The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached February 7th, 2021*
Sermon Audio: Jesus and Service (Mark 10:32-52)
32 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, 33 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.”
35 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.” 36 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.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 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, 40 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.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 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. 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.”
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:32-52
“What do you want me to do for you?” This is the question that links together our two stories today: James and John’s request and the blind man, Bartimaeus. Both stories include these men approaching Jesus with requests, and to both Jesus responds with this question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course, Jesus already knows “what is in man” (John 2:24-25; cf. Mark 2:7-8), so He already knows their requests—why does He ask this question? Imagine later tonight you are tossing and turning in bed. You can’t sleep because you are troubled by something; you’re anxious, worried. You walk out to your living room and turn the light on only to find—to your surprise—that Jesus Christ, Himself, is sitting on your couch. He motions you to sit down and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say?
You remember when Jesus is sitting down with Peter after He has resurrected, after Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me, Peter?” And each time Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you,” but by the third time, Peter, exasperated responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” John 20:17. And Peter was right: Jesus does know everything. Jesus wasn’t asking Peter these questions because He didn’t know the answer and was trying to get information out of Peter. That’s why you and I often ask questions, but that isn’t why Jesus asks questions. So why is Jesus asking these questions? If they aren’t for Jesus’ sake that must mean that they are for Peter’s sake: a man who denied Jesus three times is offered redemption by being asked three times if He does, in fact, love Jesus. So why, if Jesus were sitting on your sofa, would He ask you “What do you want me to do for you?” Why would Jesus ask Bartimaeus that? Why ask James and John that? He already knows the answer so if He is asking the question the answer isn’t for Him, it’s for the person asking it. Jesus is trying to draw out into the open these men’s desires, what they want most from Jesus, and it is a question we ought to ask ourselves: what do we want most from Jesus.
In our text today we see two answers to that question: one is common, and one is necessary.
It is somewhat jarring to read Jesus’ prediction of His crucifixion to occur right before such a crass request by James and John. This is Jesus’ third and final passion prediction of what awaits Him at Jerusalem. He goes more in-depth into the details of His death than at any other time. Jesus explains that the Gentiles will, “mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise,” Mark 10:34. Mocking, spitting, flogging, and murder—dramatic and arresting descriptions about what is about to happen. But immediately we are told that, “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,” Mark 10:35-37. Jesus just told His disciples that He is about to die a gruesome, horrific, shameful death, and what do James and John do? They entirely ignore what Jesus has to say! Why? Because they are so transfixed on what they want.
There were many things that I thought I was prepared for in becoming a parent, but one of them that completely took me by surprise was having to teach my kids to be concerned when I or other people are hurting. Young children don’t have the situational awareness to realize when mom or dad are in a serious conversation, mom is feeling tired, or when dad just slipped on the ground and landed flat on his back and might need a minute or two before his toddlers leap knees-first into his stomach and face (all of this is purely hypothetical, of course). They just don’t see it; all they see is what they want and so are blind to the pain in front of them. This is what James and John (and the rest of the disciples) are like.
What is their request?
Why do James and John want to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory? What does that mean? In Jewish culture, the most important guest at a feast or the most important teacher at a religious event would be seated in the center. Those who sat directly to the right and the left represented the most important guests or most gifted students, second only to the one at the center. So James and John are acknowledging that Jesus is the most important person of them all, yet want to lock in their status as the second most important amidst the disciples. What is the “glory” they are referring to? The glory is the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus has declared that He is, indeed, the Messiah, the promised King of Israel who has come to restore. However, Mark’s gospel has taught us that the way Jesus has come to restore His people is very, very different than what everyone expected. This was the difficult lesson that Peter learned back in Mark 8:31-34—the Kingdom will not arrive by crushing Israel’s enemies. It will arrive by the Messiah Himself being crushed for the sins of His people. And Jesus calls all of His disciples to follow Him on this path of suffering, cross-bearing, and service. The disciples simply do not understand this (see Mark 8:17-18). They were arguing earlier in Mark 9:34 about which of them was the greatest and here we see that the argument is still raging—the disciples are still slow to understand, slow to see.
Jesus quickly explains to them: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 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, 40 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,” Mark 10:38-40. Jesus wants to reveal to James and John how poorly they have misunderstood Jesus’ mission and the nature of the Kingdom: you do not know what you are asking. Jesus then proceeds to speak to them in a manner that is beyond their understanding—they assume everything Jesus is saying here agrees with their preconceived ideas of the Kingdom, when really everything Jesus says here is completely reversing their ideas. James and John assume that the “cup” and “baptism” of Jesus are blessings, when really they are cups full of suffering, baptisms of affliction. Jesus explains that they will, in fact, one day be following Jesus onto the path of suffering. The only other place in Mark gospel that the phrase “on the right and on the left hand” occur is in Mark 15:27, “And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.” Jesus’ entrance into His glory doesn’t look like the enthronement of a conqueror sitting in an ornate, comfortable throne: it looks like being nailed to a cross. The one’s “seated” at Jesus’ right and left are the two thieves nailed to their crosses. James and John truly do not know what they are asking.
The rest of the disciples aren’t happy about what is going on: “41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 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. 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,” Mark 10:41-45.
What James and John have requested is for prominence, power, and respect. This is what is common, natural, and normal in the world. If you desire to be great, what you are desiring is some elevated status that separates you from what is menial, boring, and lowly. Jesus, however, has an entirely different definition: if you want to become great, you must become a servant. This is one of those Christian truths that has become so oft quoted that it runs the risk of becoming banal. Yea, yea, we know—if you want to be great you have to become a servant, if you want to go up you have to go down. But nobody really wants to do that, right? Joe reminded me this week that often we are fine with being told we should be servants, but hate it when people actually treat us like a servant. What is a servant? The Greek word for “servant” here is diakonos, which is where we actually get our English word “deacon” from. It was a word used to describe people who would wait on tables for others.
Our pride and self-respect often bucks against this idea. We are often like Bob; Bob was a man I knew who was not a Christian, but held an important job where other people answered to him. He often dominated conversations, talking over other people and always insisting on talking about subjects that he found interesting or were directly about him. He always insisted that his way was correct and did not suffer fools kindly. But, one day, Bob is invited to church and hears the gospel and makes a profession of faith. Initially Bob is filled with a kind of childlike hunger to learn and to grow. He joins small groups, Bible studies, and wants to meet with pastors as much as he can. However, within a few months he begins to try to become a leader in the small group, dominates conversations, assumes the pastors of the church should start taking advice from him, and resists being corrected. What is going on? You see, Bob’s desires, what he actually wants most, never fundamentally changed. They just put on a set of religious clothes.
Why did Nietzsche hate Christianity so much?
The only other place in Mark that we are told of a blind man being healed was back in Mark 8:22-26 which occurred directly after Jesus marvels at the spiritual blindness of his disciples (Mark 8:17-18) and directly precedes Jesus’ first prediction that He will die and that discipleship looks like following his example (Mark 8:31-38), which the disciples are totally baffled by. Here again Jesus has predicted that He will die and this will provide a blueprint for discipleship and His disciples have utterly misunderstood what He has said and, again, Jesus heals a blind man. Back in Mark 8 Jesus, marveling at the disciples unbelief asks them, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Mark 8:17-18. The healing of the blind men who ironically exhibit greater faith and understanding than the disciples serves to illustrate the spiritual need of the disciples.
Bartimaeus’s request could not be more different than James and John’s. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar living on the street who hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming by. Jesus’ reputation as a healer has gone far and wide, far enough for Bartimaeus to know that this is his opportunity to be healed. So he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:47-48. But notice there are three aspects of Bartimaeus’ request that we should pay attention to:
1. “Son of David” Bartimaeus doesn’t view Jesus merely as a wonder-worker or physician. The title “Son of David” is a messianic title taken from 2 Sam 7 and Psalm 89. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to restore the kingdom of God.
2. “Have mercy on me” Bartimaeus knows that he does not deserve what he is asking for. He has no right, no standing, no obligation to impose on Jesus to grant his request. He is simply throwing himself on the mercy of Jesus. When I was younger I was once pulled over for driving 95 mph in a 60 mph zone. Somehow, miraculously, I was let off with a warning. I definitely didn’t deserve it, but the police officer gave me what I didn’t deserve: mercy.
3. His persistence. Bartimaeus is yelling out to Jesus and the crowd around him is trying to hush him up. “Show some respect, man!” But Bartimaeus’ situation is so dire that he is driven to the point of desperation, so he cries out all the more. In Mark’s gospel it has always been those who have come to Jesus at the points of greatest desperation, with the most severe of need who are commended for the greatest faith. Jesus isn’t interested in a disinterested, respectful dialogue between equals, a conversation that seeks to keep decorum and sensibility intact like some aristocrat in a Jane Austen novel. No, Bartimaeus is like Jacob wrestling with God, insisting “I will not let you go until you bless me!” All presumption and pretentions have been abandoned for the sake finding mercy.
In response to this cry we are told, literally, that “Jesus stood still” and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well (lit. “your faith has saved you”).” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way,” Mark 10:50-52. Note: the phrase “followed him on the way” is a discipleship formula used in Mark. “Following” Jesus and “the way” are used repeatedly to describe true disciples of Jesus. Bartimaeus is not simply healed, he is transformed into a disciple of Jesus.
While the desires of the disciples are common, Bartimaeus shows us what is necessary: we need mercy, we need to be saved.
How Do We Change?
While we may know that we ought to be servants and that our deepest desires should be to follow Jesus on the path of discipleship, we often don’t. So, how do we do change? The answer is found back in Jesus’ explanation of service: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. This is a “purple passage” which is almost blunted by any commentary made on it. But I will attempt to draw a few things out of this.
1. Jesus did not come to be served. If anyone deserved to be served, it was the Son of God.
2. Not only that, but He came to serve. It’s one thing to picture someone of high nobility and significance declining to be waited on by servants. It’s another thing entirely for that high and holy one to pick up the towel of the servant and to go serve.
3. Not only that, but He came to serve in the costliest and lowliest of ways, to the point of death. He “gave His life.”
4. Not only that, but He gave His life as a “ransom.” There was an intentionality in His death. His death was an unfortunate consequence that brought His life of love and service to a tragic end. His death was the end! A ransom is a price paid to free someone else. In the beginning God, perfect in holiness, made us in His image. He made us to love Him, live for Him, and reflect His character to the watching world. We have failed to do so from the very beginning and so have now taken the consequence of turning against our Maker and His design for us. This consequence is death. But this great and holy God has, in unimaginable mercy, stepped down to pay the debt, to take on the consequence, that our sins have deserved. He has paid the ransom that our sins deserved so that we may be set free from the slavery of sin and death and receive eternal life. This is the good news of the gospel.
When you see that for what it is, and truly believe, you will find your heart singing the lines of Wesley’s great hymn: Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and natures night, thing eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell of, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee.
Read again Jesus’ words of service that we are called to:
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. – Mark 10:42-44
– Is there anywhere in your life that you “lord” your authority over others? Parents to children? Husbands to wives? Bosses to employees?
– Where in your life do you think, “Man, I just wish someone else would do this for me”?
– Parents, caring for children
– Caring for the elderly
– Practicing hospitality
Shortly after the Reformation took hold in Europe, a community of believers known as the Moravians began to see the implications of the gospel imperatives and desired to begin mission work around the globe. Desiring to reach the West Indies, two Moravian missionaries voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so they could reach the unreached. Who does something like that? Who so quickly throws their life away? People who have seen what Jesus has done for them and who desire, in Jesus’ estimation, to be great.