SELFISHNESS VS. SELF-LESS-NESS

Mark 10:35-45

BRIEF RECAP: Jesus had just finished expressing to the twelve that they were headed to Jerusalem (vv.33-34). There, He would be cruelly treated and condemned to death. But after three days, He would rise again! One would think this news, being the third time expressed to them, would be a solemn, self-searching moment, but it doesn’t appear to be that kind of moment.

Rather than self-reflection and preparation, we witness a very selfish and prideful request of Jesus from two of the three in the “inner circle” of the twelve, James and John! What was that request? What does it reveal about these two men and their mother (Matthew 20:20)? How did Jesus respond to them? We will seek the answers to these questions in this post.

[a]James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to [b]Jesus, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “[c]Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

FOCUS ONE: The request (35-37)

We read that James and John approach Jesus (came up to Him). This means that they took the initiative and “journeyed” toward Him. They were some distance from Jesus at the time this thought of self-glory came into fruition and therefore had to travel some distance to get in His immediate presence.

These two men believe that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to set up His kingdom; ironically, Jesus just predicted His coming death and resurrection! They do not understand the nature of what Jesus came to do and therefore petition Jesus to “do for us whatever we ask of you” (v. 36). Perhaps we can credit them with ignorance even after all Jesus spoke to them, but as Matthew Henry so eloquently put it: “It was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their master.” That is their first mistake. Rather than presuming upon Christ the fulfillment of our desires, we should be happy and at peace, trusting Him to accomplish what He desires!

Although these two men spoke out of ignorance regarding Christ’s purpose, that doesn’t relieve them of the subsequent guilt revolving around the issues that stem from their hearts (selfishness, pride, and arrogance).

Once again, in Mark’s gospel, we witness the patience of Jesus. Go back and look at everything we have studied in this book. It would be a great encouragement for your daily walk of faith to be reminded of how extraordinary the patience of Christ is! Not only His patience but His wisdom too! Jesus asks them to qualify what they are requesting of Him (v. 36). “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

FOCUS TWO: Jesus responds (38-40)

Jesus responds by telling them they don’t understand what they are asking Him for. “To ask for a place of honor in His glory was also a request to share His suffering since the one is a requisite to the other.” Such a statement seems to call for a negative response from the two men. “The cup was a common Jewish metaphor either for joy (Psalm 23:5) or for divine judgement against human sin (Psalm 75:7-8; Jeremiah 25:15-28).” Jesus was applying the metaphor to Himself because He was about to bear the wrath of God’s justice against sin as a “substitute” for sinners (v. 10:45).

It is impossible to miss the noticeable contrast between James and John seeking a place of honor in the kingdom, without any sacrifice, and Jesus humbly sacrificing Himself for others as their King!

They reply that “we are able” to drink the cup that Jesus was about to drink and be “baptized by the baptism with which I am baptized.” Still, they do not understand His words to them. Jesus responds to their answer by “agreeing” with them that they will indeed drink of the cup and be baptized in the same baptism that He is. What does Jesus mean by “baptism?” Baptism means to be immersed or submerged.

Both these figures, cup and baptism, are figures used in a different sense. “In following Him, they would share His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) even to death but not in a redemptive sense.” His prediction came true. James was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2), whereas John, who endured many years of persecution and exile, was the last apostle to die (John 21:20-23; Revelation 1:9).”

Unlike His previous response to James and John, Jesus tells them they will NOT be sitting on His right and left (v. 40). Why? Because only the Father had the authority to assign such places of honor. Jesus unapologetically states, “this is not mine to give.” In His answer, we get a glimpse of the “trinity” (Jesus and the Father)! Matthew adds “the Father” in His account (Matthew 21:23).

We also should notice that such places in the kingdom have “already” been prepared by God for those He has chosen (v. 25). 

41 Hearing this, the other ten began to feel indignant with [a]James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them; and their [b]people in high position exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become [c]prominent among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wants to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His [d]life as a ransom for many.”

FOCUS THREE: The indignant ten (41-45)

Jesus’ response contrasts how earthly rulers conduct themselves with how God’s followers conduct themselves. He taught them that those who follow Him would lead others in humility and love, not out of pride and lust for authority. Pride, power, arrogance, and selfishness contrasted with humility, selflessness, and mutual submission.

Again, we find another well-known area of misunderstanding regarding how the disciples think concerning their ministries. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be a slave of all” (v.43).

The contrast is not between “two ways of ruling,” but between ruling (good or bad) and serving. They are not to oppress those in their authority. They are not to exploit others. But, he should serve others by “doing nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3).

After all, this is the reason Christ came to earth, and it is our divinely given example to follow (v. 45; Philippians 2:5-11). 

How can you apply what you learned in this study in your life of service to the King of kings?

The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 152

NEW BOOK REVIEW: A GOSPEL PRIMER FOR CHRISTIANS BY: Milton Vincent

Learning to see the glories of God’s love

I had recently been looking through my library and found this long forgotten gem of a writing by Milton Vincent. I quickly skimmed through this one and decided that it would be helpful for my son to go through as a part of his schooling.

I was correct thinking that way but incorrect in assuming that this little primer had nothing of value for myself.

I had some free time the other day and saw this book laying on the shelf so I picked it up and read through it. I was happy that I did.

All of 97 pages, this gospel primer was a great source of encouragement, reflection, and motivation for me, an older man, in my walk of faith.

Endorsed by godly men such as John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, and Jerry Bridges, who’s own estimates of the primer saw it as a ” small but meaty overview of the gospel,” and a ” practical tool with a powerful effect.” Which can be ” literally life changing.”

As I read through the forward at the beginning of the book I was happy to read that the author wanted his readers to take their time with it. ” This book was written slowly. It savors of a slow cooking.. . Let it’s truths drip down deep.” In other words this book and the truths contained within will be found to be a spiritually useful book!

With that exhortation in mind, I continued. The introduction lays out the main purpose of Milton’s effort: “This book is a handy guide to help Christians experience the gospel more fully by preaching it to themselves each day.”

What a much needed exhortation. We often think the gospel saves, but struggle with knowing what to do with it once we are saved! I appreciate Milton expressing that fact because it truly is meant to be more than a once embraced truth to be converted, it actually is “offered to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness.”

Briefly in the introduction and then with greater detail in part IV, the writer shares how he came to the conclusion that the gospel is a much needed focus in the daily walk of a believer.

The first part of this book contains reasons to rehearse the gospel daily. In fact, he gives thirty- one of them designed to remind the reader of some valuable blessings which the gospel can render in the life of the believer who rehearses the gospel in faith each day.

The second and third parts contain: A Gospel Narrative in both a prose and poetic format. Both formats are written in a way that facilitates memorization and smooth recital of the gospel.

I really enjoyed how Milton wrote everything in sections I -III in the first person (I, my, me), because it helped me relate these truths to myself on a deeper personal level. I think it was very wise of him to do so because the truths he is relating come off the pages then as not only relating to his own experience, but also to the daily heart experience of others who meditate on what God in Christ has done for them as well.

I am thankful that the writer mentions often that this book is only a tool to “get you launched in preaching the gospel to yourself and rehearsing it’s benefits.” It is not meant to be a substitute for the gospel.

In part one he gives the thirty -one reasons to rehearse the gospel daily. Here are just a few headings:

1. The New Testament model
2. My daily need
3. The power of God
4. My daily protection
5. Transformed by glory
6. A cure for distrust
8. Freedom from sins power
11 Loving my brother and sister
12. My inheritance in the Saints
15. Cultivating humility
18. Perspective in trials
26. Hope of heaven
27. Mortifying the flesh with fullness

With each one of these headings the writer opens up how the gospel is affective in our lives in these ways. I also must note that every page has all the scriptures cited in which the truths expressed are located!

Part two offers A Gospel Narrative in prose. I found the layout of this very helpful for my own comprehension and application. He begins with our sin against God than moves forward discussing God’s work on our behalf and the resulting salvation that comes from it.

I personally think this section would be helpful in our prayer time. We can use one or two of these truths to pray different things than we normally might. We can pray biblical thoughts by using the scripture citations on the bottom of the page.

Part three offers A Gospel Narrative in a poetic form. I truly appreciated this section. It read smoothly and was greatly appreciated and encouraging to my soul. This section, like the others, has all the scriptures used on the bottom of the page. Not only the reference, but the verse written out as well!

Part IV ends the book with the authors story behind this book. I appreciated his honesty and transparency in sharing his “backstory.”

In short, most of his life was lived by trying to maintain his justification status through his own works. Then one day, alone with his Bible turned to Romans five, the Lord “stirred my soul,” with the truth of my justified status before God, which led Him into a fuller, more meaningful walk of faith!

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting, perhaps needing, a richer, fuller, more practical understanding of the gospel, that not only saves but satisfies our deepest longings each and everyday afterwards.

A SUBSTITUTE

Several years ago I needed to find a coffee “substitute.” Caffeine was causing me various issues and I needed to reduce my intake of it. So, I started looking for something that could “take it’s place.”

I found Postum! I enjoyed that drink sooo much, well, that is until it disappeared off the shelves. In every way Postum made me feel like I was having a good cup of coffee. Its texture, taste, and aroma all made me feel like I wasn’t missing anything by not actually drinking coffee. It was great while it lasted!

Part of the salvific work of Jesus in being our sin-bearer, was that of being our substitute. A SUBSTITUTE is one that takes the place of another. That is what Jesus became for us!

Unlike Postum which only satisfies temporarily, The substitutionary work of Jesus Christ brings results that satisfy eternally.

Because of Jesus believer’s have “become dead to sin and alive to righteousness” (1Peter 2:24). God is NOW for us and not against us (Romans 8:31). These are only two of many benefits believers receive when they trust Him as their substitute!

No one else can be such a substitute for us. God had placed that work on Christ alone. Jesus, in all ways, met and settled, for all time, the charges God had against sinners. Because Of Jesus we can have peace with God!

Friend, you don’t have to pay the debt you owe for your sins. Jesus paid it for you! Turn to Him in repentant faith and you will find His forgiveness.

1 Thessalonians Historical Context

Before diving into any study in our bibles, no matter how excited we are to jump in, we always need to begin with the historical context in which the particular book, in this case an Epistle, was written. We want to be very careful in our study of God’s Word not to practice eisegesis (reading into the text our own subjective ideas), but instead, prayerfully apply exegesis (taking out of the text what the original author meant to convey). 

Understanding the moment in history, the particular circumstances in which the original author wrote his words, is tantamount to whether or not we rightly understand today, why he wrote what he wrote to the people he wrote in the way he wrote.

This is where most of us let out a deep sigh of woe! It sounds like hard, boring, exhaustive work and all we want to do is read a couple of lines, pull out a quick application, and move on with our day. Sadly, this is how we have been trained in the past generation or two. Two minute devotions are growing more and more popular as many Christians seem to be losing a desire for spending quality time with God in His Word. 

But if we don’t take the time to understand what was going on at that particular time in history, we will miss out on the needed insights that will inform us of what the writers purpose was, and how it applies to us today. Those details are interwoven within each line of the text we are studying, and if we utilize that information correctly, we will gain much deeper insights into the purpose of the writer, but not only that, we also gain a better understanding how these truth’s come across the “historical bridge” between then and now!

If we allow the historical context to set the scene for us, the words on the page will become much more real and meaningful to us because we will know why it was significant to its original audience. Understanding the historical context will allow us to garner new insights within our text and therefore enable us to grasp a deeper understanding of the Word of God!

So, with that being said, Grab your cup of coffee and let me lay out some of the historical circumstances behind Paul’s writing of this letter to the Thessalonians.

Paul founded this church during his second missionary journey, shortly after the council at Jerusalem debated and resolved the issues which arose from some professing Jews, who followed Paul, that were teaching that no one could be saved apart from the law, especially without circumcision (Acts 15:1-32). Paul taught that a person is saved by grace through faith alone, definitely without circumcision (15:11). With the council in agreement, Paul traveled to Antioch and delivered the letter from the council that stated their decision. The people in Antioch rejoiced and were comforted with the good news (15:30-31). But what does this have to do with the church in Thessalonica? Hold on, you’ll see as we progress.

Paul and Barnabas parted ways after a serious disagreement in regards to a man named Mark and his ministry among them (Acts 15:36-40). Paul and Silas traveled to Derbe and Lystra where he added a young man named Timothy to his party (Acts 16:1-3). You will notice in the greeting to the Thessalonians (vs.1) that Timothy is mentioned! As this group of men traveled they continued to deliver the “decrees” determined by the Apostles to the churches along the way. 

Paul then travels to Macedonia, Phrygia, and Galatia. After being forbidden to preach the Word in Asia, he continues to travel until he reached Neapolis. From there he walked to to a city known as Philippi (16:11-12). In Philippi, Paul’s first convert was a woman from Thyatira named Lydia (16:14-15). After this wonderful event: Lydia’s family trusting in Christ, Paul and Silas began being harassed by a demon possessed girl who was used by some local idol makers to make a profit (16:16-18). After Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her, and her owners saw their hope of profit was gone, they took Paul and Silas before the magistrates with some accusations and false charges, which led to their arrest and imprisonment (16:19-24). 

During their time in prison the mighty power of God was manifested, by way of an earthquake, to lead the jailer and his family to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” for their salvation (16:31-34)! Here is where we are told of the circumstances Paul and Silas faced in prison and how those circumstances led them to Thessalonica, and to the founding of this church (16:36-40). 

After the magistrates (city officials) learned that they had shamelessly beaten and wrongfully imprisoned two Roman citizens, they send people to release them. But Paul refused and wanted these leaders to come themselves to release them. In fear they came to Paul and Silas in jail, and released them (Acts 16:35-40). After a short visit at Lydia’s house where they comforted the believers, Paul and Silas, free men, now journey westward along the great military road known as the Via Egnatia. We are not told why they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, but they did, and arrived in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1).

Here Paul, as was his custom, seeks out the local synagogue and spends three weeks there “reasoning with them from the scriptures” (17:2). Most likely he stayed at a Jasons house for those three weeks and saw many people come to faith in Christ, even many “leading women” (17:4). Because of Paul’s ministry and the resulting salvation of many people, some Jews who did not believe Paul’s gospel, gathered a mob unto themselves and made a great uproar within the city. They attacked the house of Jason, where Paul had stayed, seeking to take him and Silas by force out into the marketplace (17:5-6). When they did not find them, they drug Jason and some others to the rulers of the city shouting out their accusations before them. Jason was forced to give a “security,” a pledge or bond that would be forfeited if Paul and his companions caused more trouble (17:9). The new believers in Thessalonica then immediately send Paul and Silas away by night to a place called Berea, where their ministry continues. 

There it is, the background information that will help us gain a better understanding of Pauls letter to the Thessalonians. But take notice to one fact that can be easily overlooked in all the above mentioned history. It is this: Paul was not able to spend a lot of time in Thessalonica. Because of the turmoil and uproar that was caused, Paul and Silas had to leave prematurely and so were not able to spend as much time in teaching and ministering as they would have liked. It is because of this that much of the letter seeks to comfort them amid the persecution they are facing and remind them of previous truth’s taught. Paul also wants to correct misunderstandings of prophetic events while exhorting them to live a godly life as they await the expected return of their Savior.

Next week, Lord willing, we will begin studying this letter. We will be focused on verses 1-5. Please take the time to read through this short letter in preparation for our study. See you next week!