.1.   Greatness according to the World

You do not have to be a ruler to pursue greatness. Perhaps you define greatness as being at the top of your game. Perhaps you want to be a great athlete, or a great teacher, or a great administrator, or a great leader. Perhaps you define greatness in terms of financial success, living in a nice home, eating the finest of food, and having people wait on you hand and foot.

Perhaps you define greatness in terms of intelligence, or scientific achievement, or as an artist. Or you may define greatness in terms of “the rich and the famous.”

According to the Wikipedia,

Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear advantage over others. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work…[1]

Here greatness is defined in terms of comparison, being better than others, having abilities that are better than others, have a clear advantage over others.

This is certainly how the disciples understood greatness. In Mark 9:34, the disciples “had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.” They are each arguing for their own superiority over the others. They are vying for position.

Then we read…

Mark 9:33-34 ESV And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

They were “on the way.” “On the way” to where? Jesus and his disciples were “on the way” to Jerusalem.

The disciples could not get beyond their ideas of greatness. In spite of all that Jesus had told them, and in spite of their fears and apprehensions, they knew that they were “on the way” to Jerusalem, and they remained hopeful. They are en route for Jerusalem, and “…the journey to Jerusalem has been fanning the flames of messianic and eschatological hopes in their minds. Surely the kingdom would break forth in Jerusalem, with Jesus — and they with him — at” the head of the kingdom![2]  But Jesus was on the way to the cross.

1.2.   Fighting for Greatness

So the disciples are arguing about which one of them will be the greatest in the kingdom.

This passage is thick with irony. Jesus has just announced a second time to the group of his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem not to be crowned as king, but to suffer, and to be rejected, and to die — and the disciples just do not get it.

Let’s retrace briefly what has happened in the last few sections of Mark. In Mark 8, Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ (8:29). Then Jesus told them plainly for the first time that as the Christ, he would suffer many things, be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again (8:30). Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but then he rebuked Jesus because suffering and death were incompatible with his understanding of what Christ the Messiah would do.

In turn, Jesus sharply rebuked Peter for expressing not the thoughts of God, but those of men. And then, Jesus turns everything upside down

Mark 8:34-35 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Here is the paradox of the gospel: If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, you will save it. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.

One week later, Jesus took Peter and James and John up to the top of a high mountain where he was transfigured before them with the glory that was his before the creation of the universe. Surely following Jesus would be worth the risk. Coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells those three disciples to tell no one “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).

Now in Mark 9, Jesus spends time teaching all 12 disciples a second time about what he was going to do.

Mark 9:30-31 ESV They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

This is not public teaching; this is a private teaching session. As Jesus is en route for Jerusalem, he does not want anyone to know his traveling plans. Jesus does not want any interruptions from outsiders as he explains to them what will happen to him. This is a private teaching session with his 12 disciples, teaching them lessons which they must — by all means — learn.

The first time, Jesus had spoken of suffering many things, of being rejected, and of being killed. This time he adds an element: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”[3]

  • Jesus will be delivered — betrayed — by Judas, one of his own disciples (14:10-11, 18, 21, 41-42).
  • He will be delivered by the high priest’s council into the hands of Pilate, the governor. They will force Pilate’s hand so that he decides to execute Jesus (10:33; 15:1, 10).
  • “Pilate will deliver Jesus into the hands of the soldiers who will crucify him (15:15).”
  • Yes, the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners (14:14). All of “humanity falls into this category.”

“But there is another hand behind all this handing over. It is the hand of God, whose purposes are being fulfilled unbeknownst to any of the actors in the drama.”[4]

After the resurrection of Christ, it is clear from the preaching of the apostles and from the New Testament epistles that God had delivered his one and only Son as a sacrifice for our sin. The Apostle Paul says it like this in Romans:

Romans 8:32 NAU He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Jesus told them plainly that he was going to be delivered and killed and after three days, rise from the dead.

  • Jesus is talking about his suffering; they are arguing about their own significance.
  • Jesus is talking about being rejected; they are arguing about reigning.
  • Jesus is teaching them about his death; they are arguing about domination.

The disciples simply embody man’s normal and sinful ambitions. The world defines greatness as

  • Getting to the top
  • Being number one
  • Securing wealth, power, and position

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

How could they understand what Jesus was saying? What Jesus was saying was totally incompatible with their notions of greatness. They were not looking for a crucified Christ. That was an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. The cross was incompatible with their notion of the crown and the kingdom. How could they possibly understand? Jesus was not fitting into their categories. He was not conforming to their way of thinking. But our way of thinking should not be like the world’s way of thinking because the world has it all wrong. That’s why the Apostle Paul tell us,

Romans 12:2 NLT Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Jesus has now told his disciples twice that he was on the way to the cross… “he was teaching his disciples…”

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

They did not understand, but apparently they understood something, for they were afraid to ask him. Perhaps they remembered before when Peter had rebuked Christ and had been in turned rebuked for setting his mind on the things of man instead of on the things of God (Mark 8:33).

We recreate a gospel to suit us, a gospel of health and wealth and prosperity. Like the disciples, we do not want to hear about denying ourselves, or suffering, or rejection, or death to self, or losing our life so that we may yet save it.

We recreate our gospel to suit ourselves, but it is not a full gospel; it is a diminished gospel. It is a gospel that tells us to repeat a prayer and all will be okay. Get yourself baptized and you have a sure ticket to heaven. Make sure you go to church on the right day of the week and all will be okay. But that is our contemporary gospel and not the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of the apostles, and not the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.

2.      Greatness according to Jesus

Greatness according to the world is diametrically opposed to greatness according to Jesus. The world lives according to the principle dominance, “looking out for number one,” being first in line.

Mark 9:33-34 ESV And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

2.1.   Jesus Redefines Greatness as Serving, Not Dominance

So Jesus sits down and takes the position of a teacher:

Mark 9:35 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Once again Jesus is turning their categories upside down. Jesus has already declared that whoever would save his life must lose it for Christ’s sake and for the gospel’s. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.

2.2.1. First is last, last is first

Now Jesus gives a second paradox: To be first, you must be last.

Mark 9:35 ESV … ”If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

You want to be number one? Then you must be last. Do you want to be great? Then you must be last of all and the servant of all.

Jesus is not telling us that we should not pursue greatness; he is redefining greatness. We think that greatness is being at the top; Jesus says that greatness is serving someone at the bottom. We think that greatness is going first; Jesus says that greatness is letting everyone go ahead of us. We think that greatness is ruling over others; Jesus says that greatness is serving others.

We are so concerned about pride of place. The Rabbinic writings (the writings of the Jewish rabbis) “frequently comment on the seating order in Paradise, for example, and argue that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels.”[5]

We talk about “bigman” and even in the church we introduce guest preachers as “a great man of God.” We are to give honor to whom honor is due, but we disobey Christ and dishonor God when we exalt man in the presence of God. This is what Jesus said about the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:6-12 NLT And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The disciples are fighting for first place in the kingdom, but they have not understood that to go up, you must go down. If you want to go high, you must go low. If you want to be great, you must be a servant.

How horrible it is in the church today when people fight for position and power and dominance! How ugly it is when pastors campaign like politicians to get the votes of church members! That is not the way of servanthood. That is not the way of the cross of Christ who said,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

On the other side of the cross, perhaps the disciples had an excuse for not understanding, but we are on this side of the cross and the resurrection. We are on this side of Calvary. We have the New Testament Scriptures which had not yet been written, not even the first word. The disciples may perhaps be excused for failing to understand, but we have no excuse.

Mark 9:35-37 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

2.2.2.   Jesus Illustrates Greatness by Taking a Child in His Arms

Jesus took a child and put the child in the midst of them. Here in the middle of the disciples was a child. Children were of no account in Roman and Jewish societies. Today, more and more, to our great shame, children are becoming throwaway commodities. But Jesus not only took the child, but he took the child in his arms. He cherished and loved the child.

Now Jesus was not using the child as an example of humility. No, the child was “an example of the ‘little’ and insignificant ones whom followers of Jesus are to receive.[6]

Mark 9:37 ESV “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Disciples are thus not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces them. It is Jesus, not the child, who here demonstrates what it means to be “the servant of all.”[7]

2.3.   Jesus Redefines Greatness as Openness, Not Exclusion

The second worldly way of seeking of greatness is through exclusion. This is greatness by monopoly. This is being great because you have eliminated the competition. You have become the only source for the commodity that you offer.

Mark 9:38 ESV John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Let’s note that…

  1. This person was casting out demons.
  2. He was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, that is, with the authority of Christ.
  3. He was successfully doing something that the disciples had just failed to do earlier in this chapter when a father brought his son to the disciples to have them cast out the demon, but they were not able (9:18).
  4. John tried to stop this man because he was not one of their group: “because he was not following us.”

This is seeking greatness by excluding all others, but this is not the way of Christ.

Mark 9:39-41 ESV But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

Remember that John was part of the inner circle. Peter and James and John were the only disciples that Jesus took with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Those three were the only disciples to witness the transfiguration of Christ on the mountaintop. John has begun to think that he is part of an exclusive group. He was one of the twelve. He likes being part of that special group. And he wants his group to be exclusive. He wants them to be the only ones.

And then John sees someone else doing what the disciples are called to do. He sees someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus had previously sent out the 12 disciples and had given them authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7, 13). Perhaps this man had seen the disciples casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He believes and does the same thing: he begins casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John sees him casting out demons in Jesus’ name and tries to stop him because he did not belong to their group.

Mark 9:39-40 NLT “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

Some churches claim to be the only true church. They want to exclude all others. That is one of the marks of a false cult. Some churches claim to have apostolic authority. Apostolic authority does not come from apostolic succession or having the right person lay his hands on you; apostolic authority come from believing and preaching what Christ and his apostles preached.

2.3.1. The One Who Is Not Against Christ Is for Christ (9:38-40)

This is all about Jesus. It is not about me or you or my church or your church. It’s about Jesus. The question is not, “What church do you belong to?” The question is, “What Christ do you preach? What gospel do you preach? Are you preaching the Word of God or the vision of a man?” You may not be a member of my church or of my denomination, but if you are following my Lord, if you are preaching the Word of God, if you are proclaiming Christ and him crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, then I rejoice that Christ is being preached! The first missionaries that came to this country and laid down their lives, they did not preach their church; they preached Christ. They did not preach a certain day; they preached Christ. The question is not whether you are Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or Nazarene or Anglican or Assemblies of God or apostolic. The question is, “Do you know Christ? Do you preach Christ?”

2.3.2. The One Who Serves Christ Will Be Rewarded by Christ (Mark 9:41)

Mark 9:41 ESV For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

“Whoever” means you. Jesus is telling the disciples that anyone who identifies with Christ and shows his allegiance to Christ by serving those who serve Christ, that person will not lose his reward. Jesus sees. Jesus knows. He will “reward the smallest and humblest acts of service done to others” in his name.[8]

2.3.3. Warning: Do Not Cause Believers to Stumble

Jesus promises a reward to the humblest believer who serves Christ by serving others. But he warns us not to cause these believers to stumble. We must not hinder the humblest of believers in their service for Christ.

2.3.3.1.           Learn the Lesson of the Great Millstone (Mark 9:42).[9]

Mark 9:42 ESV “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Do we see the danger? Forbidding people to do what they can for Christ may cause them to stumble. It would be better to be drowned in the depth of the ocean than to offend the humblest believer in Christ.

2.3.3.2.           Learn the Lesson of Self-Mutilation (Mark 9:43-48)

But then Jesus expands the warning. He tells us that saving faith is a fighting faith. We must pursue holiness “with passion and discipline.”[10] Jesus speaks of our hands, our feet, and our eyes: what we do, where we go, and what we see:

Mark 9:43-48 ESV And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Jesus uses the language of hyperbole, or the language of exaggeration because the importance of what he is saying cannot be exaggerated. Cutting off our hands and feet, and tearing out our eyes will not solve the problem because Jesus has already told us that sin is deeply rooted in the heart (7:21). But Jesus is telling us that we must be violent with the sin in our lives. It must be cut out. Three times he tells us that it is better to be crippled, lame, and one-eyed than to be thrown into hell. He tells us that hell is a horrible place where the fire never goes out and the worm never dies.

What are you doing to get the sin out of your life? You must kill sin or it will kill you.

Romans 8:12-13 NLT Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

2.3.3.3.           Learn the Lesson of Good Salt (Mark 9:49-50)

Mark 9:49 ESV For everyone will be salted with fire.

Jesus picks up the word “fire” and tells us that everyone will be salted with fire. The unbeliever will be salted with “the perpetual fires of final judgment in hell.” The believer will be salted with “the preserving and refining fires of trials and suffering that mark the road to true greatness.”[11]

Then Jesus adds,

Mark 9:50 ESV Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?

Salt preserves, but “unless we maintain the purity of our own lives (plucking out the eye, etc.) and are purified by the flames of testing, and remain faithful to Christ, our lives will have no preserving influence on this corrupt world.”[12]

Finally, Jesus tells his disciples,

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They were vying for position and superiority. Jesus showed them that greatness is not found at the top; it is found at the bottom, serving one another.

It is no wonder that the early Christians were described as those who had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Conclusion: An Upside Down World or a Right Side Up World?

The world thinks that Christian values are upside down, but in reality, the world is upside down. Jesus came to set it right side up. The world fights and clamors to get to the top, but Jesus showed that the way to be exalted is to humble ourselves.

Philippians 2:4-11 ESV Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What kind of a world would this be if

  • Instead of trying to get to the top, we began serving those on the bottom?
  • Instead of lifting up ourselves, we would humble ourselves
  • Instead of putting people down, we tried to lift them up
  • Instead of seeking to be served by others, we served others
  • Instead of trying to be number one, we were last
  • Instead of trying to stop others who are serving Christ, we rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached.

What kind of a world would this be? You can begin to make a difference today. You can demonstrate true greatness.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greatness

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:34.

[3] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 421.

[4] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 421.

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[6] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:36-37.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:36-37.

[8] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014.

[9] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:42

[10] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:43

[11] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:49

[12] Sinclair Ferguson in Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:49

Mark 08v34-9:1, “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?”

Bearing the cross detail

Painting by Andrei Nikolaevich Mironova

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngAre you a follower of Jesus? Or are you just a Christian? Hmm. What does it mean to be a true follower of Jesus? Today we want to look at what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We hear on a regular basis that Vanuatu is a Christian nation. That may be a very good thing. When we consider the history of Vanuatu, we must certainly understand that early Christian missionaries gave their lives for the sake of the people of these islands.

  • In 1839, John Williams and John Harris gave their lives at Dillon’s Bay on Erromango.
  • In 1848, John Geddie and Thomas Powell went to Aneityum and eventually translated the New Testament with the help of an islander named Williamu.
  • Other Christian missionaries such as George Gordon and his wife and brother gave their lives for the gospel on Erromango.
  • Christian missionary John G. Paton brought the good news of the gospel to the islands of Tanna and Aniwa.
  • Many others came and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, that Christ died for our sins as had been prophesied, that he was buried, and that he rose again from the dead that we might be declared just before God, just as the Scriptures had promised.

Christian foundations were laid. The gospel of Jesus Christ changed lives and with the changed lives, there were new values. The old practices such as cannibalism, infanticide, and the sacrifice of the wives after the death of their husbands were abandoned. For many, Christianity brought a new life of love and joy, of hope and peace. The foundation was laid so that the politicians who forged independence chose the national motto: Long God yumi stanap. Every time you pass a 1000vt bill, you pass the message “long God yumi stanap.”

But Christianity cannot simply be written into constitutions, or our monetary notes, or other important documents. Christianity must be written into the hearts of every individual. Declaring that Vanuatu is a Christian nation may call us back to Christian values which recognize the worth, value, and dignity of every human life, whether boy or girl, child or adult, young of old, born or unborn. That means that we will not kill widows, nor the aged, nor the unborn. And it means that we will love our enemies. But declaring that the nation is a Christian nation will not make us love our enemies. There has to be a change of heart for that to take place.

And so, we must not think that we are Christians simply because we have a Christian heritage. We must not think that we are Christians simply because our parents were Christians, or that we are deacons in the church, or that we are in a Christian nation. Jesus said to one of the most religious men of his day, “You must be born again.”

As so we ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” Or better yet, “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?”

1. The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark

We have been walking our way through the Gospel of Mark. In this eighth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we come to a turning point. Up to this point, Jesus has not revealed his identity as the Christ.

  • Mark has told us that he is the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
  • God Himself has declared at Jesus’ baptism that Jesus is “my beloved Son in him I am well pleased” (1:11).

The demons have identified Jesus as

  • The Holy One of God (1:24),
  • The Son of God (3:11), and
  • The Son of the Most High God (5:7)

Jesus has spoken of himself as

  • The Son of Man (2:10, 28), and
  • The Lord of the Sabbath (2:28).

But the people have failed to grasp who Jesus actually is. They have had different ideas. The Jewish scribes, who were enemies of Jesus, said that he got his power from Satan. Some others, who thought more favorable about Jesus, thought that he was empowered by the spirit of John the Baptist who had been beheaded by King Herod. Some thought that Jesus was the one that the prophet Malachi had promised would come in the spirit and the power of Elijah. Still others thought that he was one of the Old Testament prophets.

All of those designations were woefully short of who Jesus was. Just as today, some people say that he was a great teacher and some say that he was even a god, the Bible reveals that he is much more than a great teacher or a prophet or even a god.

Jesus asks his own disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

In Luke’s version, we read,

Luke 9:20 ESV …And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Matthew’s version is the fullest:

Matthew 16:16 ESV Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but he had no idea that the Christ would have to suffer. He only saw Christ as a conqueror, one who had great power and who would liberate the nation of Israel from Roman rule.

Only when Peter had made his confession that Jesus was the Christ, did Jesus begin to tell his disciples about his mission as the Christ:

Mark 8:31 ESV And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

This mission of suffering and rejection and death comes as a complete shock to Peter and the disciples. Peter rebukes Jesus for such a thought, but Jesus in turn rebuked Peter in the strongest of terms for seeing things from a merely human point of view rather than from God’s point of view.

Jesus uses the word “must.” The word “must” implies that it was a divine necessity. The word “must” controls and modifies the entire sentence: the Son of Man must suffer, he must be rejected, he must die, and he must rise again. Jesus is not simply saying, “I have come to die.” He is saying, “I have to die.” “It’s absolutely necessary that I die.”[1] This was absolutely shocking to the disciples who thought that evil would be overcome by power, not by suffering and death.

No one knew that Jesus came to give his life away.

2. The Mission of the Christ

The Christ was the one promised by the Old Testament prophets, even beginning in the third chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, God himself provided a covering for them and promised that a many times great grandson of Eve would crush the serpent’s head.

Abraham offered his son Isaac as a picture of God offering His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins, and yet the God who provides provided a ram in place of Isaac.

The whole Old Testament system of sacrifices pointed to the one who would end all sacrifices, offering his own blood as a sacrifice for us.

Why can God not simply forgive? Why does there need to be a sacrifice? Why did Jesus say that he “must” die?

Suppose you come to my house and accidentally sit on my iPhone and crack the screen so that it does not work. I say to you, “That will be 100,000vt please.” Or, I can say, “That’s okay. I forgive you.” In that case, what happened to the 100,000vt? If I forgive you for breaking my iPhone, I bear the cost of buying a new iPhone, or I do without. But I am the one who suffers. But someone has to bear the cost. Either you bear the cost, or I bear the cost. When I forgive you, I bear the cost.[2]

We have all sinned against God. The price of sin is eternal death, eternal separation from God. But if we come to God with hearts that are broken over our sin and if we repent of our sins, he will forgive us. But how does he forgive us? He bears the cost. That is why the eternal Son of God went to the cross. He went to bear our sins and the pay the price, to bear the cost and the penalty for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God and brought back into fellowship with him both now and for eternity.

The Jews had failed to see this in the Scriptures. The trusted in their animal sacrifices, but the sacrifice of animals cannot remove our sins. Animals are not created in the image of God as we are. Animals are not voluntary victims. The writer to the Hebrews tells us,

Hebrews 10:4 ESV For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

There were Old Testament passages about the Christ, that is, the Messiah. There were also Old Testament passages about the Suffering Servant such as Isaiah 53 which says that he would bear our sins and iniquities. The Jews had failed to see that the Christ, the Messiah, would also be the Suffering Servant. The Apostle Peter explains that even the Old Testament prophets tried to understand how the prophecies fit together:

1 Peter 1:10-11 NLT This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

3. The Terms of Discipleship

Once the disciples recognized that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus began to teach them what that meant. He began to teach them about the true nature of his mission, that he would suffer, and be rejected, and die, and after three days rise again.

If Jesus goes to the cross, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? If Jesus chooses the way of the cross, what does it mean to follow him?

Beginning in Mark 8:34, Jesus calls crowd and spells out the terms of discipleship.

Mark 8:34-9:1 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

9:1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

We are looking at the question of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, what it means to be a true Christian. Jesus very clearly lays down the terms, the conditions of following him. He is not talking to a special elite group of people. What he says is not limited to his 12 disciples. Mark very clearly tells us that Jesus “called the crowd to him with his disciples.” The conditions for being a Christian are laid down not only for the 12 disciples, but also for the crowd. In fact, in addressing the crowd, Jesus uses the word “anyone.”

Mark 8:34 ESV … ”If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

That means you. That means me. Jesus spells out the cost of discipleship for you and me. He tells us what it will cost to follow him. He tells us what it will cost each of us to be a Christian.

A Christian is not one who is born of Christian parents, or raised in a Christian church, or born in a Christian nation. A Christian is one who follows in the footsteps of Christ.

4. Self-Denial and the Way of the Cross

The way of Jesus was the way of the cross. It was the way of self-denial. The Jesus way is the way of death to self. Just as Jesus took the way of self-denial and the way of the cross, he tells us that anyone who would come after him must also deny themselves and take the way of the cross. We find this throughout the New Testament:

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father,

Luke 22:42 ESV saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus explains why we must deny ourselves:

Mark 8:35 ESV For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

The instinct of self-preservation is ultimately self-defeating. Timothy Keller explains,

Jesus is not saying, “I want you to lose your sense of being an individual self.” That’s a teaching of Eastern philosophy, and if he meant that, he would have said, “You must lose yourself to lose yourself.”[2]

This is not eastern mysticism or the loss of our personhood. It is not our absorption into the nothingness of nirvana.

Rather it is laying down our rights of self-determination at the feet of the king. We no longer sing, I did it my way.

We no longer claim to be masters of our own fate.

Rather we come to recognize that God is on a mission of redemption and he has graciously invited us to join him in that mission. We lay aside our petty agendas to embrace something infinitely greater than ourselves : the agenda of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

We lose ourselves for the sake of Christ and in losing ourselves, we find ourselves in Christ and discover who we were created to be.

Jim Elliot was a missionary to the Auca Indians in South America. Before losing his life at the end of a spear, he wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”[3]

Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus tells us that the way to save our lives, is to lose our lives for Christ’s sake.

When Jesus speaks here of saving our lives, he is speaking of more than mere physical existence. He is speaking of the core of our existence, our “personhood,” our identity.

So many people are trying to find themselves. They are trying to find their identity. They do not know who they are and they are continually searching and trying to identify themselves or to carve out an identity for themselves.

Never before in the history of the world has there been so much confusion about identity. Today people wrestle with sexual orientation and gender identity. In some cultures, boys are taught to wonder if they are girls, and girls are taught to wonder if they are boys. These are questions that our grandparents would not even have understood.

At the hospital when a baby is delivered, the doctor never wonders what kind of a baby it is. If it’s a boy, the attending physician will declare, “It’s a boy!” If it’s a girl, he will declare, “It’s a girl!” No one is confused about that.

Accepting your maleness or your femaleness is recognizing God’s sovereignty in your life. He has created us male or female according to his own good will for us. And it is not hard to figure out what he created us to be.

Beyond that, some people are constantly trying to find themselves, to “discover” who they are. They may focus an inordinate amount of attention on their own selves to the point of idolizing themselves, making an idol out of their own bodies, worshiping themselves, abusing themselves, and doing all that they can to draw attention to themselves.

Others try to build their identity on gaining a place in the world.

Every culture points to certain things and says, “If you gain [these things], if you acquire or achieve [these things], then you’ll have a self, you’ll know you’re valuable.” Traditional cultures would say you’re nobody unless you gain the respectability and legacy of family and children. In individualistic cultures it’s different; the culture says you’re nobody unless you gain a fulfilling career that brings money, reputation, and status. Regardless of such differences, though, every culture says identity is performance-based, achievement-based.[4]

To that, Jesus says,

Mark 8:36 ESV For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

We focus on our success and will take whatever measures are necessary to achieve it. We have our agenda, our plans for our success. We may be pursuing wealth or fame, but we have our aspirations and our goals. We have our eyes fixed on some prize that will win us the applause of others, and we think that when we achieve that, we will be happy. We will have found ourselves. We will be somebody.

Perhaps we try to find our identity in our relationships. One popular song proclaimed, “You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.” Well, someone has loved you.

Romans 5:8 ESV but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a hard time understanding how people who have reached the pinnacle of success will end it all. We learn of the tragic endings of people like Robin Williams or Whitney Houston and wonder why.

For all their searching, they did not find life.

“Learning to love yourself” is not “the greatest love of all.” The greatest love of all is loving the “Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind,” Jesus said (Mark 12:30).

Mark 8:35 NLT If you try to hang on to your life, [Jesus said,] you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

We were created for God. We were created to serve his purpose. We were created to know him, and to love him, and to glorify him by enjoying him forever.

But this is not simply some abstract notion of God. Jesus said that if we give up our lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, we will save it. We find ourselves in serving others, in loving others, in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.

Whether you are a father or mother, or carpenter or plumber, or secretary or company executive, you will find your life in letting Christ set your agenda. Let him be the King of your home, your work, your community service. Let his principles dictate how you conduct your business for then your business will be the King’s business. Certain activities will stop. You will no longer be engaged in those activities which destroy lives. You will give yourself to those things which promote good rather than evil, righteousness rather than wickedness.

If your agenda is the end, then Jesus is just the means; you’re using him. But if Jesus is the King, you cannot make him a means to your end. You can’t come to a king negotiating. You lay your sword at a king’s feet and say, “Command me.” If you try to negotiate instead, if you say, “I’ll obey you if . . . ,” you aren’t recognizing him as a king. But don’t forget this: Jesus is not just a king; he’s a king on a cross. If he were only a king on a throne, you’d submit to him just because you have to. But he’s a king who went to the cross for you. Therefore you can submit to him out of love and trust. This means coming to him not negotiating but saying, “Lord, whatever you ask I will do, whatever you send I will accept.” When someone gave himself utterly for you, how can you not give yourself utterly to him? Taking up your cross means for you to die to self-determination, die to control of your own life, die to using him for your agenda.[5]

5. The Infinite Value of Your Soul

Mark 8:36-37 NLT And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?

Jesus tells us that the man who has traded his soul to gain the world, has made a poor bargain indeed. Nothing compares to the value of your eternal soul. Nothing but God himself. Lose your soul for his sake, entrust your personhood, your identity, your eternal existence to him. Lose it all for him. He will preserve it for you. It is in denying ourselves, dying to ourselves, and following him, that we find out who we were really meant to be. It is in dying to ourselves, and living for Christ, that we find life.

The Apostle Paul said it like this,

Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

C. S. Lewis closes his book Mere Christianity with this:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, the death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and the death of your whole body in the end: Submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.[6]

Jesus invites you to follow him on the way of the cross:

Mark 8:34 NIVO … “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.


[1] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 95). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 102). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 10585-10587). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 102). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 104-105). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 106). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”: