|JESUS WALKS AHEAD
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirty Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 9, 2018
Please stand with me as we come together before God’s word. Let me read for us our passage for today from Mark 10:32-45.
And 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. And taking the twelve again, He began to tell them what was to happen to Him, 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. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”
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.”
And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
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, 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.”
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.
And Jesus called them to Him and said to the, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Verse 32 brings us back to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Which is where Jesus has been going since He left Galilee and the north. He’s been in Perea on the east side of the Jordan River. And now He is moving across the river to the area of Jericho - which we’ll look at next Sunday - and beyond Jericho - up the hill - to Jerusalem.
But this trip is different. Jesus is on a mission. Purposeful. Jesus is walking ahead. Out in front of the pack. Jesus is walking ahead with a somber resolve.
Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem to die. To surrender and sacrifice Himself. To finalize the very purpose for His birth - His entering into the flesh and blood of our humanity - which happened not too far from where He’s at - in Bethlehem just up the hill.
Behind Him are the disciples who are amazed. The word in Greek has the idea that they were astounded. If not a tad fearful. They didn’t get Jesus’ determination and drive to get to Jerusalem. Seemingly this is nuts.
Mark records that twice before Jesus has talked about His going to Jerusalem to die. Which - while the disciples might have been a little fuzzy on what Jesus’ meant by that - it doesn’t sound good. So their amazement may have been at Jesus’ resolve in going.
The crowd following - and probably the disciples - Mark tells us that they were afraid. Even if they’d not heard Jesus talk about His coming death they’d seen the growing conflict between Jesus and their religious leaders. And Jesus is heading right into the center of all that conflict.
So not knowing how all that was going to play out the atmosphere is understandably tense. For those that are following Jesus. There’s a sense of approaching crisis and impending doom.
Which is understandable. Isn’t it? How many times have we sensed or known that something was coming? Maybe we were unclear about what that might be. And we had no idea how all that was going to play out?
Which might make us just a tad anxious. Maybe even we’ve lost some sleep over it. Faced with the unknown most of us are really good at coming up with the worst case scenario. Doing the Eeyore thing. “We’re all gonna die.”
Jesus walking ahead with resolve is leading this band of not so merry men. And at some point in this journey Jesus takes the 12 disciples aside and tells them again what is about to happen to Him.
This the third time Mark records that Jesus has told them what’s about to happen. And on this occasion Jesus includes even more detail - more specifics - than He’s shared before. Luke’s account also includes Jesus telling His disciples that what’s about to happen is a fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus taking the twelve aside is Jesus is trying to help them process what Jesus is focused on and to deal with their fear and to help them prepare for what’s coming.
They need to understand that as these events unfold - that as they see all this happening - they need to remember that Jesus had said it would happen this way. And, in fact, the prophets - Isaiah and others - the prophets had said it would be like this. All of this is unfolding according to God’s sovereign will and plan. God, Who had ordained before creation was creation that all this would unfold as it will unfold.
Jesus will be betrayed. Jesus will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes - and they will condemn Him to death - and they will hand Him over to the Gentiles. And those Gentiles will mock Jesus and spit on Him and flog Him and eventually kill Him. Unimaginably shameful - especially since it’s Gentiles doing that to a Jew. And yet three days after He is killed and unquestionably dead - Jesus will rise from the dead.
Hugely helpful for the disciples - and us - to know that on this journey to Jerusalem - that Jesus Who’s focused and journeying with resolve - Jesus knows where He’s going. Why He’s going there. What will happen when He gets there. And what will be the outcome of what takes place there.
Verse 35 brings us to the ignorance of the disciples and what seemingly is an outrageous request by James and John. Being right up there on the dais with Jesus sitting on His throne - each of them sitting on thrones on Jesus’ right and left - in their own positions of preeminence and proximity and power.
While Jesus is focused on His coming rejection - humiliation - suffering and sacrificial death - His disciples are seemingly jockeying for positions of power in the coming Kingdom. What appears to be political maneuvering and sneaking ahead of others in line.
Matthew records that it was their mother - Mrs. Zebedee - who’d made the request. Mark records that they also brought it up to Jesus. Which suggests that the boys had talked her into it. At the heart level it was really the boys seemingly outrageous - totally insensitive - idea.
We need to be careful. Before we throw the boys under the chariot we need to make sure we’re hearing their hearts. Why the request?
Last Sunday we looked at the wealthy young ruler who came to Jesus and had the question about what more he needed to do in order to know that he really did have eternal life. Familiar? Yes?
Jesus gave him push back focusing on his heart attitude towards God. Go sell your possessions - give the proceeds to the poor - and then you’ll have treasure in heaven - and then come follow Me. Which was Jesus trying to help the man understand that the way into God’s kingdom is something that comes by God’s grace alone and not our efforts at being good enough.
Then Jesus turns to His disciples and teaches them about true sacrifice and the priority of being last. Letting go of our efforts at being good enough and instead surrendering everything to God and trusting God for everything.
Jesus taught that if we choose to actually sacrifice everything - to trust God fully - God will not leave us hanging. God will bless our socks off supplying what we need for today and forever. What God will bless us with will be staggering - outrageous blessing for today and outrageous blessing for eternity.
We’re together. Yes?
Matthew’s account of that same teaching - Matthew writing to a different audience - Matthew gives us additional information beyond what Mark records. What Matthew records helps us to understand where James and John are coming from.
Matthew 19:28 - same teaching - after the rich young man walks off: “Jesus said to them [His disciples], ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’
Which is a further - staggering - description of what God will bless the disciples with.
That all just took place in Perea just before this journey to Jerusalem. So, what’s here on the journey is political line jumping. Sure. But having that teaching in mind - knowing that James and John had just heard that teaching and promise from Jesus - that may help us to understand James and John’s motivation.
They’re asking for three things.
Second they’re asking for Proximity. To be up front - on the dais - near Jesus. Which is a good thing. Isn’t it? Wouldn’t we all like to be closer to Jesus?
Third they’re asking for Power. Right side. Left side. Positions of recognized power and authority. Which not only had Jesus promised. But, when Jesus had sent them out on a mission earlier - under His authority - Jesus had given them the power to heal and cast out demons. They’d already tasted some of that for themselves.
So, on one hand we might look at what they’re requesting and think about how outrageous all that might seem. But in a very real sense what they’re asking for are all really good things that had already been promised to them by Jesus if they choose to trust God with everything and to follow Jesus. Which they were doing. Amazed and fearful. Yes. But on this journey to Jerusalem following Jesus - whatever that might mean.
Notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for what they’re asking for - only their ignorance in asking it. “You do not know what you are asking.”
Let’s be clear. It’s not that they’re asking for the wrong thing. It’s that they have no understanding of what’s involved.
Point A to Point B. What needs to take place between where they are on the journey - Point A - and the coming future glory given to Jesus that they will share in - Point B.
Which is often true for us. We’re asking God for things that we believe are within His will. But we’re ignorant of the process - God’s perfect timing and the steps involved - that lead to the fulfillment of what we’ve asked for.
Which can amaze us. In the sense that we can struggle to understand what God is doing. We can become fearful. Maybe even discouraged or doubtful. Maybe even hesitant to follow.
Jesus goes on to explain to them what they’re ignorant of. The journey that Jesus is on - the way to glory - the journey they desire to follow comes with a cost. Jesus is on His way to glory. But there’s a price to be paid. Jesus is ready and resolves to pay that price. For them to follow Jesus to His glory comes with a cost.
So, Jesus asks them a question: Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
Let’s make sure we’re understanding the symbols that Jesus is using to illustrate His journey to glory and the cost.
The “cup” symbolizes what comes at us in life that we have no control over. Which pretty much is life. Yes? Control is an illusion.
Some of what’s in that cup may be pretty sweet joyful experiences. Like in Psalm 23:5: “My cup overflows.”
Some of that may be really harsh. Jeremiah speaks of the cup of God’s wrath. Consequences of being sinful people living in a fallen world. (Jeremiah 22:15)
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
The “cup” symbolizes what comes at us in life that we have no control over but God in His sovereignty does.
“Baptism” is symbolic of how we go through all of what comes at us in life.
When we’re baptized as believers we pass through the waters of baptism. Symbolically we’re leaving behind our old life apart from Christ and passing through the waters of baptism into new life in Christ. Baptism symbolizes the choice we’ve made - in where our lives were at - to repent of our sins and to by faith trust God for what He graciously supplies to us - new life in Christ.
In Hebrew history there’s an example of how Jesus is applying that symbol of baptism to how we go through what comes at us in life.
Moses took God’s people through the Red Sea - passing from bondage in Egypt - passing through the Red Sea - into life on the other side leading to life with God in the Promised Land.
Paul writing to the Corinthians even makes the connection of that event with baptism. Paul writes that that passing through describes God’s people being baptized into Moses. (1 Corinthians 10:2)
It’s not hard to imagine that while the Hebrews were passing through the waters of the Red Sea - just looking around - that they were in over their heads. Maybe a tad amazed and fearful. Having to move forward - by faith - from the security of what was behind - to what God had promised them up which was up ahead.
The experiences that we pass through on the way to what God has ahead for us - as staggeringly glorious as what He’s promised may be - the experiences we pass through - what life throws up at us - those experiences are way too often overwhelming - mind bending and emotion crushing and physically weakening - not so sweet - types of experiences.
Jesus is talking about His journey to the cross - His rejection and humiliation and suffering and anguish and the pain and the mocking and the flogging and the spitting - the agony of the crucifixion - His being forsaken by the Father - on our behalf - the cup and baptism that He will go through - following the will of the Father - what will lead to His resurrection and glory.
Jesus asks James and John, “Are you able?”
Their reply is almost arrogant - if not sincere: “Sure! We’re ready. Bring it on! We can take it! We’re able!”
Jesus tells them. What should have been a sobering statement. “You will. You will suffer for My sake.”
But the glory - right hand - left hand - what’s promised isn’t something that Jesus just hands out to whomever gets there first. All of that “is for those for whom it has been prepared.” The journey and where it leads is in the hands of the sovereign God Who has prepared it.
Thinking carefully about that. What Jesus seems to be saying is that God chooses those that He will honor. And God uses “the cup” and “baptism” to prepare that person for that honor. God leads them through all of that. Then God honors that person. What is promised does come.
Which God did for James and John. God had prepared the journey they would travel. And God - Jesus - would be with them on that journey.
Isaiah 43: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2,3a)
James and John are the front and back covers of the history book of what it meant for the apostles to follow Jesus - the sacrifice - the cost of that apostleship.
When Herod Agrippa was made governor of Judea by the Roman Emperor Caligula - Herod unleashed persecution against the Christians. And he especially singled out James as the focal point of his hatred.
In 44 AD James was arrested. Led out to die by the man who had made false accusations against him. And beheaded. James was the first of the apostles to be martyred. (Acts 12:1,2).
John died last. The testimony of the early church fathers records that the Emperor Domitian had him arrested and tried to boil John in a caldron of oil. Miraculously he survived. Then John was exiled to Patmos - what is an isolated island off the coast of what’s now Turkey. Later John probably died in Ephesus of natural causes somewhere around 100 AD.
Both James and John suffered shame and humiliation and punishment as they followed Jesus - witnessing of Him. They drank from the cup and were baptized. God answered their prayer. He prepared the way and He prepared them for the way. And He led them through all of that to what He had promised them. One day we will see them on those thrones.
But at this point James and John were ignorant of what they were asking for - the journey to the glory - the price of that glory. What God had prepared. What they would have to pass through.
Jesus - asking them question - is helping them to understand that there is a price - a journey that leads to glory.
We need to hear in that the desire of the Sovereign God to unfold His divine plan in our lives. The journey that we’re on that leads to what God has promised us in Christ Jesus. The journey that He has prepared and will be with us on that journey and will lead us through as we trust and follow Him.
In verse 41 we’re given the example of Jesus. Jesus giving Himself as an example of what the “cup” and “passing through baptism” looks like in real time. Jesus giving Himself as a real time example to follow.
Mark records that when the other disciples heard what James and John had asked for they were “indignant.”
And why not? James and John had gotten to Jesus first. Indignant maybe because they hadn’t jumped ahead in line themselves. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Let’s be careful. “indignant” translates a Greek word - the same Greek word used back in 10:14 - when Jesus was “indignant” with the disciples because they were rebuking and hindering parents who were trying to bring their children to Jesus.
“indignant” meaning at the gut level Jesus is grieving over the moral failure of the disciples who were more interested in their own self interests than what interests God. Disciples who were displaying the same hard heartedness of the Pharisees and scribes and not the tenderhearted love and grace and mercy of God towards the parents and their children who were coming by faith.
But “indignant” because at the heart level they realized their own failure to ask for the same thing they should have been asking for. “Indignant” because they’re still thinking about this as some kind of competition - gabbing at positions in the kingdom - rather than living the life of sacrifice and faith leading to the glory prepared for them by God.
Again, there’s no rebuke coming from Jesus. Only an explanation of what the other 10 are also ignorant of. And this time Jesus uses Himself - not a cup or baptism - but Jesus uses Himself as the real time example of what it means to trust and follow God through what the cup and baptism symbolize.
Jesus calls them all - all the indignants - together for a team huddle.
Verse 41: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
“You know” because they did know. As we know.
Leadership in the world of the Gentiles - the world we live in - leadership in the world is about using authority and position and power as a means of controlling others for selfish gain: “lording it” over others. The “great ones” exercising authority over others. Political line jumping.
In verse 44 Jesus uses slavery as an example. Also something “known” to the disciples. For the Romans and the Greeks slavery was a shameful existence.
In contrast to slavery - the Romans and the Greeks measured greatness in terms of authority. Caesar - the Roman Emperor - the chief sovereign of the most powerful nation - he was worshipped as god. He alone possessed the preeminence, position, and power to command whatever he wanted in much of the known world.
Slaves obeyed masters. Masters obeyed the king. As someone said, “It’s good to be the king.”
And the Temple authorities and the religious leadership of Israel - the Sadducees and Pharisees and scribes - that Jesus is in conflict with - they’d all bought into the world system. They owned slaves. They were line jumping over the nation and each other to their secure their own positions of “lording” and “authoritating it” over others.
Jesus - verse 43: But it shall not be so among you.
In other words: Stop looking at the world’s model of preeminence and position and power for what it means to follow Me. What you desire is good. How you’re choosing to get there is not only ignorant of what God has prepared for you - but it’s wrong. Wrong model. Wrong means.
In contrast - this is the journey you need to be on - verse 43: whoever would be great among you must be your servant [diakonos], and whoever would be first among you must be slave [doulos] of all.
In the church that was someone in the office of Deacon or Deaconess who was responsible for taking care of the poor in the congregation - distributing money collected for their needs. Or especially in the case of a Deaconess that meant taking care of either poor or sick women.
A deacon is someone who serves to meet the needs of another person. The word describes the person who’s doing the serving as they choose to do that service on behalf of someone else.
To become great means choosing to serve.
To be a “doulos” is to be a slave. A much harsher term that diakonos. To be a slave means to give oneself totally to the needs and service of someone else. To be given over totally to the will of someone else. To be legally bound to a relationship of servitude to someone else.
To become first means to become a slave - of all. Not just the lovable or those we gravitate towards. But the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes in our lives.
James R. Edwards - in his commentary on Mark - James Edwards makes this observation: “At no place do the ethics of the kingdom of God clash more vigorously with the ethics of the world than in matters of power and service.” (1)
In the kingdom of God greatness isn’t how high we’ve climbed on the ladder - jumping rungs and stepping on people on the way up. But greatness in the kingdom of God is how low we’re willing to descend for the sake of others. Greatness is not about seeking our own honor but about seeking to honor others. In the Kingdom of God the king bows in service to His subjects and those who hold the greatest authority are the slaves of all.
Verse 45: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
That is an astounding statement coming from Jesus. Jesus Who is the Christ - God. God who has entered into the flesh and blood of our humanity - which is what the Messianic title “Son of Man” implies.
Jesus who heals the sick and demonstrates His Divine authority over disease. Jesus who casts out demons and demonstrates His Divine authority over Satan and Satan’s forces of evil and darkness.
Jesus Who calms storms and walks on water and demonstrates His Divine authority over nature.
Jesus who raises the dead and demonstrates His Divine authority over death.
Jesus Who miraculously feeds thousands and demonstrates His Divine love and grace and mercy and ability to provide for our daily needs.
Jesus who speaks and teaches with the authority of God Himself. Jesus Who has the Divine authority to forgive sins.
Jesus Who has come to serve - to deacon - to be a slave - a doulos. Jesus Who has come to give His life as a ransom for many - which includes us.
A very familiar writing. But at this point it is good for us to be reminded of what Paul writes to the Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
That’s the example of Jesus. What it means to follow Jesus. Not line jumping. No matter how good we may think the reason. But become a servant - a slave - giving our life in service to others - even if it means death. That’s the journey - the prepared path to glory - that we follow as we follow Jesus following God’s will.
Processing all that…
This morning - what cup are you holding? What baptism are you passing through? What lies ahead and what are you going through. We all got something.
Grab this and hold on to it for yourself: Jesus walks ahead.
Jesus is ahead of us on the journey. And He knows the way. He is the way. And Jesus is the risen Lord - victorious over whatever life may throw up at us. Whatever the price to be paid. No matter how overwhelming whatever we’re going through is - as long as we’re following Jesus we’re going to be okay.
To follow Jesus means walking as He walked - totally surrendered to God - obedient to God’s will - trusting God - hanging on to God Who is with us as and will sustain us and use us and will bring us through whatever we may be overwhelmed by - to what He has prepared for us- to all of what God has promised to us now and forever.
Before we pray let me remind us of Paul’s familiar words to the Christians in Rome. Followers of Jesus that when Mark is writing his Gospel they could see the cup of persecution coming. By the time when Paul is writing, they were passing through it. How important were these truths for them - for us - as they choose to follow Jesus walking ahead.
“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Christ Jesus is the One Who died—more than that, Who was raised—Who is at the right hand of God, Who is interceding for us.
shall separate us from the love of God in Christ? Shall
tribulation, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or
danger, or sword? As
it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being killed all
the day long; we are
regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31,34,35-39)
1. James R. Edwards, The Gospel According To Mark: The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 2002), page 325 - quoted by Charles Swindoll, page 284
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.